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Christ and the gods

My youngest son Robin (age 8) was recently accepted to be part of a kid’s advisory group for a well-known national youth magazine. Lots of fun! One of Robin’s first tasks was to send in some possible questions for a “you asked” column. Some of his questions were pretty normal: how does a chameleon change colours? how many bricks would it take to build a life-sized Lego person? Solid questions! He also generated this question: what proof do we have that any gods exist?

Now, Robin is a baptized Christian, in a solid Anglican household. He knows about God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. But he’s also pretty curious and passionate about the gods. The Greek gods are his favourite pantheon, but he also digs the Roman gods, and the Egyptian gods, and the Norse gods. For a young boy, nothing out of the ordinary. All my kids have been reading Rick Riordan’s stuff for a long time, and they love it. Riordan makes the various ancient deities feel very contemporary, and there is plenty of solid mythological detail lacing the stories. So it comes as no surprise to me that when Robin asks about divine “proof”, he’s wondering not only about the God of his own faith, but also about the gods (and demigods and various magical creatures and spirit beings) of other religions.

As a ChristoPagan, I’m deeply intrigued by Robin’s question. I’m thoroughly interested in trying to imagine and articulate the relationship between the Triune One which our family worships as Christians, and the various other deities who have been (and still are) worshipped throughout the world. Of course, various answers to this question have been posed. Rigorous monotheists have shrilly insisted that all other gods and goddesses are just demons in disguise, to be avoided at all cost. Vigorous polytheists have responded that the deity of Christians, Jews, and Muslims is simply one god among many, and that “he” should mind his own divine business rather than getting up everyone else’s nose. The Jungians wish we could demythologize the whole discussion just a wee bit. And of course the atheists are just plain tired of all of it.

So what might a ChristoPagan response to this question be? Of course, there are as many different ChristoPagan responses as there are ChristoPagans, but for me personally, here are a few thoughts. Firstly, even though the biblical scriptures and monotheistic traditions tend to default into a crude and often violent polemic stance against “idolatry”, there are other voices within Judaism and Christianity (and I’m assuming Islam as well, though I don’t know that tradition deeply enough to comment) which have a different take on “the gods”. Within the psalms, for instance, there are multiple references to the God of gods, and the “council of the gods”. These references are often interpreted metaphorically, but if they are taken as they stand, they seem to refer to a whole host of divine or semi-divine beings who have a role to play in the governance of the universe. Jump to the new testament, in the epistle of Paul to the Galatians for instance, and you have reference to the powers and elemental spirits who play a similar role for the Gentiles as the Torah plays for the Jews; these spirits are basically guardians and tutors for the human nations. While worship of them is extremely problematic, these spiritual beings are presented as part of God’s good creation, appointed to lead all the various cultures and peoples (other than Israel) to a knowledge of the Creator, and finally to a saving knowledge of Christ. Paul’s argument is complicated, of course, by his Jewish prejudice against the gods of other nations, but I think that he is basically building on an older tradition which sees the divine council as responsible in some mysterious way for the Gentile nations of the earth.

Biblical theologian Walter Wink has done a wonderful job of unpacking the language of “powers and principalities” which we find in the scriptures, and opens it up to a much more useful and complex discourse than the gods=demons rhetoric. Basically, from Wink’s perspective, the gods are real, the gods (like humans) are created good, they are fallen, and they are being redeemed. In short, they are woven into created universe by the Triune Uncreated Creator, and have their own part to play in relation to the ultimate destiny of said universe.

As I encounter more perspectives from the “hard polytheism” communities within NeoPaganism, especially from Heathen thinkers, it strikes me how much their gods and goddesses are seen to be stronger, wiser, and older versions of ourselves. Deities are not perceived as eternal; rather, they have a beginning and an end. They are a part of the wider spatio-temporal reality of the cosmos. What is eternal (perhaps) is Wyrd itself. For me, as a ChristoPagan, I can’t help but be reminded of Christ as the Incarnate Wyrd. Like Tolkien, my own spiritual imagination is illuminated with a vision of godlike beings surrounding the throne of the Creator, each garnering strength and wisdom from Sophia, the Queen of Heaven, the Spirit poured out giving life to the whole creation. Tolkien calls this the Flame of Anor, or the Secret and Undying Flame. His vision, outlined in the Ainulindale and the Valaquenta (which should probably be treated as sacred lore by ChristoPagans), sees the Ainur and Valar as angelic beings, who function as the divine council does within the psalmic scriptures.

