Extraordinary Religion

What does extraordinary religion and religious practice mean?

Before I delve into the subject, it is probably a simplistic understatement to say that each of us believe our religious practice to be an extraordinary one.  As I mentioned in a previous post, to even ask this question might come off as offensive because few see their religious life as ‘normal.’  But, as I think you will agree, there is a difference between ordinary and extraordinary religious practice.

As before, the term extraordinary religion comes from America Religions and Religion, by Catherine L. Albanese. In particular, it comes from her introduction titled The Elephant in the Dark. In that piece, Albanese breaks the two aspects of religion, ordinary and extraordinary, as elements of boundary building between the regular cultural practice of a faith tradition and the more esoteric or transcendent aspect by which we connect to our particular aspect of a higher power.

I use the term higher power because we are dealing with all aspects of faith and not just a particular brand of spirituality which might instead use the term God.

In her book, she defines extraordinary religion as:

the religion that helps people to transcend, or move beyond, their everyday culture and concerns. Extraordinary religion grows at the borders of life as we know it and seeks to over into another country and another form of life. In the West, extraordinary religion helps us to contact God.

Let us look briefly at each of these two kinds of religion.”  That “…In the West, extraordinary religion helps us to contact God…” which is, I believe at the heart of all religious practice.

But, for most the process of this contact varies, and depending on how one defines it, could be subjective to the contactee and not easily definable to those outside of that individuals particular circle of society.

Albanese says, “…extraordinary religion is, as the term literally announces, extra ordinary, the ordinary circle society. Indeed, extraordinary religion involves an encounter with some form of otherness, whether natural or supernatural” which perhaps puts off those who are not readily willing to say that they desire just that sort of supernatural experience.

And, this experience is not necessarily widespread, as Albanese believes, “if ordinary religion is diffused throughout culture, extraordinary religion is condensed” meaning that it occurs individually or within in smaller circles of believers of similar mind or inclination. That Extraordinary religion includes special language, symbols, iconography, and other aspects of delineation of belief. In essence, I believe that it includes the symbolism of the belief group or individual so as to facilitate the same or similar aspect of practice.

In many ways, this is an expression of spirituality which seems to pervade through all religious traditions in some manner of extraordinary connectivity to the creative force of their particular religion.

To see how this interlaces with ordinary religion, we need to consider that this practice of extraordinary religion occurs within communities or ordinary practice. While this is true for the most part, I am increasingly convinced that the idea of extraordinary religious practice is increasingly taking place outside of faith communities as more and more spiritual seekers are not turning to a particular branch of church, but rather looking in what would have been previously considered alternative religions. The numbers from the Pew study of religion seems to confirm this, at least in so far as the trends of church attendance are on the decline across the board while the individual interest in spirituality is on the climb.

So, what can you take away from this? My take is that what has here-to-for been looked at as an esoteric pursuit of religious expression is rather in fact the pursuit of extraordinary religious practice in seeking for a more meaningful takeaway from the experience. By participating at some level with the hopes of having a supernatural experience with some divine or Godly overtones has been, and will continue to be, a natural part of our human nature and human experience. Whether we look at indigenous peoples or the most devout of western religious practice, at some level there is a desire for some spiritual connection to the unseen force behind the devotion and normative practice of worship.

I believe, that it is in this transcendence that the boundaries between religions can be traversed and a common space achieved within which a mutual expression of religion takes place.


This was originally published on Sacred Space Los Angeles in 2012.

Ordinary Religion

What is Ordinary Religious practice?

This is not a question one would ever generally consider and perhaps the question comes off to someone as an affront to their own religious practice which they consider being extraordinary because of elements within it that they believe to be beyond the normal object of practice.

The exploration of the term ordinary religion comes from the book by Catherine Albanses, America Religions and Religion. In essence, the idea behind Ordinary Religion is the day to day practice of a particular faith tradition not encompassing a dynamic encounter with the divine, in other words an otherwise mystical or super-spiritual experience.

Examples of ordinary religion include attending church, participation in church activities that are not directly linked to mystical experience and social interactions from a religious context which again does not include some degree of ecstatic experience. Albanese describes Ordinary Religion as “the religion that is more or less synonymous with culture. Ordinary religion shoes people how to live well within boundaries.”

This has a tinge of hostility behind it as to suggest that a religion rests within a boundary suggests a clear demarcation of us and them. Albanese says, “Ordinary religion puts its premium on the things that are deeply present and (mostly) unconsciously revered within everyday culture,” in essence the everyday practice of that religion.

