Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This I Believe

I spoke about this recently at the UU in my area and thought other folks might find it insightful.

Have you ever been asked what you believe? It's not a very easy question answer. Before I came to this church a year and a half ago, I identified as a pagan and Wiccan, and I was asked about it frequently. People are generally curious because they've seen too many bad movies and TV shows about teen witches; many of these use pagan terminology like "rule of three" and "craft of the wise." It's also difficult for many people to imagine a religious life outside of their Christian upbringing, an upbringing I lacked. The most common question was, "SO, do you believe in God?"

I developed a rehearsed sort of answer that explained what paganism isn't (for example, not Satanism). Or I explained traditional pagan holidays and rituals, and that, YES, I do believe in god (just not with a capital "G"), and that to me, god is female and male, named in ten thousand ways across cultures, and present in all matter in the universe. That god is present within me, and that salvation, heaven and hell don't make a lot of sense to me. I explain that I think the gods love us and they're waiting for us to express our own divinity. That WE are the creators, who create ourselves in the world, everyday, and we are always evolving, whether we realize it or not.

Now I've become a UU because its principles align with my beliefs. This is also confusing to people, so I have to explain THAT, especially since I can be a UU and a pagan at the same time. But these explanations I give are pretty much everything a person could just as readily obtain by searching for the terms on the internet, if they cared to.

So I don't want to talk about what paganism is, because the definition of a faith or an explanation of its practices is not the same as what the individual practitioner feels inside.

And I feel connected, I feel alive, I feel joy. Most of the time, I feel the absence of fear. When I came to it, paganism was a homecoming. Wonder, if we welcome it, is a revelation, and the natural world presents so many opportunities for wonder. Scientific understanding of nature doesn't dampen my sense of spirituality, it heightens it. Matter is in motion, from the spiraling of the galaxy, to the revolution of our planet around a life-giving sun, right down to the motion of cells of our bodies. It's thrilling to know I'm a part of that.

We also have so many everyday gifts and wonders. I've read somewhere that Benjamin Franklin said that existence of "beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy." Well, I would amend that to say that the existence of bananas, black beans and avocados is proof that the gods want us to be happy. We've evolved in conjunction with so many delicious things.

I don't have to believe a literal truth like explicit creationism to appreciate it and learn an important lesson. I guess you could say I believe in conscious evolution. We call the earth our mother, and we call the goddess our mother, we call the sun our god, but we know it's a ball of hot gas. Without it, we would not be, and that is enough reason for reverence.

4 comments:

Lady Susan said...

In one of my undergrad classes (Language and Culture? Hasidism?) I learned that Jewish mystical tradition taught God as both male and female. Makes sense if people were created in God's image. And I bought a book from Campus Crusade for Christ (a somewhat thumperish organization) about knowing all of God's names. It talked about the thousands of names the Jews of the Old Testament called upon for distinct purposes. In Afro-Christianity, I learned that Africans from polytheistic traditions found it easy to accept Christianity, because "The Communion of Saints" accommodated their reverence for the ancestors. In RCIA classes, we received a book called CATHOLIC ANSWERS TO FUNDAMENTALIST QUESTIONS, which defended interpretations of the Bible as metaphor. Of course, based upon what I learned from many years of studying scripture, I believe literal interpretation of "The Good Book" directly refutes many of the declarations most so-called Fundamentalists propagate.

Like you, I have been working on methods of articulating what I believe. I survived an extended religious debate on Facebook earlier this summer, and I remained relatively calm the last time my brother and I had a telephone disagreement about Jesus. I may accomplish my goal of returning to regular Catholic practice before long.

Utopiana said...

We get so caught up in daily life that we lose connection with our spiritual expression; I'm trying to find that again. Daily practice is the best way, I think, followed second by community.

JohnR said...

This is a lovely devotional. Thank you.

I think your words here speak to me because it captures why I can simultaneously be a rational atheist and still crave mystical experience and sense of deep connection to others, to the earth and to the universe. I hate trying to explain that using rational-speak. Maybe poetry and art and fiction can do this better. Hmmmm...maybe there's a story there. :)

Geez, I can't wait to have some in person convos with you and others in our class who geek out on this stuff!

Utopiana said...

I'm glad my words spoke to you. I've been jones-ing for those convos on religious topics since we "met." I am so excited about summer that I sometimes have to put it out of my mind to avoid flipping out.