As more NeoPagans shift toward polytheistic relationships and practices, I will be interested to see how polytheist thealogy evolves. What is the nature of these gods and goddesses? How do they relate to each other? How do they relate to Wyrd / Great Mystery / Eru / the One? And ultimately, is there a different form of relationship and devotion appropriate to the Uncreated, than toward the created forces and powers?

Robin and I will be working on these questions together for quite some time! And regardless of the provisional insights we come to, we will continue to worship the One who dwells in the midst of angels, and archangels, and the whole company of heaven and earth. Blessed be Her Name.

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Tending Frith

One of the many things I appreciate about contemporary “Northern Traditions”, or Heathenry, is the reclamation of lost words. These days, it is the word frith which is catching my attention. Theodish elder Winifred Hodge has this to say about frith:

“ Frith is often translated as “peace”. The full meaning of frith encompasses peace but extends well beyond it, to cover a large portion of the most meaningful and essential foundations of human social life, especially as it is lived in more “traditional” societies. A full understanding of the concept of frith will show that “peace” is not identical to frith; rather, peace as we understand it is generally an outgrowth of frith, resulting from the conditions of frith being met…. The idea of frith is very closely tied to kinship — blood kinship in particular — and then to kinship by marriage, adoption and fostering. The words frith and sib were often used interchangeably to describe the state of being of people involved in a kindred relationship, and we can easily see the connection in the modern use of the term sibling to indicate a brother or sister. The term frith did not merely indicate the material fact of blood relationship. Rather, it described the essence of the relationship itself: the joys, responsibilities, interdependence, burdens, and benefits that characterized it.”

In the Jewish roots of the Christian tradition, there is a similar word: shalom. Or, in Arabic, salaam. Shalom points toward something much deeper than the absence of conflict within a kindred community. Shalom, like frith, conjures a sense of fullness, of rich relationships among humans, the Spirit, and the whole creation. Shalom is a gift from the Mother of All, and yet it is also fragile and dependent upon careful and attentive action on the part of every creature sharing in the Divine Peace.

Frith, shalom, peace … whatever word one uses, it requires a deliberate tending. In complex communities of wights, both human and more-than-human, protocols of mutual respect have evolved over the ages. Customs, manners, ceremonies, cultural habits and practices … these all have a place in the guarding of the frith, the keeping of the peace.

In our own small farm community, it is sometimes a challenge to maintain the bonds of frith among even a relatively small group of human persons, let alone all the rich but complicated relations among the birds, animals, insects, plants, spirits, ancestors, and all the other persons who inhabit the lands and waters with us. Maintaining the harmony of frith can take a lot of emotional effort and sometimes painful conversation and negotiation. Perhaps it is like that in your community as well?

Sometimes a druid feels like just giving up! But don’t throw in the towel. The struggle for peace and harmony, for frith, are worth it. Conflict is a natural part of community, and it calls us to engage each other, and all beings, on a deeper and deeper level. And after all is said and done, don’t despair. Know that all your peace-making efforts are supported by the Divine Shalom, the Spirit of eternal frith. So in the words (loosely modified) of the Apostle: Gyfu to you, and frith, from the One who is Wyrd Incarnate. Blessed be.

The Greening

Every year it surprises me. Saskatchewan winters are long and hard, beginning in November and not really done until well into April. That’s a lot of snow and cold, grey skies and skeletal trees. Toward the end, the snow melts away and the ice releases its grip on the lake, but things still feel dead … muddy and spent.

