Implications for Ministry (Beyond People)

While my course on Pagan Ministry is drawing to an end, the questions for my next steps are just the opposite . . . I now have more questions and areas of possible exploration than I anticipated! I consider this a successful course, as I really appreciate learning enough in a course that I end it with deeper and more informed questions!

After all, who wants to take course to learn something new and NOT have any more questions or areas of future inquiry as a result?!?!

When I started the course, I began by thinking of ministry, or ministering to others, in a fairly traditional (i.e., Christian) way. How was I not to think of it as akin to my previous experiences?! Ministering to people was shorthand for helping people to spiritually move forward in a shared direction, and while good-intentioned, often was realized as a form of proselytizing. What better way to spiritually help people than by helping them to accept the same truth as I already have.

Ahh, how limited!!

Like medicine, where we go to a doctor for him/her to help us to the doctor’s perception of what is the best health (for us), or for us to take a taxi (where we go with the trust that they will bring us where we need to go, following the best directions they have based on their navigation apps). If we could do it all on our own, we would not need to seek the help of others, into whose hands we give ourselves. This works similarly with ministry, where it is also common to go to somebody in our tradition for their help to guide us in advancing through our tradition. This assumes that there are people who want to embody this role, though that may be a question for another day.

Yes, I have learned this is not the case when we speak about Pagan Ministry. We may know part of the journey ahead, or aspects of the path, though the ministry–better thought about as spiritual facilitation, support, or advisor–helps us advance in ways that are most comfortable and accessible for our needs. As this involves Pagan practices, which are in various Druidic traditions in my own case, there is less an emphasis on a single, correct path, and more a focus on a single, spiritual path for me right now. This would be even more important if seeking spiritual support and guidance from somebody from another pathway within Paganism itself! In this way, Pagan Ministry would not seek to make a Mini-Me, but rather help me to achieve the spiritual best of me, in whatever way that makes the most sense to me.

Ministering helps people, yet insofar as Pagans engage in the living earth as the source and end of energy and life and spirituality, then so to does ministry need to engage with this broader environment for where, or how, or for whom / what ministry entails. As Pagans are often solitary and eclectic in their practices, to engage in useful and helpful ministry must also encompass an awareness and acceptance of a diversity of meaning-making. If I were engaged in ministry, that means working with people and/or spirits in the earth and world around us.

In this way, ministry does not only involve groves or covens or groups of people, but the very real, spiritual being(s) in and around us. This is the main take away and area for further inquiry that I see coming from this course in Pagan Ministry. As my own understand has broadened, so have those implications and richness in how the experiences can be so much more inclusive than only with people.

As a result, ministry and the spiritual care and support of others has as the most important element–others. One cannot care for nothing, it must be for something . . . yet this something does not have to be limited in human capacity. We can minster to the earth, to the other living and spiritual forces in and around us, and to one another.

Ministry is much richer than I initially suspected, and as a result, I find it broader and more inclusive than simply limiting it to other people, like me. Ministry can be to others, to the Earth, the Spirits of Place, plants, animals, or any who need (spiritual) support.

I really need to consider this in new and expanded ways . . .


This posting is part of my ongoing, shared journaling related to the Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry course I am taking during the summer of 2017 at Cherry Hill Seminary.

You are welcome to join me on this journey!

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Braiding Sweetgrass: Beginnings with Aha! Moments

One of my book discussion groups, the one internal to AODA members (all are welcome to join!!), is reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. Not having heard of it before we started, I was not prepared for how incredibly thoughtful it is, both from a nature spirituality aspect as well as related to its intentionality related to expressing things that have been lost, and continue to be lost, with the active and subtle erosion of indigenous cultures in the continental United States.

Unlike reading most books after the first chapter section (this one being 59 pages long), I am really not sure where or how Kimmerer’s book is developing, so I cannot provide an overview of the book or the meaning I will make of it. However, I am more surprised in the smaller chunks than I ever expected, and find myself gasping at times due to how the author has a way of challenging conventionality through animistic spirituality common in indigenous, native cultures in ways that are surprising, eye-opening, invigorating, and thought-provoking.

I will share four aha! moments I experienced along the way thus far. These are not intended to stand alone and are all within various contexts of the author’s life and meaning-making as she reflects upon her own scientific progress (career) while trying to grok how her indigenous roots present new opportunities for understanding the world around her.

I feel her pain when facing the supposed objective approach contemporary science takes to the study of things, a (post)positive one that allows only for its own ways of making sense of the world to the exclusion of others:

In the old times, our elders say, the trees talked to each other. They’d stand in their own council and craft a plan. But scientists decided long ago that plants were deaf and mute, locked in isolation without communication. The possibility of conversation was summarily dismissed. Science pretends to be purely rational, completely neutral, a system of knowledge- making in which the observation is independent of the observer. And yet the conclusion was drawn that plants cannot communicate because they lack the mechanisms that animals use to speak. The potentials for plants were seen purely through the lens of animal capacity (p. 19).

