Entering the Courts of Heaven, Part Two

This post is the second in a series that explores how we covenant with God through worship.

Everybody worships, and worship involves attention, awareness and discipline. But it also involves method and purpose. I am more and more convinced that the purpose of all worship is to enter what anthropologist of religion Felicitas Goodman calls a “trance state” or “alternate form of consciousness.” Goodman points out that every culture in the world in every time and place has created methods for entering this state. In terms of human behavior, the 20th century European and American tendency to denigrate these states and attribute them to mental illness is an aberration. The ability and need to enter trances is part of our human make-up, as much a part of our nature as sleep or hunger or thirst. 

When we enter such states, we travel into what Goodman calls “the alternate reality.” This “alternate reality” is not supernatural.

if a phenomenon were super-natural, humans, being part of nature, would be unable to perceive it. Instead, we will assume the stance, shared by religious specialists the world over, that the alternate reality is another part or dimension of reality as a whole.

Felicitas Goodman

So this reality is a natural part of our world, and our ability to enter it during trance states is a natural part of humanity. 

In order to enter it, we need to create some kind of door or portal. Another way of saying this is that we need to attune our attention and awareness to perceive this reality, and we do this by creating a discipline of some sort. This could be a form of prayer or meditation that follows a proscribed method. But most often, we create this door through ritual.

Throughout the world and throughout time, people have created many different rituals for opening this door. Some cultures have done this through rites of violence — human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, mortification of the flesh (which is not unknown in Christianity). Some have done this through the ritualized use of psychedelics or other drugs. Some have found natural settings that help to create this door — volcanic fissures, mountain tops, deserts. Many cultures have used words and music to open this door.

Jesus came, in part, to teach us another way to open this door. He used the words “heaven” and “paradise” to speak about the alternate reality. The ritual which he created to act as a door into paradise was rooted in his body, his humanness, because it is, as Goodman says, through our humanness that we enter into this other realm of nature. Over the centuries, the Church elaborated his ritual, and did so in a way that didn’t involve violence or drugs, but would be recognizable to people of other cultures.

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