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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Maple Syrup Spirituality

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.

Now, if you've never made maple syrup before, you can be forgiven for assuming that the sap can be used straight out of the tree.  In reality, maple sap is over 95% water.  It has to be carefully boiled down, sedimented, strained, and finished.  The ratio of sap to syrup is somewhere around 40:1, so there's lots of evaporating to be done.

As our woodstove burns slowly throughout the days, the subtle smell of the syrup wafts through the kitchen.  An eye has to be kept open, as you don't want it to boil down too far and burn.  There is a real magic to the process.  The end result, after pails and pails of sap, is a mere handful of pint jars of liquid amber.  But the small effort is worth it ... this stuff is the real deal.

For some reason, syrup-making this spring resonated for me with the process of lent.  This lenten season has had a similar alchemical effect upon me as the constant boiling of the woodstove upon our maple sap.  By evaporating the excess liquid, the syrup appears.  Likewise for me, by applying the fire of spiritual discipline, I have found that some of the superfluous issues of my life have simply evaporated, leaving behind the soul essence which I am looking for.  Sedimentation and straining of unwanted mineral content from the syrup corresponds to the leaving behind of some unhelpful habits of my life.  The sweet amber goodness remains.

Of course, the metaphor is not perfect, and the soul-process is not as concise as making syrup.  I'm under no illusions that the clarity of my essence will remain untainted.  That is why lent comes year after year, and not once and for all.

But for now I will rejoice ... this Easter season there will be good maple syrup on the pancakes.  And in my soul, the power of Resurrection with the turning of the Wheel.  Blessed be.

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The Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck is an ecumenical Christian priest, 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


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Thursday, 11 April 2019

    One of my childhood memories is visiting a farm in Vermont when they were mapleing off. I remember the smell of wood smoke and maple syrup and slushy snow on the ground.

    A couple of years ago now I think it was I read an article in Mother Earth News about making syrup from birch trees and sycamore trees. The author mentioned that there were other trees with sap that could be turned into syrup as well.

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