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.