“Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience” by Gus DiZerega
This book was lent to me by a friend after a recent discussion about our attitudes towards and feelings about organized religions. My friend has mentioned how in her own spiritual journey, she had come to feel a lot of connection to the ideas that many modern pagans espouse. This book had given her much clarity, and she thought I mind find some value in its discussions too. And, she was right – I did mind much food for thought in this volume. It is a pretty “deep” read, and as such, took me a while to work through – a few pages here, a few pages there. I did get through it though, and learned much about the pagan tradition and where it differs from and is similar to Christianity, and organized religion in general.
The biggest understanding I got from this book is that to the pagan tradition, Spirit is “transcendent and immanent” – meaning it is both beyond us and within us at the same time. The “higher power” is beyond our ability to comprehend, much less speak for, but is also within every aspect of the world we live in. Because of this, much of the pagan tradition focuses on meditation and celebration in nature and natural spaces, and in finding meaning and solace in the cycles of the seasons.
Here are some choice segments that I particularly appreciated in the book:
+We do not need to try and discover where Divinity is, for there is no place where Divinity is not. Needless to say, few Pagans are ever trouble by existential angst over the supposed meaninglessness of existence. For us existence is sacramental, the world is sacred, and whenever we fail to live up to these insights the failing is ours, and not the world’s.
+We need to be cautious of whatever term we use in describing what is most Ultimate. Names carry with them the illusion of understanding what is named, but every name is an abstraction from the reality to which it points. In the case of the Most High, what we are attempting to name far exceeds our capacity for understanding.
+Being male is no more perfect than being female, and so a perfect Source can be described neither in male nor female terms.
+Not being complete, nothing can be without change for all things exist and are maintained by virtue of their relationships, and all relationships are subject to change. (my italics – TF)
+True wisdom comes from traveling well, not from traveling quickly.
+Each of us only imperfectly practices our deepest beliefs. Often we fall short. Our actions and our communities reflect our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
+If Nature teaches us anything at all about the intentions of the Divine, it is that variety and unpredictability are treasured.
One of the big differences between Pagan and Christian tradition, as DiZerega points out, is that Christian tradition places value on salvation in the afterlife, while Pagan tradition is more interested in harmony in this life. That idea leads to statements as follows:
+Faith in scripture is supposed to rum any personal experience within the Christian community.
+…emphasis upon harmony rather than salvation leads to a much stronger emphasis on spiritual transformation or connection in this life rather than bliss in the next.
+The most important spiritual experiences are often the least expected.
+We are almost completely surrounded by our own artifacts, and we see them through the lenses of our own preoccupations with power, profit, and pride. We also feel the emptiness that results.
+…the point is that the afterlife need not be our ultimate concern in this life.
+Spiritual fulfillment is found with others, within a community which is itself a reflection, emanation, of Spirit.
+…sexuality can be either flagrantly abused or ignorantly feared. In its usual pattern of excess, our society accomplishes both.
+We believe Spirit can communicate more clearly when Its message is not continually filtered through a central human authority.
+It makes no sense to say that the Absolute loves conditionally.
+We are not aware of the complete context in which a being dies. Our perspective is limited and to an unavoidable extent, self-centered.
+If there is a deeper purpose in our lives, I suspect it lies principally in perfectly our hearts as self-aware beings, for love is the most basic quality of the divine to which we have access.
+…as a traditional Wicca teaching says, “To fulfill love you must return again at the same time and place as the loved one, and you must remember and love them again.”
+As any artist knows, when used appropriately, tension deepens and enriches beauty and life.
+Pain hides contexts and clouds judgment. Indeed, when we focus on them, even little pains have a distressing tendency to take on greater importance in our lives than they merit.
+Nonattachment…is not ceasing to care, it is ceasing to demand, and ceasing to judge if our wishes are not met.
+Christians read the texts of Scripture, Pagans read the text of Nature. Both require fallible human beings to exercise their understanding to the best of their ability in a humble and open way.
+It remains everyone’s personal responsibility to seek understanding of his or her proper relationship with the Divine, and for any acts committed on the basis of that understanding. (my italics – TF)
+Deeply sublime ethical teachings are the monopoly of no people and no faith.
+Sacred texts have a special appeal to people seeking certainty without responsibility, morality without understanding, and truth without humility. …Believers can all too easily give up personal responsibility, reduce morality to rigid rules, and convince themselves that they speak and act for God.
+…we act in God’s spiritual image when we act with unconditional love.
+Here indeed was a revelation worth of a world religion: that God so loved the world that even the death of his innocent son could not shake that love. From this it follows that no person can ever justify not forgiving another when truly asked, nor harbor resentment toward those too benighted to realize what they have done.
+Comparing the strengths of one community form with the weaknesses of the other is always tempting, and always misleading.
As always, there is a lot more in this book than I can share in this simple blog. This was a pretty academic read, so if you pick this book up, be prepared! Like the book suggests though, enlightenment doesn’t come easy – it comes with patience, diligence, and openness of heart. So, give the book, or something similar a try. I bet you’ll learn a lot.
p.s. – if you can find the children’s book “Old Turtle“, pick it up. It’s a lovely book and too, has informed my perception of who/what “God” is.