Re-journalling

I’m bad at journalling. This is the modern term for what used to be called “keeping a diary”. No, not the sort that records future appointments, the sort that records how you were thinking about the day.

This blog started out as a kind of journal. I still use it to go back and see what I thought worth posting about it. But it’s not an every day kind of thing. And I have somehow acquired a readership, which was not what I set out to do and, yes, it colours my choices about what I post about.

I’m not terribly far into the course on Druidry, but progress is steady. More-or-less. The fact that I get a packet of four lessons roughly every four weeks keeps a subtle pressure on to keep going forward. And I seem to be staying a consistent two lessons behind. The one I’ve been trying to find time to do for a week says in the opening that if I haven’t been journalling yet, now is the time to start!

Well, then.

 

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Synchronous Ideation

Ever get the idea that the universe is trying to get your attention? Reminds of a recent ad on TV where the guy is driving a car through or around obstacles whilst those manning the barricades or chasing after him are trying to get his attention. He’s obviously dreaming. But what if this happens in real life?

People sometimes talk about “synchronicity”. This is where totally unrelated events occur within a short time of each other but appear to have the same meaning. The actual term was coined by Carl Jung. Christians usually say that “God is sending me a message”. Pagans will say a variety of different phrases, but the core meaning is almost the same. And whether it is truly is an external influence or not, somehow we are seeing the same pattern and same meaning. Something is trying to get our attention: even if it’s just our subconscious.

And I have just had such an event:

  1. I’ve been working through a book called “I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What Is Was“. This is a book about finding what your passion is – what you truly want to do in life. And then how to go about actually doing. I’m currently still fairly early in the book, trying to learn how to find out my internal blocks.
  2. I’ve been working my way through a course in Druidry. Again, I’m still fairly early in this, but the next lesson I opened is called “Asking Questions Of Your Life”. And before I started reading it, a phrase some paragraphs down jumped out at me: “What is it stopping you from fulfilling your desires?
  3. And perhaps both the smallest and largest of all. Faffing about on Youtube this evening, one of the recommended songs was a K-pop song I love, “Dream Candy” by April (although it’s called just “Dreaming” in Korean). But this time, it was from the other official channel: the one that includes English subtitles. I’d read the translation before, but too many months ago. Unlike most pop songs, Dream Candy isn’t about finding love. No, it’s an encouragement to follow your dreams.

What do I truly dream? There are lots of little things I enjoy in life and they are valuable precisely because I am honest with myself. After all, one of my life mantras is “Embrace what makes you happy”.

Now I’m finding that things are circling for me to not just accept the little things that make me happy, but to dig deep down inside, behind the unconscious roadblocks, to find the big things that make me happy. The big yearnings that make my soul and heart sing.

 

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Easter, once removed

When you’re a Christian (or church-goer), the Easter weekend is the pinnacle of the Christian church calendar. The events depicted in the story of this particular weekend is the reason for the whole of Christianity. More or less.

When you’re not a Christian, it is just a long weekend. And a full moon, if you’re that way inclined.

If you are no longer Christian, the Easter weekend is a time of mixed emotions. I do still remember what worshipping could be like as a Christian on these days. I always found it difficult to recreate the impact and emotion each year, largely because it is every year. And it kind of ruins the sense of theatre on Good Friday when you know that everyone knows how the third act (Easter Sunday) plays out.

 

This is also the second year that Easter has snuck up on me. When you’re a regular church attender, the date of the next Easter is readily known for months in advance. But the church calendar is, with just one exception, not linked to the moon cycle at all. That one exception is Easter, because the date for it is based on how the Jewish Passover is calculated and that’s also based on the moon cycles. However paying attention to the moon once a year does not infer awareness. Mapping out a year’s worth of Full Moons, and attending circles once a month for several years is what conveys awareness.

The other thing about being ex-Christian at Easter and being active on social media is the number of memes and articles about Easter that come up. Skip over them and move on, you say? Even just skipping over them can be enough for them to annoy me.

 

 

 

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Sacred words

Something that I noticed would come up from time-to-time in the Church groups I used to a part of was the number of Bibles we often had. Middle-class church-going Westerners frequently have several. Some people buy a new Bible once every few years. Others buy one when the current one starts falling apart (it happens). Or the church changes its standard translation. Or the print is getting a bit small now.

