Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Re-Membering Theology: Part I

The Pagan blogosphere is abuzz with Deo's and Mandy's recent announcement that they've outgrown Paganism.

I had originally begun this post in response to Johnson's and diZerega's book, Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, which has brought my journey through Christianity into Druidry in a new and intriguing light. But over the course of the week, this once short little musing has sprawled and grown, shaped in part by the sudden conversation blooming online about spiritual identities and how we choose them. So as not to miss the boat (or perhaps I should say, in order to catch the wave before it peaks and I get left doggie-paddling my ideas back to shore), I've decided to break this post up into parts and begin posting them now, even though I have not yet finished writing. (Hopefully this will lighten the burden on readers, too, who may not want to read a novel-length dissertation on personal theology!)

Without further ado (or aoda, or obod), here is:

Part I: Story & Reflex

A friend of mine recently mused that theology, unlike philosophy, couldn't ever "get to the real truth," because it always had a few assumptions it simply couldn't question. Of course, philosophical traditions have their biases and assumptions as well, and postmodern philosophy even holds that there is no singular Truth-capital-T to get to in the first place. Still, there is a kind of indistinct line that we cross, from philosophy into theology, from rational ideas about the world to spiritual beliefs about it. Theologies hang together like good stories, if they hang together at all. I think one reason why I'm so fascinated by the study of comparative religions is that each tradition has its own unique internal consistency, each has its particular poetry that weaves through the basic beliefs about how the world is and who we are, and draws those beliefs together into a compelling, inspiring story.

The more I study and the older I get, the more I wonder if some beliefs we hold almost like a reflex, these ideas that somehow get into our heads and stay there, make a home, make sense. Reincarnation, for instance, was one of those beliefs for me. I can't remember a time before I believed in reincarnation, though I can remember a time when I willfully disbelieved in it because it "wasn't Christian." For some reason, the idea of cycles of birth, death and rebirth made intuitive sense when I looked at the world and all its wide, sweeping patterns. I felt older than I was, connected to something in the past, with the possibility of living on in the world, not in some dull heaven, after I died. Where did I first hear the belief that might explain these inborn sensations? It could've been anywhere. Why did it stick? I couldn't say exactly.

Growing up Catholic, I held a panentheistic understanding of the Divine, a God that was ever-present and essential to the very fabric of existence, and yet transcended what we were able to experience of the world. (I still remember the Sunday school class when our teacher held up the word "N-O-W-H-E-R-E" written boldly on a piece of paper and pointed out how God was both "no-where" and "now-here"... it left a powerful impression on my six-year-old mind.) I could not imagine anything that was not an aspect of this Divine Creator, and I felt that creation was not something over and done with, but an on-going, interactive, creative process: the Dancer dancing the Dance, to borrow from Yeats. All of these beliefs remain essential to my spiritual life even today, shaping my Druidic understanding of our souls' songs and the swelling, transcending harmony of which we're each a part. And yet it was only when I began to study theology formally in college that I confronted seriously for the first time the "problem of Christ."

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