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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Where there’s a Wiccan

I had the beginnings of an interesting discussion with a friend the other day. It was about Wicca and what Wiccans believe in.  Not surprisingly, that set me thinking about what I believe in.

This is not the first time I’ve asked myself about this and not the first time since I’ve begun calling myself Wiccan. But only a few days ago, I came across a piece describing the Horned God. It was a totally brilliant description that I cannot summarise with any justice here. But one of the key points were that the Horned God is a healthy male role model, properly integrated with the religion belief system surrounding Him. This is most unlike the image of God (Yahweh) and Jesus that the Christian Church promulgates. If anything, the latter is a forlorn image of a strongly patriarchal system..

That’s not who I set out to find.

My spiritual journey is taking me further and further away from where the Church is squatting. I’ve already found a Yahweh out here that is not like the one I left behind – the one I couldn’t get close to. And in a recent Kabbalistic meditation, whilst most in our group got difficult to understand messages, mine was one of overwhelming rightness. I’m on the right path, and I’m in the correct place.

In a few months, I get to run a meditation myself with the help of a fellow pagan. I probably don’t need to think about it so soon but doing so is helping me pay attention to the other meditations being put together. It is also helping me think through my own beliefs. My journey into Paganism has been one of wondering where I’m going. The searching has been somewhat casual, I’ll admit. But that doesn’t mean I’ve taken things lightly. I’ve doubted a few times if Wicca is for me. And then I see a new angle, and it makes sense again. I’m getting used to the cycle of the moon and the cycle of the year, so much so I didn’t realize last Sunday was Palm Sunday – but to a Wiccan that has no meaning. I feel a spiritual connection to the land I live in, but only as a long-term visitor. The indigenous spirituality doesn’t work for me, and yet I can respect it and respect the honouring of it. Instead, I feel a connection to a more European earth-based version, but as borrowed for here. Whatever that really means.

I’m still feeling my way forward, after all.

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Faith versus action

I came across an article the other day on the web about how evangelical churches behave a particular way. Or rather, why their attendees behave that way. I’ve been taught evangelical Christianity practically all my life, so you would think I know it inside out. But years of living in it does not deconstruct easily or quickly and it is easy to overlook details that can be important.

One of the facts that modern evangelical Christianity teaches is that believers are saved by faith and not by works. In the surface this is part of the teaching that you don’t earn your salvation, it is yours for the asking. Sometimes it is contrasted with other spiritual paths where salvation or the equivalent is earnt by one’s actions.

There is a lot of teaching by churches of many stripes down through the centuries that rest on history. The quirk of this is that the history behind certain pieces of doctrine are easily lost and rarely taught. Without realizing it, there is a piece of context lost and it is often difficult to even tell it is missing. For converts to Christianity who have been raised in another faith, the inversion of the relationship of grace and works would be novel. It would also not need explaining – it is a concept that would be understood properly. It has the correct context.

I’m guessing of course. Like I said, I was raised a Christian. And one side-effect of being raised in this doctrine is that creates a disconnect between earthly behaviour and heavenly rewards. And one thing I am learning in my journey into Paganism is that maybe that’s not a good thing.

The article I mentioned at the start talks about how badly evangelical Christians can behave towards those who have left their church and their religion. Because they can. The disconnect between having a faith and being accountable for your actions in the name of that faith mean that bad-mouthing such people is not seen as a bad thing.

Yet it should be.

Once upon a time I thought like that. For a long time, in fact. I would like to think I never behaved as badly as the church-goers in that article, though, who criticised the author’s lack of faith to his own daughter behind his back. But I can see this is a valid course of action defined by the twin aspects of “saved by grace, not works” and “make disciples of all the nations”. It shouldn’t be a valid outcome, but it is.

Now, though? I can’t say “saved by works” because that’s not how Wicca is structured. In fact, the two alternatives don’t even make sense in Wicca, partly because the natural response to either choice is “saved from what?”

Saved from what, indeed. We need to be saved from such thinking. And then we need to do some saving of our own. Like the planet. It’s our only home, after all, and we’re killing it.

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You never really know what a meditation is going to show you, especially when it’s pretty open. We were guided into an Egyptian temple, and then left to explore on our own. Would we see things to read? Would we meet gods? If so, who? And what would they say to use?

I found a picture on the floor: one of a green forest. I’m not sure if it was English or Australian, but it was thick and dense. And when I stepped towards it, I discovered it was actually a pool of (black) water that was reflecting the ceiling.

As well as the green forest, I was reminded of the dragon that pounced on me during the dragon attunement the other week. Whilst he or she isn’t green, where it landed was on the green chakra.

I was also given the image of a green gem stone as a pendant. I feel like this is to replace my world tree pendant, which has lost a lot of its plating. And that was when I was reminded I have a new tree to find.

I don’t understand my journey. I rarely meet any gods or goddesses in the circle meditation. Or rather, I haven’t recently. Yahweh, or some version of him, sent me out into this weird world of spirituality without him. Whilst it was a nice surprise to encounter him a few times out here, I get the feeling that I’m not going to meet him again for some time. But instead there’s someone else to meet. I just have to find them. And the colour green is part of that journey.

