Andrew asked me:
Thanks for your post on returning to the outdoors [here]… Do you think that contemporary priesthood should be more directly rooted to the outdoors? I think we often consider churches as the ‘house of God,’ but I also think that it would be more apt to say the whole planet is the house of God.
This is a good question.
Just to clear the air, I’m not Christian. From the way you phrase your question, with an emphasis capital-G God, I have to assume you’re coming from an Abrahamic background.
I’m a polytheist. We believe there are many faces of the divine—in other words, many deities. These deities did not create the universe nor do they rule over it. They live in it, just like you and me. They are the personalities of forces of nature (the wind, the sea, the sun, love, etc.). Relating to them is not necessary; they are not jealous gods. They were here long before us and they often watch us in silence. But if we choose to listen, we can hear them whisper their guidance.
I’m starting with that because it colors everything I believe about the role of religion and priesthood. Ultimately, priests are people who spend a lot of time building a close relationship with these beings. We learn about them and, hopefully, how to be like them.
For me, it’s easiest to find them in nature. But this isn’t true for everyone. All the natural forces are present in our cities and suburbs. Ultimately, we carry the gods inside ourselves, so we can hear them anywhere there is silence.
In my particular tradition, ceremonies are often held outdoors. Offerings are put outside. We sing to the sun when she rises and the moon when she first peeks out. There is poetry for the sea and the stars. Relating to nature is a powerful practice.
But I don’t think more outdoors time will improve a priesthood. A priest needs to serve a community. More than that, a priest needs to serve individuals, helping them discover their inner selves and pursue lives they’ll find meaningful.
To that end, I think the way to improve any ministry or priesthood is:
- Don’t try to convert anyone or sell them on a doctrine. Doctrine isn’t as important as practice.
- Teach practices that anyone can do and that create healthy changes over time. This includes things like meditation, contemplation and exercise.
- Adapt to new ideas, new technology, and science—even when it conflicts with old beliefs.
- Refuse to give empty reassurance. Most people go to their church or temple and receive a message that everything will be okay in the end. Then they go home and make no changes in their life, even if they’re unhappy.
- Instead, show people how to make positive changes, especially when it’s hard and frightening to do so.
I haven’t succeeded at all of this as a priest. I did teach many people to meditate, and helped a smaller number of people find themselves and their purpose in life. But I also found that it’s very, very hard to get people to make changes in their lives. There’s a lot of fear there.
I think that spending time in the wilderness is ultimately for a priest’s own enlightenment and well-being. The question is: when they learn whatever they’re going to learn from that, what are they bringing back to people who live a normal life? That’s what a priest needs to answer. We need to come out of retreat and get our hands in the soil.
Have a question? Ask me anything.
Lúnasa Days is about leaving home, taking a risk, and believing in magic.
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