Category Archives: Pagan

VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Today’s Viewpoints question is a highly theological one, but it got my writers talking. And hopefully you, dear readers, will chime in with a few thoughts, too.

VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Fran Salone-Pelletier

Fran Salone-Pelletier

My response to that question reflects my experience with a “human higher power”—my father. Daddy was an immigrant from Italy and an older parent. I was the first of four children, born when my father was 44 years old in the days when parenting at that age was unusual. He reflected his Victorian-era birthing time and was a strict disciplinarian. We never asked why, we only responded to his demands. This did not mean he was cruel or abusive. It just underscored a limited relationship based on fear of angering him or disappointing him or annoying him. Fear obliterated deep love.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church at a time when that kind of fear translated into my understanding of God as a paternal taskmaster who counted all the good deeds but also kept strict score of errors of any sort. Walking on spiritual eggs made a faith journey nearly impossible.

As I grew in wisdom, various experiences caused me to examine my consciousness of love and fear as opposites. I could not love a God I feared. I could not continue to fear a God I wished to love.

So, I took a chance. I decided to believe I could never do anything to make God love me more; nor could I do anything to make God love me less.

The result has been astoundingly freeing. I both love and trust God. Fear has been banished. In its place, there is awesome love, love that impels me into an ever-deepening relationship both with God and all creation.

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Steve Lee

Steve Lee

From a Buddhist perspective, this question is irrelevant. In fact, the questions about the very existence of a higher power are irrelevant. The essence of the Buddhist project is threefold: individual and societal awakening to the true nature of existence, realizing the true nature of existence in everyday life and becoming liberated from the debilitating effects of a false understanding of the true nature of existence. The true nature of existence is summarized in the three Buddhist principles of annica, dukha, and annata: life is impermanent; life includes those things that we typically avoid or fear—such as old age, sickness and death—and there is no permanent, abiding self.

All of the many and varied Buddhist practices are aimed at awakening, realization and liberation. Spending time debating the existence of a higher power or the nature of a relationship to a higher power becomes a diversion from the path of awakening, work that is mostly individual and internal. Nyanaponika Thera, writing in “In Buddhism and the God-Idea”, quotes a passage of scripture that gets at the diversionary quality of questions about a higher power:

“Not far from here do you need to look!
Highest existence — what can it avail?
Here in this present aggregate,
In your own body overcome the world!”

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Victoria Rouch

Victoria Rouch

My mother always told me her image of God kept her from getting close to him. She said she always imagined him as having a long white beard and angry, flashing eyes. I don’t know a lot about her childhood other than her father was less than attentive. Perhaps that is why her image of God the Father was less than welcoming.

My image of a higher power doesn’t engender fear. Witches don’t see god or the gods as most in the mainstream religions do. Our higher power is one that allows us to make mistakes. Any punishment we receive is via karma or through our own doing. We believe what you do will be visited upon you three-fold, not by some faceless entity but through Universal Law. If you send out negative energy, it comes back to you with increased force. It’s like throwing a boomerang. Good or bad, you always get released energy coming back to you.

And because Pagans in general believe in both male and female deities, we also have a balanced perspective. The masculine strength of the father figure is balanced by the nurturing softness of the mother. It’s hard to fear something that guides and comforts you. Perhaps that’s one of the things that attracted me to Paganism in the first place. There is male and female energy in everything, a yin and a yang. But religion in general has exempted itself from that duality and only seems to recognize the male, in most cases. Mary was instrumental in bringing forth Jesus, but once her job was done she was relegated to a minor supporting role. That’s rather sad, because that female energy makes the Divine far less intimidating, and much more approachable to me and others who are attracted to both the Mother and Father aspect.

I guess my short answer is that the question doesn’t apply to me. I don’t fear consequences from a Higher Power. I have more fear of my own weaknesses. And any negative consequences I’ve ever suffered came not through punishment from above, but through my own doing.

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Gabrielle Barone, guest contributor

“The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to turn from evil is understanding.” Job 28:28.