These boundaries exits within the spectrum of practice and, as artificial as they may be, are in fact a reality between different denominations and between different religions. This can be clearly seen in the disparate theologies that populate the landscape in the many churches that exist within most high density urban communities.

To understand this idea more fully, we can look back to Albanese when she says’

“ordinary religion can reveal itself in the many customs and folkways that are part of a culture: expected ways of greeting people; wedding etiquette concerning clothes, manners, and obligations; habits of diet; and holiday behavior.”

It is precisely these ideas that create the artificial boundaries between other faith traditions.

So, how can you tell if your religious practice is an ordinary one?

I don’t think the question is as relevant as it may seem. Nor do I think that it is something unique and wholly an element of religion. Any system of system of customs and practice can be an ordinary practice and create boundaries so long as it embraces elements unique to its conduct. Association with like minded sports fans, attendance to only similar performances of a genre of music, or even celebration of holidays that others may not have any inclination of, all of these are aspects of participatory ordinary practice. The creation of boundaries comes in the very practice or group association.

Ultimately, Ordinary Religion can be defined as living within your boundaries – doing what you think you should. It is your day by day routine that represents your values evident in communal celebrations and activities, essentially synonymous with culture.

The counter point to Ordinary Religion comes when we look at the practice Extraordinary Religion which exists beyond the “normal” culture, and transcends both boundaries and beliefs to explore more explanations of your culture or religion.  In essence, the encounter space between boundaries otherwise known as Extraordinary Religion.


This was originally published on Sacred Space Los Angeles in 2012.

The Lizard

What does it mean to face death? How you do approach it? How do you help others face the inevitable conclusion? It’s not a topic one considers without some precursor event that triggers the thought. For me, it was a lizard.

By the way, this is a new endeavor to put thought into spoken word — Symbolica. Let me know what you think. And if you like it, think about subscribing to get the next episode.

Air and Vapor

I’ve always been fascinated by weather.

Maybe it’s the fact that where I grew up and live there’s so little variation in weather that, whenever there’s something other than a clear blue sky, I’m transfixed.

One of the things that strike me most is a weird parallel between chemical states in the weather. What I mean by that is the behavior of clouds mirroring in some respect the behavior of their more solid cousin, water. Yes, I know, the two may share properties with one another, but they exist in two very different states. Nonetheless, to my minds eye, they look very much the same, almost as though beneath the clouds, I exist below the roiling waves of the ocean, suspended in a wet world of noise and breath.

I’m sure there’s some Hermetic parallel here. Some above, below, this is that, thing or another that I could associate with the whole thing. But instead, I’ll just let it be what it is — me in my bubble of air, below the roiling sea looking up at the plane above and beyond the here and now.

Floating on the air and vapor.

 

Hermetica as a Religious Philosophy

Something I’ve been giving a lot thought to lately is the idea of Hermetica, or maybe better phrased the Hermetic philosophy, as a religious practice. Does this foundation of the western mystery tradition hold-up as a practice of religious devotion or in some ritual practice?

On the outside, i think I’ve wanted to think it does. That, at it’s core, one could utilize the ideas of the mysterious emerald tablet as a set of ideals that promote some kind of philosophical religious ideation. And, like the Christian Bible, the Hermetic texts could offer some degree of direction or ethos to inform and guide religious decision making. But, the more and more I’ve considered this, the more often I’ve come back to the decision that it doesn’t, or that it can’t.

As a teaching, Hermetica offers an interesting philosophical take on approaching the world. That it offers a syncretic zest to elevating above the fray of dogmatism, while itself establishing it’s own set of dogmas and thou shalt and shalt-nots.

It’s in these dogmas that, perhaps, the religion exists.

So then, should hermetic be re-imagined? Take the good, reject the bad and construct a new ethic of what it means to be Hermetic? It could keep the teachings of the Kybalion, and still layer in with the Rosicrucian or masonic ideas (it is, after all about initiation and seeing things from a different perspective not considered before). And why can’t it retain the syncretism of a trans polytheism as being adoptable under all faiths constructing a new layer or dynamic to understanding the god of Judaism, the god of Islam and the path if the Buddha.

It’s under this key aspect that always bring me back to the conclusion that Hermetica is, itself, the religion of religions. That it is the underlying philosophical bones of modernism itself in that while it’s teachings come from great antiquity, the ideas themselves find newer relevance the smaller the world gets — a condition we find the further along we get in the path of history. Hermeticism, then, is that closed loop of time, without beginning or end, looping back upon itself in a way that seems to be without beginning or end. It simply is.

