I was ruminating on various ways to respond—angry tirades, insightful analyses, heartfelt pleas for understanding and tolerance…none of which would have amounted to more than spitting into the wind—when I came across a quote from Wendell Berry’s essay, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation.” He said it all much better than I ever could. And Cat, in her comments over at Quaker Quaker, has been doing a good job of making the point that not all non-Christians are wounded refugees from Christianity; some of us just happened to grow up elsewhere. So I’ve stayed out of the discussion on QQ, and having stepped back a little—closed my eyes and counted to ten, as it were—I can see that it’s not my job to fix this problem.
Words fail here, because it’s so easy—so obvious—for so many people to answer immediately, Jihad against the infidels! Crusade against the heathen!
Words fail…so what stands in their place? The Divine steps in, and, whoo boy, the second you say it the words betray you again. God acts in this world. Like, all that happens is God’s will, from the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (to glorify My Name) to the holocaust (insert lame rationalization here) to September 11th (to restore America’s pride and military resolve). It’s enough to turn anyone into an atheist, clinging to cynical rationalism as the one stable island in a raging sea of delusion and horror.
But God does step in. The overwhelming majority of the world’s religious people seem to deny it, fear it, run from the room covering their ears and shouting La-la-la-la-la! I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting! I’m not listening! Amen!
But God does step in. Look at the history of Wicca. The Neopagan movement has matured—not just grown explosively, but matured—over the past half century. Each generation has become more grounded, more spiritual, more in touch with the Divine and more aware of their place in the web of life and in the human community. And the clearest explanation for that is that the Gods have acted within the corporate body of Paganism much the same way they’ve touched my own individual life, and Cat’s and my life together. That which is divine in the Old Gods of the Craft calls to our highest inner nature—deep calling unto deep—and we have grown. Too many self-identified Christians simply can’t or won’t see it. But they don’t need to see it for it to still be true, and perhaps I don’t need them to see it before I can have meaningful and productive spiritual dialogue with them. Perhaps not…but that’s not the important question. The important question is, what does the Divine within my Gods—within the Light—what does that Divine Reality lead me towards in my own spiritual life?
I say What is God’s will for me? and I hear crazy street preachers spit the words of St. Paul at me as if they were curses (and in their mouths, the words of salvation are curses) and now it’s me that has to cover my ears and go La-la-la-la-la I’m not listening. I have to constantly tune out the batshit crazy Christians in order to be able to hear—not God—but words about God that sound anything like their lurid threats of apocalypse and Hellfire.
Where do we turn when words fail us? I’ll close with two quotes from people who’ve tried to answer that. And I’m going to try to remember to take my own advice.
Thou asks further whether the name of Christ may be known to all the world by the Light within them, without Scripture or tradition? I say, yea, and by nothing else without it, for the name of Christ consists not of letters and syllables, but in righteousness, mercy and judgment, &c., which name none can know but by the Light of the World, though many of you read your Bibles who are the greatest enemies to his name, such is your knowledge as appears by your practice.
THE SILENCEThough the air is full of singingmy head is loudwith the labor of words.
Though the season is richwith fruit, my tonguehungers for the sweet of speech.
Though the beech is goldenI cannot stand beside itmute, but must say
“It is golden,” while the leavesstir and fall with a soundthat is not a name.
It is in the silencethat my hope is, and my aim.A song whose lines
I cannot make or singsounds men’s silencelike a root. Let me say
and not mourn: the worldlives in the death of speechand sings there.