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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Into Autumn

As the Wheel of the Year turns, so do the Wheels of our lives.  The western world has lost many of the celebrations of special milestones in our lives.  Beyond birthdays, there are the times when we reach a new phase in our life on earth.  Each new phase brings the culmination of experiences, learning, and impact that we have on others and others on us.  As we grow older, we gain insights and wisdom that can be of great value, not only only to ourselves, but also to others.

On September 13, I will be facilitating a Sophia Ceremony.  This ritual and liturgy will center on one beautiful woman's attainment of an age of wisdom.  In Wiccan traditions, this ceremony might be called a "Croning."  This is a celebration of the value of a woman as she embraces the attainment of the status of Elder.  It is a reflection on her spiritual path and growth; a recognition of what she has to offer the Universe during the next phase of her life. This private event is by invitation, hosted, organized, and planned by the individual to be honored with my guidance and assistance.

On the tail of this special ceremony comes the Second Harvest at Autumn Equinox.  The Wiccan name for this spoke on the Wheel is Mabon, named after a legendary Welsh character, Mabon ap Modron.  Some call this the Harvest Home.  It is a time of thanksgiving for and the sharing of the gifts of the earth given for our sustenance through the coming winter.  According to some sources, ancient Autumn Equinox celebrations were replaced by the celebration of Michaelmas, the feast day of the Archangel Michael, which is traditionally on September 29.

St. Brigid in the Desert will acknowledge the Mabon/Michaelmas holy days on Saturday, September 20th this year.  Time and place will be announced once schedules have been synchronized.  Watch for announcements here, on Facebook, and on the website!

Dragonkin by Walter Bruneel - This piece speaks of Sophia to me.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bread for Lammas

Bread baked for Lammas. Sadly, I admit to cheating. It was a Martha White package of a kind of coffee cake drop biscuits. Tasted good, though. Some crumbs given to the ancestors and the Old Ones. An offering of grain back to the earth. I hope next year to bake real bread. No corn dollies this year, either.  Still, as I crumble bread beneath the tree, I say a prayer for all that there will be good harvests in all the areas of your lives this year!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Blessed Lammas!

Being Inter-Spiritual has the benefit of many celebrations. This weekend is one of them. Smile, the Wheel is turning! The River of God is flowing!

Blessed Lammas! Lammas is a festival celebrating the first fruits of harvest, the fruits of our labours, and seeing the desires that we had at the start of the year unfold.  It's a time for bread-making and corn-dollies.  This time brings memories of making corn-dollies with my children and friends during our Wiccan days, wrapping corn husks for bodies, tying knots, and smoothing soft corn-silk hair.  Thinking of the things we hoped for at the last Samhain, the beginning of the cycle, and reinforced at the calendar New Year, we fashioned corn-people made of our dreams.

Lammas is an early Christian festival, "lammas" means loaf mass and represented the first loaves baked from that years crop. These were taken to church and laid on the altar.  For Pagans, this day might also be called Lughnasadh, and be commemorated as a feast day for the God Lugh, sacrificed when the grain ripened.

Goddesses celebrated around this time include Demeter and Ceres. Trees associated with Lammas are Hazel and Gorse and herbs are Sage and Meadowsweet. Colors associated with lammas are golds, yellows and orange for the God and red for the Goddess as mother. (From website The White Goddess)

There are a few saints who have feast days around this time as well.  In the Antiochian Orthodox tradition, August 5th is the feast day of St. Nonna, the mother of Gregory the Theologian.  She is remembered as a model wife and mother, yet also as a strong woman who lived a life for God and for others without neglecting her other obligations.

Due to schedules and the like, we are not having a gathering this weekend; however, there may be bread-making shenanigans before the end of the weekend. Anyone connected to St. Brigid in the Desert is encouraged to bake away, and share your offerings here!

St. Brigid is an Inter-Spiritual House Church without walls! Anyone who feels a connection to what we are doing here is a part of the virtual St. Brigid in the Desert. Baking bread? Celebrating the gathering of the grains? Brewing beer? Share photos! Blessed Be, my friends!

Photo from:  Book of Mirrors

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Celebrating Summer Solstice & St. John the Baptist

It was a hot day in the desert when our small group gathered to celebrate the turn of the season from “spring” to “summer.”  The day after the astronomical solstice, we came together to celebrate the first day of summer and to honor St. John the Baptist, whose Feast Day is on June 24th.  For the first time, we went into the city of Phoenix to meet at a park that was about half way between the park we usually gather at and Betsy, whose birthday we would be celebrating.

