We set fire to the kitchen last night.
Metaphorically, I mean.
The conversation started while I was preparing dinner, and it continued on throughout the meal and into the clean-up. I woke up thinking about it, and I feel compelled to share some of it with you, my readers; my community of dig-deepers.
I’m not sure how to tie all of this together just yet, and I feel like some of these ideas may be much more foundational for me than I’m even aware. This may be future book-stuff, to be honest.
Buckle up. I’m about to throw a lot your way.
My friend has reached the conclusion that any theology which is not an embodied theology inevitably leads to fundamentalism. I asked for clarification.
“By ’embodied theology,’ do you mean, any theology which locates the divine in some place other than in our body, in the place we live, in our immediate world?”
I instantly saw what she meant, and agreed. Then, I paused.
But doesn’t this create a problem when we approach our altars or ritual spaces and invoke deity/deities to come into our space? Doesn’t the need for invitation imply that they are not present to start with?
I voiced this concern.
“They’re already there,” my husband stated.
Then why, I wondered, do we use language that implies separateness from the Gods or other spiritual beings? Is that useful? Or, more importantly is it accurate?
(Chew on that.)
There is a conversation happening among some Pagans about the need to make offerings to the Gods in order to win their favor. In essence, I lay some relevant item on my altar and ask that my offering be received, and then — Gods willing — the Gods comply.
My friend framed this as, “Capitalist Theology.”
When she said those words, my mind broke a little.
The idea of reciprocity is very important in ADF as a foundation of right relationship to the Gods. We give as a sign of respect, and to justify our asking. But to assert that in order to get something from the Divine we must first give a gift is very much like saying, “In order to get a paycheck, I must show up at work and do my necessary duties.”
A different idea of theology was offered up as an alternative: Grace Theology.
(If you feel a Christian-language trigger, please recognize that and try to put it aside for a moment. Take “Grace” to represent something broader, and more universally relevant a concept. If you don’t think it is, we can discuss that.)
Rather than work for your blessings, which is an extension of a Capitalist Theology, one simply acknowledges that there is already a great providence in the world, and we are best served (and best able to serve) by creating more space for receiving. The cultivation of our openness and ability to receive is the foundation of a Grace Theology.
(Now, chew on that.)
Here’s the thing — every morning I make offerings at my altar, and I use language that asserts that I’m making these offerings to honor and respect the Gods, Ancestors and Nature Spirits… and to be in good favor with them. The question is, when I’m doing this what is going through my mind?
Do I really think that the Gods need my little thimble of oil? Does the Divine need anything? If I don’t believe that these things offerings and sacrifices are absolutely necessary in order to be on the Gods’ good side, what is the purpose of daily ritual?
The conclusion I reached, somewhere between clearing the table and pacing around the kitchen, was that we do these things to create an awareness about what is happening within us; what is already, always occurring. Everything we do in ritual is (or, perhaps should be) focussed on creating an inner awareness of a spiritual constant (i.e. the presence of the Divine in its various forms).
If I make offerings, I am doing so in order to create the experience of gratitude, respect, and reverence. Making regular offerings is also a way of experiencing my commitment to a personal religion, my commitment to the Gods.
Reciprocity + Grace
There can be a balance, we decided as we sat on the countertop, bellies full, between reciprocity and grace. Reciprocity provides people with an opportunity to experience humility, gratitude, thankfulness. These are all useful human experiences. Grace also teaches a kind of humility, because one must accept that no matter what is given, materially speaking, no gift is really necessary.
There is a tension between these two ideas.
Perhaps — and this is the idea that really set me ablaze — it is the act of holding tension between reciprocity and grace that is the foundation of any genuinely relevant theology.
(All chewed out?)
Get ready to spit it out!
Take the time you need. Think on these ideas for a minute. Think about it over the weekend. Think on them for a lifetime, if you’d like. But, really sit with them. Let them burrow deep.
Then, let’s continue this conversation. Share the conversation with a friend. Take it wherever you feel like it should go. Ask questions! Tell me a parable! Anything!
I can’t wait to read your thoughts.