What is my life…

Or more accurately, what is my theology…

Turns out I have very little idea. It used to be a lot simpler – for most of my life I classed myself as Christian, and was therefore monotheistic. Huzzah, job done. Except it wasn’t really. Followers of Judaism and Islam have it easier in a way, as they are certainly, definitely, absolutely monotheistic. The vast majority of Christians on the other hand (excluding groups such as the Cathars) have to grapple with the concept of the Trinity, which is at once both incredibly simple, and utterly mind-bogglingly confusing.

shield-trinity-scutum-fidei-english-svg
The diagram called the Shield of the Trinity. Taken from Wikipedia.

Now most of my Bible reading hasn’t been a from a ‘proper’ Bible, but the amazing  The Childrens’ Bible in 365 Stories, which I’ve had for as long as I can remember. It’s got all the usual stories you find in kids’ Bibles, but also a load that you don’t, as a result of which I’ve been able to answer questions at church quizzes that none of the adults there have known. But I digress. This version of the Bible is where I got most of my Christian knowledge from, with bits added from Sunday School, and it was only when I hit my teens that I discovered that we were supposed to believe that all three aspects of the Trinity had existed together forever, which made no sense to me. Granted there were mentions of God’s spirit before the Holy Spirit showed up at Jesus’ conception and baptism, or descended at Pentecost, so I could get behind the idea that the Holy Spook had been around for a while, and God the Father had obviously been around since the beginning of the Bible, but I just couldn’t get behind the idea that Jesus as the Son had been around for that long as well. It makes no sense to me, even now. Now if you take the view that God knows everything that’s ever going to happen then ok, yes, He knew there would be a point where He’d turn round and say ‘ok, you’re up’ and Jesus would be born on Earth and do His thing. But then you run into the whole free will issue, so ok, let’s say that God knows everything that could possibly happen, depending on what choices we make. Like the ‘choose your own fantasy/adventure’ novels – turn to this page and such-and-such will happen, turn to this page and you will get so-and-so. You don’t know what will happen, but the book contains all possible outcomes for every choice you could make. But then that would mean that one of the parts of the Trinity was just sitting around from the moment of creation on the off-chance They’d be needed. Nope, still doesn’t make sense. So the way my brain saw it was that you had God, then there was his Spirit that showed up a bit later, and then there was His Son who showed up a while after that. As to how that actually works, the best answer I can come up with is ‘buggered if I know’.

And I’ve just realised that my view of the Trinity is possibly closer to a hard polytheist’s view of the gods than anything else. What is my theology…

Anyway, despite this view of the three Persons of the Trinity I could never really explain how they’re all connected in a coherent way. They’re all part of the same god, but seperate, but not as seperate as say Bast and Thor are, but… Yeah. So I sort of sidestepped the problem of ‘how do I have three parts of God that are seperate but the same?’ The Shield of the Trinity that I posted above sort of helps but not really, and while you also have the image of the shamrock or clover as a depiction of the Trinity, with three leaves being part of one leaf, all I can ever think of is the line from the wonderful film Nuns on the Run where Brian (currently masquerading as a nun to avoid being killed by his boss and/or the Triads) has to give a theology lesson on the Trinity, forgets the ‘three leaves, but one leaf’ explanation and instead comes out with ‘God is like a shamrock… Small, green, and split three ways. Class dismissed’. It’s occasionally bothered me over the years that I’ve been unable to articulate one of the core parts of the Christian faith, or explain it, or even fully understand it, which I feel I should be able to do. But then why should I? I’m no theologian. I don’t claim to be able to know the workings of the mind of God, and while I don’t take the Bible literally there are things in it that I believe in, like the Resurrection, which defy rational explanation. Hell, one of the exercises in one of my RS lessons at school was ‘what are the possible explanations for the feeding of the five thousand, the Resurrection, etc.’, where we had things like ‘everyone else pooled their food as well’, ‘they were all spiritually fed’, ‘it was an actual miracle’, and so on. No definitive answer was expected to be given (posh girls’ school, not a faith school), and the other religions we studied were given the same treatment. It wasn’t done disrespectfully, and I had no objections to doing said exercise, but I was still stuck with the ‘there are certain things I believe as part of my faith, but they make no rational sense. And I don’t disbelieve them just because they make no rational sense. Arrgh’. So I sidestepped the issue. And it’s not like I haven’t had people questioning and challenging my Christian faith either – my best friend at high school was atheist and somewhat confrontational with it, and my second boyfriend was also atheist. I couldn’t always explain why I believed what I did, and I couldn’t explain the theology behind the Trinity. But then in a way I don’t really have to – this exchange between River Tam and Shepherd Book from Firefly pretty much explains why. (For those of you who haven’t seen it, River’s just been caught tearing pages out of Book’s Bible and scribbling notes in it in an attempt to ‘fix’ the problems and contradictions).