Some call the Summer Solstice “Litha,” which is the Celtic name for it.  After June 21st, the sun begins to turn away, taking with it a promise for a great harvest when Autumn arrives.  Just as John the Baptist promised the arrival of the Savior, so Summer Solstice promises the arrival of sustenance.  Summer is a gestational time, when we become quieter and more contemplative as we stay in our air conditioned places considering the purpose of our lives.

Los Olivos Park had once been the preferred festival grounds for events by PAN (Pagan Arizona Network).  A grove of olive trees stands on the park grounds.  The grove makes it the perfect place for many groups to gather.  Now, however, there is also a Frisbee court set out across the park, with poles and chains to catch the flying saucer situated nearby.  We shared the park with Frisbee throwers, who walked by us chatting, glancing at the altar.  At one end of the park, people played catch with their dogs while at the other end children played on the playground.  There we were, at the center, calling upon the Ancestors and the Angels for protection and partnership.

After the worship and prayers, there was feasting and laughter.  Some of those who we have seen at St. Brigid events were not there.  They were missed, though we had a couple of “new” faces.  If you would like to read the liturgy for this service, you will find it posted on Pastor Suzy’s sermon website.  More pictures can be seen on the St. Brigid in the Desert Facebook page.

St. Brigid in the Desert is a small house parish of the Universal Anglican Church.  We regularly gather at the turn of the seasons, eight times per year, as well as for special occasions.  Everyone is welcome to St. Brigid events.  Please visit our website for more information.

Friday, May 16, 2014

OMG: Social Media Sites are Places to Be Social!

Recently, a Facebook friend commented “OMG” on my Facebook status.  This friend is a person I know in “real life,” so I can say that he is an intellectual; a well traveled college professor and one of the authors of “The Brothers Keepers.”   He doesn’t comment often, nor does he post often.  In fact, his last actual post was a full month before he posted an uncharacteristic “OMG” on my status.  The status I wrote was this:  “Sweeping and straightening out this office in between playing on the computer. I've got a blog bubbling in my head. Dinner will be easy tonight - nuthin' but chili mac. Tomorrow, I get to have lunch with my friend. I'm looking forward to it.”  His “OMG” was unlike anything I would expect from him, so I was compelled to go to his page to see if there was a clue to why he would respond like that.  Following the link to his page, I came across a discussion on about the purpose of social networks.  His last post was simple:  “Ross article entitled "Social Media: Narcissistic Meaning Construction" . . . Postito ergo sum.”  (I believe the intent of the Latin phrase was “I post, therefore I am,” although I believe it actually translates to something like, “I change, therefore I am.”  Both are true, methinks).  Someone else posted a link to a psychological study called “A two-process view of Facebook use and relatedness need-satisfaction: disconnection drives use, and connection rewards it.”

I went to Google to look up these articles.  I found the abstracts to both easily, and have linked to them here.  Just click on the titles to read them.  The abstract for the Ross article wraps up by stating that “According to the author though the social networking website Facebook provides learning experiences, it is more of a personal scrapbook as people keep posting their photographs and the final outcome of using Facebook is sensory pleasure due to gossip, which doesn't improve one's quality of life.”  (Italics mine).  My post above falls right into this particular theory, I suppose.  Who really cares what I’m doing in a particular moment?  Does anyone else really want to see photos of my family at various times of our lives?  Yet, who is to say that “sensory pleasure due to gossip” doesn’t improve someone’s quality of life?

The second abstract asks the question, “Does using Facebook help people to meet their relatedness needs?”  Somehow, I don’t think they needed a study to answer it.  Of course it does.  That is the whole point of SOCIAL networking, isn’t it?  Of course, I’m not an expert.  I do, however, have my own ideas about this.

Sure, there is a sensory pleasure inherent in sharing our lives with others and having them respond to our contributions.  Human beings are social creatures; we need to connect with one another.  In a status on his Facebook page, Dr. Paddison asks, “Does anyone else think that Facebook is really a forum for one to affirm one's existence in the Transcendental?”  My answer is yes, it is.  We need our existence to be verified, both in this world and in the one we cannot see.  There is nothing wrong with seeking this verification in the virtual world.  In fact, for many of us, this is the only place we can find the connection to others that we seek on a personal level.

In the past, people found this connection in the material world much more often than we do today.  Since the industrial revolution human beings have been more and more disconnected from one another.  This disconnect was further implemented by the invention of the automobile.  The sense of freedom that motorized transportation has brought is coupled with the ability to move further away from the nuclear family and childhood friendships.  Non-agricultural industry, while bringing larger groups of people together, had the effect of breaking down the sense of community that was once prevalent.  I believe these two developments have worked together to create a common sense of aloneness in individuals.

