Tuesday, December 23, 2008
A Winter Solstice ritual which began with a single chant for the returning sun while the chant leader walked slowly around the circle and a drum kept the beat. The chant leader circled the gathered community 9 times in total. By the time she was finished, we were all in an altered state.
A Druid Grove ceremony where Druids circled silently the altar nine times, and a Tibetan bell sounded each time they made a full perambulation. This is how they set the space for their ritual and moved from ordinary to extraordinary time and space.
A communal Kwanzaa service which includes no less than 7 African-American spirituals, a drumming ceremony, and a libation cermony.
These all have something in common. They require bodies. They emerge from and tap into the physicality of the participants. They require muscle!
I am currently reading Matthew Fox's newest book: The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine. Fox quotes Aldous Huxley: “Ritual dances provide a religious experience. That seems more satisfying and convincing than any other . . . It is with their muscles that humans more easily obtain knowledge of the divine.”
When I read this a few days ago, it reminded me of why I so often resonate deeply with African-American gospel music, with drumming, with rhythmic music, and how sadly devoid most “very white” religious services are of this kind of experience. We need to feel the divine with our muscles!
When I say "very white" religious services, I am referring to my own experiences in mainline Protestant and Catholic liturgies, primarily. Western cultural forms based on northern European customs emerging from the Industrial age have brought us to a place where feeling the entire body, moving to a beat (even very traditional religious hymnody has a beat) and being moved by the beat have been banished and shamed out of existence as "inappropriate" at best, and "lude" at worst. That Industrial Revolution, as Robert Blye and others have described, succeeded in separating Europeans and later Americans from the rhythms of their own ethnic culturas: from the seasons of the earth, from the song and story that stretched back into time eternal. And, in my opinion, the blessings of modernity also succeeded in separating us from our bodies and their sensations as a regular part of who we are and how we relate to our whole universe of experience. Those of us following Earth-mystery paths are, I think, attempting to reclaim some of these things. In the process, though, we cannot help but notice how difficult ingrained patterns are to shake. We must, if we are to be healthy and whole, I think, find our bodies, find our muscles, find our rhythms again.
When we banish the feeling in our bodies, the inclination with in all of us to tap our feet, move our hips, sway, bob our heads, tap our fingers, clap our hands, bounce on our feet and in our knees, swing our arms when we hear a beat or feel a rhythm or allow the sound and the wonder of music to move through us, I agree with Huxley--we also banish the experience of the divine as well.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
And yet, having found "formal Druidry" to some extent I find myself disillusioned with the hierarchical nature of the typical Druid orders. I have joined revival Druidry organizations. They are the more liberal of the orders and yet, even with OBOD and AODA, one only need scratch the surface and they bleed fraternal lodges' blood, Masonry in particular. One need not scratch AODA much at all. It's fraternal lodge structure and hierarchy is very near the surface, and I find that to be an impediment to my path. OBOD has done a better job of making distance from that past, but that past is there. Both of these orders of Druids claim to be and are to a large extent attempts at living Druidry in the 21st century, but they do so with structures built in from an era gone by. Elements of secrecy, top-down flow of power, degrees or grades of initiation, cult of personality, elements of exclusivity--all of these to some degree or another exist in the fraternal lodge structures out of which OBOD and AODA have grown. And yet, they leave their mark and the present experience of Druidry through such orders.
The irony, for me, is that Revival Druidry while not claiming to hail back to ancient Druids, is driven more (AODA) or less (OBOD) by fraternal lodge models of the 17-19th centuries. It's a latent reconstruction, if you will. And this is not inherent in revival Druidry, or Druidry of any particular kind. I have witnessed this in several religious communities--that regardless of how much they claim to be doing a particular work now, as long as their past goes unexamined, that past inserts and asserts its influence. And when I say unexamined I am observing that the past of a religious community is always in the background asserting and inserting its influence. When a community stops noticing that, the past has all the more influence.
So, I find myself reflecting often these days about what a Druidry for the 21st century would look like if I were to create one (and why not?). I am sold on some aspects of revival druidry that I have gleaned from both OBOD and AODA.
1) We do not have a conscious, direct line from ancient Druids.
2) We do have modern sources that can help us craft a spiritual path that rings true to what
Druidry means to us, like environmentalism, social justice, Jungian spirituality,
sustainability practices, and wisdom traditions from many sources.
