Jack Mandeville is a faithful comrade at The Way of the River and can be found during nearly every week’s Beloved Selfies in one of his many dapper blue shirts! He, like some other members of our crew, identifies as Christo-Pagan. This multireligious identity is enthusiastically welcome at The Way of the River, especially because Jack brings an open heart and searching mind to our community. Thank you, Jack!
Stay tuned for next week’s Reflections—including the words of Rev Karen Scrivo—the last of our July guest writers. She’ll be tying our series up with a bow!
An excerpt from “The Night House” by Billy Collins
This is about my journey : The unseen child that grew up to be a man who still loves the unseen light – the light that no one pays attention to. This is me, on top of the roof at night, in shadows soaking up the magic of the night sky, free and loved by the earth, free from judgement, free from worry, free from my small town world. Well, I mean, not really, only in my imagination, actually I grew up in a VERY orderly household, where I was watched very carefully – probably because I was a dreamer, and a baby mystic. I got invited to Boy Scout gatherings that I promptly ignored or pretended to forget about, football camps, fishing tournaments, card games, the list goes one, I was totally NOT interested in these. My parents, however, were on a MISSION to successfully insert me into the life they wanted me to live – and they were GREAT parents, and they only wanted what was best for me.
By age 10, I was hanging out in graveyards (straddling the ridge), when the moon was full, I thought they were places of safety and quiet. I would sit there and imagine all the lives of the people long buried there. Who did they love? Did they live a happy life? What did they believe? I wanted to know ALL THE THINGS. I am from the east coast so there are still many many graves from the 18th century still intact – and I loved those the most! I did grave rubbings as a teenager – and my parents would just shake their heads. Why wasn’t this boy playing ball with all the other little boys – but that wasn’t me.
As odd as that seemed to the usual observer, I was actually very much in love with church, I was there whenever I could be. I don’t think I missed a Sunday for many years, IN FACT, I would go to church when my parents did not! I can remember wondering in amazement when my Methodist minister would say the words of institution over the elements of bread and wine (during communion) and me wondering in amazement how this was any different than a spell? After all, “this is my body” is translated as “hocus pocus.” Right? Google it. I later learned as an adult how much Christianity had sought to compete with pagan holidays by inserting their own elements, by inserting Christmas and Easter alongside them, by mimicking the characteristics of pre-Christian gods and goddesses and turning them into “saints.” Honestly, this is really where I got started, in earnest investigating my multi-faith journey as both Pagan and Christian.
What I am saying is that I can’t remember a moment when I wasn’t being asked to “remember.” Remember your manners, remember your relatives, remember your ancestors, remember your friends, remember your family, remember to brush your teeth, remember to write a thank you note, remember to make the right kind of friends, remember to be “straight,” remember to go to church, remember to respect everyone (almost everyone), remember, remember, remember. Remembering the past and my connection to it was a kind of sacrament that was required to move on to the next reality that was created for me. And yet, remembering is a key component of Christianity, we are asked to consume bread and wine in “remembrance” that Christ died for us. The church calls this anamnesis; in which Christians recall the faithful sacrifice for humankind.
So why is memory and context important for me when living out my spiritual practice? BECAUSE It’s important to sift through those occasionally to remind myself where I came from, what got grafted to my current journey, what stuck to me and/or what I left behind. And it’s not a static practice, I still sift and keep and toss – even today. My journey is an active one, I haven’t just stopped “listening” to the new ideas and ways that God is offering up to me. The United Church of Christ (UCC) a cousin to the UUA had a famous tagline many years ago that said “God is still speaking” and I really love that – it resonates with me.
As I said earlier, we can thank early Christianity for silencing and co-opting many of those stories because they didn’t fit the narrative that was desperately wanting to be written. I mean, I was attending church in the morning and playing with my cauldron that had belonged to my great grand mother-casting “spells.” Of course those are memories of a young naive child – but I still believe they are indicative of my early love for paganism. It’s important to point out that this was instinctual, I was not influenced, I was drawn to magic naturally. And so I held that tension of my Christian upbringing and this shadow side of an unnamed belief.
I could go on and on about my journey but what I want you to walk away with is that remembering is a good thing, walking the ledge of the roofline (metaphorically speaking of course) and allowing something new to grow in is OK! Even WITH the traditional, privileged upbringing that is my story, I am a thankful, magical creation of the Universe – and I would have it no other way. My charge to you is that if you are feeling cozy for moonlight and need to stretch your legs, maybe it’s time to take a walk in the dark, if you are feeling sad and want to listen to the trees, maybe it’s time to take a walk in the dark, and finally, if you want to feel your life, your humanity, dirt underneath your feet to know that you are alive, it might be time to take a walk in the dark. Blessed Be and may you find your own unseen light. And remember, at The Way of the River Community, there is room for all people and spiritual expressions or none. We have drawn the circle wide!
― Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi