Among the most famous wonders of Yellowstone National Park are its geysers. On a visit some years back, I witnessed Old Faithful and saw many areas where hot water and steam were pouring from the earth. Hot tubs and steam rooms are staples of my physical/spiritual regimen at the YMCA, but they do not compare to these striking natural phenomena. Some historic native Americans believed they were the result of combat between infernal spirits. Certainly they appear singularly spiritual.
I once read an article in the Times on the Delphic Oracle. A geologist had visited there and observed that it appeared to lie atop a geological fault. He investigated and found that this fault permitted the escape of subterranean gasses that affected human consciousness. Thus, he reasoned, ancient people had found this place afforded unique spiritual insight and, over time, it became an important oracle. That there may be a physical explanation for this evolution does not lessen the verity of the tradition or the value of prophecies there gained – for God does speak through the physical world.
We Western Christians do not consult oracles, but we do worship in holy places like Glenn. We do not have steam, gasses, or water erupting from the earth, but we do have preachers, readers and singers venting God’s truth.
As I understand the history, consulting the oracle was not a walk in the park. At Delphi, you had to walk up many steps to get there, an exhausting ordeal. This was intentionally a part of the religious observance. This, I believe, was partly a virtue of physical discipline – allowing the body to participate with the mind and soul, and in part a virtue of sacrifice: worship requires sacrifice. Similarly, for singers, prophecy requires the physical discipline of keeping voices and bodies fit to sing well, the physical rigor of rehearsal where the music is mastered, and for clergy, the discipline of liturgical preparation and preaching, and for leaders and congregants, the sacrifice of time, concentration, and devotion.
As the movement of rock and gasses deep in the earth, through complex, powerful alchemy results in geothermal emissions, so the ancient art of worship working through time and spiritual forces arises through our preaching, praying and singing in worship. Worship is older than humanity and its evolution through the advent of Christianity to our day brings a theological potency beyond mortal ken. We can but strive to receive these with a discipline and care that honors the ancient and challenge-worn journey of God’s truth, so that we, with the fidelity of Old Faithful, may proclaim, receive, and live the Gospel, for ourselves and the world.