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Posts Tagged ‘anglicanism’

I had a strange Lent and an even stranger Holy Week. While I last posted on Holy Saturday, nearly a month ago, the only Holy Week liturgies I attended were Palm Sunday and Good Friday. For the former, I was the narrator for the dramatic reading of Matthew’s Passion Gospel; for the latter, I went to the little parish where I grew up for a taste of old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic religion.

And then I woke up one day and realized that I no longer believed in what was in the Creeds. Actually, it was probably in the shower. I realize a lot of things in the shower. If I actually believed that other gods existed–which I did, and possibly always had–if I actually believed I could pray to Antinous, a deified Greek youth, and get a response–which I definitely did, and had–then I really was not a Christian.

I still believe Jesus was a historical person who lived and died and was resurrected, becoming divine even if he wasn’t pre-existently divine. I believe he was and is a God on the side of the poor, the occupied, the oppressed, the disenfranchised. It’s just that he and I really don’t have much of a relationship. I don’t think we ever have.

My relationship has always been with the tradition, with Anglicanism, with saints like Julian of Norwich, with the music of Byrd and Tallis, with poetry like Donne’s and Herbert’s, with writers like C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, T.S. Eliot, Charles Williams. Not, ironically, with the God who inspired them.

I’ve been praying and making offerings to Antinous and observing the festivals of the Ekklesía Antínoou for about the last month, with a good deal of personal satisfaction. I’ve started a side Tumblr where I’ve been writing about my experiments with devotional polytheism, Antinous for Everybody. I will still be posting here and hanging out on other WordPress blogs, though.

I feel like I have suffered a lot of losses in the past two years. Yet that has left me extraordinarily free to pursue my religious and creative aims. And I have been blessed with a stable job, good friends, and the company of my pet cockatiel Rembrandt, aka Spanky. It’s a good life.

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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

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From the website of my parish, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore, Maryland:

We understand that the life of faith, and life in general, is filled with both hope and skepticism.  For that reason we want our communal life at Emmanuel to be honest and provocative. Services and sermons are rooted both in tradition and in the real world, the spirit is joyful and fun, and the congregation is warm and welcoming.  We believe our spiritual life is marked by the following characteristics.

Liturgical/Biblical. Anglican spirituality is rooted in communal daily prayer (Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayers, Evening Prayer, Compline) as laid out in The Book of Common Prayer. The Anglican way of praying tends to have structure and to be shaped by the Scriptures and a prayerful meditation on the psalms.

Communal.  Communal prayer comes before and shapes personal prayer. Prayer is seen as an activity that connects us to God, to each other, and to the world around us. Communal prayer is part of daily, weekly and yearly rhythms and both surrounds and informs community gatherings and meetings in which decisions are made.

Sacramental. We see the world, itself, as sacramental and therefore capable of mediating the grace of God. We are centered on the two primary sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist along with other sacraments: confirmation, holy matrimony, reconciliation, unction, and ordination.

Incarnational. We emphasize the incarnation, God’s entry into human life and history. Accordingly,  we have an earthy spirituality that affirms the goodness of life and the created world and believes that the extraordinary is to be found in the ordinary.

Mystical. We experience union with God as happening over time, bit by bit through a journey aided by spiritual discipline and prayer. Such a belief is consistent with the description of spiritual progress found in the mystics.

Comprehensive. We believe that truth is to be found in the tension between opposites. We therefore affirm both the sacred and the secular, the material and the non-material, the mind and the heart, the transcendent and the intimate closeness of God.

Ambiguous. We are not “black and white” thinkers, but instead affirm the ambiguity of experience and the value of learning to tolerate and embrace complexity and ambiguity in many aspects of human life and in the spiritual journey.

Open-minded. We are people of a questioning faith. We search for wisdom in many places and encourage people to listen to each other and to bring their honest questions to their spiritual life.

Intuitive. We are at home in the world of image, symbol, myth, ritual, and the arts. Very few Anglicans write systematic theologies. Instead we are writers, poets, pastors, and musicians.

Aesthetic. We believe that beauty is a doorway to truth and goodness and therefore a doorway to God.

Moderate. We avoid extremes, believing that a godly life is one that is disciplined, balanced and temperate.

Naturalistic. We have a reverence for nature and its rhythms. Anglicans believe in working to protect the natural world and its creatures.

Political. We believe that Christian life has political implications and that civic life is both a legitimate and important place to struggle with and engage our faith and values.

