The Evolution of Consciousness and Modern Worship

The sound of a thousand people singing filled the room in perfect sync with the driving sound of the band. As we sang and played, my eyes looked around the room. These were people whose stories I knew.

As a worship leader, I always wanted to know our people well enough to be able to see them from the stage. Knowing what they were hoping for, celebrating, or grieving allowed me to see and be with them while we were singing.

Making this gathering possible were musicians playing a variety of acoustic and electric instruments, vocalists singing in harmonies, a combination of plugin and wireless technology, and experienced technicians working to balance the sound, project the lyrics, and light the room.

This type of worship is what most evangelical churches in America experience every week. For many, these gatherings are powerful moments of connection with self, neighbor, and God. For others, the idea of singing songs to a deity feels awkward. After all, is anyone still singing songs to Zeus? Then for some of us, the lyrics of the songs can trigger deeply held trauma by ascribing to God the wrath and punishment that remind us of abuse we suffered as children.

In Re-enchanting the Earth: Why AI Needs Religion, Ilia Delio explores the development of consciousness across the millennia from pre-axial, through axial, to second axial consciousness. What  if we considered the nature of our liturgies, worshipers, and gatherings in light of what we are learning about consciousness? How might a deeper understanding of pre-axial, axial, and second axial consciousness affect the complex experience of connection and disconnection that many of us feel in worship?

Liturgies shaped by pre-axial consciousness

According to Delio, the stage of pre-axial consciousness goes back possibly as far as 64,000 BCE. She says that “Pre-axial consciousness was a level of religious-mythic consciousness that was cosmic, collective, tribal, and ritualistic.”

For these hunter-gatherers, Delio says, “blood sacrifice ritual obligations were celebrated in community.”

Delio goes on to explore how pre-axial tribes used creation myths to explain their belief that the separation of heaven and earth pointed to “a fundamental alienation from the primordial unity of spiritual being.” To bridge this separation, many of these ancient tribes spoke of a “spiritual pole linking heaven and earth” that was “implicitly present in religious ritual and was embodied architecturally in important temples and sacred sites.”

While modern day Christian worship services may not include spiritual poles that unite heaven and earth, the lyrics of our most popular songs share the pre-axial theological assumption of a fundamental divide between heaven and earth. Consider these lyrics to “Thank You Jesus For the Blood.”

“I was a wretch.
I remember who I was.
I was lost.
I was blind.
I was running out of time.
Sin separated.
The breach was far too wide.”

Also, while modern day Christian services may not include blood sacrifice, the lyrics of our most popular songs celebrate the blood sacrifice of Jesus. How does “Thank You Jesus For the Blood” resolve this division between heaven and earth? “Thank you Jesus for the blood applied.”

Those lyrics celebrate blood sacrifice as bridging the division of heaven and earth. And thus, our liturgies reflect the theological assumptions of ritualistic tribes living between 64,000 to 3,000 years ago.

Worshipers shaped by axial consciousness

As pre-axial tribes began to converge through technology, cities, social networks, and politics, Delio says that consciousness became more complex, which led to the emergence of our modern religions.

Delio reflects, “People began to question their own beliefs as they came into contact with others whose beliefs were different.”

This disconnection from their own tribe led to an “awareness of autonomy and a new sense of individuality,” which resulted in an emphasis on rationality and individual spirituality.

According to Delio, the emphasis on rational individuality celebrated “power, politics, and intellect, influenced by the distinction of the sexes.”

Aristotle’s proclamation that “the relation of male to female is by nature a relation of superior to inferior and ruler to ruled” fed the rise of Patriarchy in Western Christianity.

Individuals within the world of axial consciousness began seeing the entire cosmos as a hierarchy in the heavens that was mirrored in a hierarchy in society. And thus, Delio believes that “Christianity invented a new religious consciousness of God and creation, a static, fixed, gendered God controlled by a patriarchal church.”

While modern day Christians may not believe in a multi-tiered, earth-centered hierarchical cosmology, the hierarchies of power, politics, intellect, and gender distinctions permeate our relationships to God and to one another in our worship services.

Most churches in the West are run almost exclusively by men. In these church worship gatherings, women are allowed to have leadership roles only to the degree that men allow them to. And in many cases, their role is limited to playing a piano or teaching kids under the age of 13. Thus, our worship gatherings are made of individuals feeling their place within the hierarchy.

As individuals within the hierarchy sing their songs to God, the very place of God becomes hierarchical. Consider these lyrics to “Our God Is Greater.”

“Our God is greater.
Our God is stronger.
God, You are higher than any other.”

In other words, our individual God is at the top of the hierarchy. Every relationship from the heavens down into the sanctuary is a relationship of superiority to inferiority, and ruler to ruled.

A gathering shaped by second axial consciousness

The twentieth century brought about a fundamentally transformed understanding of the cosmos as relational wholeness through the discoveries of Big Bang cosmology, evolution, and quantum physics.

According to Delio, “While the first axial period produced the self-reflective individual, the second axial period is giving rise to the hyper-personal or hyper connected person.”

She says that because of technology, “The tribe is no longer the local community, but the global community which can now be accessed immediately through television, internet, and satellite communications.”

Because we are so connected, especially through social media, our consciousness is becoming “globally complexified” to a degree that “evokes a deeper awareness of relationality.”

Delio believes that computer technology is evolving humanity through a “grid of networked consciousness.” She proposes that the rise of the individual in axial consciousness led to a loss of relational innocence through the hierarchies of tribal religions. And thus, she concludes that “AI arose as nature’s cry for connectedness and wholeness, an effort to transcend our crippled individualism.”

