Part of me really wants to call this the church of Bill but I imagine he'd have absolute FITS. I've never seen him mad before but I imagine there are a fair number of things that piss him off despite who he seems to be committed to being in the world and I imagine referring to him as the church of Bill might be one of those things. But part of me goes there anyway because he does something or is at cause for something that at least begins to embody a thing or space or, well, something I've been searching for since I read Judy Blume's book Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret when I was 11. Margaret has no religion and therefore no church and therefore no spiritual community and while that might not sound like all that big a deal to most people, try growing up without it. It can be a HUGE deal. It doesn't have to be but for some of us on the outside looking in, we sort of wonder why we're on the outside and we start looking, just like Margaret did.
I've been in an amazing number of churches. I lost count a long time ago. Elizabeth told me yesterday that they learned about Catholicism at school but no other faith. Wha?! She said, 'I'd rather be a Protestant.' I have provided zero religious education. Not my job. I pushed a little. 'What flavor protestant?' pause... 'Lutheran. Except there aren't very many of them left.' pause (where's this coming from?)... 'Elizabeth, there are plenty of Lutherans left and they change flavors depending on where you are in the country. Maybe you should get to know some.'
We were sitting in the car with food so that was the end of that particular conversation.
Churches. So, so many churches starting from the time I read that book and realized all I had to do was ask a friend or ask to be dropped off and if I didn't understand, just sit quietly in the back and do my best to blend in and for the love of whatever, DON'T TAKE COMMUNION!!!!! I went to confession for the first time at St. Patrick's in NYC when you could still do that. I'd more or less figured out what to say by listening but I'd never actually made or said the act of contrition out loud before. Not even by myself. I hear we don't even necessarily say those words anymore. I got through the entire process and the voice on the other side of the grate asked, at the very end, you've never done this before, have you? I said no and he said, good job and that was that.
But here's the problem with churches all over the world, no matter where you or I or anyone else go and no matter what the sign reads out front, churches are:
Some of them are quite frankly direct about it. I was quite frankly offended in a very large Catholic church once when a pamphlet was handed out that read something to the effect of our way or the highway but I'm thankful in retrospect. We were looking for a parish church, a home, with our brand new baby girl, Cletus who never did get dipped.
Also, I use the word church as a catch all to mean gathering of people in a community like setting to share some sort of spiritual something or other. Vague, right? Well you kind of have to be if you want to spread the net wide enough to catch everyone. I've gone so far as to think of Bikram Yoga on a Sunday morning as slightly church like. Somebody once told me that the Lifespring arena was his church (that made me nervous because Lifespring and EST which is now the Forum have been under constant fire since the 70s for being slightly cultish) and I do understand what he meant in terms of community and his overall connection or place in the world.
Two Sundays in a row now NM and I have attended Quaker Meeting where I went a few years ago and I like that just fine. I don't feel like I'm stepping in what I refer to as a bucketful of Jesus or finding myself saturated with holy water. I never used to feel this way about churches but at some point if I couldn't attend with some level of anonymity and be permitted to pick and choose the pieces that worked for me, I'd end up with some or all of the pieces that didn't work for me shoveled metaphorically down the back of my throat and since I'm doing my best not to shovel my stuff down the back of you throat I think probably we should have some sort of truce. It's become harder as I've gotten older. It's easiest in Europe where I can just smile and sit quietly. I made the mistake of referring to Meeting as Church which is really church and NM, who is a Quaker was trying to get me to correct myself and it was just getting too complicated at that point and too complicated to even explain to him (because we were going to be late) what I meant by church and also that going to church was and is a very private thing for me. Funny how that works. I like to talk about religion even less than I like to discuss politics.
Pagans. I most identify with Pagans. I'm going to come back to what is not the church of Bill now. I've never been to one of Bill's things although I think sometime I'd like to. Bill celebrates at least the four major seasonal events plus Beltane and then there are regular events that are similar to barn dances and there might be a contra dance but mostly it's a gathering. Back on Pagans. The reason I have never been anywhere near a Pagan event is because in my experience from the outside looking in is that they appear to be about as exclusive and complex as a spiritual group can get. It's positively daunting. Cool to look at though. A lovely friend from high school sort of pulls the covers off a bit by posting an awful lot of what he does online which takes a good amount of the mystery out but it's not something you can just walk right into. Unless I'm wrong and I could very well be wrong but there isn't exactly a storefront. There's an awful lot of ritual and purification before much of anything happens, again, this is supposition, I'm reading and watching and I feel like I'm bordering on being disrespectful and that's the last thing I want to do, but an awful lot of all of these things before you touch much of anything.
But then there's the not church of Bill and Beltane.
Bill put the Maypole up on the first and on the 3rd opened the proverbial doors because the 3rd is what was going to work. I went through hundreds of pictures. I don't know why there were so many this year, maybe because it was such a nice day. They were just people with a Maypole and people in a parade and people with a Green man and a Goddess and some other things. And there's Bill with his spirals and his pantheism and his INCLUSIVENESS because that's what it means to him to fall back into the universe with his eyes and arms and heart wide open.
So it is not the church of Bill. It was an accessible Beltane with Morris dancers on May 3, not at sunrise on May 1. I appreciate this.
I like these too. Very much.