There are a lot of references to fear of God in the Old and New Testaments. But what does the word fear really mean? In the Old Testament, there are at least four different Hebrew words for fear. Yirah and pachad have to do with fear, terror and dread, whereas yare and kabad are reverence, honor and glorification. The New Testament Greek has four words for fear: timao and eulabeia are honor, veneration and value; phobeo is shocking and paralytic ; and deilia, which is timidity and cowardice. In our relationship with the Divine all of these aspects of fear come into play at one time or another. As an evangelical Christian, I know the fear of God is linked to the revelation of his sovereignty. He is a God who is big and holy and frightening and gentle and tender and MINE; a God who frightens me into his strong and powerful arms and whispers three terrifying words, “I love you.” As C.S. Lewis said “Is God good? Yes. But He is not safe.” The presence of the Divine has always brought fear to the heart of sinful man, but the fear that leads to wisdom is acknowledging we can’t go it alone. We need a savior.

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Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

One of the Hindu scriptures answers this question with vivid imagery. In “The Bhagavad Gita,” Prince Arjuna has an inner vision of Lord Krishna’s “terrifying and marvelous cosmic form.” (BG 11:20)

At first, Arjuna falls “in adoration before the Lord” as Creator: “Clothed in mantles of light and garlands of blossoming heavens – the infinite, wondrous and resplendent One – facing everywhere simultaneously,” enhanced with “an indescribable fragrance.” (BG 11:11, 14).

Next, Arjuna prostrates in awe when he meets the Sustainer, whose “body is the entire cosmos… the treasure house of the universe, the refuge of all creatures, the eternal guardian of timeless wisdom.” (BG 11:16, 18).

Then Arjuna sees the Divine as the Destroyer: “When I look into your terrible jaws with fearful tusks, I see the fires of the end of time… Now I understand that all creatures, like moths to a flame, are rushing headlong into your gaping jaws of death.” (BG 11:25, 29).

Fearful, Arjuna begins “trembling uncontrollably” and pleads: “I am terrified by your cosmic form. O God of gods… mercifully show your more familiar form to me.” (BG 11:35, 45).

For Arjuna to love Krishna again, he has to reduce the Divine within to a human form.

I believe, like Arjuna, we are in turn in adoration before the Divine, or prostrated in awe, or pleading in fear. At any time in our lives, ours is the power to choose which aspect of the Divine within we want to activate.

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Andy Lee

Andy Lee

I don’t think anyone can come to know God through fear. Only loves draws us to him, yet he is holy. He is perfect love. Just as we can’t survive in the presence of pure oxygen, we can’t survive in the presence of pure love. But he made a way.

The God I respect and love is the God who died for me. He made a way for me to stand in his perfect presence one day. Until then, his Holy Spirit is my teacher, purifier and friend. His love changes me.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18, 19).

‘Occult’ filming picks spooky spots in the Cape Fear area

By Cassie Foss
Cassie.Foss@StarNewsOnline.com
Copyright 2012 StarNewsOnline.com
Reprinted with permission

Maybe it’s the rural setting or the quaint, historical chapel at Shelter Neck’s Universalist Unitarian Camp, but something screams “The Occult” in Burgaw.

The local production, which kicked off filming in the region the week of March 20, has chosen the camp and the surrounding area as the setting of the fictional village of New Bethlehem, a devout community kept under the tight reins of the town’s vigilant elders, according to Blaise Noto, a publicist for the film.

But the production wasn’t satisfied with just being in the country.

On Wednesday, film crews began to spread dirt over about a quarter-mile stretch of Croomsbridge Road near the camp.

The road is expected to be closed near 3747 Croomsbridge until April 14, according to a N.C. Department of Transportation news release.

Although the horror thriller isn’t a period piece, the dirt is designed to give the area a more “countrified” feel, Noto said.

The story follows six girls who are born on the same day to different mothers.

On the eve of their 18th birthdays, the girls begin to mysteriously disappear and are feared dead.

The elders of the village believe the girls’ disappearances are linked to an old prophecy that foretells the coming of the devil’s daughter via the villagers.

Terror overtakes the community, leading villagers to wonder if a serial killer is at work or if the prophecy has come true.

The film, an LD Entertainment Production directed by Christian Christiansen (“The Roommate”) and written by Karl Mueller, stars Rufus Sewell (“The Illusionist”) and Alycia Debnam-Carey.