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I am an Episcopalian, which means I belong (for the time being) to the Anglican Communion, the world-wide association of churches that looks to the See of Canterbury in England and to the tradition of Christianity that started when the Romanised Britons who were already Christian converted the heathen Saxons and that became juridically independent at the Reformation, when the Pope gave Henry VIII an unacceptable answer about his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Now, if you ask an Episcopalian or any other Anglican what’s the most important doctrine of the Church, chances are very, very good that the answer will be, “The Incarnation”.

The Incarnation, simply put, is the teaching that God became a human being in Jesus of Nazareth. All of the divine reality became humanly embodied in one particular person, a man, with parents and relations, living in a particular place and time, in a backwater occupied country under the boots of the biggest Empire west of India. Jesus was really God, but he was also really human–not just a deity wearing a temporary human suit, like Zeus in some of the Greek myths, but human all through. And also God.

The Incarnation means that Anglicans take being human seriously. We think human nature is basically good. We think human love (including sexual love), human work and creativity, human societies, human dignities (and that includes human rights or the lack thereof) are important, not just to humans but to God. They are precisely where God shows up in our lives. If you’ve read the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, or any of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, you’ve got a good taste of how Anglicans think and what the Incarnation means for us.

The thing that I find myself thinking about every so often is Why? why the Incarnation? Why did God become a human being? What was that all about?

A lot of Christians would tell you that God became human in order to get us out of the mess we had caused by sin. Adam and Eve sinned, Cain screwed things up even worse, and eventually we bottomed out and Jesus was born, lived, did some preaching and healing for a couple years, and then “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again,” as the creeds say. Why did God became incarnate? Well, it was a fix for sin. If Adam and Eve had never screwed up, the Incarnation would not have been necessary. The gruesome and unjust judicial murder of Jesus the incarnate Lord would not have been necessary. We’d all still be living in the garden, eating fruits and nuts and not wearing clothes, or something.

A Protestant of the Evangelical variety, somebody off to the right of Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc., will probably tell you in great detail and with great vehemence that it was absolutely necessary for Jesus to undergo all the terrible and just punishments that we wretched sinful humans deserved at the hands of God, that he atoned for our sin by substituting for us in the sight of God. Jesus was our whipping boy; God had to punish somebody in order to satisfy his divine justice–if you can call that justice–so Jesus, who is also somehow God (Evangelicals are not real strong on the Incarnation), took that punishment instead of us.

Well, I don’t buy it.

That’s the Plan B Theory. The Incarnation is a fix for sin; it’s the divine back-up plan, the play he’ll run if the first play doesn’t get a touchdown (pardon the American sports metaphor). If we had all been good obedient little slaves in the garden, then none of that painful, messy (interesting, dramatic, awe-inspiring) Incarnational stuff would have been necessary.

Ever since I was a teenager, when I independently formulated the idea for myself without realizing I was not the first, I have held the Plan A Theory of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is why we’re all here; it’s why anything is here, why creation exists, let alone human beings. God creates everything so he can include human beings so he can become a human being. Humans can know God as one of us; God can know humans as we know one another; humans can become like God, as one of the early Church Fathers said (I can never remember if it was Irenaeus or Athanasius): “God became man that man might become God.”

It’s hinted at in the Scriptures, when one of the letters of Peter calls us “partakers in the divine nature”; in the theologies of the early Church, as I have just mentioned; in the Revelations of Julian of Norwich, where she says that human nature was first created for Christ, the Wisdom of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. It might even be mentioned in the Young Wizards series: “Those who serve the Powers/ themselves become the Powers.”. God becoming human was the plan all along. Sin made the Incarnation look different than it might have; sin meant that the appearance of Divine Love as a man among men was met by fear and hatred and eventually cruelty and violence, not wonder and joy and reciprocal love. But sin did not make God do something previously unplanned. God sharing life and being with his mortal, finite creatures was the plan all along, Plan A. Sin did not change that.

There is no room in my theology for a God who insists on punishment, who must have his pound of flesh, who cannot be appeased unless somebody suffers.  Divine love created us to be partners, beloveds, not slaves or even servants, and offered itself to us in complete vulnerability. We are the ones who punished, who executed, who tortured, who drew blood. That is what I will remember tomorrow, on Good Friday. Love came down and we condemned him, treated him like the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and gave him a public execution. But Love had planned to dwell in the midst of us all along.

Here endeth the lesson.

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I’m not sure I can remember the last time I observed Lent. I’m sure it was sometime in the past ten years, probably not within the last five. It was long enough ago that I’ve forgotten the Scripture readings, the antiphons to the Psalms in the Prayerbook Office I’ve used since around 1990, the books I used to read for devotion. I’ve forgotten what Lent feels like, tastes like.

