Liturgical Jellyfish

Liturgical Jellyfish

John Sanders

Published in Philosophies of Liturgy: Explorations of Embodied Religious Practice edited by J. Aaron Simmons, Bruce Benson and Neal DeRoo. Bloomsbury, 2023. Pages 61-74. [This is a draft version, not for citation.]


If jellyfish worshipped God, their Nicene Creed would not say they “look forward” to the resurrection of the dead because their bodies lack fronts and backs. Nor would they speak of meeting “face to face” with God. Christian jellyfish might not say their savior “came down from heaven” (the sky) if they are the type of jelly that lives deep in the ocean darkness. Jellyfish and most marine life would not think of water as baptism that “washes away” their sins, and they certainly would have no concept of being “sprinkled” with the blood of Jesus. Muslim jellyfish would not think of their spirituality in terms of the “straight path” or practice ablutions before prayer.

Liturgical crabs might say they look sideways (not “forward”) to the resurrection. A few animals live inside of shells so they might understand being “clothed in Christ” or “putting on Christ;” yet, most animals lack this concept. Nocturnal animals would not likely refer to their savior as the light of the world or think of goodness in terms of light. Bats would not have stained glass windows or icons in their sanctuaries. Some animals sit and so would understand that Christ is “seated” beside God but perhaps not seated at the “right hand” of God.

These examples are a fun way of getting at the idea that each species is going to have its own distinctive liturgy (even if there is some overlap between species). Even animals that share some of the same sensory and motor capacities still will have particular ways of relating and so will have a species-specific liturgy as well. Many scholars are rightfully paying attention to embodiment. This chapter encourages us to attend to the fact that it is not simply embodiment in general, but the particular types of bodies humans have that shape our liturgies.

to show how humans make use of our sensory-motor systems to engage and worship God.


Human Embodied Cognition

Religions use ordinary human mental tools. Whether religious adherents think of God or Nirvana they make use of the common cognitive structures that humans use for understanding non-religious realities (Sanders 2016, 5, 98, 243–275). There is no “God module” in our brains, and there is no cognitive tool used exclusively to think about religious realities; rather, we use the same mental tools employed to contemplate mundane topics such as relationships and containers in order to reason about the divine (Barrett 2004). That is why it is commonplace for liturgies to understand our relationship to the divine in terms of ideas such as space, movement, verticality, light, and bodies.

Behind this claim is the idea that human concepts are dependent upon our sensory-motor capacities; others argue for this and here I simply seek to show how an embodied mind approach illuminates many of our liturgical practices. This approach begins with the observation that the specific types of bodies we have allow us to interact with our environment in particular ways. The key claim is that our human sensory-motor capacities shape the cognitive tools we use to perceive, reason, and emote (Gibbs 2005; Johnson 1990)—in short, human embodiment shapes and constrains our concepts. A couple of examples may help. For instance, humans have basic notions such as up-down, front-back, part-whole, near-far, balance, containment, and source-path-goal. These are possible because of our specific types of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile processes—repeated patterns of experiences in early childhood produce these conceptual building blocks known as image schemas (Sanders 2016, 45-9). For example, because we have eyes on one side of our body and typically interact with other entities by turning to look at them, we form the front-back image schema. If we say, ‘the phone is behind or to the side of some object’, it is due to our capacity to cognize in this way. Another example is that human bodies experience forces pushing us,  pulling us, or baring our way, and humans can enact such forces themselves. Leonard Talmy showed how these embodied experiences produce concepts such as permission, hindering, possible, and must (Talmy 1988).

Our reasoning does not function independently of our sensory-motor capacities; rather, our neuro-anatomical systems function as a whole such that when we read, “grasp the hammer” we activate the parts of our brains used for physically holding a hammer. When someone says they shot the basketball and it went through the hoop, we activate our vision and motor systems to simulate the described actions. That is, we use the parts of the brain used for motion and enacting force to simulate the concept—even when we are not actually grasping a hammer or playing basketball (Bergen 2012). Our mind constructs the situation virtually via an embodied simulation. The ordinary cognitive tools used to move, perceive, and engage our world are the same ones we use to reason about abstract concepts such as morality and politics (Boroditsky and Ramscar 2002; Lakoff and Johnson 1999).