Heche has worked in the area before. She was cast in last year’s locally filmed “Arthur Newman, Golf Pro” and she had a small role in the 1997’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”

Sewell stars in the upcoming “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

Other recent cast additions include Colm Meaney (“Law Abiding

Colm J. Meaney, an Irish actor widely known fo...

Colm J. Meaney, an Irish actor widely known for playing Miles O'Brien in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, sits as he speaks into a microphone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Citizen”), Jennifer Carpenter (“Dexter”) and Cary native singer/songwriter Katie Garfield, who will play Abby, one of the village’s young women.

Burgaw isn’t the only spooky spot cast members will visit.

Location scouts chose Marilyn Meares’ Chestnut Street bungalow in Wilmington as the setting of at least one scene in the film.

The conservation consultant said she came home from work recently to find a note from production scouts taped to her front door.

Scouts may have chosen her bungalow, built in 1923, because of its location in an established neighborhood and its lush, leafy vegetation, Meares said.

They also needed a long hallway.

“I think the main thing they needed was a hallway for people to run through and hide, and I’ve got a long one that goes to my bedroom,” she said. “It just kind of came together.”

The film is expected to shoot at the home Monday through Thursday.

Crews also filmed scenes this month at a wooded area at Autumn Hall Lake near Eastwood Road.

Filming is expected to continue through the end of April, Noto said.

Cassie Foss: 343-2365
On Twitter: @WilmOnFilm

Study offers view of religious life behind prison walls

Two inmates in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Lino Lakes, join together in prayer as part of the Christian-based program in their medium-security unit. The program developed by Prison Fellowship aims to reduce the chances they'll return behind bars, but has been labeled unconstitutional in a lawsuit. Photo by Steve Wewerka.

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Behind high prison walls and rolls of barbed wire, Muslim and pagan inmates are most likely to have extreme religious views and be the least assisted by religious volunteers.

Most prisoners who want religious books will get them, but wearing a beard is far less likely to be permitted. And the majority of chaplains who serve convicted murderers, thieves and other criminals are satisfied with their jobs.

Those and other findings form a snapshot of religious life behind bars in a report that was released Thursday (March 22) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, based on the perceptions of 730 chaplains who serve in the nation’s state prison systems.

As the U.S. has grown more religiously diverse, the prison population has, too, but often in different directions, said Stephanie Boddie, a senior researcher on the study.

“The unaffiliated is growing in the general population but it’s decreasing in the prison population,” said Boddie, who noted the Pew findings are based on the impressions of chaplains rather than official prison statistics.

“We also have 1 percent of Muslims in the general population but in some of the prisons we had as high as 20 percent, and in some prisons they had 0 percent.”

The majority of chaplains reported a significant amount of “religious switching,” and said it’s common for inmates to try to convert other prisoners. But Cary Funk, another senior researcher with the study, said chaplains report that some of those conversions may be short-lived.

“Inmates can be motivated by things that on the outside we might take for granted but on the inside have a lot more value — things like special food, special holidays,” she said. “One chaplain put it that they were privilege-based conversions not religious-based conversions.”

While a sizable minority of chaplains says religious extremism is common among prisoners, only 4 percent said it “almost always” poses a threat to prison security. Muslim chaplains were less likely to say they had encountered widespread religious extremism.

Boddie said generally the chaplains were not dealing with what might usually be considered “extremism” by people outside prison walls.

“They don’t talk as much about some of the ways that possibly are more commonly thought of in terms of anti-government or anti-authority and violence,” she said.

The chaplains described extremism as intolerance of racial or social groups, religious exclusivity and particular requests for accommodation, such as asking for raw meat for a Voodoo ritual. Close to half said their prisons have consulted with experts about suspected religious extremism or provided extra supervision for religious meetings.

The vast majority of chaplains are Christian and they are mostly white, male, middle-aged and conservative in their theological and political beliefs. The chaplains often reported that they had more Christian volunteers than necessary but lacked Muslim, pagan and Native American volunteers.