So it always surprises me when the Greening comes. The grass inches from brown to emerald. The trees and shrubs seem to produce a green haze, then suddenly give birth to a riot of foliage. The geese and pelicans return from the south, and the cattle shake off their winter lethargy. And beneath each of these signs of early summer moves a silent current, and underground stream of Life, flooding its way to the surface through a thousand hidden springs.

At our last full moon ceremony, a week into the holy tide of Beltane, and well into the fifty days of Resurrection, we celebrated the presence of this Life-Force by invoking the teachings of a 12th century abbess. In the Rhineland valleys of medieval Germany, Hildegard von Bingen grew, along with herb gardens and holiness, a brand new theological term. Viriditas she called it: the Greening Power of God. Then, as now, it was a startling and even revolutionary neologism. But for this Sybil of the Rhine, later to be named a Doctor of the Church, viriditas would become a key theological and spiritual vision of the life-giving power of Godde’s Spirit in the Earth. Listen to what Hildegard says:

I, the fiery life of divine wisdom,

I ignite the beauty of the plains,

I sparkle the waters,

I burn in the sun, and the moon, and the stars.

With wisdom I order all rightly, and above all I determine truth.

I am the one whose praise echoes on high.

I adorn all the Earth.

I am the breeze that nurtures all things green.

I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits.

I am led in the Spirit to feed the purest streams.

I am the rain coming from the dew that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life.

I call forth tears, the aroma of holy work.

I am the yearning for good.

For a ChristoPagan like me, viriditas is one of those magical words, a bridge between two theological worlds. It links the enchanted cosmos with the fecund Christ, and hints at the miraculous presence of Sophia, Holy Wisdom, incarnate in the flesh of the Living Earth.

Viriditas … the Greening Power of God. May you know Her fertile healing, this day and forever.

Blessed be.

Season of the Bones

photo (31)

I know, right? I’m in the wrong season. Bones are for Samhain, when the Wheel turns us toward the dark, and we contemplate our mortality, gazing into the shadowed eye-sockets of a bleached skull. Bones are not for spring, not for warm weather and shoots of green and vernal bunnies. Bones are a bit macabre for that, yes? … I thought so too.
But here on the farm we have a black dog named Shadow, who has a love affair with bones. Throughout the late fall and winter, while the butchering season endures, Shadow delights in raiding the slaughter-pen for all types of cast-off body parts: hoofs, pigtails, chicken heads, whatever. And for some strange reason she drags them all into our front yard.  Now, if you know Saskatchewan winter weather, you know that we rarely lack for a blanket of thick white snow. For four and a half months of the year, the garth looks pristine. But come snow-melt, a whole other world is revealed. Rich black earth, tender sprigs of green herb, and yes … bones. A whole winter’s worth of Shadow’s favourite bones.
As a ChristoPagan priest, I don’t find this at all surprising (though the sight of all those bones can be a bit unsettling). As I write, we are in the middle of Holy Week in the Christian year. It is a time to reflect on the precarious paradox of life-in-death and death-in-life. Not long ago, the lenten lectionary provided the oracle of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. The Jewish Passover of this month’s full moon recalls an ancient liberation from a genocidal bone-land of slavery and oppression. And the Christian liturgical trajectory points toward Good Friday’s Golgotha, the place of the skull. Bones, bones everywhere.
But are we really surprised by this? Pagans and Christians and Earthlings of all stripes, we know that death and life are intimately connected. Winter’s bones, subject to the elemental cleansing of the bonfire (bone-fire), become fertilizer for the soil. Fecundity, both spiritual and physical, springs from the dead particles which compose both living soil and soul. Eostre’s resurrection and new life are profoundly dependant on the reality of death and decay. The two exist together, or not at all.
So how about you? Any bones in your yard this spring? Any death or grief or bondage or sorrow that you need to acknowledge in this season of rebirth? Don’t be afraid of those dry bones: take them in your hands, and hold them up to the cleansing power of the Sun. The healing of the humus begins with the season of the bones.

Back online!