3) We have fragments of history, myth, magic and culture that allow us to weave together
a Druidry that works for us in this time on this planet.
So, what would a Druidry for the 21st Century look like if I were to put it together? Even as I attempt to construct my own idea of a Druidry for the 21st century, I am indebted to both of the orders I belong to, to some of the ideas and practices I benefit from in them, and, in rejecting some of their historical structures, am even by the rejection of what I consider to be a hindrance, connected to them. It's another example, of course, of what we call in UU-sim, the Interconnected Web of all Being. Here's my list, thus far of what a Druidry for the 21st century would look like:
--The beginning principle: Modern Druids work together with the various levels and aspects of earth's nature. (That's meant to be wide open--extending from very material biology to very metaphysical energy, as people are led).
--A community based on a circle and not a hierarchy. The grove as the central symbol would be the reality, in fact. Roles in ritual and in leadership would always be interchangeable and shared. In other words, with adequate practice, any member of the community could take any role in group ritual. There would be no "special" or reserved seats.
--The core principle, even underneath the beginning principle above, would be respecting and honoring integrity--the integrity of one's own individual self, the integrity of the other, the integrity of nature, of the earth, of the universe, and seeing that this is, finally, one interconnected web of being.
--Every member, from newest to eldest, would be considered a priest, and that all aspects of nature would be vehicles of divine communication. The question would not be "what degree are you", but " what shape is your priesthood taking?"
--There would be no degrees, but there would be a basic commitment to walking the path, growing in wisdom, and life-long learning and working together at times in community as well as solitarily. The notion of spirals to work on is a good one, but no one would control them, prescribe them, or limit them. At the same time, every Druid priest would be sharing with the community what she/he was working on at the time.
--Leadership would be about structure and helping maintain a structure for the community, but it would be based on transparency, facilitation, democracy and service to the community. It would have short terms, and renewed often. Leadership would not be the image of the ones at the top, but those who tend the foundations.
--This Druidry would provide choices for people and invite them to explore areas of interest in order to build a personal path of self-discovery.
--This Druidry would emphasize social justice--a concern that everyone have what he/she needed to survive and thrive--another aspect of respecting integrity, but now recognizing the social, political and cultural aspect of that integrity.
--This Druidry would hold regular sessions of discernment asking only three questions: what are we doing that is working? what are we doing that is not working? If we were to change one thing to make things work better for us, what would it be?
That's it. That's my list. That's my idea of a Druidry for the 21st century. So, if I found a group of poeple willing to launch an order of Druidry for the 21st century that looked like the above, would I resign from OBOD and AODA? Likely not. I have benefitted from them both, and continue to, though admittedly sometimes it is a benefit through the negative--becoming clear about what is an impediment, what is not working. Still, that is a benefit, and finally, no religious or spiritual organization in my experience is flawless. The challenge to be vigilant in constant reform and renewal is a relentless one, and necessary for any group that wishes to remain alive and of service to people. Otherwise, a religious group becomes the tyrant that demands servitude from its members. As I've said before: I didn't need to become a Druid to find that.
I welcome comments.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The Seventh Generation:
Are We Loving Mother Earth?
The Living Tradition we share draws from many sources: wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life. In the Hindu legend of the Maha
Our ancestors, the so-call
“In every deli
Van Jones, the 2008 Ware Lecturer at General Assem
This is not new knowl
As I look
We are a part of the interdependent we
Since 1960, there has
emissions that contri
We can’t drill our way out of this crisis. There aren’t enough fossil fuels to save us. But the climate crisis isn’t confin
Our country is facing very tough economic times right now. Economists now admit that we are in a recession. We are facing record-
So we have these competing forces - depletion of fossil fuels, the moving of industry into new markets where they can r
But there is a way out of this apparently hopeless situation. We have to r
It’s time to let our Mother know that we were engag
We have to create a green economy. There are millions of homes and
Creating a green economy is not just a
The challenges are many
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Sermon Delivered at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett
June 22, 2008
Honoring earth centered paths is one of our six sources that flow into the rich fountain that is Unitarian-Universalism. It may also be one of the least understood. Some of our other UU language may contribute to this misunderstanding. CUUPS stands for the Covenant of UU Pagans, and yet in our CUUPS group very few of us are terribly comfortable with the word “pagan” and most of us don’t use it to describe ourselves.
