Beauty, Wicca and Christianity

We welcome guest speaker, Patricia Little, to our virtual pulpit this Sunday. Patty is a fairly new member of our congregation and a professor of sociology at CSUSB. Patty will share her spiritual journey which includes both Christian and Wiccan faith traditions and how these two traditions bring meaning to the Spring Equinox.

When Jill started her sermon series on this topic, she asked us to open ourselves up to be beguiled by the beauty of nature.

Some of us took walks, took photos, took hikes, spent time in the outdoors, listening to birdsongs, noticing our fellow travelers, the lizards, the squirrels, hearing the calls of coyotes in the hills…

Some of us saw the beauty in the living beings with whom we share our homes, our family members, our pets.

Today is Spring Equinox, a day when the hours of darkness are equal to the hours of light. I would suggest that we open ourselves to be beguiled by the beauty of the sacred patterns of nature. Light and darkness increase and decrease in regular patterns throughout the year, the seasons change in their times following their patterns. Spring is now here, and we are seeing our fruit trees bloom, our bulbs burst into blossom, new leaves and the color green everywhere, everywhere. This is a truly beautiful time of year.

And our own lives have their seasons, of childlike wonder, youth and vigor, active caring, and quieter, gentler wisdom. There is beauty in each of these seasons. We are made in the image of Holy Wisdom, of the Divine Beloved, and this is who we are.

As I thought about this moment of balance in the pattern of nature, I thought about these cycles, the changing seasons, the changing times of our lives, and even the cycle of our breath. Think about your breath for a moment. Breathe in, breathe out….Breathe in, breathe out….And notice that moment between the in-breath and the out-breath, that little pause…. For me, that pause between the out-breath of winter, of darkness, of hard times with Covid, of sorrow and sadness over loved ones lost, we are finishing our out-breath and today we take that little pause before we begin the in breath, welcoming Spring, welcoming vibrancy, welcoming a new freedom in our movements as we as a world begin to recover from the pandemic. We are closer and closer to Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Christ, with all the pre-Christian symbols of new life, decorated eggs, bunnies, ducklings, baby chicks accompanying our celebrations.

In my own life, I have learned to see the seasons of my life, the mistakes, the accomplishments, the joys of love, children, grandchildren as part of these changing patterns. All the moments are holy, because Divine Love has been with me through it all.

There is a theorist who has developed a system of understanding spiritual development, named James Fowler. He felt that, just as we can track children’s cognitive development and moral development through various stages, we can also understand our spiritual journeys as a developmental process. Understanding the stages was really helpful to me in learning to accept my ups and downs and apparent zig-zagging through my spiritual development.

The first few stages Fowler describes apply to little children, whose experiences of love and trust in the world through the adults who love them lead them to an openness to spirituality. They then experience more spirituality through their developing imaginations and through stories. By the time we get to Fowler’s stage 3, we are older, but in what development psychologists would call formal operations at the cognitive level.

I started my own spiritual journey in a fundamentalist tradition where my worth as a woman was tied to my submission to my husband and my ability to raise godly children. I have to say, I really tried hard at this! My husband was an elder in our church. I rose at dawn every day to pray and read the Bible. I could usually get at least an hour in before everyone else got up. And Divine Love, Holy Wisdom, was with me during those times, revealing my worth to me, even when my outer world tied my worth to how well I was doing with creating a home that was in order and conforming to the standards of the church. I remember one incredible day when I really “got it” that God loved ME. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope….” This was all safely contained within the framework of the religious path I was on. James Fowler would have said that I was at Stage 3, a time of conformity and finding my identity with my group.

I might have been content with all this, but my journey included some traumatic times of domestic abuse that Divine Love helped me see as a prompting to make radical life changes. My story is long and has twists and turns, patterns of darkness and light, but here, toward the last part of my journey, at retirement, I can give you a brief summary so far.

I questioned the church, although I didn’t want to really question the Divine Love that was revealed to me in those many hours of quiet contemplation. I realized I believed and had experienced a love greater than myself, greater than the love of other people, and that this is what was in my core and what I needed to seek.

