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Colorful Blessings: Wild Goose Festival 2018 #3

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COLORFUL BLESSINGS

It would be impossible to characterize the spiritual beliefs of the thousands of people who gather at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina every year. Since the wild goose is the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit of Christ, I would guess that most attenders are at least curious about the way of Jesus.

Some have been seriously wounded by churches and are wary of the label “Christian.” (After the 2016 presidential election, it’s kind of hard not to be!) Many LGBTQ Jesus-people have found their “tribe” at the Goose but wouldn’t be caught dead in a church, especially in the south. And you’ll find a lot of self-proclaimed “recovering evangelicals” at the festival.

Tattooed, multi-pierced millennials raise their hands in prayer alongside white-haired baby boomers with their grandkids. Newly ordained African-American Methodist women sing alongside retired white male Baptist preachers in the Beer & Hymns tent each night.

Beer & Hymns

It’s a welcoming group, open and inclusive and unafraid of people from various religious and cultural backgrounds. There were Buddhists and Hindus leading workshops, and a young Syrian-American Muslim rapper named Mona Haydar who led us in singing “Wrap my Hijab,” which has been called one of the top twenty-five feminist anthems of all time. Watch her here

The Holy

I went to a session called Blessing 101, which I found deeply moving. I have always liked the biblical concept of a “priesthood of all believers,” which holds that each of us carries “the holy” within us, and we’re called to bless one another with that Divine love.

During this session, we moved from person to person beneath a large tent, marking each other with colorful powder and offering blessings and prayers. We passed around vials of gulal, a powder used like Christian anointing oil by some Hindus and Buddhists. In Nepal and India, there’s a spring-time festival called Holi where exuberant crowds throw handfuls of the powder all over each other to celebrate the victory of good over evil.

I was surprised how after a moment of looking into a stranger’s eyes, I felt I could sense what they needed to hear. It felt intimate and beautiful and made me realize how inattentive I am towards others in my day-to-day life. 

I blessed people with courage and perseverance and peace and forgiveness, and several people blessed me with something like wisdom or “sageness,” which made me feel old, but seemed right for my journey.

For the rest of the day when people commented on my colorful self, I enthused, “Yes, I’ve been blessed!”

Blessed!

Up next: Battling Buddha

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Holy Health Takes Wing

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We gather in the woods of North Carolina on the bank of the French Broad River, more than two thousand of us seeking the spirit of the Wild Goose — an ancient Celtic symbol for God’s Holy Spirit. We call ourselves The Fellowship of the Wings.

I know, maybe that sounds a little woo woo; but it’s not like we’re weird or anything, with our angel wings, hats of feathers, rainbow flags, and flaming Hula Hoops.

Just the usual Christian paraphernalia.

Just the Norm

Wild Goose 2013 026.fix Wild Goose 2013 033

I wasn’t sure how to share about the Wild Goose Festival until the WordPress blogmeister helped me out by asking: What does health mean to you? The connection is obvious, right? OK, maybe not to you. But bear with me.

Health as a Holy Pursuit

Health is a beautiful word – it means wholeness; being whole and sound. I believe that the only way a human can attain true wholeness is to connect with the spirit of life that animates us, and I call that spirit God. In fact, the Old Norse word for health is helge, which means holy and sacred.

If a person is intentionally open to the Holy, no matter what happens to their body, their mind and heart remain oriented towards a larger reality, and they flourish. Living in this larger reality means you can let go of the illusion of control and accept life on life’s terms, which leads to peace and a sense of well-being. Being fueled by the Holy means your own desires become aligned with God’s, and  as you become more and more the true self you were created to be, you find yourself bathed in grace and gratitude.

Down to the River Chapel

By the third day of the Wild Goose Festival, I was beat. I’d been trudging from workshop to workshop through mud and thick humidity, balancing my umbrella on one shoulder and my lawn chair on the other while juggling a cache of new bumper stickers, t-shirts, bracelets, and books.

Plus, I had stayed up too late at the “Beer and Hymns” gathering the night before.

Beer & Hymns

Beer & Hymns

So I decided to settle down and see what the morning might bring at “The Chapel,” a small clearing at the edge of the rushing French Broad River. Sure enough, being still and waiting for the Holy resulted in renewed health and wholeness for my body, mind, and spirit.