Yet I find myself ready for it. I am even eager for it. We were still well in Epiphanytide when I started to think about what I would do for Lent, what books I would read, what I might give up. It loomed toward me not like a heavy burden about to be bound on my back, but like an enormous spring cloud that promised a cleansing and refreshing rain.

Already some of my good intentions have been dashed. An attempt to fast both from meat and from caffeine on Ash Wednesday, coupled with poor sleep, left me too sick to go to the evening liturgy I had planned to attend. Ash Wednesday passed without my being ashed. By this morning I had decided that even attempting meatless days might be too much of a good thing; I will eat good vegetarian food with pleasure, but there are too many other things going on with my eating habits right now to limit my sources of protein.

My observance of Lent, I think, is largely going to consist in attending the Sunday Eucharist, saying the Daily Office, and reading a Lenten book, the book from which I lifted my title for this entry. These are all things which I have done before, but not recently. I have been going regularly to Sunday Eucharist at my Episcopal church only since the Sunday after Christmas just past; I resumed saying the Daily Office, after several years’ hiatus, around the same time.

I come to a new church, a new community, I come back to my home tradition, the Anglicanism that formed me as a child, at a time when I am ending my marriage of twenty years and going forward alone. By the first of June, I will be living in a new place, just me and my cockatiel, Rembrandt, my Spanky, an unending source of joy. I don’t think I need to “give up” chocolate or even my Internet habits when I have so much to let go of (dare I say?) in real life: A relationship, the patterns it formed, possessions I don’t need or don’t want or simply can’t fit into the studio apartment I’m applying for.

I turn around, go back to find the right road, put my feet on a familiar path. I turn away with a gracious farewell and a blessing and go forward, on my own. It’s good to be here. This Lent I’m setting my face toward my own personal Jerusalem.

 

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“The holidays are upon us,” I keep hearing, meaning Thanksgiving-and-Christmas, the season of spending large amounts of money on friends and family to prove our love for them and eating large amounts of food which we will be called upon to ritually repent in January.

“The holidays” are upon us, if I believe the advertising I see and hear, the jolly red-and-white covers of December issues of magazines that I check in at work, splashed with candy canes and cake recipes, and we are expected to rejoice. As for me, I’m always grumpy and refractory, this time of year. It’s still November and I’m thinking about the dead–my Aunt Margaret, whose birthday was yesterday; my father-in-law, whom I ought to pray to and for more often; my mother, dead 26 years on the 22d, who still in many ways haunts my life.

And I’m thinking about Advent, about apocalypse stories, about the Rapture and the great zombie takeover and what the Mayans did or did not predict. Just for the record, I don’t think they or anyone else predicted the End of the World on 21 December 2012. I definitely don’t think Jesus is coming at any minute to waft away all the True Believers and punish the rest of us with gruesome special effects. As for the zombies, well, we are the zombies, aren’t we? Mindless consumers who will eat everything in sight until there is nothing left, and we eat one another, and die off.

Well.

But it might just be the late-afternoon, early winter light making me feel this way, right at the moment. Remembering the beloved dead is not necessarily a sad thing. It’s remembering the not-so-beloved dead, like my mother and our problematic relationship, that is hard. And for an introvert like myself, the over-cultural exhortations to cook, eat, buy presents, spend money, drink egg nog, ho ho ho, ha ha ha, always make me want to lock myself in a dim room and listen to austere Gregorian chant until it all goes away. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to the Thanksgiving meal with family, or to exchanging gifts with those I love. It just means I want to do so in my time, not at the corporate world’s demand.

Long-term readers of this blog (if there are any–one or two) are no doubt used to my vacillating between religious labels: Am I a Druid, an Anglican, a Buddhist, or something else? Is there anything I haven’t tried and found wanting? Maybe I, myself, have been tried and found wanting, by the gods or the egregores of a tradition or at least by my readers. I was raised an Episcopalian, and I will probably always be able to quote the Prayerbook and sing hymns from the Hymnal 1940 with gusto. But the Christian tradition that in large measure formed my spirituality has done a lot in the past ten years or so to kill my love and admiration for it. Granted, it’s been helped along by the atrocities of a number of other Christian traditions–the Roman Catholic hierarchy protecting its pedophile priests, the right-wing Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. doing their best to control female sexuality and reproduction throughout the population–but I cannot hold the Anglican Communion blameless any more.