Consider the worship gathering story that this article began with. It included individual congregants, a worship leader, individual musicians, technicians, and technology. But these were not separate parts of a machine fulfilling their static, fixed roles. In its most real sense, the worship gathering is the convergence of individuals transcending toward a communal consciousness of greater complexity, depth, and union.

The problem, however, is that the stories we are telling ourselves within that convergence are not stories of convergence, but stories of blood sacrifice within relationships of hierarchy.

Our lyrics and the relationships between our congregants are disconnected from the reality of converging and transcending relational wholeness that we are experiencing when we come together and sing.

What if our liturgies and lyrics were designed in a way that honored our past, while transcending to reflect the relational wholeness of second axial consciousness?

What if our relationships with one another could be healed from hierarchy so that the gathering can become a convergence of whole people transcending toward the relational wholeness of second axial consciousness?

I believe that such an approach is possible for modern Christians by tapping into the relational theology of the Christian mystics, such as this song inspired by Meister Eckart from Provoke Wonder

“This is where we know you—
In the wonder of unknowing,
In the beauty of being,
In the presence of becoming.

This is where we see you—
In the ever burning bushes,
In the lilies and the sparrow,
In the crying of the rocks.

You’re the Logos beyond language,
Mystery beyond our minds.
You so love the cosmos
That you’re giving it your life.

And back to you we’re going,
Into you we dissolve,
’Til you become our eyes
And as One we evolve

Like cooling snow on hot desires,
Gentle dew on purifying fire,
In broken bread, intoxicating wine,
This is where we know you—
In infinite mystery.”

The future of worship is going to require us to begin recognizing the power dynamics of hierarchy within our liturgies and gatherings. Rather than cutting ourselves off from our past, we will need to meet our memories with forgiveness. In The Hours of the Universe, Delio says, “Forgiveness arises out of creative love; a conscious intention to be part of the act of new creation… . Forgiveness is the act of making a new future.”

By loving ourselves through forgiveness of the ways we have become disconnected in our worship gatherings, we will experience the power of resurrection. And in the wholeness of this hope, the new wineskins of worship will be born. As Delio says, “The power of hope joins the power of love and gives birth to the power of the future.”

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  1. astralstar17572 on December 19, 2021 at 6:26 am

    I often wonder if the hierarchical “filing” of all things into a Patriarchal world
    ( Axial consciousness) wasn’t a byproduct of a complex, time tested, method for understanding And remembering ones place in the world and place in relationship to everything else. (I am here and you are over there, not me but in the same group as me)

    This may have worked then….but the cosmos is moving. Dynamic and evolving is She and not one to stand still! Avoiding entropy, building community requires resilient, pliable neural networks for energy to flow and change happen.
    For us, this world, the earth to survive we must change. Not just some. Not just part of the world.Not just us. Everyone.

    We no longer file into memory banks. Computers do that. Good or bad,computers now hold all the data. It is we who must “go back to the future” and hold the relationships that made the tribe. Its just that now…the tribe is the world.

  2. Madonna sophia Compton on October 13, 2021 at 1:03 am

    There are So so many songs by modern Christian artists that are singing of a unified consciousness.

    As someone who listens to them several hours a day, I can hardly begin to count them all, but here is one:

    God of creation
    There at the start
    Before the beginning of time

    With no point of reference
    You spoke to the dark
    And fleshed out the wonder of light

    And as You speak
    A hundred billion galaxies are born
    In the vapour of Your breath the planets form
    If the stars were made to worship, so will I
    I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
    Every burning star
    A signal fire of grace
    If creation sings Your praises, so will I

    God of Your promise
    You don’t speak in vain
    No syllable empty or void

    For once You have spoken
    All nature and science
    Follow the sound of Your voice

    And as You speak
    A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
    Evolving in pursuit of what You said
    If it all reveals Your nature so will I
    I can see Your heart in everything You say
    Every painted sky
    A canvas of Your grace
    If creation still obeys You, so will I

    So will I
    So will I

    If the stars were made to worship, so will I
    If the mountains bow in reverence, so will I
    If the oceans roar Your greatness, so will I
    For if everything exists to lift You high, so will I
    If the wind goes where You send it, so will I
    If the rocks cry out in silence, so will I
    If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
    Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times

    God of salvation
    You chased down my heart
    Through all of my failure and pride

    On a hill You created
    The Light of the world
    Abandoned in darkness to die

    And as You speak
    A hundred billion failures disappear
    Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
    If You left the grave behind You, so will I…

    The u-tube view of this song has more than 100 million hits.

    These modern Christian gatherings are changing the world.

  3. Joe Masterleo on September 27, 2021 at 3:02 pm

    Christogenesis absorbs, or rather transforms and sublimates all the previous stages into itself, particularly in individual development, early on marked by more actively outward, vocal and/or once removed forms of experiencing and worshipping the divine. By contrast, the later stages of same, being more centrated, involuted and interiorized, mystical even in nature, tend to be of the quiet, silent kind, one whereby the soul prefers not to contaminate the eucharistic presence of God in all things with itself. Rather, it is content to experience a more tranquil repose in them, or in moving into action from contemplation to improve upon the integrity of things in some way, bringing a little more spirit to matter via much action and few words. As such, contextually, more ambient forms of instrumental music are to be preferred, similar to ambient forms of lighting that suit the mood. In such levels of spiritual consciousness, one finds it difficult to improve upon the silence of what they’re experiencing, as is the case with love making. That is, there comes a point in the mutual compassionate gaze between subject and object, lover and beloved, where there’s nothing to say, only an unspeakable, nuptial oneness to experience. Only then can a soul be more effectively connected to God, self and others that move beyond the social club atmosphere, frenzied activity, chatter, preaching, and forms of collective engagement found in traditional religious services.


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