In the Phaedo, Plato took a very different approach. He says, “[I]n truth and in fact no thought of any kind comes from the body. . . . [I]t is impossible to attain any pure knowledge with the body. . . . While we live, we shall be closest to knowledge if we refrain as much as possible from association with the body and do not join with it more than we must, if we are not infected with its nature but purify ourselves from it” (Cooper 1997, 57–8). Plato was quite unaware that many of the very concepts in this paragraph such as “in,” “comes,” “closest,” “join,” “infected,” and “purify” depend on our human bodies. Though Plato and many others believe the human body is irrelevant to how we reason, I agree with the embodied cognition approach. Applied to liturgy this means that we worship and enact liturgy not only where our bodies happen to be at that moment; rather, our liturgical concepts themselves are epistemically dependent upon our species-specific bodies. We think according to the bodies we have.


Embodied Liturgy

Our embodied conceptual processes construe God via the same ordinary structures we use to reason about other entities and relations. Our liturgies do the same. This section begins with rather obvious examples of the use of the physical senses and then moves on to liturgical use of conceptual metaphors that derive from embodied cognition. Most of the discussion will feature Christian practices though some examples from other religions occur.

All places used for worship make use of the senses, yet some buildings and practices activate more of the senses. The sense of vision occurs in the very architecture of many buildings with steeples, crosses, furniture—such as pulpits and alters that are usually elevated above the congregants (more on this below)—stained glass windows, lighting candles or lamps, and paintings and statues of Jesus or saints. In many congregations, the clergy wear robes or stoles of different colors that correlate to the seasons of the Christian calendar. We activate our sense of sound via singing, bells, prayers, sermons, and reciting liturgies. Touch occurs most commonly in greeting others, such as when passing the peace, and it happens as well during the Eucharist and baptism. Taste occurs people when people eat and drink the Lord’s Supper. Finally, some congregations activate the sense of smell by using incense. Because human cognition is embodied, liturgical practices that activate more of the senses should have greater impact on people. In this regard, the Hindu puja, the most common form of worship performed daily by Hindus, is exemplary because it involves each of the five senses. Thus, Christians should pay greater attention to how bodies are engaged in worship because employing more of the senses and using them intentionally will foster greater neural connections that situate liturgical concepts and practices more deeply in our cognitive structure (Senn 2016; Brown and Strawn 2012). In the same way that the embodied mind approach enhances the way we educate today such that students learn and retain more, so we can enhance the way people worship.

Less obvious are the ways our worship uses concepts grounded in human embodied experience: liturgy draws upon many image schemas such as verticality (up/down), proximity, containment, and source-path-goal. Because image schemas are important building blocks for human reasoning, using them liturgically aids in immediate and deep understanding. Oftentimes, we activate the neural connection to an image schema through a conceptual metaphor—a metaphor occurs when we understand A in terms of B. When someone says, “I see your point,” we think of understanding in terms of vision. When we say, “He is crazy about her” we construe love in terms of insanity. If we say, “She is in trouble,” we understand the situation as containment in a physical location. Though some refer to such metaphors as “dead,” this is erroneous because we are actively reasoning (understanding) by means of metaphor, since we use metaphors to draw inferences about how to understand a situation and what we should do. The appropriate name is “conceptual metaphors” because we use them to reason about most things in life including relationships, physics, mathematics, morality, and God (Sanders 2016, 49–69; Lakoff and Johnson 1999). Liturgies make tremendous use of conceptual metaphors that arise from our embodiment. A number of examples will help us see this is the case.

