June 21, 2014 by lucieromarin
Today is the Winter Solstice, and the pagans are out doing their thing. Last week, trad Catholics observed the Ember Days – those three days at the turn of every season, in which we accrue the particular graces necessary for the coming three months. I can’t speak for other people here, but I can say for myself that once I started observing the Ember Days, the change of seasons took on a new meaning; I became more aware of the drop or the rise in temperature, the lengthening light or shadows, and it felt good to pray and fast in union with them.
Someone has written a book entitled ‘The Agricultural Basis of the Liturgy,’ which sounds very dry, but does, in fact, remind us of something important, which is that some awareness of- or connectedness-to nature is not the sole prerogative of witches and primitive tribal religions, and we can make our experience of our faith better for ourselves by recovering some of those practices which were almost lost.
The same goes for the rituals of our faith, and for our sacramentals. I used to belong to a group online for women who veil; it numbered Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and pagans amongst its members. The pagans were, of course, the only group entirely made up of converts, and it was interesting to see (in a tragic kind of way!) how many of the former-Catholic pagans had been led to their religion by a hunger for ritual, of which they had been starved in the 1980s parishes of their childhoods. It’s true that some of them were angry people who Hated Patriarchy, but many were not, and their memories of childhood religious experience were not memories of bad men, but of bad music. It reminded me of ‘A Cave in the Snow,’ the biography of the first Westerner to become a Buddhist nun, in which she remarked that many, like her, were really looking for medieval Western monasticism, and, finding that the post-Vatican II Catholic Church had given it away, they turned to Buddhism instead.
In other words, while paganism as such – being one of the fastest possible ways to get yourself possessed – is a bad idea, the instinct for ritual, and for the ritual use of natural things, is perfectly normal, and someone somewhere ought to be paying attention to what happens when you deprive people of it. Dispensing with blessed oils, salts, herbs, dispensing with the Epiphany blessing of water, gold, chalk and myrrh, the Easter blessing of butter and eggs, or the Assumption blessings of spices and fruit, does not draw Bible-only Christians into the Church; it drives other Christians out of it, in search of a faith that meets the need for body and soul to unite in worship.
Now that I’m talking about paganism, I thought I’d share an odd development in my burnout-recovery spirituality, even though this development is at present inexplicable to me. It is this: obviously, part of recovery from burnout involves a certain reduction of religious activity, whether that’s in a degree of intensity, or hours, or number of projects. This can be difficult at first, because you can’t help wondering if reducing the number of hours you spend At Stuff or Doing Stuff or Serving Stuff is the first step on a slippery slope towards total apostasy and immorality. Well, I’ve noticed that, even though my regime is more fluid than it once was and my disciplines are more relaxed, I’ve become far less comfortable with flippant references to God or casual references to witchcraft or paganism. For example, in my much stricter life I might, say, have joked to a friend who got up early only to have her train cancelled, “See, that was God telling you that you should have stayed home!” Or, getting warm and cosy by a fire, I might have said, “I must have been a cat in a past life,” or joked that my sacramentals appealed to ‘my inner witch.’
These days, I find myself unable to make these jokes or remarks so easily. In other words, a decrease in activity seems to have produced an increase in… well, I don’t what you call it, other than a sense of the holiness of the name of God and the gravity of opposing Him. Truly, who knew that that would happen?