Friday, February 4, 2011

Confirmation and Prayer

This past Sunday I had my second Confirmation class. I'm finding the classes interesting, although basic in a way. I know a lot of the history already, having studied it during my Wiccan years as "comparative religion." It's fascinating to see the differences when studying Christianity from within, rather than comparatively, though. I love that our pastor, who is leading the class, is challenging us to look at different translations and at books not considered cannon by the church. I love that we're going to visit other churches and a synagogue, so we better understand faith as a whole. I love the beautiful prayers we say together.

The last class we talked a lot about Baptism. Everyone in the class (including me) has been Baptized at some point. I was Christened as an infant, into the Presbyterian church. My parents subsequently never attended (even once) and I had no Christian or other religious upbringing at all. In fact, I think I was 10 or 11 years old before I set foot in a church for anything other than a wedding, except to attend Hungarian services with my grandmother (I don't speak Hungarian and mostly counted hats). I definitely was never "churched" in any way. Religion was something to mock and deride, a crutch used by weak people, or so my mother instilled in me. Good thing I disliked her so much; I never did "get" that lesson.

In any case, we talked about Baptism, both of body and of spirit. In the Book of Acts, there are several examples of people being Baptized by water (a la John the Baptist), and then later being overcome by the Holy Spirit. The point our pastor made was that we can prepare the body, but the true initiation into Christianity comes via God alone, not human intervention. I liked the idea; it gels well with my understanding of Wiccan and other initiation practices. We can grant the human part of the Degree, but the actual elevation comes from the gods themselves, not us. In a way, we are only making the body a fit temple for the Spirit to inhabit, or perhaps in some rare cases confirming something that's already happened.

Talking about it with this open-minded group of Christians has been very enlightening. These are not street corner thumpers who annoy passers by. These are people who do their best to live the example taught by Jesus. I've known them for three years now, and I'm a better person for having known them. They accept me for who and what I am, and understand that this Confirmation is, for me, "in addition to, not instead of." I renounce nothing, and yet I feel I am gaining an awful lot.

For years I have had at least a passing interest in Christianity. Part of the reason is that it's so organized and has great study and meditation tools. People have been writing about Christianity for so long! Modern reconstructions of religions  and brand new religions, like Hellenismos and Wicca and Heathenry, are so new that what writing there is has only been produced in the last few years. We don't have the sheer time put in to create the kind of study guides and suggested reading lists that Christianity can boast of. We have things to learn from this religion, and if we can just put aside our prejudices for a little while, perhaps we can discover just how similar we all are.

That is the thing which strikes me most. We're the same. Our theology might differ slightly, and our practices are not always the same, but the roots are there. I mean, let's be frank here. The Christian religion was born out of the mix of Judaism and Greek polytheism of 2000 years ago. That means that some of what Christians do is based on what we Greek polytheists do. You want to know "what the Greeks would have done" had they continued on? Look at Christianity! It's tempered by that Judaic influence, surely, but the roots are there, and no amount of denying can make it go away.

During the month of November 2010, I signed up to provide flowers for the church. Now, originally I just signed up because one of the little old ladies asked me to volunteer, and it seemed an easy thing. I didn't put a lot of thought into it. Over the year, I watched how other members of the church fulfilled their duty in their own months, and discovered that some of these people UNDERSTOOD. Holy cow!

What did they understand? They understood that the flowers placed on the altar were an offering. Great care was put into almost every display. Fresh flowers were put up every week, even when artificial flowers were used and could have been left to sit. Decorations were put up. Care was taken in choosing the colors, the vases used, etc.

When my turn came, I chose to  make the first week my first real offering to Jesus. I'd participated in the services for three years, but never really given of myself, of my heart. I decided to see how it felt. I went to the garden and picked fresh kale, mixed liberally with sprigs of sage and savory, some rosemary, some parsley. I added two bright yellow flowers from our own front garden, for color and beauty. I arranged them with great love in matching vases, and went in on Saturday to set them in place on the altar. They looked beautiful, and I felt very good about it. It was a good offering.

I'm not sure if the members of my church understand the offerings they are making, at least in detail. They definitely understand the love involved, though. Flowers are never "just tossed up there." There's that Greek influence, the gifts given to the gods. It's there; you just have to look for it. You have to be open enough to be receptive to it.

The week before my Ordination I will be Confirmed in the UCC. I feel like this is a large part of what I'm supposed to be doing. I cannot be an effective bridge if I don't have a foot on each bank of the shore, after all!
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