We went on a hike today as a family, along a nearby mixed-use trail that ends at a waterfall. It’s a bit of a rough walk- lots of roots and rocks, a few jumps for mountain-bikers, and a number of small streams that criss-cross the trail. It’s lovely, and since it was a warm and sunny day, there were a lot of people out, though not enough for it to be crowded.
As we walked, my spouse-person and I talked about a lot of different subjects while we chased our tiny human. Then, as we were talking about this whole pagan thing that I’m embracing, Beowulf asked me, “So what do you want to get out of this?”
There are multiple answers I could have given, but the first that sprang to mind was this: “Honesty in my spiritual practice.”
This has been an increasing problem for me in Christianity. The rituals are important to me – the Eucharist, baptism, the celebration of the holidays on the church calendar. The concept of a God that so desired to connect with humanity that they chose to become incarnate as one of us. (I take a more Franciscan view of the whole crucifixion/atonement thing when I think about it, choosing to see the incarnation as a god who wished to know us and be known by us, to change our minds about who and what the gods could be). The idea that the world was spoken into being, like a spell. There is much that I love, and Jesus was my first introduction to the Divine, and he, at least, I can still embrace. Yet much of the doctrine troubles me and I cannot honestly assent to it.
I love ritual. Ritual is how we humans have framed our experience for millenia. We may like to think of ourselves, in North America, as a bit past all that, with the idea that ritual is primitive, and yet ritual infuses our lives. It’s part of the human experience. And so ritual is important for me in connecting with the Divine, for all that the pagan rituals that I’m slowly begin to learn are new and unfamiliar.
As an Eclectic, I can pick and choose what makes the most sense to me. I can be honest about what I think and believe and I can discard rituals and beliefs that no longer work for me. While choosing is looked down upon in many traditions – you must accept all or none of it, or at least keep quiet about what you do not accept – I think that there is much to be said for acknowledging that we are all selective in our beliefs, our rituals, and our traditions. I’m just being more explicit about it than others choose to be.
I can look at what disturbs me in various religions and examine it critically because I’m no longer bound to accept it in order to participate. Likewise, I can also be critical of what I like, what I appreciate, in order to examine why it’s important to me. I do want balance in my practice – nature and humanity have their dark sides and I have no wish to deny that. Nor do I wish to continually emphasize that fact.
At any rate, the freedom to be honest about what I believe and what I want out of my spiritual practice is what I’m currently seeking. I can’t be fully out as a pagan right now, but at least I can seek more internal consistency in this moment.