Embracing the Primordial

Embracing the Primordial

It is always a pleasure to hear and read reflections from the congregation. I’d like to share this short article I received last week – written directly to the experience at Trinity-St. Paul’s:


“Primordial”, now what the heck does that mean? How about “having existed from the beginning”? Marcus Borg, well known and widely respected New Testament scholar, uses that word to describe the premodern view of the world and human experience. To put it briefly, the primordial view, shared by all premodern societies and cultures, was an understanding and experience of existence as multilayered. The world was made up of rocks, trees, water, animals and humans, with time and space, but it was more. Existence was physical, but the physical was interwoven with the spiritual. The spirit dimensions of life varied greatly from one culture to another. Christians are most familiar with the Jewish understanding of the spiritual dimension of life and existence through our reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. That massive book, with such a wide variety of content and styles, is the attempt by individuals and communities to describe and understand the primordial spiritual world in which “they lived and moved and had their being.”  Scriptures are shaped by powerful spiritual moments and events. Here are examples from one book of the Bible: the burning bush, the Exodus, the Mt. Sinai encounters with the Spirit.

The universal and varied primordial views of the world began to disappear in the 17th and 18th centuries with the coming of the Enlightenment. The world became limited to what you can see with your eyes, touch with your hands, hear with your ears, taste with your tongue and calculate through thinking and experience. That’s all there is: an effective understanding of existence which has enabled humanity to do remarkable things. Just think of the medical, the communication, the comfort and safety possibilities that have emerged in the modern world. There is lots of negative too, e.g. armaments, but let’s celebrate and embrace the positive dimensions of modernity.

Why should us Christians embrace the primordial? Affirming the spiritual/primordial dimension of existence is integral to Christian faith. Being a spiritual person in this secular urban environment ain’t easy. That is an especially challenging dimension of our faith individually and collectively.  We can celebrate the fact that there seem to be an increasing number of people who say, “I am spiritual, but not religious.” Let’s find out what it means. Closer to home, what does “the spiritual” mean in your faith, in your life, and in mine?

Embracing the primordial means exploring and affirming the spiritual dimension of our faith. Here’s an example. On Advent One, Rev. Emily talked in her sermon about Hope and she challenged us to distinguish between “hope for” and “hope in.” I suggest the former is an expression of modernism (nothing wrong with that) and the latter is an expression of the primordial and with it comes challenging spiritual implications.

TSP has taken the spiritual/primordial dimension of Christian faith seriously as we move into two years of our congregational life under the leadership of Rev. Judith and the Interim Ministry Team. Remember how the interim process began? Yes, with the “Listening to the Spirit” initiative, a primordial beginning. Let’s make sure the “the spiritual” plays a significant role going forward. Perhaps TSP is seriously toying with the idea of embracing “the primordial”!

* This article is inspired by chapter 6, “Root Images and the Way We See: The Primordial Tradition and the Biblical Tradition” in Marcus Borg’s JESUS IN CONTEMPORARY SCHOLARSHIP

Rev. Douglas Varey
December 2015