Monday, April 30, 2018

dancing with the mummers on the eve of beltane...

It should come as no surprise that I love the bold earthiness of the Celtic Wheel of Life. From its creation-centered roots to its appropriation by Christian people of faith, the Wheel of Life celebrates an incarnational spirituality that keeps me grounded. It honors the ebb and flow of life, death, birth, maturation, light, dark and all of life's shades of gray. There is feasting and fasting, dancing and mourning, times to be bold as well as times for silence. As the prioress at The Abbey of the Arts, Christine Valters Painters, writes:

The Celtic Wheel of the Year is an ancient way of understanding the unfolding seasons and slow turning of the earth... a closer intimacy with the rhythms of creation offers us a wisdom about the patterns of rise and fall, fullness and emptiness... Further, the Celtic framework is an indigenous tradition for (some) of us and our ancestors. So even if we don't live in Ireland, Scotland, England or Wales, we may still feels a kinship and connection to this understand of the year's rhythms.

This is certainly true for me: even as I dig deeper into the wisdom of Christian liturgy - honoring its Circle of Life with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, feast days, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost - I also visit the Celtic Wheel to stay firmly planted in Mother Earth. In my neck of the woods, we are just about to enter the feast of fertility, flowers and fire the Celts called Beltane. In the church this falls close to the festival of Holy Fire we know as Pentecost. It is a "cross quarter day, halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice... (it is) experienced at the height of spring. In Ireland it is considered to be the beginning of summer and the beginning of the light half of the year. We can feel the significant shift in light at this latitude and the days are becoming significantly longer. Temperatures are warmer. Flowering has come to its fullness. Birds are singing in full chorus." (Abbey of the Arts, The World Begins to Flower.)

This morning's local paper carried a front page story on sheep shearing - one of the ancient rituals of this season - and I noticed that the daffodils are just about to bloom in our yard, too. Fecundity fills the air in these hills so I smiled as the 
"old" religion of my people once again popped into view just at the edge of our consciousness. Once upon a time bonfires were lit on this night: cattle were driven between the flames as prayers were intoned to keep the herd safe from disease. In the morning, maypoles were erected adorned with flower wreaths. The birch phallus evoked the Green Man, the bouquets the Goddess Flora, and the intertwining ribbon dance pointed to the passionate embrace of male and female that brings to birth God's promise of new life. It is not hard to grasp why Pentecost became our festival of being filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit in order to give birth to Christ in a new way. Remember: while talking about both archetypes and mythology J.R.R. Tolkien said to C.S. Lewis, "The Jesus was the true myth that really happened." Lewis put it like this in his journal:

Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself . . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant’. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.
It is cold, gray and damp in the Berkshire hills this day. But I have seen clues of crocuses peeking through the muck. And daffodils ready to burst into beauty as well. Change is in the air - and I am ready - do a wee dance with Loreena who always keeps it real.

icon: Lord of the Dance by Robert Lentz

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