They say you can't be neutral on a moving train, and if recent developments on the American political scene have demonstrated anything, it's that the Catholic Church is a train headed in a pretty distressing direction: away from equality and social justice, and set on a collision course with the wall of separation between church and state. In many ways, the Catholic Church abandoned me years before I finally woke up to the fact and left of my own accord. For years, I struggled with the feeling of being a solitary Catholic liberal crying out in the wilderness. I felt beleaguered by atheists and secularists on the one side of me, criticizing Catholicism for being a monolithic monstrosity of backwards-looking conservative patriarchy, while on the other side of me were many of my fellow Catholics striving to make the Church exactly that.
We have a rare chance to shape the future of Pagan/polytheist culture with an awareness of the mistakes made in the past. We have seen how seemingly innocuous influences in the early stages of the development and evolution of a New Religious Movement can quickly grow to become entrenched prejudices and twisted justifications for violence against those who are different. We have the chance to recognize those same potentials in ourselves, and to do our best to avoid them. Instead, I worry that we are too eager to make those same mistakes again, to invite a mythology of victimization and perpetuate a story that subscribes to the same tired "us versus them" duality that many of us were trying to escape when we left Christianity behind.
Last month, I had the fantastic opportunity to attend the inaugural Wild Goose Festival down in central North Carolina, a gathering of progressive and emergent Christians interested in engaging with questions of social justice, peace, community, art and spirituality in a postmodern, multicultural world. I admit, as a Druid and a Pagan, I had my trepidations about attending a Christian festival — worries about what kinds of assumptions others would have about my own religious affiliation, anxieties about potential misunderstandings or miscommunications that could arise (although growing up Catholic and holding a degree in comparative religious studies, I'm reasonably well-versed in the unique ways Christians sometimes use language or make off-hand Biblical references) — but I resolved to set aside both my fears and my cynicism and attend the festival with as open a mind and as soft a heart as I could.
After camping for four days straight at the Wild Goose Festival down in steamy, sunny North Carolina, my body almost rebells against the cushy bed, the hot shower and the dry, still air-conditioned air. I was getting used to the delicious feel of sweat and sun on my skin, sharing my home with spiders and trees, and waking to the sound of birds and snoring neighbors at dawn. I do believe camping is good for the soul. The Wild Goose Festival was a wonderful, welcoming and challenging event for Jeff and me, and we're both very grateful for the hard work and vision all of those staff members and volunteers who helped organize and run the festival this year.
I think there is power in the metaphor of the "Wild Goose" — An Geadh-Glas — the name in Celtic Christianity for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is, after all, that Person of the Trinity which is the indwelling Spirit in all things, the immanence of the divine in the world itself. She is the balance and compliment to the transcendent God-the-Father. She is the fire of inspiration, the creative power of eros, the source and sustainer of community, the untamable wildness of hope. When we go on a "wild goose chase," we can feel that we're going in circles, spiraling silly around that which is elusive and mysterious. I can't help but think that my Celtic ancestors knew this about the Wild Goose, too — that those who follow her follow her into loneliness and sorrow, listening to her keening echoing over the solitude of the wilds.
What has changed in my spiritual life has little to do with the labels I give it. Today I am a Pagan Druid, but that may change in the future as the words evolve in meaning and the community that embraces them shifts and turns about itself in an on-going conversation of creative group-identity formation. What has changed for me, most importantly, is not the name for my spiritual practice, but its depth. I've never really had to "come out" as Pagan to anyone, because my spiritual life is not really about fitting into boxes, or broom closets — it's about deepening. I deepen into my self and my work, through prayer and meditation, through poetry and story, through my time in the woods and my attention to the landscape.