A. Creating Community
‘Back in the day’, community tended to be formed ‘accidentally’ based on geographical proximity which then evolved a common language, a shared culture and a fabricated foundation myth. Later, it became even more bonded by a combination of these three shared characteristics and by opposition from – and even warfare with – their neighboring tribes. Its future identity was molded by the paradoxical dance of assimilation and persecution.
Nowadays, groups tend to form more consciously, leading to ‘intentional communities’ that cross over traditional tribal lines into freely chosen ‘families.’ Such communities need a framework, a skeleton, a scaffolding, a set of orienting principles around which the body, the building or the new model will coalesce.
When I worked as a missionary in Kenya – and attempted to build intentional communities – I used three objectives: Kujitegemea (self-reliance), Kujitumikia (self-ministering) and Kujieneza (self-propagation.) Many years later, we used the same three principles when forming COJ (Companions on the Journey.) In the 22 years since our formation, we have successfully managed principles one and two i.e., we’ve never been reliant on outside financial support and, while we’ve regularly dipped into the red, by year’s end, an appeal by our board always managed to get us back in the black by January 1st. As for principle number two – self-ministering – all functions, from leading the liturgy to organizing lecture series, has been done by our own members.
Number three – self-propagation – is more difficult to assess. For one thing, it does not mean or involve any kind of self-promotion or advertising. It simply means being an example of a community that works, so that others may borrow elements or even the template, as they form their own communities. And here COJ has added its two cents to a global effort.
The scientific definition of life is anything that can both feed itself (kujitegemea and kujitumikia) and propagate itself (kujieneza.) By these criteria, COJ is definitely a vibrant, living entity. By 2012, we had begun to realize that our spiritual outreach is much bigger than the number of people in the pews on a Sunday morning or the size of our bank balance. The website, http://www.spiritsinspacesuits.com/index.html contains inspiring material – homilies, lectures, blogs, musings, The Eucharistic Prayer of the Cosmos, Events, Book titles, etc. – now available and accessed, in ever growing numbers, by a global community.
We’ve birthed COJ’s-in-diaspora with little groups in Ireland, England, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong and several parts of the USA using our Eucharistic Prayer of the Cosmos for liturgy and for private meditation. It’s generated an international conversation via phone, email and snail-mail with other spiritual pilgrims. The homilies have been viewed for 1.7 million minutes in some 153,000 views since they first went online; and our Patheos blogs have had over 75,000-page views in the last three years.
B. Shasta on Safari
From May 9 to May 13, 2019, a group of 17 pilgrims were on retreat near Mount Shasta – a spectacular and mystical place that rises majestically to a snow-capped height of 14, 179 feet in Northern California. It has been regarded as a sacred ‘thin place’ since the original peoples first encountered it; and spiritual seekers of all kinds find themselves drawn there. Our group was a mixture of eight existing members of COJ and nine ‘newcomers.’ The retreat was the brainchild of Heather Watkins, ably supported by Jason. The retreat included three lectures (‘Developing A Personal Cosmology,’ ‘Innocence and Grace’ and ‘Embodying Sacred Geometry.’) It also included an hour in a pyramid-shaped sensory deprivation chamber, a visit to an ancient healing-waters site and its mesmerizing waterfall. Raw, vegan and vegetarian food was lovingly prepared by Shalomar and Marianna for all meals. Heather and Jason led very powerful ‘ascension ceremonies’ via music and guided visualization. In between, dyads, triads, quartets and small groups congregated spontaneously to share stories, experiences and hopes for the transformation of our times.
By the end, it felt as if a new spiritual community had been born – a sibling for COJ. If ‘Irish twins’ are born 11 months apart, it seems as if these spiritual twins were born 22 years apart! I want to call this second-born twin, ‘Shasta on Safari.’