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We finally did our first group meditation with the Kabbalah tonight. Quite different from the previous events, and yet not all that much. We still opened the circle and we still called in the quarters, but the meditation was something else.

It was a lot mysterious, but then, that’s both kind of the point and also a side-effect of so much to learn and explore so just where do you start. Our learned friend started with the sphere of Kether, which is the top-most emanation of the Tree of Life and central to a fairly straightforward meditation called The Middle Pillar.

Not surprisingly, in the guided meditation we met a god. In this case it was the creator-god, a kind of over-god over, above and outside the cosmos, and yet still a part of it and of each and every one of us. Sound familiar? Well, a lot of religions have used this idea down through the millenia.

My own experience of this over-god was one of enormous immensity. It was all I could do to see the size of the palm of his hand.

And yet there wasn’t a sense of shock or awe at this. If anything, it was a statement of being: a Just Is moment, if you will.

And that was kind of comforting.

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A new chapter

So… today my sister discovered I’ve been attending a pagan full moon circle. This is, well, pretty non-Christian. Regular readers of this blog will already know this, but this was news to my sister.

And her first reaction was to ask how that fits with the core Christian beliefs of one God, one Saviour.

How indeed.

I did my best to avoid the question without seeming to avoid it. She knew I’d been looking for another church. Today she gained a better idea of where I’ve been looking. At least she was receptive to hearing my story.

She and I both have had a delayed maturing into adulthood largely because neither of our parents knew how to take us through that last step from adolescence. Part of this is because whilst Mum is a child of a broken marriage, she and Dad have never to our knowledge fought. However, it is only when a person has a close relationship disintegrate is it possible to learn certain things about ourselves. Mum and Dad have not gone through that with each other and so my sister and I had to find out how take that last step ourselves. In a large way without really knowing we had to.

Part of my journey led me way from my sheltered upbringing and that includes what I believe.

What I now believe is that there is so much more to the spiritual realm than the Christian church wants to admit or even know about. Do I believe Yahweh exists? Yes. Do I believe he is the only god? No longer. I have learnt that different gods think and behave differently. This is a skill almost lost to most people. So much of western secular culture is conditioned to think the choice is one god or no god. The idea of many gods, all with different personalities is really alien to many.

What about that Jesus is my personal saviour? That’s harder. My first honest response to this question is “saviour from what?” which is quite a non-Christian response. I couldn’t say that to my sister – but I didn’t think of that response until much much later. You see, when I stepped out from the Christian Guilt (this is the corporate shaming of what you are and are not supposed to do as a “christian”) I also left behind the idea of being a sinner.

Of course, the real risk in alerting my family to where I’m headed is that of it fundamentally changing my relationships. Whilst the loss of my Christianity is likely to worry or scare my sister, it is more likely to upset my mother.

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A Re-evaluation Of Christmas

Christmas has always been a time of the year with complex layers of meaning and purpose. There are traditions and practices that differ across religious groups and even across geographical groups as people in northern Europe celebrate it differently to those in North America.

Even the basic meaning is not so simple to describe. Christians and church-goers hold tightly to the fact that they celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some go so far as to avoid as many of the secular practices as possible. This means no tree as that pre-dates Christian celebrations, and sometimes no presents. In less extreme environments, there is a fusion of secular and religious practices and iconography that flows both ways. And I use he word fusion quite deliberately. Many churches will have Christmas decorations in their chapel, for instance, and even the most secular of carol singing nights will include many of the Christian ones.

But as I move further away from Christianity and further into Paganism, I myself run into some odd dichotomies.

First of all, I can’t easily extricate the Pagan pieces of Christmas. The history of many of our Christmas traditions in the modern world is murky, but one fact that is clear is that a lot of them originate in places that are cold at this time of year. It’s not cold here – which leads me to the other big fact: a lot of Christmas is based on Yule and in this part of the world that was six months ago. :-/

That leaves the secular pieces. Which means consumerism and commercialism. But they borrow heavily from history. Which takes me back to square one: Christianity and Pagan Yule, only re-interpreted and mangled to suit capitalism.

I found an article the other day that pointed out that the Church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus in the early centuries. It just wasn’t part of the Christian calendar back then. The gospels don’t even tell us when in the year it happened (the only clue is that the sheep were outside at night), so the writers didn’t think it important, either. But Christian theology was going through a phase where the emerging thinking was that Jesus’ ministry was a mystical story. So the Church authorities decided to start celebrating his birthday as a way of reminding people that he had been a real person. Yule and Saturnalia was chosen. And thus we now have Christmas at this time of year.

Typically, the Church has largely forgotten that that happened. But in the west, celebrations of individual birthdays is normal, so doing one for the baby Jesus does not feel odd. Children are often taught this comparison!

But I don’t need to celebrate this anymore. Christmas is being re-shaped for me.

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