Tom O’Connor, a former Oregon prison chaplain who runs the company Transforming Corrections, said more trained volunteers are needed to help move inmates away from anti-social behavior. But he said he was heartened to learn that researchers found that Muslim chaplains constituted 7 percent of the respondents, and cited a program at Hartford Seminary that is training new prospects.

“More and more, Islam is producing chaplains in America because we desperately do need more of them,” said O’Connor, who advised researchers on the study.

But O’Connor cautioned against lumping too many diverse beliefs together when considering what might be extreme behavior. In the Pew report, Muslims included the Nation of Islam, a movement founded on black pride and racial separation, and pagan and earth-based religions included Asatru, which is sometimes associated with white supremacists.

“I’ve never come across a racially superior-inclined Wiccan,” he said.

Prisoner requests for religious accommodation reflect a range of faiths. Chaplains said about half of the requests tend to be granted for special religious diets and sacred items such as turbans, crucifixes and eagle feathers.

Despite the lack of certain kinds of volunteers and the time spent on paperwork rather than religious services, about two-thirds of chaplains report high job satisfaction.

But they say work needs to be done. Hardly any think the prison system is doing an excellent job on preparing prisoners to re-enter society. And there is near consensus among the chaplains that first-time nonviolent offenders should be sentenced to community service or mandatory drug counseling instead of prison terms.

The survey was based on a response rate of about 50 percent from 1,474 chaplains who were asked to complete Web or paper questionnaires last year, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

A prison chapel that started with a plow – Pender Correctional breaks ground on its new chapel

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By AMANDA GREENE
WilmingtonFAVS

Since the future prison chapel at Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw began as a community effort, with more than 100 local churches and individuals giving money, its groundbreaking today (March 14) was no different.

“At most groundbreakings, you see folks with their shiny silver or gold shovels turning a little bit of dirt,” said the prison’s contract Chaplain Jimmy Joseph. “But we have a lot of dirt to move today so you all get to be the mules.”

In the prison yard, about 30 corrections officials, leaders with N.C. Baptist Men, the Burgaw mayor and community members grabbed a long thick rope attached to an old farm plow with Joseph at the helm.

“And pull,” the chaplain shouted. Tug-of-war-style, attendees in coats, ties and skirts leaned back on their rope section, pulling that plow and breaking ground on the 4,200 square foot facility. The community has been planning and fundraising for this day for the last six years.

In his speech chronicling the long road to building the chapel, retired Chaplain James Spiritosanto said: “It took King Solomon 46 years to build the Temple, and I’m happy to report, we are ahead of schedule.”

The need for a chapel became apparent to the prison’s chaplains over years of trying to schedule the hundreds of inmates who wanted to participate in the prison’s faith curriculum into a classroom that will only fit 30 at a time.

The new building’s auditorium will seat 200. There are 768 inmates in the prison, Joseph said.

The chapel will also have two classrooms, offices for the chaplaincy staff, restrooms and storage space. A large stained glass window in the gable of the auditorium will capture eastern light in the mornings. The building will be a wood-framed structure with brick veneer to match the other buildings in the prison.

With the help of volunteer labor from N.C. Baptist Men, Joseph hopes to be cutting a grand opening ribbon on the chapel in six months. Pender’s chapel project is the first construction task inside a prison for the N.C. Baptist Men.

“We found it to be a worthy project. How could we say no?” said Gaylon Moss, coordinator of disaster relief and volunteerism for the group.

This project was also a first for the North Carolina Department of Corrections. Usually, the prison system takes bids from licensed contractors to complete prison building projects. But the majority of labor on this project will be volunteers, along with area contractors who are overseeing the construction.

His voice shaking with emotion, the project’s contractor Billy Soots told attendees, “I hope this project is a light to this community, to this campus and enriches the kingdom of God.”

Pender prison to break ground on its chapel Wednesday

By AMANDA GREENE
Wilmington Faith and Values

It’s been six years of fundraising with donations coming from 74 area churches and 88 people in Southeastern North Carolina. But this week Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw will break ground on its freestanding chapel.

PCI will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the 4,200 square foot facility at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Only invited guests can attend.

With labor donated from N.C. Baptist Men, the Pender County prison hopes to complete its new chapel in six months.

