Still whooshing

January 20, 2011

"Whooshing up" once, "whooshing up" twice: find two "whooshings up" in major newspapers on the same day and you may well pay attention. Get ready to be swept away by this new coinage, which is featured in All Things Shining by philosophers Herbert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. Wall Street Journal reviewer Eric Ormsby summarizes:

Whooshing up is the sensation we enjoy at a sporting event when the crowd rises to its feet as one to register a communal sense of awe and admiration before some astonishing athletic feat. Whooshing up is communal, it is public, and it is shared.

It also replicates what the ancient Greeks did in response to highlights in athletic events. Dreyfus and Kelly advocate whooshing up as a partial cure for the nihilism that afflicts our culture now that God is gone. God may be gone, they suggest, but the gods are not--and the public has to believe in something.

Their point is a perfect illustration of the most quoted line attributed to but not written by G. K. Chesterton: "When a man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes in anything" (or "everything" in some readings.) The old word for this was polytheism, and Dreyfus and Kelly call for it to come back in revised versions.

Back? It never left. God #1 remains Mars, much beloved even in churches. Have you ever pondered the words of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," sung even in the sanctuaries of the Prince of Peace? God #2 is still Venus, who rules in pop culture and needs no revering in sanctuaries. God #3 is always Mammon, who determines the life of the secular culture and even the prosperity gospel and its analogues in the churches.

The god most noticed by Dreyfus and Kelly is #4, Hermes. They know that the books of philosophy and hymns of the church can't compare to athletic events for prompting whooshing up. These are merely four examples of the belief-in-everything that fosters most whooshing up.

Liturgies are available. Here is Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes from long ago:

To Hermes, Fumigation from Frankincense, Hermes, draw near, and to my prayer incline, messenger of Zeus, and Maia's son divine; prefect of contest, ruler of mankind, with heart almighty.

The NFL and the NBA and Littler League could find ways to package that.

Some would say that the churches stand no chance unless they can out-whoosh-up popular culture and its celebrations. Not a chance; they will compete and fail and themselves fall into nihilism. They have different "fumigations from frankincense" to offer.

At its best, however, worship--whether around a campfire at a youth retreat, during the burning of the candle and the offering of a cup where two or three are gathered as one is dying, after a mission completed by a volunteer group, or during the singing of the Mass in B Minor--inspires its own kind of whooshing. Worship planners and leaders can open the way for the winds of the Spirit to turn worship from drab routine to some sort of whooshing-up in an awe-full event.

Or they can stand by and whine or sulk or be envious as the old gods keep the field to themselves.


The Ultimate Whoosh

I'll join your challenge for a moment. There is probably not much point trying to deny the human hunger for a good whoosh. When memories of parting the Red Sea were fading into foreboding sensations of losing their direction, the Israelites sought a quick, artificial whoosh by pressing Aaron to fashion a golden calf. At least they got most of the letters right. Instead of a whoosh, though, they got a whoops!

Even so, scripture records some of the greatest whooshes of history. It starts at creation (the big whoosh instead of the big bang?), and then plows ahead with astonishing accounts of the flood, fire and brimstone, the plagues, the Red Sea, and bread from heaven. A boy conquers a giant, angels conquer invaders, and prophets rise in firey chariots. Talk about whooshes! And intermingled we find stories like God revealing Himself to Elijah in the sound of a gentle whisper. In its own understated way, that is one of my favorite whooshes of the Old Testament. It brings me to my feet, and it brings me to my knees.

For a couple thousand years now Christians have lived in an age of grace. A really big whoosh came with the resurrection. Today we experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is not usually quite as dramatic as Pentecost in Acts, but it is equally moving as hearts are strangely warmed and tears of joy flow. Military conquests and athletic victories pale in comparison.

Even this, though, is only part of the way there. The Bible is filled with promises of coming events. Many of the promises are already fulfilled, but we are still waiting for the end. We are waiting for the ultimate whoosh. The time when the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." When God's eternal kingdom is established.

Meanwhile, I agree that worship inspires its own kind of whooshing, and that it cannot be achieved through drab routines. (Isn't a "drab routine" the antithesis of whooshing anyway?).

So how can we find the whoosh? Listen to the Spirit. It whooshed over the waters at creation. It will whoosh us with the water of life at the end. God knows whooshing. Follow the path. God will reveal the whoosh.

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