‘Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” These time-honoured words in their simple majesty present the archetypal pattern for the manner in which a new epoch opens in the spiritual evolution of humanity. In the last analysis, the origin and character of The Christian Community must be understood in reference to this pattern. At its outset there was a divine initiative and a human response or, to put it perhaps more correctly, a human groping, a muffled call, caused in the unconscious by divine readiness for a new step.
Every characteristic detail of the movement is as new as a new creation and at the same time as old as eternity. This applies in a special sense to its centres of life: its sacramental events, seven in number, grouped around the Act of Consecration like the planets round the sun. And it remains now to be shown how they stand in relation to traditional forms.
The communion service, the Act of Consecration of Man, bears in its structure and sequence a distinct resemblance to the Mass. Yet not only is its language the vernacular of our age, but every single detail is as fresh and as new and as different as the fresh blossom of a new spring. Additions and accretions which were joined to the ritual body of the Mass in times of clouded vision have dropped away. The ritual has sprung again from its eternal source like a young reincarnation of its eternal self. It has gone through a metamorphosis caused by God himself.
Equally striking is the new birth of the ritual of baptism, the second great Christian sacrament. The baptismal service in The Christian Community is the first genuine form of infant baptism in the history of Christianity. All traditional forms of baptism used in the historic churches are more or less imperfect adaptations of a ritual originally used for adults. None of them meets the condition of a soul just entered into earthly life.
The traditional service of confirmation, hedged round and covered with doctrinal assumptions and demands of a bygone age, hardly gives to the adolescent boy and girl that true ‘confirmation’, that is the strengthening of soul, which they need. The confirmation ritual in The Christian Community confers that grace and power which a Christianity can give which is in touch with the unseen reality of the world.
From the same sources the marriage ritual of the Community inspires a conception of marriage which adult men and women can accept and maintain with dignity and freedom. The burial services, too, which accompany and lead in reality the human self from one state of existence into the other witness to their more than human origin. And from the same sources also a form of sacramental consultation has come into being which can in time supersede the couch of the psychoanalyst as much as the traditional confessional box.
These sacramental acts and events are the fountains of spiritual experience in The Christian Community. They help us to make the whole of life into a sacrament in reality. Without the constant inspiration of the ‘special’ sacraments the ‘universal’ sacrament of life remains mostly a pious ideal. Anyone who in his own judgment and conviction has come to realise the truth of our sacraments can become a member. No other condition is required. One ultimate gift and gain of these sources of sacramental experience is of crucial importance for all religion. They lead to a fresh first-hand realisation of man’s immortal self. We have no quarrel with science, when science asserts that consciousness as we know it in our ordinary, everyday, waking state of mind, is tied to the brain, to the cerebrospinal system, is ‘cell-bound’. But we know from the sources of experience opened up by the sacramental events that within us there is an occult entity, the ‘real I’. It may be that in the past — or at any rate in the last few centuries — this real I could never be convincingly experienced this side of death by the majority of men and women. But this situation is changing. And in the process we cease to ‘worry’ about our immortality or to make any fuss about it. Our ‘immortality’ begins to dawn within our consciousness; it emerges as a knowable fact: it explains that ‘dormant omniscience’ in us, of which some writers speak. Together with this knowable realisation of our eternal entity we discover not only that we shall continue to have an individual existence after death, however much our type of consciousness may be changed, but that in fact we had an individual existence before physical conception and birth.
With this first-hand discovery (or rediscovery?) of our eternal self, our whole approach to the other fundamentals of religion undergoes a change. Our vision of God, or as today we incline to say more naturally, of ‘the divine world of spirit’, our grasp of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and their redemptive significance takes on a new life, our practice of prayer and meditation, our approach to the whole range of practical morality — everything changes or rather is reborn and refashioned.
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