Toward a Liturgy of Encounter

About three years ago I began imagining how First Contact with Alien Beings might come about, what its implications might be, which conditions would best serve such a momentous historical occasion, and how all of us could achieve full and active participation in the event, spread as we are across the entire globe.

What I’ve arrived at today is an evolution of a few previous attempts, as well as the fruit of my own meditation and reflection, much of which I have shared publicly on my blog and via social media accounts such as Facebook and Google Plus.

Perhaps this brief ritual framework will become an occasion for you to think about how we, as the human Family, might show the Universe just how precious and beautiful we are to one another.

I have no doubt that Alien Friends/Visitors would be as amazed at us and we would be at them — just as my dog, Dante, looks to me as if I were something like a god or a mythic hero and I look to him in the same way.

Toward a Liturgy of Encounter
(for use at the occasion of First Contact)

Public Rite
1. Solemn Greeting
2. Litanies/Petitions (declaration of intention)
3. Reading/Lesson (e.g., “Compassion of the Tree”)
4. Exposition (explantion of event)

Rite of Transition
5. Announcement of Sacred Act (e.g., “The doors! The doors!” etc. from Byzantine liturgy)

Veiled/Hidden Rite (performed in private)
6. Sign of peace exchanged (e.g., among delegates)
7. Honoring of Ancestors (Commemoration of Departed Family members)
8. Ratification of Treaty

Rite of Revelation
9. Announcement and Public Presentation of Treaty
10. Transmission/Communication of Treaty to all relevant authorities

Rite of Consent and Missio
11. Reception and Acceptance of Treaty
12. Consent of the People (e.g., 8 minutes of bells, etc.)
13. Mission (commissioning of the Spritual Family)

Followed by regional and local rites, festivals, etc., as well as religious observations.

The guarantors of the treaty (e.g., the Sacred College of Cardinals) will be sent to every nation on Earth to present physical copies of treaty and relevant historical artifacts.

The same guarantors will provide the Alien Friends with personal and physical artifacts.

~BT Waldbillig
December 16, 2017


Christmas Crackers for Aliens

In just over a week or so, some two billion Christians — myself included — will celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians honor as the long-awaited Anointed One (Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek) and Muslims, following the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad recorded in the Holy Koran, honor as a great prophet and spiritual teacher.

However, in most modern, industrialized, wealthy Western countries, the Holy Day (holiday) has become a time of indulgence,  vanity, sentimentality, and commerce — missing the point of the coming of Jesus into this world.  Personally, I find all of this offensive to the point of blasphemy, a profanation of the second most important Christian liturgical feast. (The Sacred Triduum, which includes Easter Sunday, is the most important one, something akin to the High Holy Days of Christianity’s “elder brothers [siblings] in faith”, as Pope Saint John Paul II, inspired by the dogmatic and pastoral teachings of the Second Vatican Council, described the Jewish people.)

But you don’t have to be a pope or a cardinal or rosary-rattling nun to be disgusted at the vulgarity that now passes for Advent and Christmastide.

Still, we do well to recall that the birth of Jesus — a heirophany, in the words of Mircea Eliade, and the Divine Incarnation to Christians like me — probably seemed quite vulgar to the people among whom it happened physically and historically. After all, Jesus was poor, of seemingly questionable birth, and from a conquered people in an occupied land. Who on Earth would expect a heirophany in such circumstances? And what kind of God shits all over himself or bites his mother’s nipple even when she’s dry, as the divine-human infant Jesus did surely?

Christians theologians use the word kenosis (from ἐκένωσεν in Philippians 2:7) to describe the complete and utter lack of divine trappings that characterized the intersection of the divine and the human in the person of that helpless infant who would become one of the most important men in human history. To paraphrase Eliade,  it was an interruption of divine reality into the space of  human experience and it turned the world on its head.

To a spiritual theologian, it was the consecration of all human beings — but especially those who are overlooked, despised, ignored, weak, helpless, little regarded, unworthy, and unseemly — as holy and sacred to God; likewise with every aspect of life and human experience — including those regarded as ugly, meaningless, useless, vile, painful, and unwanted. Even realities from which (we’re convinced) God must surely be absent possess power to manifest to the world a God whose love is the supreme Good that can’t help but generate life, protect life, increase life, spread life.

Bonum est diffusivum sui, as my professors at the Angelicum repeated again and again, desperately hoping something would stick. It did.

To ancient Fathers of the Church, God became like us by means of Jesus so that we, in turn, might better reflect our divine origin. For a Christian believer like me, each and every human being has the same origin in God’s love. We belong to one family and, like the cranky, hungry infant feeding at the Virgin Mary’s breast, this family is not merely the reality of flesh and blood that we first perceive; rather, like the ‘divin Enfant’ (as one of my favorite Christmas hymns calls Jesus), this family is an easily overlooked but nonetheless real and true manifestation of the divine. That’s what I was referring to when I once spoke of teachers safeguarding their most important teachings by hiding them where no one would think to look.

