4: Druid and Christian — The Holy   Leave a comment

[Part 1|2|3|4|5]

“You can’t just draw a circle, step inside, and say it’s sacred. You just can’t!” said an acquaintance this last weekend.

In fact, you can.

“I can call spirits from the vasty deep”, says Glendower in Henry IV, Part 1 (Act III, sc. i).
“Why, so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?” responds Hotspur.

It’s a valid question.

We say “it’s sacred” the same way we say we love. It’s wishful thinking, or it’s meant to seduce, or it spills over from a heart already overflowing. Or a hundred other things. And we can usually tell the difference, being the fine-tuned crap detectors that millennia of gossip sessions rubbing shoulders with the neighbors have made us.  If not, give it time. And as Zora Neale Hurston quipped (about love), “Everybody can do enough to satisfy themselves, though it may not impress the neighbors as being very much” (Dust Tracks on a Road, pg. 203). The same holds true for ritual.

Access to the sacred is the big-ticket item, and if you’re at all insecure about your own access, you’re more likely to try tearing down the competition.

But rather than argue from a position of dogma, if I really want to know rather than simply score cheap points, I need to join the circle numerous times, attend mass the same number of times and then — maybe — I might be able to compare notes. Adjust as needed to fit the two practices I’m intent on assessing. And most important of all, deserving of seeming to be tacked on at the end here, because I’m saving the best for last: I need to bring equivalent reverent attention and curiosity to each rite. Otherwise, why bother?

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So we begin our rite together, Druid and Christian, Christian and Druid:

Now ask the beasts, and let them teach you,
and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
Speak to the earth, and let it teach you,
and let the fish of the sea declare to you. [Job 12:7-8]

We call to the great bear in the starry heavens, power of the north …
We call to the hawk of dawn soaring in the clear pure air, power of the East …
We call to the great stag in the heat of the chase, power of the south…
We call to the salmon dwelling in the sacred pool, power of the west …
[OBOD ritual, adapted]

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More than anyone else in recent decades, Isaac Bonewits looked at ways to improve liturgy. Yes, we can connect with spirit, with the holy, in any number of ways, and on our own. But when we do so publicly, communally, we usually do it in ritual. How can our rituals be good? And then, how can they be better?

You can find four excerpts from his book Rites of Worship on his website. In
Dramatic Tension, Humor, Play and Pacing in Liturgy“, he examines links between theater and ritual, noting

Pacing is something that anyone familiar with the theater will tell you is absolutely crucial to the success of a performance … The only way to learn pacing is to experiment a lot with modular design and to rehearse the people in your group to find their skills and limits. A five-minute guided meditation may be too long for some groups, too short for others. Taking thirty seconds to bless each person in turn is fine if you only have a small group, but can be a disaster with a large one. A chant that naturally builds to a peak in three minutes should not be dragged out for ten. Many problems with pacing are solvable by artistic means, especially musical …

We may think one rite’s sacred and another isn’t, in other words, when what’s really going on is the holiness is leaking out of a rite through inattention to theater. It was, after all, a burning bush and not a burning blade of grass that God used to catch Moses’ attention.

For private rites, I ponder Jesus’s counsel:

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing … on the street corners, so people can see them. Truly I tell you, they already have their reward. But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray …

Private circle, inner room: we set apart sacred space in order to perform a (second) sacred act, just as much as we perform a sacred act in order to set apart sacred space.

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