But “CUUPS” sounds nice. After all, a cup is just a little chalice, and UU’s are fond of chalices. But, if you called us the Covenant of UU of the Earth Centered Path, you’d get CUUECPS, and that sounds awfully too much like “cooks” and “hiccups”.
And from what I hear in some UU congregations, CUUPS is largely a gathering of cooks whose contribution to the congregation is not much more than a series of hiccups! I thinks thus far, our CUUPS has a little better record.
The Earth-centered path is many things, and for me one of those most central things is celebrating that if one walks outside and looks around, every single aspect of the the natural world offers us something to appreciate, enjoy, be in awe of, and reflect on. The history of humankind’s reflecting on and learning from the metaphors of nature are as old as writing itself, and then painting on cave walls before that. And for just a few minutes, I want to share with you how this day, the Summer Solstice, is that reflection for me, is that metaphor in the natural world for something that is a life long trek for me.
On the day of the summer solstice, the sun is at it’s highest and longest arc in our sky. We have more bright, warm sunlight for a longer period on the Summer Solstice than any other day of the year. Since December 21, the darkest and shortest day of the year, our earth has been gradually tilting back its northern pole toward the sun so that every day has become incrementally longer.
The journey to all of this light has taken a while. It has come in increments. The journey has on any given day not been noticeable, but when you stand back and compare this day with December 21, the journey is pretty significant, from lots of darkness to lots of light.
And, for me, that’s the metaphor—the long, incremental, often tedious, trek of my life in search for light. In search for something to call true and sure.
Not very long ago, a Latin teacher whom I have only met through the internet, emailed me privately about some comments I made on the teachers’ list about working with students. I had probably mentioned that I was something of a liberal in my outlook.
He very thoughtfully, and very genuinely, wrote me this:
If you have a moment some time, can you help me to understand how a person coming from your perspective determines right from wrong? I can see how you can have values and live
I teach at a Christian school, and I have students who are wrestling with issues such as these. It would
He and I continue to have a very interesting and respectful correspondence that this email of his started. We are coming from very different places. His question sent me back considering my long trek, my own search for how to answer this sort of question. What is the truth? What is the guide for right and wrong? What is real light, and where do I find it.
I can show you my own trek more easily than I can tell it to you.(I then pulled out a set of 7 boxes that nest within each other, of different colors. At first it just looks like the one, black box).
I was taught very early in my life about God by almost every other human being around me. I was the first child and the first grandchild on both sides of the family. I had a lot of adult company, and they all taught me that there was this God out there, bigger than all things, more powerful than all things, the creator of all things, better than all things, my heavenly Father who was able to send me to a place called hell when I died, or let me into his heaven if I did what I was told, and this included believing utterly in him. And, he was invisible.
Oh yes, and he loved me. I believed as I was told for a very long time, but in my own search for truth, what I came to see was that believing in that sort of God, who practiced that sort of “love” meant that the primary motive in my life was fear—fear that I would somehow displease this God who would send me to hell. The day it occurred to me that I was, in all my own limitations, a better father than that, I found that my search for truth was not in the box called God.
Within and clearly connected to the box called God was a much more, for a while, appealing box. I’ll call it Doctrine. A clearly defined set of rules about right and wrong, God and humanity and the earth, this life and the afterlife. It’s a much prettier box because, at least on the outside, a clearly defined set of rules just feels good. No thought required. Nothing to worry about. But, I began to notice that other people had boxes just like this, but their list of rules were sometimes different from mine. Sometimes REALLY different. This box stopped working for me the day a very close friend told me that according to her box of rules, I was going to hell because my rules were different from hers. There’s that word, again. Hell. So, if you ask me if I found truth in this box called doctrine, I’d have to say “hell no”.
This next box is not so pretty as the rules box, but it’s a solid color, sort of the color of some rocks. This box is where I look for truth, still sometimes. It’s called “Authorities”. You know, very important, established, intelligent, leader type people who clearly know the way—to wherever it is I think I might be going. I have encountered a variety of people looking for truth in this “authorities” box. Quite a few of them want you to follow them or else, they say, you’ll go to hell. I met some who are the most wonderful people, and I learn a great deal from them. I find glimmers of truth in them. But, mostly what I find is that they do not know very much more about the truth than I do—certainly not all truth, and finally, turning myself over to them is not good for me, not good for them, and not the truth.
