Mark Wallace's new book, When God Was A Bird, represents a well-intentioned first step along the path towards Christian animism. Unfortunately, it is the same first step that Christians have been taking for hundreds of years. Can they do better? ...maybe.
When faced with a decision, we are practically obsessed with separation and loss. When we embrace choice, we shift our focus from loss to enjoyment, from separation to engagement. To choose is to express not only our freedom, but also our joyful and sensual embodiment in the world. Every choice is a new opportunity.
An animist is never alone, not really. But if the world is so full of people, then where does that leave me, your friendly neighborhood introvert? There are days when the more I hang out with people, the lonelier I feel. What is it that the natural world offers that I cannot get from my fellow human beings?
The second installment of my UU-Pagan series, The Mystery of the Many: In Silence and Song, goes live today over on the Patheos CUUPS blog! In it, I tackle a topic I've long been pondering: how polytheistic mysticism differs from the ways we usually talk about the divine mystery and the purpose of spiritual community in a mostly-monotheistic Western culture. My lived experience of progressive values leads me to the conclusion that it is not a unity of agreement that we are seeking, but the freedom to disagree in a multitude of astounding and beautiful ways, each seeking our own paths. How do we cultivate spiritual community in the face of this diversity? I think UU offers some surprising alternative approaches....
I'm sure a lot of Pagans have said this, but for me discovering Paganism and Druidry was never really about leaving something behind: it was about coming home to myself. From a very early age, I have always cared deeply about the natural world, and I've seen the powers and forces of nature and the many non-human beings who share the planet with us as expressions of the divine. I've also always loved music, poetry and storytelling -- and art and creativity in general -- and see them as vital practices for connecting authentically with the heart of my spirituality. All of that was true when I was Catholic, and it's still true now. I also know lots of Christians who feel the same way, and many of those Christians share very similar spiritual practices -- meditation, divination, chanting and breathwork, etc. So what exactly is the difference between me and them?
The latest issue of the Alternative Religions Educational Network's newsletter just came out this past weekend, and I was excited to be included as one of those featured in an interview with the editor, Christopher Blackwell. We chatted about my background being raised in a liberal Catholic tradition flavored by my father's Irish heritage, and how that shaped my spiritual journey towards Druidry as I live and practice it today. It was great fun! One thing we touched on was the Oran Mór, or the Song of the World. Chris asked me to talk a little bit more about how this cosmological concept is reflected in my Druidry. You can read the excerpt here, or check out the whole interview.
Where does our anthropocentrism come from? Some scientists cite evolutionary pressures as one possible influence among many. But others point to instinctual cognitive processes to explain just the opposite, suggesting that the anthropocentric worldview is actually a rejection of the human instinct, not its inevitable consequence. Even if anthropocentrism isn't instinctual, for many of us it is deeply ingrained. To a man with a shovel, it can be hard to imagine any other solution but to keep digging our way out of this anthropocentric hole we find ourselves stuck in. Western society has spent a long time convincing us that the shovel is the only effective tool we have. Are there alternatives? How do we learn to think beyond the biases of anthropocentrism and reconnect with the more-than-human world?
What is anthropocentrism? Turns out, there is no single, simple answer to this question. (Just among the nearly fifty books on environmental ethics and deep ecology that I have, only one actually offers a definition of the term, despite almost all of them referring to it in their discussions. As with many words, its meaning often has to be teased out and inferred from context.) In my earlier post I hinted at the beginnings of a definition when I referred to an approach to ritual that "takes for granted a worldview in which humans are the only measure of what is real." The question of how our idea of "the real" and our practical responses to it (for instance, through ritual activity) influence our underlying values and where we locate (or create) meaning is a complex conversation in its own right, and it is in this particular theological meadow that I'll do much of my lingering and bee-gazing in the following posts. But for now, it's probably more helpful to sketch out a basic definition, one we can use as a kind of measure against which we can hold up more complex, fidgety ideas later in the conversation...
My gods are not tame. They do not always come when they are called. This is not a failure of ritual or a weakness of belief. It is the nature of my gods. I would no more expect a god to "show up" in my ritual space than I would expect to be able to call a mountain into my living room. That is simply not the nature of mountains. If I want to meet a mountain, I am the one who must move. Because I do not believe that humans are the only beings with agency in the world, I do not expect my gods to express their agency in the same ways that human beings do. There are gods who forever remain elusive, whose identities shift with the landscape, the seasons and the stars. And there are gods so intimate that they are never really absent at all, and meeting them is not a matter of inviting their presence but rather of quieting my own expectations and learning how to listen. There are gods whose presence looms like a mountain range on the horizon, and gods with(in) whom I walk with grace, my footsteps just one more melody in the great pattern of their being. What does hospitality look like to a mountain? How does a forest speak its mind? What does it mean to invoke a god of mist and sea on a mist-strewn shore?
What were you expecting? A tame goddess who can be bribed with easy offerings? A pleasant springtime girl who asks for nothing but your adoration in return? An owl-feathered maiden of the forest to indulge your taste for the exotic and the dark? Were you hoping for a bedtime story with a moral at the end? Blodeuwedd's story isn't over. It is on-going. It is forever unfolding in every moment, in every place where nature and culture conflict and comingle, in every breath that weaves us as human animals into the more-than-human world. It would be too easy to approach Blodeuwedd through mythology and ritual alone, to disconnect her from the messy, erotic, death-riddled real world of broom blossoms and barred owls.