Participation

The Perennial Tradition

Participation
Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Perennial Tradition includes the constant themes and truths that recur in all the world religions at their most mature and deep levels. As I mentioned last week, the Second Vatican Council teaches Catholics that indigenous religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism each reflect “a ray of that Truth which enlightens all [people].” [1] If it’s true, then it has to be true everywhere. Or, as Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) was fond of saying, quoting Ambrose (another Doctor of the Church, 340–397), “If it is true, it is always from the one Holy Spirit.” [2]

Here’s philosopher Aldous Huxley’s (1884–1963) definition of “the perennial philosophy”:

The metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality, and the ethic that places [humanity’s] final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being. This is immemorial and universal. [3]

The Perennial Tradition constantly recognizes that we are part of something more than we are observing something. Read that again: we are part of something more than we are observing something. How does that feel to you? From the perspective of participation, we can recognize that most of religious and church history has been largely preoccupied with religious ideas about which we could be wrong or right. When it is all about ideas, we do not have to be part of “it”; we just need to talk correctly about “it.” We can avoid actually living out our beliefs and walking our talk.

The foundational spiritual question is this: Does one’s life give any evidence of an encounter with God? When we’ve experienced union and intimacy with the divine, what is our response? Does the encounter bring about what Paul described as the “fruits” of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22)? This is what authentic conversion or metanoia means. We should keep asking ourselves: are we different from our surroundings, or do we continue reflecting the predictable cultural values and biases of our group?

Until recently, participation has not been the strong suit or primary position in the three monotheistic religions, except among some subsets of Kabbalistic Jews, Hesychastic Orthodox, Sufi Muslims, Christian mystics, and the many individuals who would have fit into any of these groups if they had known about them.

The “participatory turn” is learning from concrete practices, personal disciplines, and interactive dialogues that change the seer and allow and encourage the encounter itself. Many Christians today are rediscovering prayer beads, prayer of quiet, icons, Taizé songs, charismatic prayer, walking meditation, Zen chores, extended silence, solitude, and disciplined spiritual direction. Up to now, someone could have a doctorate in theology as a Catholic or Protestant and not really know how to pray or even enjoy prayer (experienced union), although they could recommend and attempt to define it. Now we need to personally live it.

References:
[1] Second Vatican Council, “Nostra Aetate (In Our Time): Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” (October 28, 1965), 2. Full text at http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html.

[2] Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, q. 1, a. 8. Also Summa Theologia I-II, q. 109, a. 1, ad 1. The statement “Omne verum, a quocumque dicatur, a Spiritu Sancto est” is recorded in Patres Latini, 17, 245; today, the unknown author is called Ambrosiaster.

[3] Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (HarperCollins: 1944), vi.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 108-111, 213; and

“Introduction,” “The Perennial Tradition,” Oneing, vol. 1, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), 11. No longer in print; a Kindle version is available from Amazon.

Image credit: A Moment of Prayer (detail), Frederick Arthur Bridgeman, 1877, Private Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In every historical epoch and in every cultural tradition, there are those who practice a form of contemplation that puts them in a position to receive the gift of an unfiltered divine encounter. —James Danaher
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