To my estimation this is the meaning of Christmas — and even an Alien Being would understand how powerful, meaningful, useful, and beneficial these Christian religious beliefs and liturgical practices, which have been part of my life since infancy, can be. In all likelihood they would find in your sacred beliefs and spiritual practices much that is good, useful, and worthwhile even if they’ve never heard of the Prophet Muhammad or Shakyamuni Buddha. I’m quite sure they would perceive in a poor infant or a lame dog an empty place able to represent that which is infinite and spaciousness enough to become a home for the divine. That’s what I was trying to get at when I wrote somewhere about “the place of the empty heart”.

Self-emptying, that’s what kenosis means. Buddhists have a similar, and almost universally misunderstood, word: anatta, the Pali for “non-self” or “substanceless.

I can’t help but recall the famous story of Asanga and Maitreya in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, in which a divine visitor is said to have manifested himself in the form of a lame, maggot-riddled dog — not exactly a seemly or decorous form for a divine being! According to the story, only Asanga perceived the Future Buddha Maitryea in the form of that one particular lame, maggot-riddled dog. Asanga even parades the Buddha-Dog around in a nearby town to see if anyone else can perceive in the dog  the heirophany that is absolutely apparent to him. Only Asanga got the message!

Such is the wisdom of the world — the powerful, rich, holy, and wise are always missing the point. But let’s not fool ourselves, most of the time people like you and me do, too. It happened in the past and it happens today.

Yet something from Eliade makes me question my condemnation of those many millions of people who celebrate Christmas according to those popular cultural practices that I went so far as to call blasphemy. (Technically and from a theological perspective, it’s quite difficult to commit blasphemy, strictly speaking. But that’s a matter for another day.)

In Chapter 2 of Sacred Space and Making the World Sacred, entitled Homogeneity of Space and Hierophany, Eliade makes this shocking declaration about humanity:

To whatever degree he may have desacralized the world, the man who has made his choice in favor of a profane life never succeeds in completely doing away with religious behavior.

To my mind, this might also apply to intelligent beings, whether biological or perhaps even technological, from distant places in the Universe. Somewhere I wrote, though rather inartfully, about religion as a sort of universal experience that might have cultic expression, as in the Christian liturgy, but might also continue to possess cultural significance long after the extinction of the original religion. That’s why even an Elf-on-the-Shelf doll or the sharing of Christmas crackers still has some vestigial, if seemingly tenuous, connection to the Christian religious celebration that meant so much to me first when I was a little boy whose grandmother doted on him a little too much and later as a seminarian surrounded by brothers who loved me just as I was, even though I was never quite satisfied with myself or my progress in the spiritual life.

As I mentioned somewhere, embedded within every major world religion and most so-called minor religions, whether still practiced or long extinct, are social and psychological mechanisms that give us a reason to go on living when life makes no sense or even seems useless. Our common experience of  impermanence and mortality is terrifying if we dare stop and contemplate it. I’m fond of quoting the American Lutheran-turned-Catholic theologian Richard John Neuhaus. Somewhere Father Neuhaus said:

We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. (…) As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word “good” should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good. (First Things, February 2000)

Surely Alien Visitors would understand this and maybe even have an opinion on the matter, just like any one of us. Imagine that, talking theology with Aliens!

I was going to write more about Christmas, Islamophobia, the war in Syria, poverty, and Family, but maybe that’s something for you to think about, talk about, and write about.

After all, we’re in this together — and your experience is every bit as important as mine.

~BT Waldbillig
December 12, 2017

The Dream of the Visitation (re-posting)

This dream strikes me as useful and relevant even today, so I’m re-posting it here.

Let me share with you a dream I had not long ago:

As I gazed at the night sky, I beheld the constellation of the Tauroctany and marveled at the sight. When I turned my gaze below to survey my surroundings, I understood that I was all alone in a dense forest. All was still and no creature in the forest made a sound until, all of a sudden, I heard in the distance a number of voices chanting the Hymn. The familiar voices grew louder and louder until at last they were upon me and I beheld, with difficulty, the faces of the Friends I had seen many times before, though always with great difficulty that demanded an intensity of concentration that existed only at the very limits of my natural faculties.

The Friends announced to me that they were arriving in the very place where I found myself on that night. When I told them that I had already seen this encounter in my mind, the Friends marveled and declared to me that they possessed no power to see or perceive events they had not yet experienced. Then, we shared greetings and offered each other titles of honor and recognition. Once this was finished, I sat upon a faldstool and recited the words of a ritual to solemnize our encounter. After this, I attempted to offer formal words of explanation and encouragement, but my thoughts were too muddled by the overwhelming joy of the occasion. And so instead of a proper discourse, I simply chose to tell the Friends the story of my own life that led me to that place of encounter on that dark night in a dense forest. I made known to them that on many occasions I nearly gave up on myself and the world because I felt too small, insignificant, and weak. Their presence and kindness on that night made all the difficulties, doubts, and despair of my entire life seem as so much dust, for the promise made long ago was a promise fulfilled in that moment and a promise that would be defended and vouched safe unto endless aeons.

The Friends thanked me for my words and then revealed to me that they had been with me on many occasions from my childhood even unto manhood. (I could not understand if their presence on that night and in the past was a personal, physical presence or a spiritual, technological presence.)