And yet, all things start and stop, and start again as the forward motion of the universe continues. It is all and nothing at the same time. This is where my head is at in considering the place of Hermetica in the grand cosmic scheme of things. This is how I find validation in my ideas of it having fingers and thought in all aspects of religion, all aspects of life. Hermetic isn’t this, or that, it just is.And by being, it continues on to be re-imagined, changed and evolved into some other construct of it’s former self.

Which brings me back around full circle.

Everything Vibrates

I feel, of late, as though I am in a spiritual black hole.

It is neither terrifying nor is it exhilarating, it just feels as though it is. To use another metaphor, this state of being feels as though I have been wrapped like a spindle in a bolt of cloth by the thickest black material that lets absolutely no light or sound through its weave.

I dont know what to make of it.

In some respects, from a Hermetic point of view, perhaps I am at the middle point between two vibrating poles caught somewhere in the transition. That take brings me some comfort.

Not being in that transit and just stuck in the void… horrifies me.

Howdy

Welcome to my home away from home, my little slice of the universe where I plan to concentrate micro devotions under the banner of the Hermetic path.

Hermetic Hermit

hermit, hermetic, art, illustration, digital

I’ve neither written nor posted much in the last few months. I havent really wanted to becoming a bit of a Hermetic Hermit. So why start now?

Ive spent some time going through some old posts in another blog I wrote some time back, back before I made a go writing something more mainstream and less counter culture. That experiment didnt end up well as I feel as though I took myself far afield from where I really wanted to go.

Where did I want to go? Well, thats something to explore here.

This is about faith, meaning and parsing out what those things mean in a world where those two things are a constant test on the moral imagination.

Im a hermetic hermit. Its time I start acting like one.

The World Awaits

One thing thats struck me hard is the transition of the child into an adult. Ive read its comparable to the feeling of physically losing a child, though Im sure that pain is much more enduring. The transition of one’s own flesh and blood from a dependent appendage of your existence into its own recognized self-aware being is a slow birthing process that at its conclusion feels every bit the ending of one life and the beginning of another.

You would think this would give with it some measure of joy and it does, but at the point of transition it feels as though the contents of your soul have departed you leaving you wondering why.

Its in this way that the lessons of the Hermetica strike me. While left without that piece, I imagine how the divine essence feels in its long night awaiting the return of its children. Perhaps this is the same in other faiths of patrimony, the divine estate of father to son transferring title across generations. In this instance, though, as the divine source releasing its creation, I find as the joy in being the source of the good, the giver of life, wisdom, and nourishment.

It feels as though if it were a rite of release, the letting go of that essential element that was never mine to begin with.

Go, fly, my beautiful creations become what were always in your nature to be.

The world awaits you.

To Live , First You Have to Die

Change is an endemic aspect of the universe.

We’re born, we grow, we live, we die, and the great solar circle turns in the heavens and gravity holds our bones to the earth.  But, even these two elements of universal constancy are subject to change.  Luminary balls of fusion energy form and break apart and the internal engines of molten iron cool and stop turning.

Everything changes.

As people, I think we get caught up in the idea that we want peace and perfection only to become unhappy and irritated at the boring blandness of it all. We say we want stability, but isn’t that really just a metaphor for an imprisoned existence?

As a species, our penultimate punishment for a criminal is to lock them up in a small cell with three square meals daily, fresh water always at the tap, reasonable climate accommodation (not to hot and not to cold) and some form of daily entertainment, albeit probably not what they would themselves choose to be entertained by.

This is life without change.  Is this not what we seek when we cry out at the pains of something new forced upon us?

I know I do.  I resist. I struggle. I spit, scratch, cry and fight at the first sign of change that didn’t come from my own hand.

What doers the Hermetic texts tell us about change?  It says:

Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates

That everything is in motion, nothing is static.  That motion is change.  Maybe its subtle, slow, imperceptible and invisible to the naked eye. Maybe it’s all at once and with such force that it feels as if the very universe is doing it’s very best to make different everything around you, almost as if you were going to die.

Sometimes, that’s what it takes to get through something.  Sometimes it’s that piece of ourselves that needs to die in order for us to be ready for that next thing, that next challenge.

I say this on the heels of being in the middle of a process of change that I struggled against.  My mind wanted that jail cell of uniformity and familiarity. Sure, my lips would say otherwise and I would tell my conscious self that I was ok with what has been going on.  But my mind… My mind wanted (and still does) to keep things from vibrating into that next state of being.  It refuses to let go of what is a fast evolving state of human development and my unwilling mind of the selfish ego is not taking well to the change.

But, like it or not, that piece of my existence needs to die.  Not the physical death, but no less painful and excruciating to undergo.