Oh, I have to tell you, this is one of my favorite boxes to look for truth in. It’s the box of BOOKS! I love books. I love to read. I usually am reading several at the same time with little piles of books all over my house. You can tell where I pause to sit in the house because there are little piles of books: in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in the living room, in the sun room in the study, in the bathroom. I’ve learned a lot from books. Books also glimmer with sparkles of truth. And some are a complete waste of my time. Of course, I often don’t know that until I’ve wasted my time to find that out. What I find problematic about this box is that, finally, even after all the reading I’ve done, rather than go out and apply any truth I might have found, rather than finding a new and better and more fulfilling way to live, I simply want to read more books. It’s like eating carbs. Makes me hungry for more carbs. If there is truth in this box, it’s hard to get out of the container.
Communities—cool blue/aqua box
This one’s a nice color, too, isn’t? I’ve done my share of looking in this box for the truth. This is the box of “communities”. You know: the right neighborhood, the right church, the right job, the right contacts, the right professional organization, the right small groups, the right affiliations. And I belong to all of those kinds of communities right now! Most of them are pretty decent. I get a little or a lot out of all of them, and I give quite a bit, too. And it feels so good to belong to a group, you know, until you run into that bothersome person or 3, you know the type. Or, until the community begins to ask you for things—money, commitments, work, time. That can be a pain. So, it really gets to be a bad set up when I came looking for truth, and what I get is a guilt trip for why I ought to stay even though I may not be finding what I came searching for. This box is not what it would seem if you are looking for truth.
This is a hot little box. And I mean that in so many ways. It’s the box of relationships. It has some kinship with the communities box in that it feels really nice to be in relationships. Well, some relationships. Sometimes. It feels nice to have friends. It feels nice to have people to laugh and cry with. If feels nice when I’m afraid, to be comforted. Sometimes people call this search for truth in relationships “true love”. Sounds so hot. So sweet. So nice. So warm. But these same people can also make you mad (there’s another use for the shade of red), and embarrass you (still red), and worry you, and keep you awake at nights, and want your car, and your money. Sometimes people that you thought loved you can be mean and bad, and you’re left wondering what in the world you were thinking. And what you get from this hot little box can be almost exactly the opposite of what you thought was in there. And it’s not truth.
My Own Life—multi-colored box
This box is my own life, my mind, my body, my feelings, my perceptions, my experiences, and my intuition. And, look, there’s something inside. Oh, it’s what I wrote back to my Latin teacher friend in response to his question:
To your question: right and wrong choices depend entirely on how they affect the interdependent we
There is no power out there that is not also in here.
Without even knowing you, I know that honoring you and your experiences and your life history is the right thing to do. The more compli
So, I maintain that if any person listens to their deepest parts and uses good reasoning, they know what is right and wrong. They do that
There is an ancient Druid Triad that is the core of my teaching and living philosophy: Three foundations of success:
Okay. That’s way more than you pro
Bob You know, I’m going to keep the boxes. There are things about each of these boxes that I value. I’m just not putting my entire stake on the truth in any one of them. My relationships are THE most important thing in my life, even with the headaches. The communities I belong to, finally, are the ones I CHOOSE to invest in. I still love books. They can be helpful, but they can also be deceiving. I respect certain authorities in my life for various reasons, mostly for their humanity and the leadership they provide. Their feet, though, are still made of clay, like mine, and they still put those pants on like I do, one foot at a time. Doctrines, teachings, philosophies—fascinating framework. I’m more interested in the pictures they are trying to frame, these days. And God? I’m pretty confident that if there is one, that infinite being would agree with me that trusting myself, living my own life with some attempt at integrity is why my own life is at the core of all of these others.
You know, I’m going to keep the boxes. There are things about each of these boxes that I value. I’m just not putting my entire stake on the truth in any one of them. My relationships are THE most important thing in my life, even with the headaches. The communities I belong to, finally, are the ones I CHOOSE to invest in. I still love books. They can be helpful, but they can also be deceiving. I respect certain authorities in my life for various reasons, mostly for their humanity and the leadership they provide. Their feet, though, are still made of clay, like mine, and they still put those pants on like I do, one foot at a time. Doctrines, teachings, philosophies—fascinating framework. I’m more interested in the pictures they are trying to frame, these days. And God? I’m pretty confident that if there is one, that infinite being would agree with me that trusting myself, living my own life with some attempt at integrity is why my own life is at the core of all of these others.
