Friday, June 3, 2011

Confirmation


On Sunday morning, I will be Confirmed into the Christian Church, and specifically into The United Church of Winchester. The term "confirmed" has several connotations, but really has only one meaning: to be verified, or substantiated. But what does that mean?

I suppose it depends on how you want to look at the term. From a pagan perspective, every ritual I have done to dedicate myself to my gods is a ritual of confirmation. I am confirming that I am, indeed, going to be their servant. I am confirming my dedication to certain things, be that leaving food at a crossroads at midnight on the dark of the moon, or slopping beans into plates at the church once a month.

From a Christian perspective, it has some similar meanings, but the feel of it is quite different. I think because Christians have so few initiatory rituals, this one means so very much to them. To us, I suppose I should say after Sunday, although it might take me a while to reach the point where that statement comes easily to my lips.

The Christian idea of confirmation stems from the Book of Acts in the New Testament. There are many people who are baptized by John the Baptist and later by Jesus. The followers of both men also baptized others. But as both commented, they were baptizing "only with water." There's the story in Acts where Jesus has died and they all go to be together a few days after his disappearance from the tomb. He comes to them, presumably in spirit form but with a physical reality to him as he can touch things. He tells them he will be with them for a few days and that when he leaves they will be baptized with the spirit. At the time, of course, they had no idea what that meant.

To those early followers, it was just more confusing words from the man they held in such high esteem. When it happened, and the entity the know of as the Holy Spirit descended upon them en masse, they were said to "speak with tongues of fire." Each person spoke in their own language, but everyone in the crowd understood everyone else even though they didn't know those other languages. It was a day of revelations for many of them.

Later on, it becomes clear that the apostles see a difference between a baptized person (anyone could be baptized, after all) and someone who had "received the Spirit." That reception of Something Wonderful And Strange is what has come down to us as Confirmation within the Christian churches.

You might ask, why is a Hellenic pagan being Confirmed in a Christian church? That's a bit of a story in itself. Two years ago during my studies at seminary, I had a bit of a run-in with Jesus. I know that sounds rather odd, but I suppose it's not really anymore odd than the fact that I talk regularly with Dionysos and Hecate... why would it suddenly be so different when it's Jesus? In any case, I had gone up for some peace and quiet in the sanctuary of the church (we were having a Christmas party, I think, and my soul was heavy at the time). While I was there, I looked up at the cross hanging there, and sort of called out, "Why me???" I wasn't expecting an answer. After all, Jesus isn't like Dionysos and Hecate, right?

Wrong.

I got my answer: "Because YOU can." It was enough. I don't feel it's my place to get into the details of it all, but the general feeling I had was that I should treat him just like I treat my other gods, with the appropriate worship and sacrifice at the right times. I finally came around to the idea that, really, Jesus is just another Mediterranean god... not so different from the multitudes of others. I do my best to worship him in both a current cultural norm (ie going to church on most Sundays and being active both spiritually and emotionally there) and in an historical way (through offerings of grain and wine, as I would for other gods from that area of the world). Strangely, the relationship works. It feels right.

I was struggling along with this burgeoning relationship, not at all comfortable with it, when one of my deans asked me what was up. I explained that I wanted to participate fully at church (for many reasons, not the least of which is our involvement with marriage equality and their acceptance of my family) but that there were certain things I didn't feel I could do because I had never been Confirmed. She asked why I shouldn't do that now... and I found myself sputtering and making excuses, then finally tapering off and promising to think on it.

A year later, our new pastor started up a multi generational Confirmation class, and I joined in. I have learned a lot, and enjoyed "getting my religious/historical geek on" with the pastor. How fun to talk about the historical accuracy of certain things in the New Testament! How exciting to get into the depth of why certain parables would have made sense to the people of that time! How freeing to discuss the possibility of the Bible being myth in the same way that my beloved Greek myths are myths.

On Sunday morning, I will be Confirmed into my church. I'm rather proud of this. I feel it's a full embracing of the interfaith principles that I am attempting to follow. It feels right, as if I have taken another step on a path that I am meant to follow. Best of all, I do not feel compromised in making my oaths. Having gone over them, there is nothing I cannot (and could not have, prior to the classes) say yes to with complete sincerity and deep feeling.

In a way, I feel I have come full circle. My relationships with Hecate, with Dionysos, Asclepius, Persephone, Haides, and others, have all deepened over my time in seminary. Adding Jesus to the mix has certainly changed a few things here and there (one can hardly, in a true Hellenic sense, worship Easter and then go home and make offerings to Olympians... miasma!). These changes feel very natural, though, and have actually made my devotions feel much deeper, much more complete. I went through a period prior to that Christmas, where I felt like I was drifting. I was following my path, but it was very much by rote. Now, I feel alive, vibrant, happy... This is where I am supposed to be.
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