Nor can I ignore the fact that I just don’t believe any more. I don’t believe or accept many points of Christian doctrine, as a description of reality. I don’t believe in, trust, have any significant relationship with Jesus. Jesus makes most sense to me now as a buddha or bodhisattva, a fully enlightened human being, a teacher of wisdom and compassion who, like Amitabha or Padmasambhava, has his own pure land, the heaven he offers his followers.

I have failed to find a place in Druidry, or to make a druidry for myself. Nobody can say that I haven’t tried, but Druidry has been for me a very beautiful, very attractive garment, in all my favorite colors, that just Does. Not. Fit, no matter how much I squirm or fuss. It is a cloak I cannot wear, a house I cannot live in, no matter how much I like and admire those who can wear the druid cloak and live in the druid grove.

Buddhism continues to provide me with invaluable perspective on managing my mind, on the purpose of spiritual work, on ethical questions, on how the scattered branches of the Western tradition, like the scattered limbs of Osiris, might fit together again into a living whole. Yet it remains a school of practice that is not for me, perhaps because of its cultural contexts, perhaps for more individual reasons. I’m not certain I agree with Dion Fortune‘s dictum that Western people must follow Western paths, but it does seem to me that Westerners who genuinely “convert” to Buddhism, for lack of a better word than “convert”, often come from a background in which there was no significant religious commitment, a secular Jewishness, for example, or a twice-a-year mainstream Protestantism, not from deeply committed practice in a Western tradition.

So where does that leave me? Actually, despite my gloomy start to this entry, I am not left alone in the cold, dark winter night of an atheistic existence. (Getting dark where I am, at the moment, but not terribly cold or wintry.) I still have my training in the New Hermetics, otherwise known as That Thing I Tried And I Finished The Whole Course And It Worked Really Well For Me. I also have, unexpectedly, a new devotion–to Antinous, the Bithynian Boy, the beloved of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who was deified, in accordance with ancient Egyptian tradition, when he drowned in the Nile.

There are a lot of interesting connections between Antinous, Hermetic magic, and stuff in my life, which I think I should save for another post. As I contemplate that, I’ll also be contemplating whether to change the name of this blog, or start a new one, or just muddle on with the name recognition of “Confessions of an Urban Druid” while I blog about magic, Antinous, and my media intake. Cheers.

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If you’re a science fiction fan, you may remember a show from the 1990s called Babylon 5. B5 was a bit like The Lord of the Rings in Space: A five-season show with a narrative arc that ran through the entire series, with a strong thematic interest in religion, politics, and the intersection of the two. One of the recurring motifs was that the main characters would, at key points, be asked certain questions by the powers behind the scenes: Who are you? What do you want? Where are you going? In the short-lived but intriguing sequel, Crusade, two other questions were introduced: Whom do you serve, and whom do you trust?

Recently some things have happened that have posed a new question for me, one that might be as important for me as those questions in the Babylon 5 universe. A dear friend of mine was being threatened by her estranged spouse, and my husband and I felt threatened by him as well because we were helping her. She had done all the right mundane things to take action against him, but it wasn’t stopping him from invading her privacy and damaging her property. Finally I had enough of this bullshit, and I did something I have never done before: I called on a deity for help, to protect our friend and us and restrain the malicious ex-spouse. As part of my request, I made an offering that required some time, money, and effort to assemble and present, well beyond the usual candles, incense, and water I offer to the spirits.

As we waited to hear whether the warrant for crazy spouse’s arrest had been executed, I kept asking myself, What will I stand up for? What motivated me to do magic now, when there have been so many situations when I haven’t?

When I was studying the New Hermetics, I successfully did workings to resolve financial difficulties, find a new job, and move house. At the same time, while I set goals to “lose weight” and “write more”, those goals never turned into specific workings with measurable results. I did many other less goal-oriented practices that resulted in greater self-knowledge and self-understanding, and overall, training in Hermetic magic convinced me that my mind could be controlled and directed to self-benefit rather than self-sabotage.

I’ve only just started to rebuild my often difficult relationship with my deities. I have said little about them here–probably that old-time Anglican reticence operating–but that is going to change. As of this afternoon, crazy harassing estranged spouse is in jail and has been since Friday night, when the warrant was issued and my initial request went out to the otherworld; he’s been denied bail, and he’ll probably be in jail for about a month, as a court date won’t even be set for two or three weeks. It’s no wonder that when I fired up a coal, burnt some incense, and prayed again this morning, I got a distinct response of, “Just shut up, it’s okay.” And it was.

Hail Catubodva, battle raven, crow goddess, who accepted my offering and intervened when I called on her. I, Mam Adar, thank you in the presence of my readers.

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