The first example is the concept of verticality (up/down). God is typically construed as existing above all else. Many liturgies use expressions such as “Glory to God in the highest,” “Hosannah in the highest,” and “Lift up your hearts to God.” Biblical texts say God is high over all nations (Ps 113:4) or that our prayers rise up to God (Ps 141:2), as God is associated with “heaven” (the sky above us). These concepts might lead us to ask, “What’s up with God?” Why do we not conceive of God as below us? The reason is that it seems that all human languages construe authority in terms of up—linguists are not aware of any language in which authority is down (Dancygier and Sweetser 2014, 166). High status is up while low status is down. Thus, we refer to the head of the clan or company. In addition, humans construe good as up, happiness as up, and healthy as up. In various religions, a good path is upwards while an evil path is downwards. Researchers find that people habitually think that God is up while the devil is down and that metaphors for the divine consistently employ higher vertical space in both Christianity and other religions (Meier et al. 2007). Cognitive linguists believe that what motivates these concepts is our embodied experiences: for instance, when we are young those in authority are taller than we are (up) and when we are ill, we tend to lie down, so being upright is our normal, healthy state of being.

The notions that God and goodness are up help explain a number of liturgical practices: the Nicene Creed speaks of the Son of God “coming down” and that he “ascended to heaven,” and some baptismal liturgies invoke the Holy Spirit to “come down” upon the initiate. Given the way humans construe authority and goodness it is inappropriate for us to think of God as coming up from beneath us. In addition, the altar and pulpit are typically elevated to symbolize their higher status. Prostrating, kneeling or bowing in worship increases the height of God in relation to the worshipper, and raising our arms to God signifies that God is above us. Architecture makes use of these conceptual metaphors as well. Steeples on houses of worship and the interior height of cathedrals communicate that God is up. The architecture and artwork of both Chartres cathedral and the Buddhist temple at Borobudur use the conceptual metaphors “good is up,” “holiness is up,” “salvation/deliverance is up,” and “authority is up” (Stec and Sweetser 2013). The shape of the Borobudur temple is a lotus flower: the conceptual metaphor infused in both the architecture and practice is that just as a lotus grows out of the muck in the bottom of a pond into a beautiful flower on top of the water, so, too, the pilgrim begins from the soil and ascends upwards to the open sky of Nirvana at the top of the temple.

The second example is that of a journey. This involves an embodied being at a location, a goal or destination, and movement along a path to reach the destination. Infants and toddlers have repeated patterns of embodied experience that produce image schemas such as source-path-goal (Mandler 1992). Humans develop this basic schema into elaborate reasoning via metaphor and apply it to areas such as education, career, and dating/marriage. For example, we think of our relationships as having come a long way, or having overcome obstacles in our path or as currently facing a crossroad. We use the experience of traveling on journeys to understand and decide how to behave in our relationships.

Biblical writers construe the Torah (instruction of God) via the journey metaphor with three different roles. The Torah is the path to walk, the light to see the path, and the guide directing us on the path (Sanders 2016, 214–8). In the New Testament, Jesus, as the new Torah, takes on these same roles since he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6): he is the path (way), the guide (truth), and the destination (life). Sometimes we combine the concepts of journey and verticality so that good paths are up while evil paths are down. Movement is part of a journey and this notion occurs in Christian texts. The Nicene Creed says the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the father.” It describes the Son of God as traveling from the Father to humanity, ascending to heaven, and says the Son will “come again.” The New Testament and some denominational liturgies say that Jesus “takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29)—Jesus travels to humanity and removes our problem by taking it somewhere else. The Lord’s Prayer invokes God’s kingdom to “come”—to travel towards us and arrive.

Other religions make use of the metaphor or the journey as well. The Qur’an says both that God is the guide on the path and that the Sunna and Qur’an are guides (El-Sharif 2018, 288). The “straight path” is a widely-used metaphor in Islam.  In Buddhism, good paths are up while evils paths are low: one has the potential to be born into a “higher” life form as one travels the road of reincarnation, and, eventually, the person “crosses the stream” on a raft to reach Nirvana (Gao and Lan 2018, 246).

