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20130505-092328.jpgI went to church last night.

It was the first time I’d been to church since I left the Church.

Taking in an evening mass, done up to the 9’s with incense and vestments, was something I hadn’t planned to do while visiting Eugene, Oregon, nor was it an invitation I expected to receive from my friend, Jason Pitzl-Waters. His wife attends this congregation, and yesterday just happened to be the first time he was going to venture with her. He extended the welcome to me, and I gladly joined them both.

I’m not sure I was prepared for what I experienced.

Something pagan was present at this church service (other than the Druid in the back row). The priest spoke about the liturgical calendar, and how this Sunday — today — would be a day when the church recognized a pre-Christian, Roman agricultural holiday.

A pagan holiday.

How perfect, I thought.

(God… are you behind this?)

There was a god in that place last night. It wasn’t the only one – I think they’re wrong about that. But there was a god, nonetheless.

I stood and sat at the appropriate moments during the service, and I recognized in an intimate way the rhythm of the ritual. This was an Episcopal church, after all, and the Episcopal church was my home for so many years. I felt relevance, harmony, but a certain dissonance, too. It was neither all good nor all bad, and I’m not sure why I thought it would be either of those things. That was not the Church I knew. Being a Christian was always mixed and complicated.

I held back from full engagement with the liturgy, because full engagement felt disingenuous. I didn’t feel comfortable reciting the creed, nor did I say the Lord’s Prayer. I felt detached during the hymns, hype-aware that the messages were designed to tear down animism and build up hierarchical monotheism. The sermon was engaging and inspiring, but it was followed by kneeling and submitting to a dogma that I don’t believe in.

And yet, when I heard a small child sing along to one of the mantra-like songs after the Eucharist, I almost cried.

I was that child.

And what am I now?

That question lingered long after the service, and into this morning. I sit here in this little cafe, compelled to write again on the blog that I put on hiatus, because I was reminded last night that the inner world is complicated and worth unpacking. This blog is the venue in which I seek to answer that question again and again, and it’s time to return to that dialogue.

The short answer is this:

I am all of the things I have ever been. I continue to be them, in one way or another. Nothing is ever fully released from the heart. It’s all there, tattoo-like. Those old parts of you call out and say, We’re still here: your memories; your long, lost hopes; your visions of truth; your doubts — all of it. All here, still intact, inked into the inner flesh.

My Christianity gave me my first introduction to reverence, mystery, humility and community. It encouraged me to recognize that there was nothing in the world that was not touched by the divine. It inspired me to care deeper, to give generously, and to seek out new, creative ways to serve others.

I bring all of those attributes with me to my work with the Solitary Druid Fellowship. Were it not for the Church, and for those many people who were inspired by Jesus to serve others in love, I wouldn’t be writing liturgies for Pagans.

(Chew on that one for a minute.)

I walk the path of a modern Druid, but one whose ethics were first informed by bells-and-whistles Christianity. I can never not be this person.

And I’m ok with that.

I think I’m going to go back this morning, just to see if I might talk with the priest for a moment — one religious man to another. They’re going to have bagpipes today, and they plan to process around the church in a big circle (clockwise, no doubt), and bless the seeds and livestock.

It may just be the most pagan service I will ever attend.

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  • Reading this, I found myself thankful that there is someone else who understands and shares my feelings when I occasionally find myself in the sanctuary of an Episcopal Church. I have officially been a Pagan as long as I was an Episcopalian, and I realize that I stayed in the Church for as long as I did because I loved the ritual. I am not comfortable with the dogma and propaganda; I still love the beauty of the service and the undercurrent of connection to the Divine. It’s still a wonderful experience to be in “God’s House”, no matter which face God/dess wears.

  • I love reading you, Teo. Please don’t ever stop. You remind me I too, am all the things I ever was, and that is OK.

  • “…the inner world is complicated and worth unpacking.”

    *Snap, snap*

    xo

  • Dee St John

    Well Said.. You touched my journey & my Heart

  • Grey Catsidhe

    I found myself reflecting on similar themes last weekend when I attended my grandfather’s funeral. I hadn’t been in a Catholic church for awhile… Like you, I stood and remained silent when was appropriate, but I didn’t engage in a lot of other behaviors – the kneeling, the Lord’s Prayer, communion. It just didn’t feel right. I realized a few years ago, at the first Catholic funeral I went to after my conversion, that I can never fully divorce myself and my history from my Christian past. It’s part of who I was and informed the person I am now. It’s just the way it is! I would rather use that knowledge to build bridges than burn them. Great post!