I began seeing that Jesus would advocate for social justice, that poverty, stigma, racism, homophobia, and war-making were the opposite of what He would have wanted. I rejected fundamentalism, but not Christianity. But then I began to see how Christianity, indeed all the major religions, had imbedded within them patriarchy. I even wrote my dissertation on how women within Christianity resolved their dissonance between their spiritual worth and the demands of the fundamentalist/evangelical church for their submission to their husbands. James Fowler would have said that I was at Stage 4 of his developmental system, the questioning phase.  People in this phase not only question their faith, but they also de-mythologize the symbols that used to mean so much. I was critical of my former experience in Christianity, for sure.  As part of this questioning, I read feminist theologians, like Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Mary Daly, Judith Plaskow, and Carol Christ. Jesus was actually a feminist, I decided. I began to teach a class at CSUSB, called Women and Religion. I asked the students to evaluate particular religions in terms of their advocacy for or empowerment of women. Very few religions passed this test. One of them was Wicca.

I had friends who were involved in this practice, and I happily joined. I began priestess training, completing 2 years of a 3-year course, even teaching a course within the organization for other priestesses-in-training. I had plans to be ordained. And I thought, this is righting lopsided pattern. After so many years of patriarchy, my spiritual life will be focused on the centrality of women to all that is beautiful.

This was a powerful time of healing in my spirit, affirming that being a woman is a GOOD thing, is NOT a second-class status. My identity as a feminist witch felt solid and secure, although I missed parts of Christianity. I especially missed the singing. I would tell my friends that I had no problem with Jesus at all; I just didn’t like what some of His followers did. But Wicca allowed me to write and participate in beautiful rituals with chanting, drumming, poetry, deep awareness of nature and the cycles of the moon. We marked together each phase of the moon, each season’s change. Spring Equinox in Wicca is a joyful time, celebrating the Goddess in her Maiden form, the newness of life and burgeoning fertility. We met outside, had bonfires, did the Spiral Dance, and walked labyrinths as part of our spiritual development.

But these patterns, these divinely inspired events… wife and I had to take custody of her three grandchildren, which put the priestess training on a permanent hold. We withdrew from many of our previous friends, because their personal patterns did not include spending lots of time with children whose histories included trauma, and whose behaviors needed lots of support.

So the pattern changed again, to a small circle of wonderful, supportive friends, both in and out of various spiritual traditions. There were few formal rituals, usually ones we created for ourselves, and much of our time was spent working, tending to young children, and just trying to survive. This time of isolation from a spiritual community was rich in learning, but we missed the connections that a larger group can provide. I began telling my wife that I needed to join a progressive Christian church so that I could sing with people again.

And again, the patterns are what they are, and the Divine Beloved is there with us throughout.  Now our children and the grandchildren we raised together are all grown up, we are retired, and we were led to join this wonderful church, where the representation of the Divine is never rigidly gendered. We have that sense of balance and inclusion of who we are. 

This part of the story might be entitled “Why the Witch Came Back to Church.”

This last year, the pattern has been to stay home, to stay quiet, to stay safe. And through these times in all of our lives, Holy Wisdom has been with us, teaching us, supporting us. James Fowler would say that our return to a Christian church would represent an expression of his 5th stage, where people re-mythologize the symbols that previously meant so much, to be able to express an expanded vision of what they mean now. I like this; that feels right. In his system, few people reach Stage 6, but I am happy to be on this quest with you all as we continue our journeys together.

We are at this moment, the end of the exhale, just before the inhale, starting Spring, celebrating Resurrection, moving toward a season of more activity, more and safer connection (I hope). This day is that moment of perfect balance in the season.

Today is a good day to celebrate all of the times in our lives, all of the patterns, the times of loss and sorrow, the times of brightness and joy, and know that we have been part of Nature’s cycle, with Holy Wisdom guiding us through. May you be blessed today in this moment of Sacred Balance, of Light and Dark, this moment at the end of the exhale, at this moment of inhalation. We are all loved, and our lives are part of this beautiful pattern held by Divine Love.