Christians in the West are not taught to take care of their physical Bible, either. I’m guessing this is largely because it’s so easy to just buy another. Not like Muslims are taught to treasure their Koran (and how many have lovingly hand-made covers). I was particularly struck by this fact some years ago. A family from our church had moved to Turkey to do mission work. At this point they were back for a few weeks, providing some updates and taking a break. One of the things they told us was that they saw Muslims do not put their Koran on the floor.

It is a respect thing. I mean, why would you normally put a book on the floor? I only do at home if I’ve literally got nowhere else to put it, and even then, it’s going to be limited to my bedroom and maybe the armchair where I read.

But Church-goers put their Bible on the floor in church all the time.

I decided at that point I wasn’t going to do that anymore.

That was a good ten years ago. To my knowledge, I often stopped myself putting my Bible on the floor, particularly in the first few months. Now-a-days, of course, I often don’t even know where my Bibles are. Even if I did read it regularly (which I don’t), I have access to hundreds of translations via my Smartphone. And that almost never gets left on the floor, either!

Being Pagan is quite different. For me personally, the closest I get to a sacred book is a personal Book Of Shadows. And for me, part of that is on my laptop computer, and another is a bag full of loose-leaf material. Morever, it’s just not sacred like a Bible would be sacred. Still, I take care of the items I hold special. I try to not leave them on the floor for no good reason, for instance.

 

 

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Material Devotion

Every religious behaviour comes with a cost to it, sooner or later. And by that I mean spending your own money towards it. Those raised in a Christian church will be familiar with the weekly offerings. Well, I’m talking about more than that.

Being part of a community of any sort requires more than your time and presence. At the very least, you’ve almost certainly spent money just getting there. Even if it’s just shoe-leather. But participation usually requires more than that. You might need to buy a book for a book club, or invest in sporting equipment.

Churches often have events where those participating need to bring their own resources. It might be a paid event, like a dinner, or it might be your own tools, like a working bee. For those a bit more involved, you might be making a significant purchase. I bought a $700 synthesizor a number of years ago for helping me play music in church.

This is not unique to churches. My Pagan circle requests attendees bring suitable craft supplies to both the Beltane and the Samhain events. Sometimes things are requested for a full moon circle, too. And personal altar work requires material investment.

I don’t mind but it did set me thinking. I’ve blogged before about the art and craft skills I’ve resurrected in the service of being pagan. And truth be told, I really don’t mind. There is something satisfying in creating with your hands after all. It’s easy to get resentful at the frequent small outlays, but I think I know where that comes from. Looking back at my years in the church, though, and I get the feeling that most church-goers would rather not bring anything beyond their time and presence. So my outlay on musical instrumentation was rather extraordinary. But it wasn’t under duress, either: it was an expense I willingly paid for. Compared to my Pagan craft supplies, it is considerable, but then it is useful over a lot longer period, too.

So it all balances out, really,

 

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The Learning Of Knowledge

I wonder how much organised religion relies on not teaching things.

Us humans are awesome learners. We kind of have to be. Amongst all of the creatures placed upon this planet, we are born with the least amount of survival instincts, have the longest childhood and the most to learn to become a functioning adult. In short, we have to learn how to be a human being. This is unlike my cat, who was born with a raft of instincts peculiar and specific to her species. She doesn’t have to learn how to be a cat – just how to live in the world whilst being a cat, including living with me.

We also like to have some rules of society to follow, especially to interact with fellow humans. We don’t like all of them, but we know we need them. Things like what side of the road everyone should drive on, or how money works. Even language is one of those kinds of rules. Religion has also always been about rules. What you need to do or say to the gods so the river floods this year. What to wear when you visit a sacred space. Even what to think about those dastardly people in the next valley who everyone wished were a bit darker so they weren’t quite so similar looking to you and your neighbours.

