Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aliens are found, and known, and named...

Somewhat ironically, there are few times when I feel more Pagan than when the minister at my church says something that reminds me that views that I hold are fundamentally non-Christian in nature.  In a recent homily, he spoke of cycles: the seasons, the great cycle of life, and the concept of the turning of the wheels of fate and the saying that "what goes around comes around."  And he reminded us that this is fundamentally not a Christian way of thinking, and spoke (in a way that I'm sure he meant to be comforting, because I know him well enough to know that he is a kind person who means well) of God's plan not depending on the arbitrary turning of the wheels of Fate.

Of course, I found that to be, er, less than comforting.

After all, to me, as a Pagan who lives in the Northern Hemisphere, the Wheel of the Year as it's traditionally presented makes sense more often than not, and even the Christian calendar has a great deal in common with it, even if the end of the Christian year (I'm talking about the beginning of Advent, not the beginning of a new numbered year) comes about a month late by our reckoning.  I've seen demonstrations of "what goes around comes around," and even the Christians have sayings that come from their Bible that work out to basically the same thing.

Do not be decieved; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  (Galatians 6:7)

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  (Mark 12:31)

And besides, I never really took to the idea of our lives being guided and shaped by God.  I was always a firm believer in free will, even before I knew what it was called, and if I have any belief at all, it's that the Gods give us the clay, but it's up to us to shape it, though because some things do depend on luck, or at least on the decisions of other people, which really can be arbitrary at times, other hands can and do interfere with our work.

And ultimately, I also felt he was ignoring the very cycle that even now the Church, however half-heartedly, still demonstrates in the life-death-rebirth narrative of Jesus that so closely resembles the Pagan Wheel of the Year, thanks to a good deal of appropriation on both sides.  So I could not accept most of what he said in his homily that day as truth.  And it's times like these that remind me that in some ways, despite my four wonderful years as part of my church choir, and despite the place that I have in my church's community (if only because I've only ever told one person who was associated with that choir that I am a Christo-Pagan, and he's an Agnostic who eventually ended up playing the organ at another Anglican church in our city, which, to people who know him, really isn't as strange as it sounds) I am still in some ways very much an outsider.

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On a vaguely related note, recently it was also brought home to me that as much as I still sometimes feel like an ousider in the church of my choosing, I am also very much an outsider in the church of my baptism.  A couple of weeks ago, I provided some music for a Roman Catholic funeral.  The service was pretty standard, though I found out on the day that there was no Eucharist involved.  (This came as a relief; although I knew what to expect, having been raised Catholic, I didn't want to be put in the slightly uncomfortable place of being a visble part of the proceedings, being obviously familiar with Catholic ritual, and yet also being unwilling to take communion.  After all, in Catholicism, being a heretic is grounds for automatic excommunication; so is being a schismatic.  Because of the way the Roman Catholic Church defines these things, I'm technically both in more than one way, and I'm unrepentantly so as well.)  As startling as it was that the once-familiar responses to things said by the priest (who I remember as a priest-in-training who celebrated his first Mass when I was ten years old; how time flies) came so easily to my lips even after over a decade of absence from the Roman Catholic Church, it was even more startling to realize how foreign Catholicism now seems.

I don't regret leaving.  I can't support a church that condemns same-sex marriage and the ordination of women while concealing generations of child abuse by its priests.  I can't support an organization that views me as a lesser being just because I was born with ovaries rather than testicles, and would eagerly condemn me to Hell for being a woman with the capacity to be sexually and romantically attracted to women as well as men.  I can't support people who would rather see me die than allow me to have an abortion should it prove to be necessary to preserve my life, which is what happened to Savita Halappanavar late last month as a direct result of the Roman Catholics' total opposition to abortion under any circumstances.  There is much good in many individual Catholics, of course, but having left the church, I find that I cannot go back.  Not while these injustices are permitted to stand.

There are some things that I miss, of course.  For example, during the consecration of the bread and the wine, there are things written into the service that I find to be almost, well, Pagan.

Priest: Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.  Through your goodness, we have this bread to offer, which Earth has given and human hands have made.  It will become for us the bread of life.

Congregation: Blessed be God forever.

Priest: Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.  Through your goodness, we have this wine to offer: fruit of the vine and work of human hands.  It will become our spiritual drink.

Congregation: Blessed be God forever.

I miss this acknowledgement of how the bread and wine came to be.  I miss the acknowledgement that whatever the story behind this ritual that after all these years still seems rather cannibalistic, the actual bread and wine that are to be consumed came from the Earth and were made the way that they are by human beings.  These few little lines always made me feel like the whole thing was more natural, and perhaps a little less creepy (despite the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation, that is) than the Anglican phrasing of the consecration of the bread and wine, particularly in the Book of Common Prayer.

However—these are small things.  And although the words and the ritual of that funeral service were almost as familiar to me as the sight of my own face in the mirror, I felt oddly disconnected from them.  I was a stranger there.  Perhaps it's a mark of how far my journey has taken me from the church of my childhood.

Being a Christo-Pagan puts me into an odd place; I don't entirely belong to Christianity or Neopaganism, and there are people who would argue that in trying to be both, I am truly neither.  But then, if I had let other people define my path for me, I would still be a practising Roman Catholic.  Instead, I'm constructing my own path, and although it isn't a perfect one, at least it ensures that I always remember that compassion is priceless, that it is necessary to take care of the Earth, and that people whose beliefs differ from my own are not necessarily my enemies.  There's value in that, I think.

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