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Hymn writer seeks nature’s guide on spiritual path

By Christine Nielsen-Craig

William ‘Bill’ Wallace writes spiritual works to guide adolescent humanity towards maturity. To that end, the retired Methodist pastor and Christchurch native creates contemporary hymns and liturgy, including what is perhaps his life’s opus: ‘Sacred Energy: Mass of the Universe’.

“My passion is to seek and write resources that help people connect their worldview to their spiritual path,” Bill says. “The Mass is the result of 30 or 40 years of thinking about these things.”

Bill’s participation in faith and order committees for national church councils during his pastoral career was another channel for his interest in the liturgy.

He describes his view of humanity’s stages in the broad life-cycle terms: dependence, independence and interdependence.

“We’ve moved into the adolescence of the human race,” he explains. “Until recently, humans got their sense of security from belonging to institutions that taught us how to behave and act. We were in a dependency phase and we needed that.

“The adolescent phase is one of independence. We see it at the moment with a decline in church attendance. Indeed, almost all other volunteer organisations are going through the same sorts of issues.

“The next stage is when the human race will flourish. This ideal stage is mutual interdependence, and in the Bible we see this happening – St. Paul talked about being co-workers with God.”

Meantime, there is much to do.

“During the last 100 years the earth has been more drastically modified by human beings than any other stage in history. Humans and nature are at war in the current phase,” he explains. Yet there is a growing interest in the Celtic religions. We need a sky father and an earth mother.”

To answer that need, nature is a spiritual guide towards the internalisation of God in the “Sacred Energy” Mass.

“Instead of the human being telling the universe what to do, the human being is asking the universe for assistance,” he says.

In “The Way of Oneness” section, the human being asks: “How can I walk the way of oneness?” To which the universe responds:

The way is the way of the ocean

The way of the mountain

The way of the river

The way of the earth itself

the ocean of letting go

the mountain of thanksgiving

the river of the process

and the fullness of earthed blessing.

The terrestrial references are indicative of Bill’s belief in the beauty and holiness – as opposed to the sinfulness – of the earth, rather than focussing on that of angels and archangels.

“You cannot limit God to nice things – at the very least you should include universe. Though in some Christian thinking, death and earthly matters are cast as bad or simply ignored, but death is part of the life-giving process.”

Oneness with God is another pervasive theme. “Going to the deepest part of oneself isn’t to separate but to connect,” Bill asserts, pointing to the vein of mysticism that runs throughout his work. “It’s not about saving one’s own soul. The goal is the spiritual journey, not necessarily the path.”

Bill’s own professional path began with a philosophy degree, which “allowed me to see religion on the outside,” and his experience meeting passionate, like-minded leaders of other religions encouraged his ecumenical bent.

“We are only beginning to come to terms with the fact that the world is pluralistic and irreversibly so. Formerly we used to think that if churches could only unite then everyone would believe. Now I am totally convinced that it’s not going to happen.

“One of the biggest difficulties is dialogue with other religions,” he says. “If Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only light, where does that leave the other ways of thinking and those who adhere to them? I’ve taken the belief of St Paul that Christ is in us.”

The Sacred Energy Mass was offered during last year’s annual Methodist conference as well as in several churches throughout New Zealand. Bill has also written 150 individual hymns and five books of hymns. One of these, The Mystery Telling, was published in 2001 by US-based publisher, Selah Publishing Co. His hymns and liturgical writing appears in 40 different publications, including two anthologies, Gifts of Many Cultures edited by Maren Tirabassi and Kathy Wonson Eddy (United Church Press, l995) and A World of Blessing, compiled by Geoffrey Duncan (Canterbury Press, 2000).