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?
As Christmas approaches once again, I find myself wondering, wandering in a liminal space. Asking myself how to teach children that realizing their own inner Santa Claus is infinitely more challenging than believing in some unlikely literal jolly-old-elf, and infinitely more rewarding. Asking myself where I belong, where we all belong, and how we belong to each other. Asking myself how I can tell the stories of my ancestors, pagan and Christian alike, to the children of my partner. What can I say that will be meaningful and relevant for them, that will share with them the "spirit of the season" that I have come to know and love and value? What will I say when they come singing, a penny for my thoughts?
Christmas eve night, about nine o'clock. Basket slung over one arm and bumping into my hip with every step, I trudge through the snow. The ribbon wound around the basket's slim handle glistens in a hint of milky moonlight, gold thread woven in elaborate patterns through the deep red cloth. In the basket, a red pillar candle and two tapers — scented "seasonal berry" — jostle in a nest of intertwined greens, bits of douglas fir and blue spruce smelling sweetly of bent needles and dried sap; wedged among them, the frankincense sticks, the crystal bowl full of dark sunflower seeds and dried cranberries, the small jar of spring water decorated with silvery snowflake designs and curled bits of blue string. The snow crunches as I feel my way along the un-shoveled path through the park, some of it falling onto the tops of my moccasin-like shoes and slipping down inside to melt against bare skin.
Meeter gives Christianity a bit of a soft sell, emphasizing all of the ways that being a Christian can help you get your head right and find a more meaningful way of living. But what he doesn't do is justify, or even articulate, some of the foundational ontological beliefs on which he's based his arguments. Since the kind of god we worship affects the kind of human beings we are, let's see if we can't find out a bit more about Meeter's god by looking at the kind of human he inspires.
Why be a Christian (if no one goes to hell)? That might seem like an odd question for a Pagan Druid to be asking, but it's the title of a new book by Daniel Meeter that caught my eye.* I like to take up these challenges every now and then, in part because remembering the religious tradition that I came from helps to remind me why I left, and what lessons or insights of value I want to hold onto and carry with me into the future, even if I no longer call myself a Christian. After all, I remember being a Christian. In fact I was, if I may say so, a really fantastic Christian. I Christianed the hell out of that shit. So what happened? It's a long story (with a few twists and turns). Suffice it to say, I'm in a different place in my life now, and that place gives me a different perspective on the purpose of the spiritual life and the assumptions we bring to it. That's why I wanted to read Meeter's book. To stretch my muscles a bit, to remember what it's like to think about the world differently, and to keep my interfaith work bilingual and useful.
To me, a woman without children, the idea that a mother might not have even a few hours to herself to nurture her passions and pursue her own dreams is horrifying. Who could be more deeply concerned with the future of our society? Who could have more at stake in the work to see the arc of history bend swift and sure towards justice? Who could want more for a better world for future generations, than a mother? What words do we have for her? Is it enough to tell her that we honor her sacrifice and expect her to keep soldiering on? Do we pay lip-service to her noble self-giving as a way of refusing her the full depth of her desires, the fullness and complexity of her humanity? Or do we find a new way of living together?
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.
If it seems like I've been rather quiet here lately, that's because I've been making a lot of noise over at Faith, Fern & Compass, a new podcast project launched earlier this month. I'm super excited about the project, and I've been putting in long hours for the past several weeks to get the website up and the first few preseason episodes out! Faith, Fern & Compass is an interfaith podcast rooted in love for the earth and hope for the future. I am just so thrilled to be working on it, and I hope all of you who read this blog will go check it out! The official first season starts on May 2nd, but there are already some episodes available on the website — or you can subscribe on iTunes.
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.