A Progressive Christian Priest / member of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids discusses his experiences of walking the uncomfortable path between two great spiritual traditions.
A Good Friday Reflection – For Pagans
It’s Good Friday 2013 and, as I pause to reflect on this strange day in the Church’s year, I ask myself what can all this possibly mean to my beautiful Pagan friends? But then it occurs to me that, as a somewhat heretical Christian, I may as well also ask myself, what does it all mean to me now that I’ve escaped from the straight jacked of organized Christianity?
Here’s where my ponderings took me:
I often feel the pressure of living in a precarious, wounded and at times hostile world. Sometimes one reaches the very end of his or her resources and literally crashes in a broken heap. Yet within the mess and pain is often found a little spark of light. Beautifully symbolised by the final personification that crept out of Pandora’s terrifying box, hope can always be found in the dark gaping chasms of life. And this image of hope within excruciating pain, trauma and brokenness, is the central reason why the literal/mythic story of Jesus/Christ still makes sense to me.
The most recognisable symbol for Jesus/Christ is an instrument of torture, a huge ugly wooden tool used by ancient Rome to publically execute enemies of the state and criminals. I have to say that I personally know a number of Pagans who are thoroughly repulsed by this image, and I don’t blame them because the most popular theological understanding of the cross is what might be termed ‘substitutionary atonement,’ where Jesus as the Son of God somehow pays the price for human sin in blood. I admit it’s a horrific belief but it is not the only way to understand the cross. Indeed, throughout my 10 years as a parish priest I never preached about Jesus Christ as a blood sacrifice in this way. For many, far from being a symbol of God’s wrath and punishment, it is a declaration of divine love.
Let me explain. I’ve always argued that the cross should be seen as the death of a toxic view of Deity. God does not punish Jesus for our sins. The cross is a symbol of a God who allows himself to experience the very darkest, most broken and most abandoned reality of what being human can involve. Though this may not be something that Pagans find helpful, I used to enjoy talking about the cross of Jesus as something that changes humanity’s view of the Divine rather than (as the older substitutionary theories go) changing the Divine’s view about humanity. In other words it replaces a God of judgement and wrath with a God of compassion and love. In the book Pagans & Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience, Gus DiZerega refers to an illuminating experience that happened to him when he climbed the Colorado Rockies and caught a glimpse of the usually hidden Mount of the Holy Cross. He tells of how he then climbed further up the track to get an even better view and when settling to gaze upon the place, how this prompted a genuine spiritual experience that (while a Wiccan) gave him a deep appreciation of the person of Jesus and message:
“Christianity’s message, I realized, focussed on love and forgiveness, but not so much on God’s forgiveness of us as on our own capacity to forgive one another. God’s son had walked, taught, and healed among men and women, and had been cruelly murdered. Even so, God’s love for humankind had not weakened. ‘Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do,’ is perhaps the most famous account of Jesus last words, words He had spoken while in agony on the cross. The entire Christian message seemed to be summed up in the insight that as God could forgive the murder of His innocent son, so we were called upon to forgive the wrongs done to us. And if we truly forgave, we would be freed from the poisons of resentment and malice. Our hearts would be opened more fully to love and compassion, and so more fully to God. The central lesson of Christianity was a lesson about unconditional love. I finally understood that the Christian message was a true gospel, a genuine good news for human kind.”
i Gus DiZerega, Pagans & Christans, The Personal Spiritual Experience (Woodbury MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2001) p.213
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