- I Am Food: The Mass in Planetary Perspective
In this timely reprint of I Am Food: The Mass in Planetary Perspective (originally published by Crossroad in 1981), the late Roger Corless demonstrates the potential for spiritual and intellectual creativity contained within a stance of dual religious belonging. Corless passed away in January 2007, but this book remains as a way for us to know him and to appreciate, as he did, the possibilities for spiritual revitalization and transformation that may be generated at the intersection and interpenetration of Christian and Buddhist traditions.
Corless was raised as a Protestant but as a teenager became deeply engaged with the study of world religions and claimed Buddhism in particular as his own. Eventually he would become a scholar of Chinese Buddhism and a practitioner within the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. At the same time, however, that the young Corless was being drawn to Buddhism, his connection to his Christian faith was also deepening; his profound experiences of the loving power of God could not be denied even if Christianity's theism could not be easily reconciled with Buddhism's doctrine of emptiness. Instead of leaving one religion for the other, he deepened his engagement with both. He did not seek to synthesize or reconcile Christianity and Buddhism but rather held these traditions together in a dynamic, creative tension and lived each one fully in its turn. When asked about his religious affiliation, Corless would respond playfully that he was "a Buddhist on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, a Christian on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday, and a Gaia worshipper on Sundays." In I Am Food, however, Corless shows us that on some Sundays, specifically at the celebration of the Mass, he was both Christian and Buddhist at the same time. The great contribution of this book is in its offering of a fresh and transformative approach to the Mass through the application of the symbolic structures of Tibetan Buddhist mandala visualization as a template for active participation in the communion ritual. [End Page 161]
Corless's focus in this book is the ritual of the Mass as celebrated within the Roman Catholic tradition. His conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism occurred much to his "own surprise," prompted by his discovery in Catholicism of "a curious growing center which had great power and potential." This center "brought together many insights which I had picked up from other religions, and moved them to a new synthesis. This synthesis was concentrated in the oddly named 'Mass' " (p. 13). I Am Food offers a scholarly and personal meditation on the meaning, symbolism, and power contained in this central ritual of Catholicism. This project is signaled in the grammatically awkward but intriguing title of the book's first chapter, "Why Is the Mass?" Corless knows that many routine churchgoers never think or dare to ask this question, and the few who do ask it rarely find satisfactory answers. His book seeks to encourage such questioning among those who are in search of a personal religious experience "away from the dullness of minimalist routine" (p. 34). His very lively, humorous, and slightly irreverent style is intended to take the boredom out of the Mass, providing a very personal and original guide to it, different from the series of "excellent, but ultimately claustrophobic, devotional books on 'the spiritual meaning of the Mass'" (p. 13).
Among Christian writings that were influential for his understanding of the Mass, Corless names The Mass in Slow Motion (1948) by Ronald Knox, which attempts to describe the inner meaning of the Mass, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's Hymn of the Universe (1965), which describes a vision of the world as sacrament and celebrates Mass as a cosmic event. While Teilhard de Chardin inspires Corless's "planetary perspective" on the Mass, Nicholas Casabilas's A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy (1978) sharpens the focus on "the mystical significance of each and every act of the priest and people" (p. 13).
Corless argues that what makes the Mass seem stifling is the notion of...