For people with sight, a journey involves seeing objects as we travel. When we travel, we see what is in front of us, so we seldom notice the conceptual metaphors derived from our embodied experience when we say, “The end is in sight” and “I look forward to the holidays.” The Nicene Creed uses this concept, derived from human bodies, when it says, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” Many humans take the idea that the future is in “front of us” for granted. Yet, some languages conceive of the future as “behind” the individual (Sanders 2016, 111–112). Thus, a commencement speaker in such a language might say to the graduates, “You have a great future behind you.” Moreover, speakers of such languages gesture behind them to indicate the direction of the future and point in front of them to indicate the past. Languages that construe the future as behind the body employ a different conceptual metaphor to think about past and future. Most Indo-European languages employ the idea of a journey to understand past and future. In this metaphor, the past is where we have been and the future is where we are going. Yet, there are languages that use vision (not a journey) to understand the past and future. They use the “knowing is seeing” metaphor (for example, “I see the point of the argument”). We know the past but not the future, so we can say that we “see” the past but we cannot see the future. Since we can see what is in front of us, the past is in front of us, and since we cannot see the future, it is behind us. This way of thinking makes sense once we understand the different conceptual metaphor (vision) used.

It is important to note that whether we conceive of the future as in front of or behind the human agent, what they have in common is that both use the human body that has a front and a back to cognize past and future. Complicating the matter are people groups that employ allocentric rather than egocentric reasoning (Sanders 2016, 112). For instance, the Yupno and Selepet peoples of Papua New Guinea conceive of the future as up and the past as down. Unlike the vast majority of humans, they do not use the front of the human body to indicate either the past or the future; rather, when facing uphill, they point in front of them for the future, and when facing downhill, they point behind them for the future. For the Australian Pormpuraaw people the east is always the past and the west is the future; therefore, in order to reference past or future in this language, one must always know which cardinal direction one is facing—if the person is facing north, then the future is to their right. These are vastly different ways of thinking about past and future, but each way of conceiving depends upon the specific types of bodies humans have. They are all anthropogenic ways of understanding. Even so, this cultural variation makes it challenging to translate the Bible and the Nicene Creed into languages for which the future is behind the person, or uphill, or west; however, translating them into ways that are understandable to jellyfish is even more daunting due to the very different ways of embodied cognition between the species.

The third example is colors and light. Humans have distinctive light sensors and color cones that allow us to perceive an array of colors. In most religions, light and bright colors are associated with purity, goodness, joy, and innocence. Darkness and dark colors connect to impurity, evil, sadness, and corruption. Being in the light yields understanding while darkness is ignorance. Religious texts are lamps (light) for our journey. Christians refer to Jesus as the “light of the world” and light candles or lamps in churches to celebrate his advent during the dark winter months. A study of people from twenty countries showed that all the participants used these associations (Adams and Osgood 1973). We often make moral evaluations of people or situations by using metaphors of light and color (Meier and Robinson 2005)‑black is the color of sin while white is the color of righteousness (Sherman and Clore 2009). The prophet Isaiah says whiteness is the absence of sin (1:18), and the book of Revelation says that the Christians who remained faithful through the tribulation wore white robes (7:13–14). During the early centuries, some Christian communities performed baptisms at dawn when light overcame darkness and, when they emerged from the baptismal font, the initiates put on white robes.

Again, these examples help us understand the widespread use of concepts dependent upon the types of bodies humans have. Humans and many other species experience light and darkness; yet, there are species who live in total darkness in caves or deep in oceans who would not cognize in terms of light and darkness. How would such species understand the biblical statements “God separated light from darkness” (Gen 1:3–4) or that “Jesus is the light of the world and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1:5)?

Before leaving the discussion of light and color, we should note that Christians use human embodied concepts such as containment, verticality, color, and spatial location to depict God. Artists depict the Trinity by means of these concepts (Barcelona 2018). See, for instance Rublev’s famous painting of the persons of the Trinity sitting at a table robed in different colors. Other paintings depict the Trinity via one human body with three faces, or as the Father and Spirit in light above (verticality) with the dying Jesus in darkness, or as two human figures facing one another horizontally with a dove between them with its wings spread touching the faces of Father and Son. The concepts used in the artwork, such as vertical, horizontal, spatial location, light, color, and the age of human bodies, all draw upon ordinary ways of thinking that derive from the specific types of bodies we have.