In the past, people found community in common needs and the pursuits of daily survival.  Barn raisings, threshing bees, quilting bees, church suppers – all of these were reasons for the community to gather socially in a more agriculturally oriented United States.  In the towns, while men gathered at barber shops and pubs, women often met with their neighbors to have coffee and conversation while watching over small children.  This is not to say that there wasn’t the occasional loner, hermit, misfit, or other individual who found themselves disconnected from the society that thrived around them.  There have always been individuals and families who lived far from civilization.  Sometimes, the social gatherings occurred only annually, looked forward to for months in advance.  Yet, even this anticipation created a connection to those with whom one would meet during these events.

We don’t work together in the way families once did.  Farm families of the past worked the land together, they ate together, they gathered with their community together.  In the past, children walked to school together, played together, worked together to create events like holiday plays, graduation recitations, and annual picnics.

In a more ancient past for most of us and a more recent past for Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, entire communities gathered regularly for hunting and gathering, worship, healing, cooking, and eating.

I don’t reflect on these things to idolize the past nor to denigrate the present.  My purpose is to point out that because, for the most part, we no longer do these things, social media meets a need that is no longer met in the way it once was.  After the industrial revolution, before labor unions made their mark and labor laws were passed, those who worked long hours in factories were likely the first to suffer from the kind of disconnect that I think many of us experience today.  We are separated from those we love for many long hours in transit and at work.  We cannot make the same kind of connections with co-workers today that we would have made with the neighbors  with whom we planted crops and shared meals on a regular basis.  The work environment is too competitive, too impersonal, for us to allow ourselves true friendship and community.  Those of us who have let our guard down in that arena have often suffered for it, finding those we trust to be competitors in a game we didn’t know we were playing.

Children may walk to school together, play together on the playground, and sit in class and learn together, but for many, after-school playtime is a thing of the past.  It is partially the fault of the fascination with all things electronic.  However, I believe it is also a result of a disconnection from our neighbors and the distrust parents have for strangers.  Too many bad things have happened to children.  We don’t know the people who live around us.  How can we allow our children to go out, explore life, and connect with others without our supervision – something we no longer have time for?

We are disconnected in the physical world.  Though we may be connected on a spiritual or quantum level, we don’t know each other in the material world.  We become lonely in the midst of the crowd.  We seek companionship, friendship, community.  We seek approval on a personal level.  Some still find it in their churches or other places of worship.  Some find it in the traditional places, like common interest clubs or, if they are lucky, in workplaces or schools where trust and interdependence is encouraged.  However, many do not find it in any of these places.  So, they seek it elsewhere, and they find it in social media.

Is social media like Facebook a place for scrapbooking and gossip?  Of course it is.  These are the kinds of conversations people once had at the barber shop and the beauty parlor. Sharing personal and family events at annual festivals and church suppers were once commonplace.  In ancient times, sitting around the fire discussing the day’s hunt and the development of the children must have been integral ways of connecting.  As users of social media, does “disconnection drive use, and connection reward it,” as the authors of the psychological study referenced above state?  Of course it does.

I didn’t need a study to tell me this, did you?

Is there something wrong with that?

"The Quilting Bee" by Grandma Moses

*FOLLOWUP NOTE:  The "OMG" message from Dr. Paddison was intended for someone else.  That's led to my discovery of the abstracts and posts that got me thinking...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Breaking the Mold

Each year, thousands of people give something up for Lent.  Traditionally, a devout Christian would make a token sacrifice to commemorate the time Jesus spent in the desert before entering Jerusalem.   By the Twentieth Century, most Protestant denominations had relinquished the practice.  Many Catholics saw Lent as a time one gave up red meat one day of the week, eating fish on Friday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.  While these meatless days are yet a practice of Lent, the depth of meaning behind the original purpose has been lost for many. 

Somewhere along the line, some mainline Protestants rediscovered Lent.  They have taken the time from Ash Wednesday to Easter to make a “sacrifice” and take time to reflect on their lives.  There are some who take Lent very seriously.  These devout believers consider whatever they have given up to be a true sacrifice and the 40 days of Lent to be a time of internal reflection and reassessment of values.  However, for many Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, it seems as though the “giving up” for Lent is a chance to relinquish things that have been hard to give up otherwise.  For instance, someone might give up soda, coffee, or perhaps sugar.  These are things people choose to “give up” because they have wanted to give them up but have little willpower.  They need the impetus of Lent to give them strength to do so.  I am certain that I’ve been guilty of this myself.  Is this sacrifice?  Or is this self-serving?

