Moments in Divine Love

 

In a decidedly Christian church for the first time in half my life, I feel the heat radiating off my body as I resist the urge to get up and flee. I quiet my fires with reminders that I am choosing this, that I want this. More than that, I prayed for this. I sat in my car and prayed that I would find the peace of mind to go back to a church. After the sermon, the woman next to me asks what I thought. I’m afraid I’ve already forgotten the message, but what stays with me is that this church understands the metaphysical sciences of universalism, and isn’t going to get hung up on the individual language we bring to that. It’s exactly what I need right now.

There is no fire and brimstone beyond our own creation. There’s God speaking to us in the languages we know, reaching for us in the places we seek Her in. Mother-Father God, ascended masters, the angels, and all beings of light aligned to the same purposes–healing our wounds, gently returning us back to our all-loving relationship with God, making good out of the evil deeds that confuse and complicate our existence. 

“I’ll be back,” I decide, the last time I was at the church any less than three times a week. 

Face-up on the massage table receiving touch healing from between six and eighteen members of the church all at once, I experience a new degree of the heat sometimes associated with Reiki. Their hands are searing hot, melting into me as all sense of a border between my body and theirs begins to burn away. Where my form remains, I can feel sweat dripping. In my mind, I travel backwards through so many embarrassing moments and interactions I would very much like to forget.

I’m struggling to find peace when the image of a grey-skinned, oval-headed angel with large, soft eyes of obsidian appears in my mind surrounded by a starry field of royal blue. The orbit of celestial bodies crowns the space above his head in golden dust, and pinched between his fingers is a molecule-thin sword of light which he delicately directs to trim away my guilt of sin. Archangel.

I remember and find fellow journeymen to share with the reconciliation I felt in the presence of God in the wilderness. The past exists as a memory, and neither God nor I (nor anyone I have harmed or perceived to harm) exist there any longer. Here we are in the present moment, each moment unfolding. May we find healing in these moments. May we find peace and freedom from the memories we still hold. Grace is present, peace is present, forgiveness and growth already are. 

There’s a freedom when I get off the table, a lightness. I’m ready to be in this moment again.

Sitting in the sanctuary, I close my eyes to focus as solely as possible on this renewed relationship to God I am experiencing. Over the course of the evening, three or four givers approach from behind me and direct the presence of divine love back into my mind. Sometimes I see colors, I smell energies, I receive little mantras to get me through the week–’I am a child of God,’ ‘God is faithful,’ ‘God is one/in/all.’ I perceive the little differences in them and me, me and God, until finally, on the fourth week it happens so subtly I want to laugh. 

Feel this, I hear in my mind. And I envision sunlight streaming gently down from above. I stay with it as my vertigo returns and the room begins to sway. I love you, I repeat over and over again to God. My internal voice slurs and distorts until love is the only word cycling in repetition any longer. Ah-ha! I think to smile. Will we do it now? All distinctions fail, all senses overloaded and blind. As a teenage psychonaut, I termed this space ‘the white world,’ unsure if my eyes were even open or closed anymore as my mind is filled with deafening white light and the full absence of all the aggregates that define our day-to-day lives. 

In that moment, the channel presses down on the top of my head and I return peacefully to my body. Everything is in perfect harmony. And ah, this is the purpose of these blessings, to touch that oneness and to learn to carry it with you. I am blessed.

Afterwards, even the mundane seems like a beautiful sign or task planned by a God undeniably present in this world. The first night, an enormous circular cloud hovers above the church and the whole city. The fourth night, I return to work afterwards and find joy and purpose in doing the dishes, content in knowing this is God’s need for me right now. 

I am making myself available in service to this God’s people. It’s an exercise I’ve pushed myself into before as part of theurgistic occult research. This time there is no ‘pushing’ myself. There’s just me wanting to do it. There’s no research, there’s just intimacy. There’s no longing, there’s just touch. Effortlessly I have arisen in this relationship with the God here, the same God I have encountered in the wilderness and potentially elsewhere. In my mind still though is a battle between merging completely into this new consciousness and obsessing over intellectualizing, categorizing, defining every moment of it.

