Friday, May 1, 2009
Friday Five- celebrating the seasons of life
Sally, in her oh so English manner is pondering the connections faith has from different traditions. I remember as a young child it was important to take little flower baskets to the older people in the neighborhood. I guess this was a relatively Yankee custom--or more likely it came from the Scottish/English heritage of my parents. I would gather up all the dandilions and any other things that were blooming and place them in construction paper baskets Mama and I made and then placed them on the door handles of our neighbors and then ring their door bells and ran off. Perhaps it was a vestige of Beltane.
It is the first of May, or as I have been concentrating on dialogue with folk interested in the new spirituality movement this last week, it is Beltane, a time to celebrate the beginning of summer. The BBC web-site tells us that:
Beltane is a Celtic word which means 'fires of Bel' (Bel was a Celtic deity). It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.
Celtic festivals often tied in with the needs of the community. In spring time, at the beginning of the farming calendar, everybody would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and fields.
Beltane rituals would often include courting: for example, young men and women collecting blossoms in the woods and lighting fires in the evening. These rituals would often lead to matches and marriages, either immediately in the coming summer or autumn.
Another advert for a TV programme that has caught my eye on the UK's Channel 4 this weekend is called Love, Life and leaving; and is a look at the importance of celebrating the seasons of life through ritual and in the public eye, hence marriages, baptisms and funerals.
I believe that we live in a ritually impoverished culture, where we have few reasons for real celebration, and marking the passages of life;
1. Are ritual markings of birth marriage and death important to you?
I am an Episcopalian, OF COURSE ritual is important! It is so much a part of my life that those who are not part of my faith don’t understand many of the things I do. I can’t just do Hatch, Match and Dispatch! But it is hard to find others who attach as much meaning to the rituals around important happenings in life.
I have never married or given birth so I don’t have a way to articulate what that means. I have to rely on the rituals of the Church to sign the beyond-verbal experience that such events provide for others. I have to depend that the Word will infuse meaning into what I cannot verbalize in sign and the paltriness of language.
2. Share a favourite liturgy/ practice.
Absolutely the Eucharist! I love to baptize and I even love to commit others to the ground, but it doesn’t so completely satisfy me as does the Eucharist. It doesn’t have to be in any particular tradition. Just the gathering of people who invite Christ into their midst with bread and wine connects me to all who have gone before and all who will come after.
3. If you could invent ( or have invented) a ritual what is it for?
I need a ritual for getting up. Off and on I have had certain actions I have followed in those moments between being asleep and being fully awake. I want the ritual to reconnect me with being fully alive, fully awake and fully trusting in the God who loves me. As long as I have this vertigo it takes all my energy just to get my bearings. And then it is off to brush the teeth. I need to take the time to center my day
4. What do you think of making connections with neo-pagan / ancient festivals? Have you done this and how?
Because I am an Episcopalian/Anglican I believe that many of the rituals we have already touch the pagan origins of what it means to be in connection with God. Christmas is Saturnalia and Easter is just the name for Astarte or Spring. When I worship, I want to direct my worship to the Omnipresent One, however he/she is named. But I am a follower of Christ’s way and I am more likely to identify the Holy with the Christian tradition. I am as drawn to Stonehenge and the holy wells of my Celtic heritage as I am to a cathedral or a pilgrimage site. When I was in the UK I was stunned with how gripping my first sight of Stonehenge was. I knew it was a ‘thin place’ between the sacred and the profane.
But I am unlikely to attend Neo-pagan rituals because it might be misconstrued by the faithful. As a priest I feel that I have some obligation to the Church which ordained me to stay within my own tradition and those we are in communion with. In the pastoral realm, when someone comes to me with an experience of the holy with in an ancient tradition, I give thanks for that. At the same time, I look for the continuation of faith that my forbearers had--the manifestations of goodness, wholeness and loving are qualities that I know that they too cherished. I need not disparage that simply because it was BCE. Faith is given by God and I believe that there is only one God. How God has manifested God’s self to others through out the ages is fascinating and supports my own faith in a God who is manifested in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
5. Celebrating is important, what and where would your ideal celebration be?
I find that celebration can take place in the grandest and the grungiest of places. I celebrated when I placed the ashes of my mother in her grave last week. It seemed like the completion of what my mother had done for me. I returned her to the earth. I got down on my knees and reached deeply into the sandy clay of Ft. Worth, TX to finish the cycle of life she had completed. It connected me with all of her 96 years, with the earth we cherished, and made her again a Bat Adam—a daughter of the earth from which she had come. It was not a planned act. It was what I needed to do after the rest of the family had left. The funeral director I think was a bit appalled, but I don’t care. It was an act that will link me with her the rest of my life—and after all, that is what celebrations are about—linkage, connection, touch.