  • seanmichaelmorris

    “I am all of the things I have ever been.” I think this becomes increasingly important to recognize as we get older, as we accumulate layers of dust and religion, soot and sanctity in deeper and more textured ways. Too often, I think, the adoption of a spiritual path (or the calling to one) comes with a desire or sense of need to relinquish what we once were, how we once practiced, prayed, and found divinity. But I think that unless we can come to any of our spiritualities with a fullness of heart (which is also a complication of heart), all of our selves — bad memories, good memories, regrets, choices — we do not come to our spiritualities at all. This is why I struggle so with labeling myself a Pagan or a Buddhist or a Christian or a Shaivist… Because I am at once each of those things and all of those things. They are always in conversation within me.

    I think if I were to return to church, even for a day, I would participate fully. Just as when I visit the yoga retreat above Boulder I am as Shaivist as possible — chanting and carrying on, bowing before my food, greeting people with “namaste” — I think in the sanctuary of the Episcopal church I would say all the prayers, kneel when expected, and take communion. It is the way of the god of that place, I guess. And perhaps belief is only dogma when we resist it? Perhaps it would be harmless to me, since I know the Buddha, Shiva, and the Earth Mother all would be waiting for me at the door when I again walked out into the sun.

  • Tracy

    Beautifully said, Theo! I also grew up Episcopalian. I was mad almost all the time I was in church when I was young, with all the dogma and visions of a God that made no sense to me. Now, I’m a Unitarian Universalist who loves listening to rich Judaic theology, who finds my images of the Divine constantly expanded by the pagan leanings of my Women’s Sacred Circle, and who has always been deeply moved and informed by Catholic mystics and the expansiveness of the Jesuit seeking for God in everything. So much of the metaphor — in my thought and language — is from the Christianity I wanted no part of when I was young. Your place of openness and discernment and willingness to see the way various sacred spaces and conversations inform your personal practice and values resonates with me deeply. The day I stopped being wounded by my birth tradition and allowed myself to simply see it as a path to the Divine for some people was that day I healed and could re-engage with it in a new way.

  • I am finding this so interesting. While you and Jason attended a Church service, I was sitting in a temple at a family Bar Mitvah service. I was listening to something very familiar but spiritually foreign. The familiar draws you in ….but then there’s a “wall of disconnect” that reminds you why you left. I belonged in that temple through heritage but I didn’t belong there in spirit. I also stood and sat on command. But I didn’t kiss the Torah. It was the first time that I had been in temple since “leaving” as well. (One thing that I do miss was singing Hava Nagila and dancing the Horah! I also learned a new dance from the DJ…so it wasn’t all difficult)

  • I quite totally agree…we are at this present moment both the total of all our past experiences and the hopeful expectation of our future realizations. I have journeyed to this place myself by way of the Episcopal traditions, and I own the great importance ritual plays in my own life. I would not recite the creed myself, because it does not reflect what I now believe about the nature of “deity.” I would not recite the Lord’s Prayer, as it is not an accurate expression of how I now view my relationship with “deity.” But, I still remember that deity…Jehovah, and his only begotten son, Jesus. I doubt they have forgotten me, either. So, I certainly think I might be able to participate in the rest of the ritual which reenacts the central mystery of the Christian faith. The music, the artwork, the poetry; all these things are beautiful works inspired by people responding to their experience of this faith and I would not deny myself access to or appreciation of them just because my understanding of or relationship to that faith has changed. I hope my Christian friends would be equally as willing to participate in the rites and ceremonies in the circle at my church. When I allow myself to become part of the experience, and not just an observer of it – as I suspect you did – then I can feel the power of the thoughts, words, and deeds present in that time and place. Perhaps this is what is described by the concept of “anamnesis.”

  • Kathleen

    I grew up Catholic; went to years of Catachism Classes and attended an all girls Catholic HS. During my adult years, I felt the need for something deeper than Catholic Dogma, that I didn’t agree with anyway. The spiritual search was on. Where ever I went, I always felt slightly off kilter with these other services that I attended. I finally landed in Religious Science (Ernest Holmes) for a number of years, but for various reasons, that felt off too. As always, when I attended the occasional Catholic service or a wedding or funeral I would feel once again at home. And I could participate.
    The very last time I attended Church, it was a Funeral Mass for my crazy and beloved Uncle. My whole family, including my Aunt who is a Franciscian Sister, attended. We all sat in the front row. For the very first time, I FELT the disconnect. I, like you, could not participate in the all too familiar prayers. I saw the attempts to include women in the service that were embarrassing and maddening. I looked for the statue of Mother Mary and didn’t find her. Since embracing Paganism, (I call it returning home), the Catholic Church service and all it’s trappings no longer felt like coming home for me. Surprised the hell out of me!

  • As someone who is a Unitarian Universalist as well as a Pagan and a Druid, I love seeing expressions of truth and inspiration coming from many sources, not just one. For me, being a UU allows me to maintain a connection to the better parts of the religion of my childhood, without asking me to believe something I simply can’t believe.

    While I am happily devoted to the old gods and goddesses, occasionally I come across a service or a sermon or an essay from a liberal Christian that reminds me that under different circumstances, I could have remained a Christian and done so in good conscience. That’s helpful when I start hearing too much from the side of Christianity I left.