Quieting the Chatter in Your Head

First up: Centering Prayer, a Christian meditation I’ve been practicing for years but which I’ve recently let slide. About fifty of us sat in a semicircle listening to river rhapsodies and bird songs and facing an altar of candles set up on a picnic table beneath a cathedral of aged oaks, basswoods, and tulip poplars. Spiritual and political writer Phil Fox Rose led a twenty minute “sit” during which we each silently used a sacred word to release our chattering thoughts and distracting emotions so that we could simply rest in God’s refreshing presence.

I’ll bet you won’t ever need blood pressure medicine if you practice this regularly.

Letting Laughter Rip

After the quiet souls dispersed, a new set of people came traipsing down the shady dirt path towards The Chapel. The noisy procession was led by Kimberly Kirchmere Dinsdale, a boisterous life coach from California and a practitioner of Laughter Yoga. I’ve always wanted to try this Indian form of Hasyayoga because studies show myriad health benefits from regular laughter, even if it’s voluntary, planned laughter. Apparently, people who laugh habitually are 40% less likely to have a heart attack!

I probably will not die of a heart attack – I laugh a lot. So this workshop was tons of fun and had the added benefit of helping me to rise above my fear of looking stupid.

A Tradition of Dance and Song

My cheeks and belly were sore from laughing, slapping my knees, and hugging other laughers, so I was looking forward to sitting on my butt for the next workshop on Aramaic – the ancient language that Jesus and his friends spoke.

No such luck.

Reverend Elizabeth Reed, who runs a holistic healing and growth center in Ohio, got us up on our feet. Strumming her guitar, she soon had us chanting Aramaic words for God while doing circle dances similar to ones they might have done in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Totally, totally cool.

Get this: Abwoon is the word that’s traditionally been translated “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. In Aramaic, it actually carries meanings such as creator, birther, breather and sender of spirit, here, and incarnate. Good Lord! How did those old guys who shaped the early Christian faith get “Our Father” out of that??

The repetition of the chant and movement was mesmerizing and soothing to my soul; the experience of engaging my intellect, body, and voice all at the same time reminded me that living life to the full is the best way to be whole and healthy.

A Healthy Prescription from a Wild Goose

Go outside into God’s dynamic and glorious creation – open your eyes and ears and breathe deeply.

Spend time in silence, soaking up the unconditional love and radical acceptance that surrounds you.

Wait for the Holy. Trust it. You don’t have to grab for it; it’s in the very air you breathe.

Live life to the full – engage your mind, body, and soul in becoming who you are truly meant to be. Don’t worry about looking stupid.

Laugh, learn, sing, and dance. Love each other.

Drink beer and sing hymns, but don’t drink too much beer or you won’t feel well.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus of Nazareth   

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Stuff to do:

Why not participate in a challenge this week? Daily Post Challenge: What Does Health Mean to You?

This week’s WordPress challenge also highlighted a mental health blog where I have been a guest blogger: Broken Light: A Photography Collective. Check it out!

Come to the Wild Goose Festival next  year — you know you want to!  Christian credentials not required.

Inside a Pagan Cult at Solstice

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This Winter Solstice, I participated in my first Druidic rituals. I didn’t know what to expect when I journeyed to the well-known Cosmic  Center of Lancaster, Pennsylvania to commune with a mysterious pagan cult, which, it turns out, bears a remarkable resemblance to my everyday nephew, Jeff, and his family.

I had some trepidation, not so much because of my Christian sensibilities, but because I doubted I could get up before dawn to greet the sunrise. While I wanted to show respect for my only nephew’s faith tradition, I also like to sleep.

But I’m ahead of myself, as usual.

Not Lancaster, Pennsylvania

GATHERING AT THE TABLE

The rituals began in the early evening of the longest night of the year, with the roasting of a sacrificial offering; in this case, it was peanut butter cookies baked by my grand-niece, Savanah. While we munched the sacrificial cookies (nary a crumb was left for the Gods), we painted symbols on black rocks to be used in the rituals. The Druid princess and artist in residence — otherwise known as Jeff’s new wife, Ali — helped me transform my fingerprint into a mystical golden bear track with the help of a paint-stick from the local craft store.