As I prepared to wander through the forest back to my home where Dante the Little Man awaited me, I was told that a child wished to greet me. The child was shy and embarrassed — much as I was as a small child many years ago — and the leader of the embassy of Friends informed me that the child was an orphan and was dying of a terrible sickness for which there could be no cure or remedy. The child told me that she was afraid to die and asked me what awaited her after death. In that moment I began to sob, as I had no honest and useful thing to tell her and, naturally, I refused to lie or recite empty platitudes to this dying child, who at last approached me and embraced me in an effort to stop my tears.

It was a suffering and dying child who consoled me when I was overcome by sorrow and felt useless before the mystery of suffering and impermanence.

The leader of the Friends then revealed to me that just as my own world into which they had come was a place of war, aggression, violence, hatred, sickness, and death, so would there always be wars and dying children among every community of beings throughout the Universe. However, the Spiritual Family that came into existence at the occasion of Contact between Earth Humans and the Visitor Friends would become an invincible power scattered among the stars and stretching to every corner of the Universe. Those beings once known as the People of War and the Avenging Gods would become a Spiritual Family, known throughout the Universe as the People of the Great Heart. Though worlds and civilizations and stars might pass away, this Family would always endure.

I gave thanks for this teaching and the Friends departed.

~BT Waldbillig
September 26, 2017
via The Dream of the Visitation
– – – – –
~BT Waldbillig
December 13, 2017

[I often write about my dreams, but across the years I have come to understand that while I see everything from the point of view of the primary actor of the event, the dreams are rarely about me. While they’re always and only just dreams, I experience them as if they were visions appearing through a semi-transparent veil or through a glass darkly (to misuse St. Paul’s words). Sometimes the events seem historical, whether past or future, while at times are altogether beyond my experience that I can only describe them in mythic terms. The scholastic dictum comes to mind: Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipentis recipitur.]

Look to the Tree!

Therefore, look to the Tree:

Like a Titan, its body rises heavenward and stretches out its arms, providing rest and shade for the weary and a home to the birds of the sky.

The Tree creates the air that sustains man and beast.

It offers itself as a sacrifice, becoming home and ark.

It is the servant of the bringer of fire — fire that destroys, fire that sustains, fire that warms, fire that purifies.

How great is this Tree, like unto a god, stooping down to worship us who should worship it, silent and steadfast, wise beyond human understanding.

And how marvelous that we, who deserve so little, are the branches and shoots and leaves and blossoms of this noble Tree.

How noble are we also!

~BT Waldbillig
December 13, 2017
– – – – –
Original post:

The Little Man

After the rain
There is silence

As on the first morning
Of that first spring day

When the world was fresh
And full of hope

We climbed from the pit
You and I laughing

You turned to me and smiled
The first smile of creation

So I chased you up the hill
Through the fields of yellow flowers

Beyond the tall grass
And into the forest

When I caught you at last
— You let me catch you! —

We sat on a rock by a tree
At the top of the world

And the first leaf fell
From the first tree of creation

So I held you in my arms
Like my child, my only child

I rocked you to sleep
Watching you dream your last dream

You closed your eyes for
The last time, the first time

You breathed your last breath
And your breath became the wind

I opened my eyes for the first time
For all time and the world awoke

I shed the first tear of creation
For you and it filled the world with water

Even today when the wind stirs the flowers
And shakes the leaves from the trees

You are remembered
You who seem a fable

The silent wind unnoticed
Moves even the mighty oceans

And bears men aloft like dreams
To new worlds and new hopes

So did you move my heart
Without even a single word

And now the silent ones
Remember you and call you back

Though I am gone
Never to see you again

You are father and mother
You are brother and friend

You are love and family
You found me and saved me

So long as there is light
So long as there is life

So long as the gentle breeze
Plucks leaves from the trees

So long as there are yellow flowers
And tall grass in the meadow

Until the last mountain disappears
Beneath the waters, my tears

This will be our temple
The sparrows our priests

Just like that first day
When you pulled me from the pit

When we danced and laughed
And thought the world would never end

~BT Waldbillig
December 13, 2017

Brothers Wandering the Universe Together

Somewhere I wrote:

The tree is so common an aspect of our human experience that most of us cannot grasp its beauty, significance, or compassion. Perhaps only on a long journey in the desert or across the sea or through the infinite expanse of outer space – those places where the tree seems but fantasy – can our kind laugh with joy or weep in sorrow for something so ordinary as a tree.

The desert wanderer who inspired me was Muhammad the Prophet for, to my estimation, the heart and power of the Prophet Muhammad’s teaching is this: God is compassion and compassion is pleasing to God.

I cannot help but remember that Christians were responsible for the Shoah less than a century ago. Any Christian who hates Muslims simply because they’re Muslim is no different than those Lutheran and Catholic bishops (and “faithful”) in Nazi Germany who proudly offered the very same salute under which tens of millions of men, women, and even children across the world were defiled and slaughtered.

As a Christian I regard the Jewish people as older siblings and those of the Muslim faith as younger siblings — we are Family to one another.

And an older brother always sticks up for his kid brother!

~BT Waldbillig
December 11, 2017