Today is Earth Day, I understand. I would not have known if I had not been reading in the larger blogosphere, as it is not really a holiday here. What does Earth mean to us? Is Earth divine itself, an emanation or just a creation of the divine? For me, these questions are pivotal and mark one of the great differences between Pagans and Christians. I am very much a seeker hovering at the outskirts of Christianity, the City of God, if you will, but also drawn to the darker dense woods of Paganism. Spiritually, I feel I have no home, but I quite like to live at the edge of the forest. Maybe I get to taste the best of both worlds this way, although staunch advocates of either tradition would probably beg to differ. Regarding these questions, I read an interesting book this week.
This book, edited by Denise Cush, came about as a result of an interfaith meeting in the U.K. last year and offers perspectives by Philip Carr-Gomm, Alison Eve Cudby, Denise Cush, Graham Harvey, Steve Hollinghurst, Simon Howell, Viannah Rain, Philip Shallcrass, Bruce Stanley, Tess Ward and Liz Williams. The book is divided into three sections. Section A deals with mutual fears and prejudices, section B discusses possibilities for co-operation and section C focuses on how art could aid understanding and commonality between these two faith groups.
Paganism and Christianity have, like many other faiths, a troubled history together. Theologically, these two traditions are very much at odds with each other. Even though I am not a great fan of theological debate, it should be an inevitable part of true interfaith meeting. There is no use pretending the gap is non-existent. Anyone in the twilight of these two traditions must acknowledge the towering presence or absence of Jesus. No matter how I choose to feel about Him, it is very clear what He Himself has said: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. This question, however, is not addressed in depth in this book. Yet it is important to remember that most of our ancestors had no problem whatsoever with syncretising and localising their Christianity with ancestor and nature veneration. They did not perceive a great divide between the two and bridged the gap by ritual, following a Christianised Wheel of the Year and in art. This is exactly where the two traditions do have a strong overlap. Both more or less indigenous to Europe (Western Christianity at least came of age here and has a lot of Pagan trimmings), there is common ground to be found in form and expression of the divine. The texts in this book offer a range of possibilities for common ritual and religious experience.
At the end of the book, editor Denise Cush takes stock of their meeting and these texts. She herself acknowledges the lack of theological debate and discussion, partly due to the fact that predominantly liberal and open-minded representatives tend to be involved in efforts like these. Her conclusion is called ‘Where next?’ and indeed this book might prove to be a starting point for a wider respectful exploration of difference and commonality. It seems many more people are struggling but finding ways to incorporate these two traditions that seem to be at odds, Paganism and Christianity, into their spirituality. Especially the emergence of the Forest Church, unknown to me before reading this book, was an eye-opener. If you are either looking for a rich perspective on how to practically integrate these traditions or if you are involved in interfaith work, Celebrating Planet Earth is a great anthology.