Archive for the ‘Christian Animism’ Category

Druid & Christian: Whole, Healthy, Holy   2 comments

Beside various books, conferences, retreats and training programs on the subject, the ongoing Druidry and Christianity conversation has a number of other outlets, among them Forest Church and some Facebook groups. On one of the latter which I co-admin with a Christian-Druid friend, we’re polling members for the topic of our next Zoom meeting. The current favorite is “Blending Earth Spirituality and Christianity”.


We can find many paths inward to such meeting-places, but we might begin with Shawn Sanford Beck’s observation (in his 2015 Christian Animism) that “To say that a Christian can, and should, cultivate a relationship with the spirits of nature, the spirits of the land, is something new. What was natural and somewhat unconscious up until the end of the medieval period now requires consciousness and intentionality”.

That time-line is significant. If such relationship seems foreign or alien to Christianity today, it’s perhaps more a measure of our often severe disconnect from the natural world rather than any heretical bias or heterodox belief. One has only to read the Biblical Psalms with their ecstatic delight in the natural world to begin to recapture what was once a human birthright. “Earth’s crammed with heaven”, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning exclaims in Aurora Leigh, “And every common bush afire with God,/But only he who sees takes off his shoes …” The difficult and awkward questions arise: Do I even want to see any more? And if I did, would I instinctively know to take off my shoes?

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Note that Beck’s and Browning’s exclamations aren’t set forth as any kind of doctrine, but as celebrations of something self-evident. Spend time in nature, these guides say to us, and you will know these things, too. And so Beck notes further that if we read saints’ lives and consider their remarkable interactions with birds, snakes, and other beasts, “The ability of the saints to cultivate such interesting relationships with animals was seen to be a sign of their growing sanctity.” What is holy is whole and healthy — the Old English forebears of these words form a network of related terms*.

*hál: hale, healthy, whole, sound, without fraud (links here and following are to entries in Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary online). (Note common Old English greeting wes hál be well, be healthy, hail!)
hálig: holy; a saint (in the forms se hálga/ seo hálge).
hálig-dæg: holy day; holiday.
hálgian: hallow, sanctify, make holy, consecrate.
hǽlþ: health; wholeness, healing, cure.
hǽlan: heal, make whole, cure, save.
hǽlend: a healer, savior; Jesus.

We begin to re-approach such “Garden relationships” with a world of non-human others, you might say, using the metaphor from Genesis, when we re-attune to the world all around us. God brings the animals to Adam “to see what he would call them” (Gen. 2:9). Have we forgotten who and what we named, and how we once could distinguish and recognize each one? Do we have “eyes to see and ears to hear”, as Jesus asked?

These senses matter, because “this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:15). The healing and wholeness we desire are conditional — they depend on us. They can’t reach me, on offer as they still are, until I open to them.

So a major first step is to put myself into connection. Of course, that step and that action are not merely one-sided, from me. Bugs, birds, plants and beasts also keep trying to connect, though we often ignore them. Druid and blogger Dana Driscoll has a marvelously wise post on encountering the teachings of Poison Ivy.

In the same post, Dana addresses what the wholeness-that-is-healing consists of:

Sometimes, as druids and as nature-oriented people, we focus only on the fuzzy and happy parts of nature: blooming edible flowers, fuzzy soft rabbits, cute animals, soft mats of green moss, and shy deer. But nature isn’t just about things that are comfortable to us and that bring us joy and peace — nature is also about survival of the fittest, about defenses and predators, about huge storms, floods and destruction. I think its important that we learn about all aspects of nature, even those that don’t always make us comfortable. Part of this is because nature is a reflection of ourselves — we have our dark parts, the parts we wish we could avoid or forget. And understanding these many pieces of nature, I believe, helps us better understand the complex mosaic that makes up any human being. But another part of this has to do with honoring nature — without connecting with the many pieces of nature, we are in danger of misunderstanding her, of not seeing the whole, and not having a whole relationship with her.

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Insourcing Our Spirituality 1: “Jesus Christ is My Chief Druid”

As a practitioner of what the following podcast calls “blended spirituality”, I was particularly interested in Tapestry’s recent conversation with Rev. Shawn Beck.

You can find the entire podcast (38′) here, along with some print excerpts of the interview.

As an OBOD Druid and an ordained priest in the Anglican Church in Canada, Beck faces a range of reactions when people learn of his practices.

“Well, that’s sorta neat, but actually you can’t do that” go some of the responses, both Christian and Pagan.

“In fact, I’ve been practicing it for a while, and I can”.

Our human liking for boundaries shows clearly here.

Beck book“What I find so interesting is that you’re not dabbling … you’re committed to both traditions”, says interviewer Mary Heinz.

One of the occasions for the interview is the publication of Beck’s book Christian Animism, which promptly goes onto my reading list.

Beck remarks, “I do identify myself as primarily Christian — heavily influenced and really spiritually transformed by Neo-Paganism”.

Asked how these two paths impact his daily practice, he notes that bringing in the feminine divine, and the value of nature as sacred, touches both his daily prayer life and public ritual.

“If I give a blessing, I may say … ‘one God, creator and mother of us all'”, says Beck. For him, the blending of paths augments language and practice, expanding them and their sensibilities.

“What do your superiors in the Anglican Church have to say to you when they weigh in?” queries Heinz.

Besides keeping his bishop apprised of his work and thought (and his blog*), Beck notes, “As a priest, I need to be sensitive to what’s actually going to be helpful to the people that I’m with”. Whether it’s skipping a Starhawk reference with those who might find it frightening, or — in the other direction — “gently giving permission to people to explore that part if it’s helpful …”, Beck uses discrimination and experience to guide his priestly work.

Though he doesn’t currently serve a parish, he is responsible for the training of other Anglican priests — such is the continued confidence his superiors repose in him.

Converted to Christianity in his teens, while also exploring Eastern religions through reading, Beck observes that many of his teen peers at the time belonged to a Fundamentalist church. Even then, he learned and practiced discretion. “And so if I wanted to talk about not just Jesus but also some of these other things that I was reading and exploring, I would always know that the emotional tension in that room or in that relationship would get sky-high”.

“How much of this journey can I share with others?” is therefore one guiding question for him, as for so many of us.

“Alive — magical — responsive”: this is some of the language Beck uses of his Pagan practice that catches the interest of the interviewer.

“For the last five years, I’ve been blessed to live on a lake, on a farm, off the grid”, Beck replies (11:45). “In Saskatchewan … No running water … I run and get the water … It’s a life embedded within nature”.

What does that permit him? “Part of it for me is being attentive to presences within nature”. As a Christian animist, he says, “the world is filled with a myriad of neighbors … So it’s about recognizing that that tree that I’ve been praying beside is alive and conscious and praying with me … It’s not just a vague sense of spirit, but that the universe is comprised of persons, and these persons are my neighbors”.

“Christians when they see a person addressing a non-human person in any way, they assume that it’s worship”, Beck says.

“I ask things of my human neighbors all the time, and they ask things of me all the time. And we don’t call that praying to each other. We just call it talking to each other”.

For a decade his family has been hosting talking circles. Among the directions of these sharing opportunities, people answer the question, “Where have you found Sophia in your life this past moon? Lady Wisdom — where has she been at work in your life?”

These are some of the highlights from the first half of the interview — I hope you find it worth listening to the whole.

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*Beck’s most recent blogpost as of this writing is from March 9th: “A ChristoPagan view of magic and prayer”.

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