For many years, the space used as the chapel in the prison was a 20 foot by 24 foot classroom space, the walls lined with bookshelves full of holy texts and reference material for different faiths.

In the North Carolina prison system, privately-funded chapels are fairly rare. According to N.C. prison system records, as of 2010, out of the state’s 70 prisons with chapels, only nine were built with private money.

The new building’s auditorium will seat 200, where the former room seated 30. There are 768 inmates in the prison, said Pender Correctional Chaplain Jimmy Joseph.

The chapel will also have two classrooms, offices for the chaplaincy staff, restrooms and storage space. A large stained glass window in the gable of the auditorium will capture eastern light in the mornings, “creating a worshipful atmosphere in the building,” Joseph wrote in an email. The building will be a wood framed structure with brick veneer to match the other buildings in the prison.

Stay tuned for more on this story. Wilmington Faith and Values reporters will attend the ceremony on Wednesday.

Viewpoints: Should the government require employers to provide contraception coverage to their employees?

By AMANDA GREENE
Wilmington Faith and Values

Each day this week has been marked by some new angle about a mandate in the national healthcare law that would require all employers to provide health insurance that would cover contraception. That would include religious groups who oppose contraception.

Raleigh Catholic diocese Bishop Michael Burbidge issued a statement about the requirement recently, calling it “a violation of rights.”

In Politico, on Religion News Service and in every major newspaper, political groups, Catholic groups and many others are hotly debating this law.

Here’s our take on why.

“This threat by the Catholic Church is a bluff.”

Victoria Rouch

Victoria Rouch: “I normally don’t listen to right wing talk radio, but sometimes I do when there’s some big controversy roiling. Yesterday, I took a deep breath and tuned it to Sean Hannity, whose every other comment included the phrase “war on religion.” Apparently, he thinks the Obama administration‘s refusal to exempt church-run schools, universities and hospitals from a mandate requiring them to offer birth control coverage in employee health plans is another volley in this “war.”

That is a curiously paranoid take on all of this. And a curiously ironic one, given that 58 percent of Catholics believe employee health plans should provide birth control. And a whopping 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women admit to using birth control, according to a 2011 Guttmacher Institute study cited by White House officials.

The church not only seems out of step with modern medical advances, which allow families to plan and prepare for children. But it also seems out of touch with its own members who overwhelmingly disobey church teachings forbidding use of such measures. It seems ridiculous to refuse to provide a health care option that has been used not only by a majority of practicing Catholics but also by employees who do not share their faith.

War on religion? It seems to me that religion has declared a war on everyone else, especially when an institution like the Catholic Church threatens to stop providing health insurance should the administration not capitulate to their demands.

I personally think this threat by the Catholic Church is a bluff. If the church is going to drop healthcare coverage for thousands of workers in this economy, the backlash is going to be enormous. They may argue that they are doing this on moral grounds because the church doesn’t want to pay for something it morally opposes.

As long as Catholic leaders are going to rely on a labor market comprised of those who do not share their views – or their faith – they have no right to push their religious beliefs on their employees. They should offer the option and count themselves fortunate to remain tax-exempt so long as they continue to send surrogates out to engage in partisan politics as they are clearly doing on this issue.”

“More disclosure was needed before bill was passed.”

Clay Ritter

Clay Ritter: “To me there are two ethical problems here, and the current problem is a result of the first problem. Issue number one is that the American people were kept in the dark that this was part of the ObamaCare bill.

To quote one representative, “We have to pass it to see what’s in it.” I would assert that it was unethical for legislation to be passed without the proper discussion, debate and disclosure to the American people. The groups this mandate affects would have opposed the legislation or, at least, requested changes to it. (I would call this an unintended consequence, but I believe that the mandate was very intentional.)

One result of the first ethical violation is where certain organizations that are morally and spiritually opposed to birth control now find themselves mandated to pay for it, whether its employees want it or not.

We live in a supposed free society, where private organizations should be free to operate according to their charter and according to their own set of moral principles. As long as they do not violate the law or infringe on the constitutional rights of others, they should be free to offer, or not offer, whatever benefits they choose to their employees.