  • This was a beautiful reflection, Teo. A really great reminder that you can find your own Gods and Goddesses anywhere, even in service of another religion.

    Last week I was walking by a church and there was an older man tending a holly tree in the yard. The pagan symbolism wasn’t lost on me, the holly king growing old so close to midsummer. I usually walk swiftly by any church I come across, but this moment, with the sun shining and a lull in the traffic behind me, was so moving that for moment there seemed to be no religious labels; just a man caring for nature, and a girl appreciating his actions.

  • Rachael

    I have never read anything that I so understood and I have been so confused as to why I have felt this way. Your writing answered it for me. I have been so pulled in my belief. Thank you for giving me a first big step to just breath thru it and and continue on my journey.

  • Michael Elamson

    As I near the completion of the ADF Dedicant Program, at age 49, I sometimes look around at my grove-mates in their 20s and 30s — a time of my life when I was either apathetic or back in the Methodist church — and envy them that they found this path so much earlier in life than I did and will have that much more time to explore and grow within it..

    This essay reminds me not to devalue my own experiences. Leaving the Methodists in my late teens, returning in my early 30s, leaving again after a marital breakup, finding ADF, putting it aside for a brief try-out of the Episcopal Church, then finally, less than two years ago, starting the path that’s led me here. It’s all a frantic and fantastic story of confusion and indecision, but for better or worse it has shaped me.

  • Dottie

    Teo, Sean, you are both so right, and I realize I am all of things I have ever been. I’ve run from things spiritually that I couldn’t outrun because I carried them with me. Maybe I need to embrace them with who I am now. The were an important part of me and remain a part. Thank you for writing this post today and your comment. It really hits home.

  • I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. I go with my wife to her Methodist church on Sundays, mostly to help with the kids – but she’s started doing Sunday School, so I sit there in the pew, alone, and just feeling…hollow. So this Sunday I decided that after the kids were done with their Children’s Moment, and they all went into Sunday School, I left, and went outside to enjoy the weather.

    I’ve never been Christian, so I don’t have a lot of the emotional baggage that many Pagans do – I grew up in a very mixed household (Jewish and Christopagan), and have known that I was Pagan since I knew the word. Its just that the liturgy, the songs, the stories, mean absolutely nothing to me. Its a weird sensation, to say the least. I’m not sure that I’ll go back.

  • Lori F – MN

    I belong to a United Church of Christ. think of it as a liberal Lutheran. I don’t attend very often and mostly when I do it’s because I want to see my husband perform or it’s a holiday. He plays the bass in the church band. I would never dream of telling him to not play. If learning the bass was his mid-life crisis, hurrah!
    When I do go, I often bring my younger son, who is 16. The older, 21, gets a by because of his age. But YS always brings a fresh perspective.
    During the song ‘My God is an Awesome God’ he leaned over to me and whispered ‘They must be talking about Odin’. Cue the giggle fest. He doesn’t see himself as monotheistic but multitheistic. Right now he’s into the Greek, Roman and Egyptian gods. I can thank Rick Riordan for that. But he recognizes all beliefs are valid, including lack of belief. He would stand up against bullying or religious preferential treatment. Lucky kid.
    Love the phrase “I am all of the things I have ever been”. Thanks Teo!

  • Teo,

    It was a pleasure sharing Mass with you. As for the kneeling and the dogma (we prefer the more polite word doctrine”), I can’t say that I understand all the words or the history behind them, and I certainly can’t apprehend how much damage they have done over the years, but humbling kneeling, together, the way folks have been kneeling together for two thousand years, whether we understand or believe what is going on, something about doing that, together, with intentions, together, that brings me closer to the divine, helps me be more kind and forgiving, helps me be more brave in the face of malice and greed, more resolved to act in the face of injustice, it helps me to do the work I have been given to do. There are certainly disconnects between practice and vocabulary, between content and form in religion, Christianity in particular. But anything that can bring us together, that can focus human intention on something that is right and good and holy, now that is not something to walk away from lightly. And in any case, I can’t imagine that God, the ground of being gives a hoot about what i or anyone else thinks of believes. What we do, how we feel, how we treat each other, particularly the least of these, about that, God in God’s self is ultimately concerned. Come back to Resurrection anytime you are in Eugene.

    Smiles,

    Brent

    • Thank you for this response, Brent. It was a pleasure to meet you, and I appreciate your hospitality and kindness. I would like to return, perhaps even to spend time in dialogue with you about your faith. I’d like to know more about how you came to the priesthood.

      Blessings to you,
      Teo

  • Tony Fleming

    I think that one of the things Episcopalians and Catholics do well is ritual. I think The God/desses care somewhat, they like Their stroaks. But I think that ritual is mostly for the folk. People feel a need to approach deity with a little ‘razzle dazzle.’ I always get goose bumps when the Bard sings.