A fourth example is that of cleansing an object, often by water. Many biblical texts speak of God washing away our sin by water (Ps 51; Acts 22:16) and cleansing our hearts by sprinkling or washing (1 Jn 1:9; Ezek 36:25; and Heb 10:22). Methodist, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic baptismal liturgies speak of “washing away their sin” or being “cleansed from sin.” Psychology experiments on the so-called “Macbeth effect” reveal several fascinating findings: (1) Subjects who read stories of immoral actions purchased more cleansing products (Schnall et al. 2008); (2) Subjects who wiped their hands with an antiseptic prior to evaluating a list of moral actions rated the actions as more immoral than the subjects who did not use a wipe (Zhong et al. 2010); (3) Physically cleaning oneself lowered feelings of guilt over previous moral failures (Lee and Schwartz 2011).

Each of these examples uses the “morality is cleanliness” conceptual metaphor: this construes morality in terms of the human experience of a clean body. Conversely, immorality and sin is being dirty. Christians typically conceive of baptism this way, Hindus ritually bathe in water to remove impurities, and Muslims practice ritual ablutions with water prior to prayer to cleanse the soul (El-Sharif 2018, 275). Some Hindu and Buddhist rituals involve bathing the icon of a deity or Buddha with water to cleanse it. In addition, because human feet have the most contact with dirt, many religions consider them ritually impure; thus, this is part of the symbolism involved with the ritual of foot washing practiced by some Christians and the Muslim practice of removing shoes and washing feet before entering a Mosque.

Here are some more examples, but with less detail, of Christian concepts used in worship that connect to human bodies. First, we experience being in physical proximity to others: liturgies commonly say that “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you” and that the risen Christ or God is “with us.” Humans have the experience of putting items into baskets or into our bodies—the baskets and our bodies become the containers for the items. In the Eucharist, people eat and drink (even if symbolically) the body and blood of Jesus, such that Christ is in us—we become the container of Jesus when we say Christ is “in us.” The New Testament speaks of Christ, God and the Spirit residing “in us” (Col 1:27; 1 Jn 4:13; 2 Tim 1:14), and thus believers are the “temple of God” in which the “Spirit dwells” (1 Cor 3:16). Of course, eating is an embodied experience, so eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper and the Hindu practice prasada (eating food that has been offered to a deity) draw upon this physical activity. Humans have the experience of some objects being available or open to us while others remain hidden. The Collect for Purity used in Anglican and Methodist churches employs the embodied experience of open/closed when it says that all hearts are “open” to God and that no secrets are “hidden” from God—it then invites God to “open our hearts.” Since we have bodies that can stand or sit, we readily understand liturgical expressions such as “We stand before God” and the Son of God is “seated” at the right hand of God the Father. We experience the human body as well as other entities as wholes or unities so we think of believers as “one body” and “one loaf;” obviously, the very concept of the “body” of Christ uses an embodied concept. Finally, some liturgies draw on the human experience of birth to reason about the experience of becoming a believer when they say we are “born through the water and the Spirit.”

At this point, some may inquire about gender and people with disabilities. Unlike English, languages such as Spanish and German require users to assign a gender to all nouns. Experiments indicate that our native language influences the way we think about such objects (Boroditsky et al. 2003). For instance, the word for “key” is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish. German speakers described keys as hard, heavy, and jagged while Spanish speakers said they are intricate, shiny, and little. Conversely, the word for “bridge” is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish. German speakers said bridges are beautiful, elegant, and fragile while Spanish speakers described them as big, dangerous, and sturdy. If gendered thinking about keys and bridges influences our representations of them, then thinking about God as masculine via metaphors such as “father” and “king” will certainly shape our understanding of God. Though God is construed as mother in the Bible, far more often God is described as father. A good explanation for this is that in ancient Israelite society fathers and kings were the only ones allowed to dramatically change one’s status for things such as adoption, inheritance, and citizenship. The biblical writers who wanted to ascribe such actions to God had to use their culturally assigned male examples (Sanders, 223-225; DesCamp and Sweetser). In many societies today, females can perform such tasks so our liturgies can reflect this. A final word about gender is that both male and female humans can use our reproductive systems to conceptualize God as, for example, giving birth (Deut. 32:18) and nursing its young (Isa. 66:12-13). Yet, I am not aware of research on whether the particular physical reproductive systems we have leads to different ways of cognizing between males and females.