If the employees are not happy with those benefits, they can choose to seek employment elsewhere.”

What do you think?

Panel discussion: Should Catholic priests be allowed to marry?

By AMANDA GREENE
Religion News Wilmington

Last week’s revelation that Los Angeles Catholic Bishop Gabino Zavala resigned after fathering two children in secret brought back an age-old debate – should Catholic priests be allowed to marry?

We asked our Religion News Wilmington contributors to weigh in on this issue. They had a lot to say, and I’m sure you will, too, after you read their thoughts.

Tracy Bua Smith, our Catholic family life blogger

“As a married Catholic woman, my response to scandals that occur within the church is not to leave my Catholic faith. . . It makes me sad to hear of priests’ struggles, like it makes me sad to hear how anyone struggles with temptations in this world.  This is why our family continues to pray for our priests and religious (vocations) and pray for more holy vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  We are reminded too many times of priests breaking their vow of celibacy, which is a reminder to our family to get down on our knees and pray for all those who struggle with the vocation they have been called to live.”

Fran Salone-Pelletier, religion columnist for Brunswick Beacon

“I am married to a Roman Catholic priest who has not given up his priesthood. He can’t because, once ordained, the man (unfortunately the law prevents women to be so ordained) is a priest forever. . .The problem/challenge lies in the fact that celibacy is mandatory. I submit that optional celibacy would clarify matters considerably. The option would automatically screen out those candidates whose celibacy is artificial and incomplete. It would afford the church the additional charisma of a wife’s viewpoint or a family’s viewpoint.”

Han Hills, our humanism and atheism blogger

“Beyond outdated historical tradition, the command to celibacy simply and harmfully serves to attack the most basic functions of the human condition. Our key natural drive is to procreate, and this creates undeniable natural need to fulfill sexual desire. Of course, each of us should, in fact must, have the right and wisdom to exercise restraint as to their own choice of action, but to impose a policy of compulsory abstinence is simply to deny basic natural law.”

Diana Pasulka, our American Catholic history blogger

“In every major religion there are monks and nuns, people who renounce worldly life to pursue mystic union with the sacred. In almost all of these traditions celibacy is something that is a natural consequence of this lifestyle, for whatever reason. Buddhists make it a ‘precept’ and several denominations of Buddhism require strict celibacy that even encompasses not looking at the opposite sex. In Hinduism, there is brahmacharya, which is celibacy. Catholicism shouldn’t be exempt from this tradition, and in fact it isn’t.

Some people say that celibacy is not ‘natural.’ However, it is natural, or it wouldn’t have arisen within these traditions. It is not normal, but neither is extreme athleticism or extreme brilliance. Just as a Michael Jordan, who excels in athletics, and Albert Einstein and Marilyn Vos Savant (possessor of the highest IQ) who excel in brilliance, are not normal, so are holy people who choose to belong to the ancient tradition of celibacy.”

Philip Stine, our Bible blogger

“Many other priests and nuns I’ve talked to over the years declare they are celibate so they can serve God with no distractions. And yet sex is a basic human drive, and avoiding it can in itself be a distraction. Seeking to have a partner and a family is normal for all of us, and as a result there are many other priests and bishops who have chosen the course that Bishop Zavala did. How sad to have to live a lie. I would challenge the assumption that my love is divided (as a married man). Loving a spouse or partner and family in no way limits loving God. On the contrary, the one can be an expression of the other.”

Victoria Rouch, our paganism blogger

“I’ve never really understood how priests can counsel married couples if they have no experience with relationships or marriage. It seems they are boxed into a very artificial existence in which they have to suppress the very natural and – I believe – God-given urges to love, bond, couple and grow old with another person. . . I’m not saying that everyone who takes a vow of celibacy can’t live happily under such a condition. But it’s very unnatural and it doesn’t surprise me a bit that we’re finding stories of secret marriages, molestation and other evidence of what happens when people are forced to deny themselves love and sexuality in the name of religious service.”

