I was a Jesus Freak, a passionate theologian, and a Southern Baptist minister. I worked hard to convert pagans. The pagans won.
Discovering magic as a witch with an intimate knowledge of western christianity I explore the juxtaposition of these two faiths. Christianity and paganism alike are undergoing dramatic changes with parallel trends, conflicting challenges, and a growing concern for interfaith dialogue.
How I became a Pagan #4 - Pentecost and Solstice Fires
The fog is thick and cold and I can smell the fire before I see it. Flames are lapping up tendrils of wet air. Robed figures stand solemnly around the fire. Then the ritual begins. A procession of the cross, red ribbons, and drums starts down the hill.
Blessed be water that sustains and delights us.
Blessed be water that cleansour hands, slakes our thirst, and saturates the cells of our bodies.
May clean water abundantly flow in every part of the world; and may we protect it as an inherent right for all human beings, plants, and other creatures.
We are all sprinkled with sacred water. It touches my skin and gives me goosebumps; my soul is refreshed. I feel connected, I feel the presence of the Divine, I feel held. After we have gone inside, we sing
Mother, hear our prayer, dancing in the mystery, becoming aware.
The tune is hauntingly beautiful and carries me away. I close my eyes and breathe deeply. It is good to feel the Spirit, to feel home.
I believe in God the Father, Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth.
The creed reminds me that I am in a Christian church service.
Jesus, hear our prayer, dancing in the mystery, becoming aware.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.
I open my eyes to remind myself which Jesus we are worshipping. Not the fundamentalist one, I know that. The bitterness I used to feel over his name is gone. I don’t get angry anymore. But I feel a numbness, a sadness at feeling nothing.
He will come to judge the living and the dead
There’s the gay pastor raising his arms in worship, there’s the female pastor, slightly bowing her head. This Jesus is kind and beautiful, I remind myself.
Spirit, hear our prayer, dancing in the mystery, becoming aware.
We’re on the last verse now and I try to let go of my inner dialogue. The beautiful music stops, the creed finishes
...the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
It is time for the confirmation part of the service. I don’t know any of the confirmands and I really can’t keep my mind from wandering anymore. A realization is trying to impress itself on me. I have been drifting in and out of a mindset of worship. I’ve been with this church for half a year now and it has taught me what a healthy Christian community looks like. I’ve experienced nothing but kindness and respect and much healing. The things that used to set me off no longer trigger me. I feel safe here.
And yet I feel out of place. The fire in front of the Chapel made my blood rise, I got goosebumps when we thanked God for life-giving water and were sprinkled. The music moved me. I've been having wonderful moments of worship. But then there are also the disconnects. I want to resist seeing the pattern, but it won’t be resisted. It impresses itself upon me firmly. Fire, water, fire, earth, water, breath, fire. Every time the liturgy focuses on one of the elements, especially fire, I am moved. When we recite creeds, confessions of faith, and bible verses, I feel out of place.
The whole universe sings a new song of praise:
The rivers clap their hands, the hills ring out for joy.
By the time we reach the Psalm there is no escaping the truth. When we sing, read, or pray about the elements and nature, I feel Spirit. A fierce and heretical longing arises within me. I want to know the elements directly. I want to focus on them, solely, I want to know them, experience them, and, heaven forbid, even worship them. I hear myself thinking it: “I want to be a Pagan!”
There is drumming as we exit the church and my feet want to dance, but I walk out like everyone else. Something terrifying and beautiful just happened, and I can’t help but think that maybe I am feeling a little like the disciples felt at the first Pentecost.
A couple of weeks later I am at my first solstice ritual. The gathering is held outdoors, on a beach. The fog is threatening to roll in, but it is still bright out. The sun will set soon. Strangers are gathered in a circle and then the fire is lit. The smell of woodsmoke mixes with salty ocean air. As the sun dips into the ocean on the horizon, we sing.
Holy shining sun, light radiance, radiance
Brother, come to us
I strip off my clothes and stand in the cold wind, kissed by the last rays of the solstice sun. I run with the strangers, run into the ocean, and I don’t stop until the cold closes around my body and salt water stings my flesh.
We are opening up in sweet surrender
To the numenous love light of the One
I return to the fire where naked bodies sway, drums pulse out a pagan beat, salt-crusted hair hugs cold bare skin.
We all come from the Goddess
And to her we shall return
This is exactly what I was longing for at Pentecost. My naked toes dig into the sand of the earth, the biting wind on my naked skin, the glow of fire on my cheeks, the salt water dripping off my limbs. I throw my head back and laugh, and then my feet begin to dance.
NOTE: The above experience happened two years ago at Pentecost and the Summer Solstice, respectively. As of today I still work for the church mentioned here and I deeply respect its liturgy, faith, and practices. It has been an amazing experience to work for a Christian community so committed to love and respect that they continue to provide me with the best workplace I have ever had, regardless of my religious affiliation.
On another note, I realize that I have been focusing heavily on my personal experiences. Almost every time I sit down to write, I plan on exploring theology and intellectual issues. Instead, I have written about my experiences with signs, music, and storytelling. I am reminded of a conversation I had with Dr. Paul Louis Metzger last year. Being a graduate of the bible college in which he teaches, I expected our conversation to center around theology, but contrary to my intention, I kept talking about my experiences with Paganism and he made a comment about Christians needing to pay more attention to “phenomenology”. If an emphasis on experience over theology is indeed a Pagan trademark, maybe my being a relatively new Pagan explains why I am currently so drawn to the former.
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