Green Priestcraft: A ChristoPagan Pastoralia

"Pastoralia" is a somewhat archaic term denoting the spiritual, pastoral, and ritual care of a community.  "ChristoPagan" is a somewhat emergent term denoting a blend of Christian and Pagan thealogy, cosmology, and spirituality.  So, put the two together, and you have the hopefully intriguing (and, to some, infuriating) description of my own journey as a greenpriest.  I trust that folks of various and sundry spiritual persuasions will find something here to pique their interest, deepen their practice, and feed their souls.  Hear the Rune of Sophia: "God is Love, and Her body is all creation.  She is a Tree of Life, who gathers Her children in Love."  This is the conviction which guides me.  Blessed be.

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Shawn Sanford Beck

Shawn Sanford Beck

 
The Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck is an ecumenical priest associated with the United Church of Canada, and a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. He is the author of Christian Animism, and the founder of the Ecumenical Companions of Sophia, an informal online community fostering Christian-Pagan dialogue and spiritual practice.  He lives with his family on an off-the-grid farm community in north-western Saskatchewan (Treaty Six Territory), where he is chaplain to the human and more-than-human wights of the community.  When not writing sermons, chopping wood, or practising magic, Shawn can be counted on to have his nose buried in a book. He can be contacted at greenpriest@hotmail.ca
 

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As we enter the season of Lammastide, my eyes are drawn daily to the beautiful crop of oats growing in our garden.  The heads are filling out and passing through their milky stage. The tall stalks have survived storm winds and hail, and within weeks the grain will harden and it will be time to put in the sickle.  

In the spring, we began the sowing of this crop by gently and prayerfully burying the oat-doll which we made from the final cut of last season's harvest.  She held the spirit of the oats throughout the winter, hanging on our wall, a reminder of the continuity of life in its cycles.  After several months of good summer growth, the work of harvest will begin again.  My goodwife and I will cut the stalks, bind and stook them, thresh them, winnow them, and clean the oats, all by hand.  It is a labour intensive process, providing our breakfast porridge throughout the year. At some point in the harvest, I will inevitably curse this whole idea of “back to the land living”, with its stupid valorization of physical work. But in truth, it is a very good life.

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“It is not the world who is mute, but rather we who are deaf.”  

Thus I wrote, several years back, in my book of Christian Animism.   I meant it – really, I did – but more as a rhetorical flourish than a statement from experience.  Now, the experience is kicking in.

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For the past three weeks, we've been involved in a lovely and intriguing process here on the farm.  This particular season of the year brings a short period of weather where the nights fall below freezing and the days warm up in the spring thaw.  This oscillation of temperature, combined with the changing patterns of sunlight, creates  the conditions for sugar-laden sap to flow quickly in the trees. By tapping the trees and collecting this sap, we are able to enjoy the alchemy of maple syrup making.  Here on the prairies we don't have many of the big sugar maples of the eastern woodlands, but we do have Manitoba maples (sometimes called box elder, or even elf maple (!))  These maples are a little less prolific and less sweet in their sap production, but its still worthwhile to make the syrup.  

Visiting the trees every day to gather the sap is a delight in and of itself.  They are offering their lifeblood, not in dangerous quantities, but it still is a good reminder for me to thank them, and ask the Creator to bless them.  Like so many things on the farm, syrup production is derived directly from the life of other persons ... in this case, tree persons.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    One of my childhood memories is visiting a farm in Vermont when they were mapleing off. I remember the smell of wood smoke and ma

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As part of a small community living off the grid, I often find it enjoyable to try to describe our way of life to others.  When I'm asked about our water situation, I usually quip that “yes, we have running water: I run to the lake and get water.”  

Well, actually that's not exactly true.  I generally walk slowly to and from the lake, pulling a sled filled with water pails behind me.  My “running water” joke is a fun little one-liner, but the reality is that hauling water is, for me, simultaneously a daily routine of survival and a spiritual practice, rolled into one.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I am working my way through "Draw the Circle: the 40 Day Prayer Challenge" by Mark Batterson. Have you and your congregation chos
  • Shawn Sanford Beck
    Shawn Sanford Beck says #
    Hi Anthony! As a community we're just working through our regular lectionary study, but for personal reading I have been returnin

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A couple of nights ago, not long after Candlemas, I woke up at 4am with our farm animals on my mind.  The fire was out, the wind was howling, and it was freaking cold even under the covers.  Outside, the temperature had dropped to -40 degrees Celsius.  Factor in the wind chill and it was close to -50.  As I tried to get some warmth back into my toes, I began to worry about the animals outside.  Our small herd of cattle, horses, and sheep are all well suited to northern climates, but this type of deep cold is hard on them.  I said a prayer, and envisioned them blanketed by a protective warm layer of light and love.  I added another Spirit-song for the dogs, and all the other wild creatures on and around the farmstead.  I'm glad they are resilient, but I can't help but feel concerned for all the wights abroad on a night such as that.

 

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Reconciliation is a huge task, a deep responsibility, a seven-generation work of covenant renewal.  Reconciliation involves decolonization and reparation.  It calls for a massive act, or series of acts, of confession and (hopefully) forgiveness.  There are no short cuts, and nothing can replace the sheer hard work of re-building broken relationships.  Reconciliation is a key aspect of the Great Work of our time.

As an Anglican priest, I've been involved in reconciliation and justice work during my entire ministry.  I worked as an inner-city chaplain on the streets of Saskatoon.  I acted as a church representative in the alternative dispute resolution hearings for residential school survivors, and offered the words of apology on behalf of the church many times over.  I sat, mute and numb, in the memorial feast for young Colten Boushie as his community grieved at Red Pheasant.   And I know that countless others, in and out of the church, Indigenous folks, settlers, and newcomers, are all doing whatever they can to bring about a new reality of right relationships in our land.  

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So the snows have come, with the oats yet to harvest.  A month still before Samhain, but the Wheel seems to be turning early.  My forearms are covered with tiny scratches from the straw, as I pound the oat sheaves into the darkness of their threshing casket.  I had hoped for another few weeks of mellow fall weather before the winter sets in, but often the actual seasons of life don't match the liturgical calendar of feasts and fasts, worship and work, as the moons wax and wane.  

That's ok.  It used to bother me a bit, but after a half-decade now of living off grid on our old-fashioned farm, I have come to enjoy the reflections which are born in the tension between the symbolic and the real.  What does it mean that the snowflakes are falling in Lammas-tide?  Is it a sign that I've taken my ease for too long, putting off until tomorrow what should have been done yesterday?  Is it a gentle reminder that the sabbath eschaton of the dark-half of the year is often prefigured, even pre-echoed, in the waning of the light-half?  That the root-tip of the yin is buried within the full-flower of the yang?  As I harvest our years' worth of oatmeal, sown in the spring with yesteryear's corn-queen, these and many more oracular hints occur to me.

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