The thing about rules, though, is that they usually require a ruler. Or at least a proxy. Kings, Emperors, Presidents. Barons, Dukes. Priests. They may not always like to admit it, but priests are – by definition – a proxy between the gods and the people. They carry messages from the people to the gods and messages from the gods to the people. Sometimes the latter are stories and that is where religions teach. Such teaching can range from how to respect the gods, all the way up to how the world is because The Gods Said So. Which means the latter becomes a problem when the world starts disagreeing,

I like learning about the world and have been doing that for many years, often by reading books. The latest is one written as a story set in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, with fiction by Terry interspersed with real science narrated by scientists Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart in a down-to-earth, chatty style. This is the fourth book that has been done like this, and they cover a lot of science. This latest one talks a lot about sciences often given little time in the mainstream, such as anthropology. It also wanders through some of the latest theories in biochemistry, too, like some possible scenarios about quite how some reasonably simple molecules could be self-organising enough to form the machinery of DNA. It’s complicated but it’s the sort of thing that us humans are driven to ask questions about.

Except when we’re not. And that brings us back to religion again.

Most Christian church-based teaching assumes and therefore teaches that the Bible is more-or-less accurate. This includes firm belief that there was a Noah, an ark and a flood, that Moses did indeed lead the children of Israel across Sinai, and so on and so forth. The church also reaps the products of a long line of thinkers and politicians, ranging from Augustine and Constantine to people like C. S. Lewis and N. T. Wright. And then neglects to teach the flock about them. That creates a vast body of dogma that pretty much has all the same provenance. That makes it difficult to question bits because a common reaction is to state that you’re questioning it all.

One of the reasons I left my church was because I’d run out of things for them to teach me. It took me many years to do that and I only really noticed it when I found ways other than the Sunday morning sermon to learn about my religion and its sacred books. But I was learning things that weren’t getting taught at church. Things the congregation had carefully been taught not to look for. History, scholarship and critical thinking. The experience reminds me of the old saying about when is the apprentice ready to leave master.

It was obvious when I suddenly realized the weekly sermon was repeating teaching I’d heard several times before over the decades. It got especially obvious when my Bible Study wanted to study the book of Jeremiah “directly”, which meant a) without a study guide and b) without any other literature. I wanted to explore the history of when and why it was written and what else was happening in Judah at the time. Everyone else was content to re-inforce what they already knew about the book.

So I left.

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A Chance Meeting

For no reason I could solidly articulate, I decided to go back to my old church this morning to visit.

Despite being arguably more Pagan than Christian now, and taken deliberate steps away from Evangelical Churchianity, I still miss some aspects of church-based life. This is why I still occasionally visit a few churches, including my sister’s church. And my own former church.

I did kind of wonder at my own presence. No-one there really knows why I left. A very small number of people have a little bit of an idea, but most do not and are not interested enough to come ask. What makes a bit more complicated was that this church is currently in the long and very slow process of merging with another church, one that I also have a few friends at from my previous Christian life. And this morning happened to be a combined service, which was definitely a happy accident.

Churches merging is unusual and I’m kind of glad people in both churches know this. Normally merges happen when two churches get too small to be viable. I don’t think this is happening to either of them, but I do remember when one of them was briefly large enough to consider two morning services. In fact, it is more common for churches to split, often over either doctrine or personality. Or both.

But I didn’t necessarily want to blog about that. Because I also happened to encounter an old friend who I lost track of years ago – he didn’t really attend either church, but he was in my bible study and we got to know each other during that time. And he was there today.

One thing Pagans are aware of is synchronicity. This is where events happen that seem to be guided by supernatural forces. Christians tend to call this “God’s hand”. But whatever it is, it happened today to me.

It was right as I was leaving and had actually stepped off the church property. This old friend didn’t seem totally sure I would recognise him, but I did. It was quickly apparent he did not know my recent history. In fact, he did not know I had had a failed marriage behind me. But in explaining what followed he mentioned the phrase “a personal journey”. And then he said “are you spiritual than religious”, clearly expecting a “yes”. And then he said he’d recently been in Tibet, which is a highly spiritual land.

That’s when I recognised the synchronicity. This was the first person in months from my former Christian circles I could begin to tell that I was “less Christian than I used to be”. I was meant to find him today. All the doubt about putting my toes back into the church evaporated. All the shenanigans of setting up my whole weekend so that I could be there on time this morning all felt worth it. He even understood the problem of not being able to take someone along with me on such a journey. (I’ve posted before about this: another person still firmly inside a way of thinking will likely not understand your journey because they’re not asking the same questions as you are.)

If anything, this was a confirmation that whilst my journey is my journey, many others have been down similar paths. And the really interesting thing about striking out on your own spiritual path is that when you start talking about it, it is those who have also done this that you get the recognition and encouragement from.

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