I never considered giving something up for Lent this year.  When I realized this, I couldn’t exactly figure out why.  It occurred to me that I couldn’t think of anything to give up.  What could I give up that would constitute sacrifice?  What did I have that could be a real gift to God?  More importantly, perhaps, what was I willing to give up that would be a fitting reflection of the life of Christ?  There was nothing.  Nothing that I was willing to give from my life was equal to the kind of sacrifice Jesus made during his 40 days in the desert.  Nothing I was able to give was even a faint reflection of the sacrifice he made because he lived a life of true love.

It’s funny how you can be thinking about one thing and then suddenly realize you’ve moved on to something that seems to be totally unrelated.  At some point in my reflections, I shifted from considering the nature of Lenten “sacrifice” to what was happening with St. Brigid in the Desert.  I had begun to think that in order for St. Brigid to become a “real” church, I should find a way to meet every Sunday, bring people to a place where we had regular weekly worship.  Oh, the liturgy would be unique, but it would be more like what people expect “church” to be.  I had no idea how I could swing a place to meet like that.  Our house isn’t appropriate and very few existing Christian churches would be willing to even rent space to a church with UAC values, let alone donate that space.  I certainly don’t have the funds to put up rent anyway.  These plodding thoughts were bringing me down.  They were stressing me out.  How can I be a priest/pastor/whatever-you-call-it if I don’t have an actual church to go to every week?  When would I find time to do all this?  I was beginning to feel inadequate.  I was failing God.  I was failing the good clergy of the UAC who took me in, flew me to Milwaukee, and lovingly ordained me.

These thoughts went on for days – maybe weeks – and then I read a comment by poet Rose Aiello Morales.   "Spring is the best time to break stagnant molds,” she wrote.  This simple thought brought all my crazies squealing to a halt!  It seems so non sequitur, I know.  I can’t tell you how it follows; I can only say that it does.  I realized that I had never been called to be a “regular” pastor of a “regular” church!  Wasn’t it, after all, a call to be a new kind of church, the kind where the lines are fuzzy, where Wiccans who love Jesus and Christians who love the Goddess can mingle and find hope?  Isn’t it, after all, a call to break through boundaries and provide Life Event Celebrations and Rites for those who straddle traditional boundaries?  Wasn’t the plan to have worship celebrations in conjunction with the Celtic Wheel of the Year and to serve in different ways as Spirit led?

Why yes!  Yes it was!  I had taken what can only be described as a unique, joy-filled, Spirit-led, creative call from the Divine to be someone who has hardly existed before and turned it into an unimaginative chore.  I had become that nasty lime gelatin with clumps of shredded carrot poured into a fish shaped mold that people bring to church basement potlucks.  Well, time to break that mold!  It was time for me to remember what God has called me to be and re-mold myself into that person – into that priest.  What better time than Lent to let go of the old ideas that were stuck to me like barnacles on an old whale?  What better time to remember that Jesus told his disciples to “make disciples,” not to “make Christians?” 

In the past few days, I have been inspired by two very different Christian leaders.  Just yesterday, Christian/Buddhist priest Fr. Scott Elliot of New Seeds Priory, wrote on Facebook, "I didn't become a priest so I could have an executive salary and a professional status; I became a priest so I could learn humility, service, and vulnerability; and to share with others what I learn on the way." This morning, Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith, a news making United Methodist pastor who chose to be appointed to live and minister among the homeless for a number of years writes, “I pray we continuously seek to be empowered by the resurrection of Jesus in a way that lures us -- and even breaks through that temperate and often doubtful resistance of ours --to live into the hope of transformative peace, justice and love for ourselves and our neighbors.” 

As Easter dawns, and thousands shout “He is Risen! He is Risen INDEED!” my heart rises anew.  Resurrection has many meanings, and for me, this Lenten season has been a time of dying to old ideas about what it is to a priest of God and even what it means to be “church.”  It has been a time for ideas that have been small seeds within me to sprout anew, to begin to take hold. In those seeds are the sprouts of history.  In those seeds are the sparks of new life and the very essence of All That Is.

Many years ago, Starhawk wrote, “In the Craft, we do not believe in the Goddess — we connect with her; through the moon, the stars, the ocean, the earth, through trees, animals, through other human beings, through ourselves. She is here. She is within us all.”*

Indeed, God/Goddess is not something to “believe in.”  The Divine is that which creates us, connects us, inspires us.  What is something to believe in is a way of living, a way of giving, and a way of loving.  This Lenten season, I have begun to understand what that means to me.  As this Easter dawns, I witness a new birth within myself.  I am becoming a person who no longer fears breaking the old molds and becoming something new.

So Be It!

*The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess,1979.