C. Global Transformation
When life began on Earth some 3.7 billion years ago, it consisted only of identical single-celled protozoa that propagated by simply cloning themselves. This was the only method of reproduction for many millions of years. And it is a good example of an early phase of human community – the isolated tribe in which individuals are standard replicas of the prototype. Even colonization adopted this cloning model, attempting to lick conquered peoples into the image and likeness of the victors; imposing their ‘superior’ versions of religion, politics, finances, education, agriculture etc. The pièce de résistance, however, was when they cloned gods in their own image and likeness.Everything changed when ‘sex’ was invented. For this huge evolutionary leap, we must thank the lowly Antiarch Placoderm (an armored prehistoric fish, now extinct) of 380 million years ago. By cross-fertilization, from two different cells, a huge variety of new life forms would emerge. This binary system produced a pluriformity of manifestation. It’s the same principle by which Boolean Algebra also allows all pixels on your computer screen to be either a ‘0’ or a ‘1’ an ‘On’ or an ‘Off.’ From this simple process, an infinite sequence can be created which accounts for all of the characters, symbols, colors and sounds you experience on your Mac or PC.
In time, evolution began to rely not on two but on four building blocks – the nucleotides, A, C, G and T – which constitute the DNA code for all current life forms on the planet. Humans began to use this principle in their own pursuits; for example, all written works in the English language – from nursery rhymes to Shakespeare’s Hamlet – are simply permutations and combinations of 26 symbols which we call the alphabet, courtesy of the genius of the Phoenicians of 3,200 years ago.
And this principle also applies sociologically. There is a big difference between crusaders (those who attempt to impose their ‘superior’ systems on the ‘primitive natives’) and true missionaries (those who set out to cross-fertilize their ‘stories’ with those of other cultures. Jung called the latter, ‘Gnostic intermediaries.’) Such shared stories lead to a rich meta-narrative that supersedes both of the original cultures. Once again, this is true of language, finances, religions…
It’s an ‘emergent phenomenon’ (where the result is greater than the sum of the parts and can’t be inferred or predicted by considering the separate elements before they ‘married’ (e.g., hydrogen and oxygen leading to water.) In human cultural intercourse also, this is how emergent phenomena arise and their purpose is to overcome entropy, add complexity and radically increase the number of manifestations.
I believe we now are at such a nexus on a global level – and such explosions of creativity are only possible when nature and humans are contending with global crises. Historians of religion refer to an Axial Age (800 BCE to 200 BCE) when the old gods collapsed under the ‘assault’ of apparently-atheistic avatars e.g., Lao Tzu and Confucius in China, the Buddha and Mahavira in India, Zoroaster in Persia, the prophets in Israel, and Socrates and Plato in Greece. Taken together and over a period of time, this led to a huge shift in how humans understood cosmology, theology and history.
A second axial age may have begun with Jesus and Mohammed; and I am convinced that we are at the dawning of a third axial age. The hard clashes of exoteric, violently-proselytizing religions are giving way to the gentle, smiling dialog between their esoteric, mystical cores. It represents the end of both tribal and colonizing systems and the birth of what is being called ‘Interspirituality.’ It will be modelled on networking which is what the 100 billion brain cells do in creating trillions of connections among themselves. The World Wide Web is a sociological manifestation of this. It’s what Teilhard de Chardin predicted in his notion of the ‘Noosphere’ – a sheath of unity consciousness that surrounds the globe, encompassing its Physiosphere (our rocky planet), its Atmosphere (the womb which would later nurture life), its Biosphere (our life forms) and its Psycho-sphere (our self-reflective ability.) I believe that the Noosphere is simply the antechamber to an Atma-sphere (the soul sheath), the Pneuma-sphere (the Spirit layer of Gaia) and, finally, the Brahma-sphere (our Source sheath.)
D. Change and Transformation
Change is typically imposed from the top down but transformation happens from the bottom up. Change may originate from the mega-churches, politics, corporations or the military but it is little groups like COJ and SOS (Shasta on Safari) networking with millions of other small communities that will lead to transformation. And transformation needs, initially, to be slow and organic; whereas change tends to be swift, violent and transitory; and it, eventually, provokes reactionary revolution in which one dysfunctional system is replaced with another dysfunctional system. Transformation is slower, peaceful and permanent; and it transforms the individuals and society by evolution rather than revolution.
Dysfunctional systems can corrupt even good people; and corrupt individuals can destroy even well-functioning systems. The ideal is individual people committed to personal transformation forming small, loving communities which network and create a gentle, global transformation.
COJ welcomes it twin soul, Shasta on Safari to our shared worldwide mission.