Regarding people with disabilities, those who are blind or deaf have the sensory-motor capabilities that give rise to image schemas such as up-down, in-out, balance, containment, near-far, and source/path/goal. Consequently, they can have a rich array of concepts for interacting with the world. What they may have difficulty understanding are conceptual metaphors based on vision or hearing. For instance, in English we construe true and false ideas in terms of what “rings true, sounds right, and looks right.” Yet, we also say that something “feels wrong” or “smells rotten” which are readily understandable to the blind or deaf. Though the knowing is seeing metaphor is extremely pervasive in different languages, there are languages in which knowing is understood primarily as hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching (Gibbs, 36-39).  Hence, someone might say, “I smell your point.” What these different languages all share is the knowing is sensing metaphor grounded in the various senses available to human bodies.

A blind person could be told that the fire is being lit for a Hindu puja and a deaf person could see that priest is striking bells (but not hear them) in the Hindu temple. But exactly what such people understand is not clear to me. Blind people can learn that religions typically associate good with bright colors and light and evil with dark colors and darkness but exactly what they understand by color and light seems to be by using examples drawn from sensory modalities to which they have access. The biblical statements “God separated light from darkness” (Gen 1:3–4) and “Jesus is the light of the world and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1:5) may not have the same meaning for all people.

——–Translating the Nicene Creed for Jellyfish

With these examples of embodied cognition in mind, we can attempt to translate a Christian liturgy, the Nicene Creed, into the cognitive structures used by jellyfish. Though I am sure that those with more experience with jellyfish will produce better translations, this thought experiment should illustrate how the specific sensory-motor capacities that enable a species to interact with the world shape our species-specific liturgies. My translation and comments will appear in brackets after each line of the Creed.

We believe in one God, [This can stand as is because they should have the concept of oneness   and identity. However, their concept of God is going to be much more like a jellyfish           than a human being in terms of actions, goals, and ways of relating.]
the Father, the Almighty, [The Progenerator Almighty. They don’t have “father’s,” but they do    have males who produce sperm to fertilize eggs. They do not have hierarchies and        patriarchy. They may have the concept of “almighty” since they experience forces that             move them and they generate force to move themselves and find food.]
maker of heaven and earth, [Progenitor of all ocean and life. Maker means to fabricate so this       would not be available to jellies. Heaven as the sky or source of light would make sense        to those jellies that live near the ocean surface, but not to those who live deep in the   ocean. Ocean, not earth as dry land, is their habitat.]
of all that is, seen and unseen. [of all that is sensible and unsensible or felt and unfelt. Some jellyfish have a degree of vision, but vision is not the dominant mode of sensation for         jellies.]

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, [I do not know how to translate this line because both Lord     (master) and Messiah involve particular human social concepts not present among     jellies.]
the only Son of God, [The only being with a special connection to God. Jellyfish should have the            concept of only, but they do not have sons who represent the affairs of fathers.]
born of the Father before all ages, [Spawned from God the Progenerator before the oceans          existed. They have the experience of before-after as well as life spans so the concept of             “before” should make sense. They are spawned, not begotten/birthed.]
God from God, [God from God should make sense in that they can differentiate themselves          from other species]

Light from Light, [Jellyfish from Jellyfish. Though some jellies sense light it does not seem that       light would function as a source of authenticity for them.]
true God from true God, [true God from true God or genuine God]
begotten, not made, [Spawned from God. Again, they do not manufacture objects, so I do not         believe this distinction is meaningful to them.]
of one Being with the Father. [of one being with the God the Progenerator.]
Through him all things were made. [The special being from God is the source of all things.]
For us and for our salvation [For the benefit of all jellies and for our deliverance from predators     and harmful entities.]