Well, I’m not sure why, but this past couple of years have seen my Sophian writings slow down to a trickle.  I think perhaps that getting the Christian Animism book published took more out of me than I thought!  But my spiritual practice has been evolving, and my thoughts have been perculating.  With our family’s commitment to sink roots into the farm has come a deepening of relationship with this particular landscape, this lake, these farm-spirits, these fellow creatures.  It has been a great honour for me to become the chaplain of our farm community, and my hope is that I’ll be able to share a bit more about what that looks like on the ground.

I’m also very happy to announce that I’ve been invited to be a ChristoPagan contributor to “PaganSquare”, the online reflection forum of Witches and Pagans magazine.  Look here next month to find my thoughts.

In the meantime, Godde bless you and your tribe, and enjoy this season of Imbolc as the light continues to grow…

Christian Animism

Hoorah!  It is finally out!  Thank you to all of you who have supported this project through the many years of its writing.  My book on Christian Animism is here.

I’m now in the process of setting up some readings and workshops, so if you know of anyone who might want to work with this material, please let me know!

Christo – what???

As someone who keeps track of evolving trends in religion and spirituality, I’ve noticed that there is a (relatively) new term floating around these days: ChristoPaganism.  Because this is still a very fluid designation, the following reflections are not to be taken as definitive, but rather as my own take on this new phenomenon.  Looking forward to hearing your thoughts as well!

ChristoPaganism is a new religious movement comprised of individuals who self-identify as both Christian and Pagan.  As a hybridized faith, ChristoPaganism is often denied and/or rejected by both Christianity and NeoPaganism, and ChristoPagans tend to be reduced to silence in both “parent” communities.  ChristoPagans can be Christians who adopt, adapt, and practice various facets of NeoPaganism (such as magic, fairie-lore, Goddess thealogy, spiritual ecology, animism, runework, crystals, etc.), or Pagans who feel a strong connection with Jesus, Mary, the saints, and other Christian figures, and include these relationships in their spiritual practice.  While not a well-defined body of belief or practice, ChristoPaganism may be viewed as a sphere of overlap between the two religious traditions, where each respects, understands, and mutually transforms the other in positive ways.

As a zone of peace between two antagonistic traditions, the Ecumenical Companions of Sophia attempts to share the abundant grace of Jesus’ love with NeoPagans, and the magical cosmology of NeoPaganism with Christians.  With respect and mutual understanding, there is transformation, healing, and love.  May it ever be so: Amen.

 

Elvenkind    Another way of understanding ChristoPaganism is to think of it as a form of “Elven” spirituality.  In Tolkien’s legendarium of Middle Earth, the Elves (or Quendi) are the Children of Illuvatar (God) who are the most naturally magical, and in touch with the realm of the angels (the Valar in Valinor).  For a number of different reasons, some people here in the “real world” bear a strong spiritual resemblance to Tolkien’s Elves.  Usually these people are highly sensitive, psychic, intuitive, visionary, “dreamy”, artistic, intellectually precocious, and insatiably curious, especially about things pertaining to the spirit world.  In more modern “Harry Potter” parlance, these are the “magical” rather than the “muggle” folk.

Institutional religion has never been altogether comfortable with Elvenkind.  At worst, those of Elvish temperment have been driven out as heretics or burnt at the stake as witches.  At best, there has been an uneasy tolerance for those with psychic gifts and mystical tendencies.  These days, I’ve seen a tragic exodus of “Elves” from the church, with many finding a more hospitable home in Wiccan, Druid, or other NeoPagan communities.  The wisdom and the welcome they find in these traditions is powerful and real.  But in this migration, the church is losing a precious gift and treasure.  The Elvenkind are people of angelic blessing, uncomfortable as this may be for some.  The church neglects her Elven children to her own peril.

The Ecumenical Companions of Sophia strives to be a safe and welcoming refuge for Elvenkind in the church.  If you suspect that you may have “Elvish blood”, if the Rune of Sophia resonates with your spirit, please be in touch.  You are not alone.