Final Paper Submitted for Pagan Ministry Course

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Hurray; the paper for the summer course I took is now done and submitted! As I recently recounted, this course expanded some of my thinking and boundaries, and I am happy to report it is now complete!

The paper was ultimately called Pagan Ministry and Service to the Earth: An Actor-Network Explication of Ministering to the Spiritual Agency of Nature. It continues an idea I have been exploring, namely ways of thinking about Paganism from an actor-network theory perspective.

I have written many papers in my day (one that continues, thankfully!), though this is the first one in some time I can recall looking forward to the feedback from the professor. You see, I hope to expand upon this and submit it for a couple conferences / publications, so am actually looking forward to critically-helpful feedback this time.

Hope to eventually share it!

BTW, in case you may be wondering, I am using a fresco of St. Francis of Assisi (one who has distinct Pagan tendencies, to be sure!) as his sermon to the birds is about as Pagan as one can get. Hey, who doesn’t talk to birds?! It is along the lines of actor-network theory when we consider how our speaking to them is only one part of a very complex set of network experiences. With so many people looking forward to the Eclipse tomorrow, it is easier to envision how non-human agency moves us to act across networks. When this happens in a way that influences our spiritual response? Now THAT is approaching the area of inquiry in my paper!


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!

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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The Notion of Spiritual Caring

I cannot think about the notion of Caring, one of the elements of Pagan Ministry as articulated in Shanddaramon’s The Five Rings, without thinking of the support and care that Theo provided for his brother, Vincent, during their lives. I have loved the work of Van Gogh for many years, but generally was not aware of the powerful relationship between he and his brother. It was in part to this relationship that I wanted to visit their grave, and took this photo recently while in the cemetery in Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent Van Gogh, and his brother, Theo, were buried next to one another.

I do not have any evidence that Vincent and Theo had a spiritual connection to one another in a religious notion, though it was clear their profound connection was indeed spiritual in many ways.

Thinking about this from a more academic perspective, offering support for those who engage in earth-based religious or spiritual practices may be something anybody of good will can offer to others. However, it takes more effort than just being kind, and if somebody is doing this as the result of feeling some internal or external notion of calling to provide ministry, it requires a deep sense of spiritual practice, inner strength, and honesty, upon which acceptance, respect, empathy, patience, and trust (Shanddaramon, p. 29) can be built and embraced.

Vincent did this with paint and color and light and texture, though many of us do this with words and time spent with another. As the author went on to mention (p. 34):

People want to tell the truth about themselves; they want to tell their own story – especially to someone that is open and caring enough to listen.

I will go one step further — the attribute of spiritual caring also involves helping others articulate their own stories, as without a single sacred book, set of standard beliefs, or credo of “approved” or expected beliefs / practices, it can be disorienting to even make sense of our own stories without the help of others. It can be hard to make sense of any beliefs that may not be mainstream or fit into clear boxes that others may create.

This can come about through a process of Sacred Listening, where the person engaging in a spiritual care (ministry) actively listens to and helps the person seeking spiritual support to articulate his or her own story, one that is accepted and affirmed as a powerful step in empowerment and self-affirmation. Doing this without judging or rolling one’s eyes or giving direction as to how one should be feeling or doing is the trick. To be fair, this is not meant in a fuzzy or wishy-washy way, but more about helping one to accept and make sense of one’s beliefs, especially when those may not be widespread, accepted, or even recognized.

While not intentionally done as an aspect of spiritual ministry, imagine what loss we would have if Theo did not do this for Vincent?


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!

Thinking of Pagan Ministry in France

I have taken a couple days off from just about everything by spending time in Paris and Provence seeing sites, visiting historic locations, imbibing Van Gogh historical locations, and just experiencing a glimpse of what it can mean to be French (insofar as that is even possible to consider for a New Yorker whose French is rusty and clunky at best).

While I have scoured Paris for a taste of Paganism (with varying amounts of luck, mind you), I find myself in an odd situation of being surrounded by religious institutions that have been secularized in such as way that I am no longer sure what is Catholic, what is Christian, what is historical, what is current, what is secular, and what is a mixture of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Is is a very secular nation whose art and culture is decidedly religious.

In other words, France is more complicated than it seems on the surface, which is another way of saying that clear lines and levels of distinction exist in the minds of people, if not in the formal presentation of society. Case in point — while visiting Rêves d’Acier, a fantastic Medieval arms and clothing store where the staff were more than helpful and I walked away with two bags of items! — I asked about Pagans in Paris, and was told there really was not much. When pushing a bit more about Druids, I was told that there are some who call themselves Druids (in French, Druides), though they are only deceiving themselves, for surely none of those Celts who died out over a thousand years ago across northern France exist any longer. Period.