In the light of day, we get to see this. My life. Your life. The one you are living right now, is our best connection to what is true, what is vital, what is worthwhile. If we can see that, in the bright light of this day (or some other day), then cherish that. For all of us, darker days will come, and we will need to remember this. Go look in the mirror. That’s the box you will find the truth in.
Friday, June 13, 2008
A few weeks ago, I made the same trip downstairs. I smelled water. Not the creepy kind. Just the wet, watery kind. I went and looked at the pipes. Water seeping in again. A visit from the plumber, who dug up his work of a couple of months before found that it was NOT the sewage pipes (yea!) but was ground water seeping in from poorly designed yard flow (yuk!). A day later, that was remedied.
So what? So, today, I am seeing that observing where the water is flowing from goes a long way toward understanding our lives, our response to the world around us, and to taking actions that help and support life. Water has long been a metaphor for emotion, feelings, relationships and wisdom. Most of us walking around, unless we have worked very hard at walling ourselves off from all emotion, feeling, relationships and have decided there is no wisdom to be had, experience these things every day.
We have feelings and emotions. We are in relationships. We encounter wisdom, acknowledged or not, sought after or not, authentic or inauthentic. And frequently, speaking for myself (and suspecting that this may apply to others) there are times when I don't know what to do.
Hence the question: which way is the water flowing? What is its source? Is it coming from within me? Am I generating this? Does it belong to me? Or, am I being hit with this from outside of me? What is the pattern of the "water"? Is it a trickle? Is it a flood? Is it a river, or a pool? Is it helping me? Can I step out of it or into it at will? Does it sustain me or overwhelm me?
I am finding as I work with this question that what is best for me to do next becomes clearer simply by observing the flow of the "water". If the "water" is coming at me from another source, I can step aside and let it flow past, or head for cover if it's a deluge! If the flow of "water" is coming from within me, then I can observe further. What is it's source in me? How long has it been there? Even though it is flowing from within me, is it ultimately mine?
An example of this last type: When I sense someone's disapproval, the "water" begins to churn in my chest and stomach. When I observe that, it's churning from within me. When I observe that further, I begin to "see" old memories of childhood dynamics where my "task" was to please the adults in my world. At that point, I realize that these "waters" are not mine. They are the feelings and emotions of the adults in my childhood world that were flooded onto and into the way I learned to be in the world. When I see that, I can let the flood go. These waters don't belong to me.
Sometimes, such old floodwaters that don't belong to us don't flow away so quickly. I find that each time I experience them, and acknowledge that they do not belong to me, more of the dam cracks, that dam that has been holding those waters in, and more of the water seeps, then flows out. It's a process.
Like so many other things, dealing with the water in our lives is a process.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I've just heated some water and put it in my little ceramic teapot. I bought the teapot to match the handmade Japanese teacups that a friend from Japan brought me when he visited my home a few years ago. They are simple, eggshell colored with earthy specks in them. No handles, so they require two hands to savor the tea. They are simple elegance, and they are treasured gifts from one of the most humorous and genuine human beings I've met.
I've placed in the tea-bong dried chamomile flowers from two sources: from the small tin that my eldest daughter, just turned 21, gave me for Christmas, and from the collection of chamomile that I grew this past summer in planters in the front yard. My daughter knew to give me chamomile tea for Christmas because she grew up watching me tend my little gardens and all so often helping me with her little girl hands to pull the chamomile flowers off for our little stash. To her it was a game. To her father, it was a cherished little tea before bedtime. This gift was a beautiful token of her memory. And the flowers of my own to add? Well, they are my personal connection to this marvelous earth we live on. She truly keeps me sane, keeps me healthy. She makes me smile every day. She gifts me with chamomile flowers for tea.
And now, as I type this, I pause to pour a cup of the tea which has been steeping while I write these words. The tea sits in my cherished cup, slightly amber, or is it slightly green. That wonderful aroma of chamomile touches my nose--is it apples or is it dirt that I smell? And the taste? What is that taste?
Tender flowers? Gentle apples? Sweet childhood become young womanhood? Cherished friendship stretched half-way round the world? Yes. All these. And the wonderful gift of Gaia. Outside, winter storms brew, here in the South turning into threatening tornadoes. But, for this moment, with this cup of tea in my hands, warmth, tenderness, beauty, grounding, and this wonderful moment.