“ . . . Above and beyond our rational being lies hidden the ultimate and highest part of our nature, which can find no satisfaction in the mere allaying of the needs of our sensuous, psychical, or intellectual impulses and cravings. The mystics called it the basis or ground of the soul.” — Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy
When it comes to the history of religion, this element of the non-rational, the awe-ful, the mysterious, is bound into the DNA of the whole experience. Rudolf Otto laid down the premise that religion starts with the apprehension of ‘the mysterium tremendum.’ He describes the experience:
Feeling - Times - Tide - Mind - Mood
“The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship . . . It has its wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of—whom or what? In the presence of that which is a Mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.”
I’d venture to say that for most of us who worship on a regular basis the mystery’s gone. We are familiar with the rhythm of the worship service, at times comforting, at other times almost nauseating in its repetition and dullness. Mainstream religious groups, noting the absence of youth and young adults, inject informality into the service, along with music that can get people on their feet, clapping, and swaying. What they may lack in depth they make up for in enthusiasm and communal spirit. You’re never alone at such a service.
And yet . . . and yet ....
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