Christine Moughamian, our world faiths blogger

“Intended to transmute sexual energy into spiritual energy, celibacy is observed by many world faiths as a path to enlightenment. Communities of monks and nuns are supported in their vows by the very structure of the convent life in Buddhism, Hinduism and Catholicism. Problems arise when a priest, with no support from such a community, is required to engage in secular life outside a convent’s wall, residing year-round in an isolated dwelling near the church.”

What do you think?

Amanda Greene: Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

The Twelfth Night: Epiphany

By Blogger Christine Moughamian

If the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem signifies to some Christians the birth of Christ consciousness within, what then shall we see in the gifts of the Magi?

Twelve days after Christmas, Jan. 6, Friday, marks Epiphany, a celebration of the divine nature of Christ manifested to the three Magi.

Symbolically, it could be said that:

– Melchior gives royal gold, for the infinite wealth of God’s kingdom, within.

Frankincense and myrrh

– Balthazar gives frankincense, a substance used in ancient rituals to both conceal God with its smoke and reveal God with its scent.

– And Gaspar gives myrrh, an aromatic gum resin that aids in breathing in the Holy Spirit.

Medically, it is interesting to note that frankincense can be used as a hemostatic agent to stop the flow of blood from an open wound. As to myrrh, it has antiseptic and sedative properties. Its camphor aroma also aids with breathing.

Don’t you think these gifts would be as precious as gold for a birthing woman, especially in a small village in Palestine some… 2000 years ago?

And yet, why would the visit of the Magi have postdated the birth of Christ by a full twelve days?

The answer may be traced back to the pagan feast of the Epiphany, which concluded the Twelve Days of the Yule Festival from Dec. 25- Jan. 6, the Festival of the Rebirth of Light (Yule) from the womb of the Goddess Isis, Queen of the Night.

Traditionally known as “The Twelfth Night,” the Feast of the Epiphany included decorating houses with greenery, candle-lighting, singing processions and exchanges of gifts. The Celtic druids cut mistletoe off the sacred oak tree and gave it as a blessing for the New Year.

Over time, the Roman Catholic Church appropriated the Feast of the Epiphany as the visit of the Magi bringing gifts to the revelatory manifestation of the divine child. In an effort to systematically convert pagans, it was decided by several councils to set Christian holidays on dates overlapping with Pagan Festivals. The most famous one is the Council of Nicaea, which regulated most of the Christian liturgy and articulated the “Nicene Creed,” 325 years AFTER Christ’s birth.

The Armenian Apostolic Church still observes Christmas on Jan. 6, while this year, some Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, the date on the Gregorian calendar (ours) which corresponds to Dec. 25 on the Julian calendar (Roman).

Isn’t it fascinating to see how world faiths merge and combine to create rituals by which to explain natural phenomena (such as increasing light at the winter solstice) and honor their mystery?

To this day, I can recall my Armenian grandmother and her Christmas celebrations that began on Dec. 24, continued with Masses and meals all the way through Jan. 6, her Armenian Christmas and our French Catholic “Fête des Rois,” or “Kings’ Feast.” At the time, my siblings and I were more interested in “la galette des rois,” the kings’ cake and its hidden porcelain fava bean, another remnant of the Twelfth Night Festivities. Indeed, whoever picked “la fève” was declared Queen or King, chose their consort and got to wear a golden cardboard crown all night.

In order to Christianize the tradition some more, the fava bean is sometimes replaced by a porcelain baby to represent Jesus.

In contemporary English, common language has integrated the word “epiphany” to mean an inner realization, a moment of awakening when we’re “enlightened” by an inner “light bulb.”

Whether inherited from the Yule Festival, birthed by the Goddess Isis or brought by Three Magi, what epiphany will the Twelfth Night reveal to you?

What to expect in 2012 from Religion News Wilmington

Dear readers,

Thank you for reading Religion News Wilmington in 2011!

In 2011 we gave you:

  • Non-sectarian news of faith issues through the winter holiday seasons
  • 15 community contributors on many areas of faith including Catholicism, Judaism, evangelical Christianity, Humanism, world faiths and more

But hold on to your seats, folks, because 2012 is going to bring amazing things to this venture.