Even after this God and I have reconciled, even as I am learning to accept our relationship has always been present, I struggle with how to translate that knowing into the languages of mysticism I’ve lived in for years prior. I wonder if all this is ‘too metaphysical,’ ‘too Christian,’ ‘too Abrahamic,’ ‘too Pagan,’ ‘too Qabalistic gobbledygook,’ ‘too weird,’ ‘too ET,’ too whatever for whoever might read me, hear me, or analyze this new period in my life. I worry that people will think I’m going to become like someone who has rejected them or hurt them in the past. All I know to say to that is that it’s not my intention. It’s not my understanding of God or this relationship I’m in.

I want to let go of that anxiety. I want to stop worrying, stop translating to ‘normal’ speech, stop minimizing, stop hiding. I’m in the midst of something many people from across time and culture–Pagans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus–spend their lives searching for: an intimate and revealing relationship with God.

I’m learning a new language to talk about it all. I hope sharing propels us all forward, challenges us to go deeper with all of our gods, and gives us new dreams for what all is possible in those relationships.


Pat Mosley

God, Moving Along the Cape

“I would rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than in church thinking about the mountains.” (attributed to John Muir)

I.

I spent the first of August hiking with my parents on a remote island nature preserve off the coast of Maine. We’d been once before years ago when the trails weren’t quite as established and the handful of fellow naturalists and hikers we encountered this time weren’t as numerous. Despite the increase in visitors, the island loop remains at best a narrow deer trail through the thick of the bog, eventually spilling out into a rocky coast where the trail continues, so long as the tides permit passage.

A few wooden planks have been installed to elevate your walk over rocks and brush in the interior sections. Larger boulders and rock faces provide resting points along the way to the shore. All around you are dangling lichens and tropically toned peatmosses. The thick spruce and coastal jack pine underbrush provide an insulating layer of delicate soil where dozens of amanita mushrooms thrive and wild blueberry and cloudberry bushes cling to whatever depth they can manage to root down into. Pitcher plants and other carnivorous fauna dot the acidic soils, evolutionary remnants of retreating glaciers and a testament to the extremity of this environment. The trail is marked with shining blue blazes easily missed if one is not careful, and in a few spots, iron rungs and gnarled tree roots aid you in climbing back up onto your path.

At first we planned to just hike to the shore and probably back the way we’d come already. This feat alone took about two hours. 

For most of the journey, I stayed ahead of my parents, even when depending on my cane for balance. There’s just something about wild spaces like this which call to me, which set me into a rhythmic gliding as part of the landscape. I can’t go any slower. I just can’t. Enormous island birds cawed at me, and I cawed back to them. We circled one another and told the trees about the other. The only human apart from one other hiker passing in the opposite direction and my parents a quarter mile or so behind me, I increasingly felt the spine-tingling awareness of wild things all around me. 

The island is the kind of wilderness where something always seems to be lurking not far off the trail. For the whole hike to the shore, my mind replayed the truth that in all the hikes I’ve been on, in all the parts of known bear country, never, not once have I crossed paths with a bear. I wondered then if these thoughts might be some sort of premonition that one was about to appear. I’d had that kind of intuition before–where I could almost see the bear just waiting on the path around the next corner–but here it seemed just as likely I might instead pass the next tree to find a stark naked wizard challenging his mind to some sort of mystical experience on a nearby rock. Neither appeared beyond the passing images of my mind.

