This is the time of Easter, where the stories are about hope, renewal, spring, and the return from despair. These stories are hard for me to relate to right now. Right now I’m more in touch with compassion fatigue/political burnout/fear/anger/burnout. I’m yearning for that which is healing, what renews and helps us rejuvenate.
My gut says: “look toward the old Gods, the old religion.” But what does that mean?
Reflecting on my relationship to divinity as I grew up, I remember a progression: from learning about “God” in UCC bible school, to expanding my understanding of what the divine could look like by reading about Greek Gods and Goddesses, to the college class where I encountered Goddess/divinity in the form of “Manasa.” The original form of Manasa is a patron of an area in Northern India. Manasa protects locals from poisons and diseases, and is represented by snakes or a pile of clay pots. This blew my mind! How could divinity NOT be anthropomorphic? And how is it that divinity can be location specific?
Lately I’ve been talking about the word “Pagan” and struggling with how it doesn’t feel like it holds all that I want it to hold for me. I remember a wonderful conversation with Rev. Clyde Grubbs who was so hospitable about offering his perspective. He shared his wisdom and lived experience as a Native American and UU minister. I asked him how he felt about those of us he’d met with who were in CUUPS and what he was able to imagine about how we could be in relationship in the future. Together, we came up with a term for our shared relationship to spirituality and religion: Earth Relating. It has inspired and sustained me since that conversation years ago.
I remember reading an article by John Beckett, a CUUPS former board member, a Druid, and blogger. (). He wrote about his four centers concept. It is a description of his friends’ and acquaintances’ religious/spiritual experience. I’ve held onto three of these 4 centers of Paganism to this day: Earth, Gods and Community.
CUUPS is planning for a Summer Solstice Ritual that will be offered during the annual gathering of Unitarian Universalists in June. Last week the CUUPS Planning Committee discussed how to make our ritual relatable to folks who don’t relate to the word Pagan, and have an affinity for the Earth as divine. Jerrie Hildebrand offered language learned from attending the Parliament of the World Religions: “Earth-Centered/Indigenous Traditions.” It is what led to the renaming of the soon-to-be-released book.
To be whole I need to connect in the ways humans have connected to divinity before we were “disembodied” by patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism, etc. I need to return to the “Old Gods.”
What are these Old Gods?
They are many. They are earth connected/place connected. They are something you are in relationship to. They are not anthropomorphic (though, I guess they could be seen that way). They are from before we became separated from place, from the natural world around us, and from human relationships.
I think that the key word here is “relating”. Earth: our relationship to the air we breath and that the birds lean on in flight. Gods: our relationship to the divine all around us, in all aspects of nature, geology and species, including human. Community: our relationships between and among us.
My old Gods are many. The hummingbird God that delights and scolds us from our back patio, the God of wind downing trees and ripping our gutters off and reminding us of our fragility, the hopeful flowers pushing through the soil, steadfast Mount Hood shining through the sun/hail/rain sweeping through the Oregon, April, sky, and my memories of Portland and Oregon from my decades of calling this green, wet, valley home.
My old Gods touch me through the photos of family on my altar at home, the Slovak needlework, the artwork made by my elders and ancestors, the traditional food eaten at certain times of the year.
My old Gods show up as the God of family and friends coming together to support our household as my spouse recovers from surgery, the God of the many connections to colleagues, congregants, family, friends and acquaintances: people coping with cancer diagnoses, the death of family members, their own mortality, and people anticipating graduation from college, a new love and life partner. The Gods of relationships of mutual support, truth telling and celebration move me, sustain me and call me to my work for healing and justice.
I’m not sure how my white middle class family produced two kids who want to save the world. I do know that being queer and Pagan put me in personal relationship with poor and working class people and those oppressed on the basis of gender and orientation. I do know that my earth-relating/Gods-relating/community-relating faith is about relationships and that the relationships draw me forward. Now my relationships with people of color among my family and friends also open me to the pain and challenge and to possibilities …
Relationships as Beads
I woke up today thinking about an exercise I did many years ago when pursuing foster-adoption. The adoption coach wanted to help the well meaning white potential parents understand what it would mean to our child if we adopted interracially. We were given a pile of white beads, a pile of black beads, and a cup. For each area of life we were to pick the color that best represented the dominant group, white/Euro-American or black/people of color. I dropped a white bead in the cup for my household. I picked a white bead for my family of origin. I picked a white bead for my place of worship. After I dropped the third white bead in my cup I started feeling embarrassed. Maybe I didn’t really have a clear perception of myself. I picked a white bead for my workplace. I picked a white bead for my neighborhood. I picked a white bead for the local school where any future child would attend. I was tempted to cancel this exercise because I didn’t WANT to know how limited my world was. I picked a white bead for the grocery store and department stores where I usually shopped. Finally, I picked a black bead for my primary non-work activity. I looked at the cup and I was horrified.
I invite you to try it. What are your relationships? Are you connected to the earth? (perhaps a green bead?) Are you connected to the fullness of your location? Are you connected to the people who are your friends, family, and whole community? With whom do you have relationships? If your cup is mostly one color, then consider what is lost, missing, incomplete in your life, in your understanding of the world… and what beautiful possibilities there might be. There is divinity all of our relationships.
These relationships, I hope, are what can sustain us, renew us, and lead us forward into a world of love and justice.