In 2012, get ready for:

  • A spiffy new magazine-slick site launching in the spring (our national template from Religion News LLC) with daily quotes, featured stories and bloggers, a community religion calendar, community church/faith organization listings, opportunities to advertise, fund-raising events and so much more!
  • At least 30 community contributors writing about the faith issues and intersections of public life and religion today
  • More media partnerships in radio, online and more
  • More local faith news (I hope to get to write much more frequently as the new site launches.)
  • A community speakers bureau. Need an interesting speaker about the faith news of today for your next community organization meeting? Call on Religion News Wilmington.
  • More multimedia slideshows and locally-produced videos of faith events and views in the Wilmington area

So please keep reading and *Like* us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @iwritereligion.

Thanks!

Amanda Greene, Editor

Here comes the sun! The Winter Solstice

By Blogger Christine Moughamian

I’ve always been questing for something bigger than me. I mean, way bigger.

At five, I’d gaze at the night sky to the star closest to the moon, my secret friend – my lucky star. At 18, I hitchhiked throughout French Brittany, La Bretagne, with my boyfriend du jour to watch the sunrise over Celtic stone megaliths. At 19, I hitchhiked with a girlfriend throughout Great Britain, La Grande Bretagne, in search of light beams from UFO’s, Unidentified Flying Objects.

Across the universe from La Bretagne to La Grande Bretagne, from the earth to

Stonehenge computer graphic by Jim Downer

the moon and UFO’s, it’s clear I’ve always been a seeker of B.I.G.: Big Illuminated Galaxies.

So it’s no wonder that every year, the winter solstice holds a special meaning for me, with the rebirth of our brightest star, the Sun, and the return of Light.

Technically, the Sun never “died” and the Light never “left” us. The phenomenon simply occurs when the Earth, after rotating around the Sun for six months, tilts its polar axis the furthest away from it. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun rises directly above the Tropic of Capricorn. Depending on the shift of the calendar, this celestial event can happen on December 21 to 23. The new dawn heralds the lengthening of days until they peak at the summer solstice, around June 20 to 21 the following year. In 2011, the end of the longest night of the year falls at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday December 22.

Since the beginning of time, world faiths and cultures have used myths and legends to explain the wondrous workings of the universe. Our ancestors celebrated with Earth rites, songs, dances and ceremonies of rebirth. My old English book “The Year of the Goddess, A Perpetual Calender of Festivals,” by Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, lists a few.

Starting on December 19, the Romans held seven days of festivities known as “Saturnalia,” during which they decorated their temples with greens and gave their families and friends holly sprigs with wishes of health and well-being.

In Egypt, December 21 marked the resurrection of the Sun-God in the Womb of the Lady Isis, the astrological House of the Goat (Capricorn).

On December 22, the Ancient Greeks celebrated the birth of the Divine Child, named Horus, Osiris, or Helios, in the temple of Persephone, the Goddess of the Underworld.

Can you see the parallels between those festivals termed “pagan” by the Christian church and the celebrations of Christmas?

Indeed, Earth rites and Christian traditions blend perfectly in Psalm 74:16.

Yours is the day, yours also the night.
You made the luminaries of the sky,
The sun, moon and stars.

In fact, according to an internet post by Lawrence Kelemen titled “The Real Story of Christmas,” some time in the fourth century of our Common Era, the Christian church succeeded in converting masses of Roman pagans to Christianity “by promising them they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians.”

There was only one problem: nothing about the Saturnalia was Christian.

So “those Christian leaders named the final day of the Saturnalia, December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday.”

Truly, isn’t it amazing that throughout the ages, we’ve attempted to understand the world around us and created meaningful metaphors in the process?

This winter solstice, you can choose to celebrate the return of the Light within or without. You can resonate with this Celtic Benediction I adapted from J. Philip Newel’s book “Celtic Benediction, Morning and Night Prayer.”

As it was in the still morning
So may it be in the silent night.
As it was in the unseen life of the womb
So may it be at my birth into eternity.
As it was in the beginning, O Spirit of the Universe,
So in the end, may your Light be born.

Or will you get up before dawn on Thursday December 22, step out into the night, and your eyes turned to the Eastern horizon, greet the new dawn with a smile and a song?

Either way, it’s alright, isn’t it?

Here comes the sun!