My Rock, with bear paw and symbols of light & hope, Saint Francis (patron saint of ecology), balance & integration, and God's protective love for everyone and everything  -- betcha didn't see that!

My Rock, with bear paw and symbols of light & hope, Saint Francis (patron saint of ecology), balance & integration, and God’s protective love for everyone and everything — betcha didn’t see that!

While the rock images dried, we partook of a traditional pagan repast.

Spaghetti, followed by mint chocolate chip ice cream.

After the feast, the table was transformed into an altar (although even with the lights off, it still looked suspiciously like a suburban dining room). Ali’s parents and her brother, Jeff and his four kids, and this blogger each explained the symbols they had painted on their rocks, and we sang a nice song about being children of the earth. Ali lit a candle and some incense (to symbolize fire and air, she said) and explained that pine needles (from the earth) and water are natural elements with which we are all connected.

No argument there.

Druidism is a form of Paganism (earth-based religion) that is connected with Celtic traditions, and I am fully aligned with Celtic Christianity, which honors the earth as God’s sacred creation and recognizes that humans are a part of God’s creation and co-creators with God, working to make the world a more loving place.

candle

IN THE BEAR CAVE

The Bear was the theme of the night. Ali told the story of Leto, a goddess from ancient Greek mythology whose dalliance with Zeus resulted in the birth of twins, Apollo and Artemis. The bear is sacred in this story, but I have to admit I have already forgotten why. It seems the protective mother bear goddess does not save us from absent-mindedness; besides, I got all distracted when Ali said that bears will not give birth to cubs unless there is enough food. If Mamma doesn’t put on enough weight before it’s time to hibernate, the embryo will reabsorb instead of implanting itself. How cool is that?

grizzly bear: adult grizzly bear with cubs -- Britannica Online ...

Mama Bear and Cubs
Credit: Britannica Online

But I digress.

Jeff led us in a chant, and while there was a good bit of kid-giggling at first, it slowly subsided as the mellow tones soothed their inner goofballs. Then he led a guided meditation where we ended up in a cave with a bear. It’s OK, though. Nobody got hurt. In fact, my bear morphed into a kind of motherly Jesus, and I felt safe.

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

The thing I found most interesting about these rituals is that they mirror almost exactly the rituals that I employ for Christ-centered contemplative prayer services. In our “prayer practices,” as we call them, we use candles, purifying water, different types of soils, and natural elements. I lead guided meditations and visualizations of the natural world. Last Ash Wednesday, I led a chant.

There is nothing new under the sun, as the book of Ecclesiastes says. Humans have been reaching for God in the same ways ever since we became aware of our “disconnected” condition. Except for the humans who have decided there is nothing to reach for and nobody to connect to.

The Christian narrative is different from the Pagan stories, of course, since we believe that the Spirit of Jesus allows us to access the very power of God to transform ourselves and our lives as we become who God intended us to be. Pagans have lots of Gods and Goddesses.

Personally, I believe that the Holy Spirit lives and works in everyone, regardless of what we call It, and whether we know it or acknowledge it or not. It’s just that when people intentionally work with the Spirit and are open to “going with the flow,” they will get farther in becoming the unique, whole, healthy humans they were designed to be.

THE LIGHT

After the lights came on and the incense smoke cleared, we all cuddled on the couches and went back to watching Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas and the whole night felt holy and sacred.

Cropped screenshot of Bing Crosby and Danny Ka...

And yes, I did manage to make my appearance on the morning following solstice, and we stood on a hillside at a local park and serenaded the sunrise.

Just as I trust that the days are now getting longer, I trust that God’s purposes will be accomplished, no matter how we label ourselves or divide ourselves.

The Light will overcome the darkness. That is the Plan, whether the candles are lit by Druids, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

We are all One. We all love, we all grieve, we all long for wholeness and truth. If we reach for God, we will find God reaching for us.

Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, and may you see the sacred in everyday things like peanut butter cookies, black and white movies, and children’s giggles.

Lancaster Sunrise

Lancaster Sunrise

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