Who am I to pretend I have the owner’s manual to the earth and how all living things on it live and interact with complex networks?

Likewise, when we start to realize that meaning making and reality can happen in ways beyond my own understanding, not everything can (or should) be owned. Private property is important in many ways, though that often happens within the context of power relations. True, it is often intended in a way to protect individual freedoms, it is helpful to notice that the notion of individual is something that implications far beyond my wanting to keep my stuff for myself.

“These berries belong to me,” she said, “not to you. I don’t want to see you kids eating my berries.” I knew the difference: In the fields behind my house, the berries belongs to themselves. At this lady’s roadside stand, she sold them for sixty cents a quart (p. 25).

When we develop land, we often see it as a commodity to be exploited, rather than a home to many living things, many aspects of an ecosystem that happily lived in harmony of sorts since before humans came and carved up things as mine or yours. Why doesn’t the deer or owl or tree have rights to live in that forest when we determine something more to our liking should be there instead, regardless of the impact of that small, human decision?

It follows, in a logic thrown upside down, that:

The questions scientists raised were not “Who are you?” but “What is it?” No one asked plants “What can you tell us?” The primary question was “How does it work?” The botany I was taught was reductionist, mechanistic, and strictly objective. Plants were reduced to objects; they were no longer subjects. The way botany was conceived and taught didn’t seem to leave much room for a person who thought the way I did. The only way I could make sense of it was to conclude that the things I had always believed about plants must not be true after all (p. 42).

It makes me think that those who own the truth or the ability to name things and their characteristics are defaulted a very great power indeed.

That is the opposite of many indigenous or native traditions, ones that seek to live in networks with the world in a way that some sense of balance was accepted and encouraged.

I remember the words of Bill Tall Bull, a Cheyenne elder. As a young person, I spoke to him with a heavy heart, lamenting that I had no native language with which to speak to the plants and the places that I love. “They love to hear the old language,” he said, “it’s true.” “But,” he said with fingers on his lips, “You don’t have to speak it here.” “If you speak it here,” he said, patting his chest, “They will hear you” (p. 59).

What has happened to our notion of living with, something that descended into a more confrontational pull and take with the world (people, animals, plants, and the natural world itself) around us?

Disorientation

lapisJust when I thought we were going to come to some resolution, at least on some levels, I feel more disoriented than ever.

I try not to get too involved in the political process, though must confess I am shaking my head at the election results. Short of being thankful at least that our new President Trump is not an Evangelical Republican, though overall I am just disoriented having a president who was elected through a constant pounding on those who were somehow different (gender, belief, race, class, ethnicity) without giving much of an indication of what he stood for. Without knowing what he believes or likes, I really cannot have any sense at all in what direction we are going to go.

Then again, is this really different than other areas of our lives, such as with the stock market, employer decisions, and general health and well-being? Nothing is guaranteed, and perhaps it is the permanence in nature (stones with their strength and weight and age resonate with me) that we need to rely on when little else makes sense. Change happens, and we can only manage our own reactions to it.

 

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Make Music New York: Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage

Last Friday evening, Yule itself to be clear, I participated the Make Music New York Pilgrimage performance. This was an informal Early Music performance, led by Kent Tritle, that focused around a walk from the Park Avenue Methodist Church to the Cathedral of St John the Divine, right through Central Park, while singing medieval melodies originally sung along the pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

This involved our singing a repetition of these 8 songs:

From the Cantigas de Santa Maria of Alfonso X El Sabio (1221–1284)
Santa Maria, strela do dia” (100) [pdf]
A Santa Maria dadas” (140) [pdf]
Como poden per sas culpas” (166) [pdf]
Quen a omagen da Virgen” (353) [pdf]

From the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (14th century)
“Mariam, Matrem Virginem, Attolite” [pdf]
“Stella Splendens”
[pdf]
“Laudemus Virginem”
[pdf]
“Splendens Ceptigera”
[pdf]

This in-total 3 hour event began quite nicely, though after losing my place more times than I can count (due in part to the printed music I had was missing the backs or second pages), I finally drifted nearer the back of the walking parade and looked around me at the park in the evening, listening to the haunting melodies. I cannot imagine what it must have been like 800 years ago to walk the hundreds of miles along this pilgrimage route, though listening to the ancient Latin while walking with only personal flashlight through Central Park, I felt taken out of time, repeating an action that must have been done again and again by people for a variety of reasons and under all sorts of situations.

For my reason, I love Early Music. I love chanting it and trying to sing it. I love Central Park. I was captivated by the period of Yule, and what it meant to reach across time and sing these same melodies, walking through Central Park, my park, with a group of others, not a one of whom I knew, all for different reasons. I did feel a sense of peace, looking around me at the natural setting in the park, listening, breathing deeply. That the words in Latin of the songs I sang were of a faith that no longer spoke to me did not matter, it was a sharing an ancient tradition in a new way, looking at something familiar form a new frame of reference. This is what it means to be a Druid today, and there is no better time to realize this than on Yule.

I hope to be able to do this again . . .

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