Huh?

Since when do Druids have to only be those historical people way back in time? That is like saying that Catholics are only those who held vast sums of money and participated in the Inquisition and Crusades.

Hmm, good point. It may be tempting to group all people A as those who do B, but that is an oversimplification. We don’t fairly say that about all people who are Jewish, black, women, immigrants, Republican, abortion-rights supporters, LGBT, or any other group, so why about Pagans?

I have heard it said that Christians are only interested in social justice when they are not in power, otherwise they are interested in converting all dissenters. Undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction to some experiences in some peoples’ lives, but that does not lesson the power of those forces that influence our learning and our becoming who we are today. Personal beliefs do not just appear, they come about through work and efforts and experiences and reflection, among countless other factors.

If we learn that certain things are this or that, right or wrong, true or false, or any other way in a world filled with binaries, it is relatively easy to dismiss those who are different (from us).

Indeed, when visiting the asylum where Vincent Van Gogh institutionalized himself, Saint Paul de Mausole in Saint-Remy de Provence, I was struck by how readily we move about our lives even when not understood, or at times accepted by those around us. I had a couple silent moments to consider this from the room where Van Gogh stayed (see my photo of looking out his barred window, above), I could not help but think that Van Gogh suffered in part as nobody really understood how he saw color and light and texture, and while he may not have been able to express his genius, it only furthered the suffering he felt at not being understood.

After all, he was not understood at the time.

How often do we feel this way?

Can Pagans be very different today, in that it is hard at times to talk about these spiritual experiences as many do not understand the words or the intentions. How many times do I hear (or even have to say), “It is like Christianity, but instead of X it does [thinks, practices, celebrates] Y.”

How wonderful it is when I finally started to read something that captures what I have been experiencing, but have nonetheless been unable to put into words? I am thinking now about the book The Five Rings, by Shanddaramon, that I am reading for my Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry course at Cherry Hill Seminary. Next step on this journey is to process the section on Caring, which is the spiritual advising that Pagan ministers can offer those who spiritually need support. We will be talking about this in class tonight, so looking forward to my own better understanding it so as to share some of it here.


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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Starting to Read: The Five Rings

I am starting another book for my Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry course at Cherry Hill Seminary, this one entitled The Five Rings by Shanddaramon.

This text addresses some of the issues I have been wondering about, namely what is Pagan ministry and to what extent does it meet some of the needs of my former notions of ministry in the Catholic tradition, of which I am more familiar.

The author first defines Paganism, and like many scholars in Pagan Studies, seeks to keep the definition open-ended and simple, though most people involved in Modern Paganism know few things about it are really simple. He then gets to the heart of the book, by addressing his conception of a Pagan Minister (p. 15):

A Pagan Minister, then, works to help fellow Pagans and others who are in need of spiritual, physical, mental, or emotional assistance in their lives. There are many specific ways in which a minister can provide this kind of help. He or she can be a counselor, a listener, an advisor, a spiritual guide, a leader of specialized rituals such as funerals and Handfastings. The Pagan Minister offers blessings and consolations; is a teacher, a mentor, a retreat leader, or a role model. Specifically, a Pagan minister seeks to aid people using an earth-centered theology.

It appears he will develop the five elements of Pagan Ministry–Caring, Sharing, Declaring, Preparing, and Repairing–through the remainder of the text. While the requirements of being a minister involve a calling, personal strength, training, and ordination (all of which are addressed in many ways at Cherry Hill Seminary), it is the notion of calling I find most intriguing.

As a former Catholic, the notion of calling always meant a felt sense of an external deity inviting or nudging one to serve in a ministry (or priesthood, something which is somewhat different from how it can be understood in ministering to others, that and being limited to men, too!!). Pagans and their relations to nature and the sacred and any gods or goddesses are so different from one another, though this is not an issue in Shanddaramon’s perspective, as he means “an inner calling–a deep yearning of the soul that asks you to do more with your life than focus on your own needs” (p. 19), especially in the service of others and community. I like this notion, as it allows for a certain individuality which embraces the experiences of the individual in relation to the wider world.

I think I like the simplicity of this text already, and while I wish it had more references to other sources for some of these ideas (the academic in me), I do find it useful in how it has been articulating its approach.