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Our Gods Are Still Speaking: Plurality and Uniqueness in the Neopagan World

We live in surreal times. This morning I made memes about magic to share with a presidential campaign’s Discord server over breakfast. I re-posted them to Facebook, and watched their spell spread slowly, received by hundreds of others in a sea of likes, hearts, and shares. I watched a video on Celtic mythology, and bookmarked a dharma talk to listen to later tonight. In the afternoon, I met with a client who caught me up on the success she’s found in treating an unrecognized chronic medical condition through traditional African medicine she learned about online. 

This is our world. At our fingertips are the means by which to globally spread both contemporary philosophy and traditional knowledge across languages of written word and symbols. We speak instantaneously across borders via video and blogs. If we don’t know something, we can google it. We can appeal to one another without the limitations of how far our voices can carry. Religion, magic, and medicine today are unlike any generation’s before us. We are limited in our knowledge of multiple traditions of truth, healing, miracle, and meaning only by our access to the internet and willingness to search. Even in Smalltown, North Carolina, there are face-to-face communities of Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and several kinds of Wiccans and Christians. We can shop for traditional Chinese medicine, Western herbal medicines, Ayurveda, and more. Where these in-person connections are absent, digital connections form. Gods, their followers, and cultural traditions of healing body and spirit alike interact in ways human history has in fact seen before, although never at this scale (that we know of). 

Our world is plural. We live with not just multiple broad ideas about truth and meaning, but many different micro-interpretations among them. American Zen is to Nichiren Shoshu what Southern Baptist is to Lutheran. Depending on who you ask, our world is dreamed alive by Vishnu, pushed out of mind by Vairocana, or perceived in the waking moments of a billion blinking Brahamas. The God who created us 5,000-some years ago continues to tell very different things to his divergent groups of followers. The El-Shaddai I love may or may not be the El-Shaddai you hate. The Hecate called up in a neo-Wiccan ritual may or may not be the Hecate called up by Hellenic neopagans or even the ancient Greeks themselves. Sometimes we smooth over these distinctions by looking for universal truths amidst them all. Sometimes they’re easy to find, other times they aren’t. 

This modernity creates tension. How do we reconcile very different traditions with our society’s need for a consensus reality? How do we resolve different devotees claiming very different messages from the same source?  We still hold cultural biases and traumas passed down across generations that make questions like these hurt. In the world’s not-so-distant past, our ancestors fought horrifically violent wars over religious and cultural differences which most of us, hopefully, have left behind. Living in this new, hyper-connected and innately diverse (if not outright contradictory) world requires new myths about our place in it, new understandings of identity and community, and tough negotiations not only through the traumas of our heritage but also through the other ills modernity burdens us with such as ecological collapse, social and economic injustices, and a cultural void yet to be filled by either rampant nationalism or consumerism.

Some respond to this tension by insulating themselves in an often imagined past free of contamination from outside ideas or people. For Pagans, this is perhaps pretty easy to see. Maybe you’ve been chastised for experiencing a goddess beyond the terms attested to in some ancient historical record. Maybe you’ve been not so politely told that your heartfelt relationship to certain gods is inappropriate, and that you better try limiting yourself to work with another pantheon instead. Or maybe you’ve just witnessed the number of overtly white supremacist, neo-nazi, and ethno-nationalist movements organizing under or adjacent to the Pagan banner.

This may feel like it’s a Pagan-specific problem–a sometimes ethically complex battle between contemporary, fluffy eclectics and real, historically accurate preservationists–but it’s really not. Look at how the Renewal movement is derided among some Jews despite its historical roots (hell, look at the Reform movement, and look at Conservative Judaism for that matter). Listen in on the intricacies of dialogue between polytheistic and animistic Buddhisms from Asia and the decidedly atheistic Buddhisms of the West. Watch how Methodists and other Christian denominations engage in heart-wrenching discussion about how Jesus would love LGBT+ people. Hear how some American Jews and Muslims are finding spiritual truth in one another’s traditions growing out of the solidarity this era forges between them.

