By P. Orin Zack
(June 12, 2007)
On any given Friday, shortly before sunset, a siren wails in Brooklyn. And although people don’t respond by interrupting their travels to make way for police, fire or ambulance, many of them do interrupt their routine for an even more pressing matter, because this siren is a call to prayer. The orthodox Jewish community that responds to the siren know that it will soon be Sabbath, and turn to completing whatever weekday chores they were caught up in so that they can focus fully on welcoming the day of rest as the sun sets over New York City. For them, as for millions elsewhere in the world who are called to prayer, ritual or ceremony at appointed hours, by any number of methods, timing is important.
But is it really the time that is critical? Or is it something else?
People have shared common experiences for as long as there have been reasons for them to gather together in one place. For millennia, crowds have formed to hear engaging speakers, announcements and proclamations. They have filled auditoriums, amphitheaters and stadiums to witness drama, spectacle, and sport.
But crowds can be distributed as well. A hundred people in countless congregations gathered in common purpose can easily outnumber those who can see and hear the speakers or performers at any one venue. If that common purpose is the celebration of an idea, then the force of that idea can be amplified beyond the possibilities offered by any single gathering, because there is a limit to how many people can attend an event.
Congregation imparts strength to an idea. Spread an idea to many congregations, and you multiply that strength. The ancients knew this, and applied it to religious instruction, as they did to other fields of knowledge. Join us in praising God at the appointed hour, and our combined voices will reach the heavens in magnificent chorus. If enough of us join in this way, we will drown out the supplications of those imploring false gods or attempting to draw the Lord’s attention from those of us who are True Believers.
There is a difference between gathering the strength of numbers to take action or spread an idea, and doing it to entertain the masses. Given an ill-conceived action and an energized crowd, you can create a destructive mob, but those very same people could just as easily be driven to constructive ends. The ability to control the masses is a seductive lure, especially if your objective is the accretion of power.
As the siren fades, members of the congregation it calls out to begin to align their thoughts and actions to single purpose, as do those called to prayer from minarets, or by all manner of clocks elsewhere in the world, at their own appointed times. And as they fall to prayer, each in his or her time and place, each congregation raises a spiritual energy derived from the many individual prayers.
Visualize this energy, if you like, as a coalescing brightness that forms among the congregants and rises skyward as their spiritual union, borne of common thought and action, gains focus through the course of the gathering. At first, it is roughly the shape of the crowd, but as it brightens and rises, it slowly comes together, in reflection of the feeling of communion among those present, forming a protective cone reaching towards space. And when the gathering ends, this concretion of collective spiritual energy is released, imbuing the world with whatever thoughts, feelings, hope and dreams were caught up within it. Some people say they can feel this energy when it is present, others simply know that it is there, or realize when it has dispersed.
With this happening at countless congregations of people on any number of spiritual paths, perhaps the pattern is repeated at a larger scale. Perhaps the cones of energy generated by many congregations on a given path, gathered at the same time, have, in their turn, combined to form even larger and more powerful cones.
The congregations in Brooklyn, and those like them elsewhere in the world, each start their Sabbath observances at the moment of sunset in their own community. Consequently, the joint creation of communal energy cones for them is limited to those near the same line of longitude. But because of this, the spiritual energy that is generated in this way has a different kind of continuity, because shortly after they have begun, a community to their west is just reaching their own time of sunset. If there were congregations across the world, this spiritual brightness would be passed along from hand to hand, year after year, like the symbolic Eternal Flame that guards their sanctuary.
Those engaged in spiritual gatherings that use time zones to mark the start of prayer might instead create a staccato of pulses, as the collected energy from across the time zone is released. And those called to prayer simultaneously across the globe, through the aid of broadcast technology and the Internet, would create a single blast of spiritual energy at the end of each gathering time.
I could, of course, be imagining all of this, but the spiritual path closest to my own recognizes the existence of this effect, and even uses it as part of the ritual. It does, however, lead me to wonder how this has affected the course of history, how it might be used by people seeking power over others, and how, if that were done, it could be countered.
Love may be at the core of the energy concentrated through spiritual gatherings, but other emotions could as easily be used. A cabal intent on controlling the world might instead choose fear to key into, and use the global communication network to throw enormous numbers of people into this state simultaneously by contriving threats at calculated times. Not that anyone is that evil…
Copyright 2007 P. Orin Zack