he came down from heaven: [The special being came from God. Though humans perceive jellies         moving up and down, it seems to me that they experience movement in different     directions rather than up-down. For humans, “came down from heaven” communicates             authority since authority is up in human cognition. I am not sure of a way to           communicate authority to jellyfish.]
by the power of the Holy Spirit [by the power of the Holy Water. For humans, spirit is connected    to breath which is needed for life. For jellies, it would have to be something needed for      them to exist.]
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, [the special being became a jellyfish without being         fertilized.]
and was made human. [and became a genuine jellyfish]
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; [For our sake he was killed by another jelly      (or perhaps killed by a human depending on how much jellies understand humans.             Crucifixion would not make sense to them.]
he suffered death and was buried. [he suffered death and drifted in the current (or went to the            seabed).]
On the third day he rose again [Some time later he came to life again. Three days may make             sense to some but not all jellies since only some experience day and night. Rising is          something humans do after sleeping or being sick.]
in accordance with the Scriptures; in accordance with our stories.]
he ascended into heaven [the special being returned to God.]
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. [and resides next to God. Jellies have no seats, no          right hands, and lack the concept of authority that “right hand” denotes.]
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, [he will return in glory/radiance          and the interactions of all living and deceased jellies will be assessed by him. I think that             glory could make sense even to jellies that live deep in the ocean.]
and his kingdom will have no end. [and his range of operation will have no limits. Ocean currents can push huge numbers of jellies together, but they have no social or political structure akin to a kingdom.]
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, [We believe in the Holy Water, the            giver of life.]
who proceeds from the Father and the Son. [Who originates from God and the special being connected to God. Note that “and the Son” was added to the Creed by Western churches       without the approval of the Eastern Church so this phrase might not be included.]
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. [The Holy Water is worshipped and        glorified the same as God and the special being connected to God.]

He spoke through the prophets. [The Holy Water communicated through the ancient jellies.]
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. [We believe in one holy universal group        that originated from jellies who were taught by the special being from God.]
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. [We affirm one ritual for inclusion in the        group. I do not believe “sin” and “forgiveness” would make sense to jellies. Baptism via        water would not make sense to them.]
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, [We live in expectation of the resurrection of       the dead. Jellies do not have faces that “look forward.”]
and to life in the world to come. Amen. [And to life in the ocean to come. Truly.]



Human reasoning about all aspects of our experience is anthropogenic: our ability to perceive and conceive depends on the distinctive human sensory-motor capacities. We use embodied concepts to comprehend our environment, and we use the same cognitive tools to understand and practice religion as well. Our reasoning about God, just like our reasoning about atoms and morality, makes heavy use of concepts that depend upon embodied cognition—we use our ordinary embodied cognition to understand and worship God. Far too often religious believers follow Plato by believing that our reasoning about God and truth is entirely independent from the specific types of bodies humans have. Attending to our species-specific cognition will enable us to understand how humans reason about God and enable us to better worship God. Fortunately,   religious texts such as the Bible and the Qur’an, as well as our liturgies, are full of every day concepts such as containment, journeys, visions, colors, and verticality. The many examples in this essay show how commonplace it is for religious people to employ ideas that depend upon the specific types of bodies humans have.

Though humans share a common embodiment, this does not necessitate which embodied concepts a community will use to understand a particular topic. There are cultural variations about, for instance, the direction of the future: in front of the human body, behind the human body, uphill from the human body, and to the west of the human body. Yet, what each concept has in common is that each depends upon a relation to the human body. Cultural variation, then, sometimes makes it a daunting task to translate particular liturgies into other human languages. Yet, this may be of benefit in that cognitive variation provides us with new ways of thinking about religious ideas and practices. Just as learning a new language opens up new ways of understanding objects and relationships, so learning new liturgies may avail us avenues to fresh understandings and practices.  Thinking about translating human liturgies into the cognitive structures of other beings may enrich our understandings as well. Yet, this is challenging due to differing modes of embodied cognition. Nonetheless, liturgical humans and liturgical jellyfish each have bodies, so there will likely be some shared concepts—even if some liturgical concepts are lost in translation. When God relates to jellyfish or humans, God has to use the conceptual structures available to each species. God interacts with humans in ways humans are able to understand. Our human concepts about God can be true from an anthropogenic perspective and thus our liturgies can appropriately help us worship.




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John Sanders

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

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