Every religion is reckoning with some issue that our modern world has brought into the spotlight for them. And at the core of these denominational conflicts is, I believe, an assertion of more or less the same truth by many different people across many different traditions: that is, that our gods are still speaking to us.

In a post-enlightenment world, this is a rather radical claim to make. In general, we prefer our gods to be things of the distant or quickly fading past (whether we ‘believe in’ them or not). We’re an era of historical Jesus and historical Buddha, critical readings of Krishna’s depictions in relation to colonialism and Hindu political identity, bickering over whether Aset and Isis are one in the same, and then never-ending debate as to whether or not any of these figures are ‘real.’ To start talking about the Jesus who heals your cousin’s opiate addiction, the Lakshmi who welcomes you to the hospital during an out-of-body experience, or the Astarte (who not only bowed to Allah, but) who feels more clear and present than you expected to encounter in an ‘applied transpersonal psychology’ exercise contradicts not only the rational, post-theist school of thought in today’s dominant culture, but its theology-by-the-book foil as well. When and why did we leave the time period where gods spoke to people and informed our practice of religion? Who decided we’re finished writing the book of acceptable theology, and who gave them that right?

Beneath the supernatural overtones to these questions though is, I believe, a deeper concern about human and cultural meaning in the modern era. I think most of us agree that we have lost something of ourselves, of our identity or culture, through the brutal calculus of things like colonialism, Christianization, capitalism, and urban development. In many ways, non-Christians are cut off from the pre-Christian faiths and traditions of their ancestors. Our connection to the Earth as a whole or the lands which feature so prominently in our cultural myths are now deeply mediated, curated, domesticated, or off-limits entirely. And then for Christians of course, modernity places many of these often violent changes at the feet of your religious forefathers. I think we burrow into tradition–into what fragments of historical records and sacred texts we possess–in part because it offers us something concrete where otherwise this dynamic leaves us feeling insecure.

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Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

To open ourselves back up to mystical inputs–that is, to again listen for the gods, rather than to simply read about them–is to risk what little we may still have for only the possibility of benefits that could come from this sort of spiritual-populist chaos. But that possibility calls to so many of us. And in this sense, neopaganism (and all the other traditions asserting that their gods still speak to them) is potentially both a radical de-colonial project and a force for deep intergenerational and interpersonal healing in this world. It is resistance to the idea that loss, genocide, diaspora, and other tragedies necessarily equal our extinction. To use a term that fell out of favor for ‘neopaganism,’ this is the ‘Pagan revival.’

Just as neopaganism challenges us to seek out relationships to the natural world–no matter how far from us it has been torn–we also connect to gods and theologies that mirror the diversity of thought and culture modernity exposes us to. The Greco-Buddhists and Allah-revering Norse for instance are no longer exceptions to otherwise insular pagan cultures we might draw inspiration from, but the seeds of ideas we are now even freer to explore.

To discredit eclecticism, to shy away from the intimate inquiries arising in a pluralistic world, is, I believe, an understandable reaction to the traumatic heritage of every human’s history. It is also, however, a means of keeping our traditions and our gods dead, detached from this world, and limited only to what has already been said and recorded about them. The excitement, the uniqueness that neo-paganism brings to the long history of human religion, is its capacity to find magic in the world again and to not fear the differences that accompany its return.

We live in a time of such hyper-connectivity and relative coexistence. It is a blessing to choose a lifetime spent learning from scholars of many different faiths, to constantly be in critical dialogue with your own understanding of what you experience and believe, and to possess the humility to cultivate a life of inquiry where so many before you have instead chosen violence fueled by arrogant belief in the supremacy of their own ideas alone. To be a Pagan in this world is not just to seek the gods or the pre-Christian faiths of your ancestors. It is to know they are still speaking to us, and that our traditions are still forming, syncretizing, becoming messy, and growing to fruition. 

By some reckonings, this is indeed a very surreal world. In the grand scheme of human history, magic, and meaning–it’s just another chapter in our story.


Pat Mosley