Finding a chapel in the forest

It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted here, I see. I’ve been busy elsewhere on the Internet, and somewhat busy with personal upheaval as well. Long story short, my spouse and I separated in January, and I’ve been living on my own for the first time in over twenty years, with the company of my faithful cockatiel Rembrandt (also known as Spanky).

In the past twelve months, I’ve been writing fanfiction, working slowly on an original novel, and holding forth with various opinions on Tumblr, in between reblogging pictures of cute parrots and cute British actors. What brings me back to this blog is that, for the second time in my own blogging tenure, I’ve recently seen someone who was a very prominent pagan blogger publicly return to the Church. And I’ve seen some, not all, of the pagan blogosphere’s reactions to that return, not all of which have been understanding or supportive.

What strikes me funny is that, at least in the most recent instance, I think I predicted this very thing several years ago. The blogger in question is a cradle Episcopalian, and one Episcopalian knows another. The Roman Catholic Church’s hold on its members is proverbial, but the Anglican tradition’s ability to print itself on the mind and heart and soul deeply and permanently is a well-kept secret. Anglicans rather famously go off to be New Agers or Theosophists or Revival Druids or ceremonial magicians, but they also never stop being Anglicans and going to church.

The thing is, in the past year I’ve done the same thing. I am once again a full-time, committed, practicing Christian, an active member of an Episcopal parish. On the Sunday after Christmas in 2012, I woke up and thought, “I’d like to go to church. I’d like to have a proper Sunday after Christmas liturgy.” The parish where my husband was working at the time always celebrated the Roman feast of the Holy Family on that day–a nineteenth-century invention, a celebration of the nuclear family that did not exist in Jesus’s time or for most of history, in most cultures, until the nineteenth century. I wanted something else.

I went to the principal service of the Episcopal church right across the street from our house. I found a new rector who preached engagingly, intelligently, and who invited all, even the non-baptized, to come to the altar for Communion, if they were “hungry for God”. And I realized that I was, indeed, very very hungry for God, and for the carols we sang, and for something in the liturgy, the preaching, the energy of the place that I recognized. As progressive as the liturgy was, a far cry from the old 1928 Prayerbook and 1940 Hymnal in the little church of my childhood, there was something going on in this church that I had first felt in that little church. It was the same current, to borrow a magical term. It was the first indication I had had in over a decade that the Anglican tradition I knew and loved was still alive and well in the Episcopal Church and had not been trampled to death by either extreme liberals or extreme conservatives.

I went back twice more, I think, before I officially changed my parish membership from my husband’s church to my new church, Emmanuel Episcopal in downtown Baltimore. And then my husband and I talked, on the MLK holiday, and acknowledged it was time to part.

The change in religion was not something I wanted to talk about, for a long time. I didn’t know how to write about it. I did not want to be seen as bashing paganism, or demonizing it. I have problems with parts of pagan culture, but I sure as hell have problems with large parts of Christianity, too. The problem with both paganism and Christianity is that human beings are involved, with all their fallibility and their baggage and the capacity for self-deceit. So I didn’t blog about it.

People grow up Christian, or Jewish, or atheist, and it doesn’t work for them. They need something more; they try something else. They become witches, pagans, druids, Buddhists, Muslims. Sometimes they find an alternative that works and stabilize in it; sometimes they don’t. Going back to the Church, for me, is largely a matter of acknowledging that all the other things I tried didn’t work, and the nourishment I thought was no longer available in my native tradition is actually still there, so I’m putting down all the things that didn’t work, with gratitude, and going back to the system that does. I make a pretty good Episcopalian and a pretty poor anything else.

At the time I spontaneously went to church last Christmastide, I had been experimenting with devotion to Antinous for a couple of months, with some positive results. I suspect that it was actually Antinous who realized I didn’t want him, really, I wanted that Jewish guy who became a god, and Antinous who prodded me to get up and go out that Sunday morning, and discover my people and my tradition once again. To the Bithynian god, I am grateful, un-Christian though it may seem. Ave Antinoe! Gratias ago tibi!

And so in my own weird way, I conclude this post on returning to Christianity with a thanksgiving to a pagan god, and hope that some of my readers will stick with me as I begin to write about what makes the Episcopal style of Christianity work for me.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. EliotFour Quartets

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s