Book: River, you don’t fix the Bible.
River: It’s broken. It doesn’t make sense.
Book: It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.

Thus for my theology until my third year of uni. That was when I started to really look into and research Paganism, the reasons for which I’ll leave for another post, and while I was tempted to convert to Wicca (which made up the vast majority of what I found on the internet at that time) I ultimately didn’t as I was perfectly happy with my Christian theology, inexplicable as it was, and so just incorporated some of the practices of Wicca such as Deity candles and circle-casting. But I found the male/female split of Deity appealing, as while all the language used to describe God the Father was male (aside from in the film Dogma), which reflected the times in which the Bible was written, the times in which the canonical books were chosen, and the vast majority of the time when the Church has existed and taught, God Himself wasn’t a Him or a Her, but more of an It – even the Bible agrees with that: ‘so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them‘ – Genesis 1:27, NIV. And while I know there are Wiccans who work with Jesus and the Virgin Mary as their God and Goddess I went towards the Gnostic Christian route, which sees the Holy Spirit as female. So since I began to think of myself as Christo-Pagan as opposed to just Christian my theology has had God as the overarching Divine presence in the world – the spark of Divinity in every person, in the animals, the stones, every part of creation, more akin to the traditional Jewish concept of God than anything else, with Jesus as the easier-to-relate-to male aspect of God, and the Holy Spirit as His female counterpart. So for me, She is the Daughter of God in the same way that Jesus is the Son, and I refer to Her as Sophia, the personification of wisdom.

And I was happy with this. It had a balance to it, it felt right, and while I still struggled with the concept of the Trinity as a thing when I thought about it, I just treated the ‘true’ relationships between each of the three parts as something I would never be able to comprehend – a mystery of faith if you will. And everything went swimmingly until I got tapped by Freyja…

While the contents of this post have been bubbling at the back of my brian for a while, my actually sitting down and writing it tonight was sparked by a conversation I had this evening with the lovely Ellie of Open Circle at Treadwell’s. She was asking what I believed (reasons why to be part of another post), so I’d explained my reasons for becoming interested in Paganism, why I considered and then rejected conversion, and why I then ended up with my Gnostic-inspired-but-still-Christian view of Deity. And then I had Freyja hitting me over the head with a baseball bat to get my attention, which meant that I had to try and work out how She fitted in with Christos, Sophia, and God, and as I was saying this I knew that I had no idea. I really don’t. Is She seperate from God and are Christos and Sophia just facets of God in the same way that Freyja is battle-woman, witch, and lover? Are all four of Them seperate entities like hard polytheists would believe? Are they all aspects of one Goddess and one God? I have no idea, and unless I either get told by one of Them or have some kind of revalation I don’t think I’m ever going to know. And it bugs me that I can’t explain how They all fit together, or even if They fit together. But in a way it doesn’t matter. Sometimes with faith and belief you can’t explain or rationalise what you believe, it’s kind of where faith comes in. I have faith that Freyja exists, I have faith that God exists, I have faith that Christ and the Holy Spirit exist, and I have a few experiences that I can use to confirm my faith. Is it simple? Can I explain it? Hell no. Now this isn’t to say that one shouldn’t try to understand these things, and I’m not saying that I’m just going to sit back and go ‘eh, I’ll never understand this so I’m not going to bother trying’, but spirituality is a journey, and we’re always learning along the way. It’s ok to say ‘I don’t have the answers right now’, it’s ok to not immediately run out and do All Of The Research, or All Of The Divination/Prayer/Trancework/Whatever to get the answers. How I describe myself in religious terms has been slowly evolving since around 2005/2006, along with my faith, and my theology has followed suit.

For roughly the first two decades of my life I was technically monotheistic, but considering my best friend throughout primary school was Sikh and I was given a good education which included unbiased and multi-faith Religious Studies I was actually an unknowing henotheist – I knew there were other paths people took to Deity, and that people in the world believed in deities who weren’t the Abrahamic God, and I was happy to ackowledge this but just worship a single (sort of) godform, the Trinity. I don’t think that what Dad calls the mini-United Nations of a primary school I went to ever gave me the chance to even start to think that Christianity was the One And Only True Way. It was the Way that worked for me, so I kept following it. Then I started bringing Gnosticism in, and became a henotheist and sort-of soft polytheist, and then Freyja came along, so I have no idea what I would classify myself as. I’m guessing I actually count as polytheist now, but soft? Hard? Medium-rare? I’m not even sure any more how to define or describe myself. Definitely still Christo-Pagan, but where the Christian side of my faith was more Methodist than anything else, and the Pagan side was more Wiccan than anything else, I’ve now got the question of am I more than that? I don’t really consider myself a Heathen as my honouring of Freyja isn’t reconstructionist or even that similar to the practices of the Heathens I know, but I do consider myself to be Vanatruar due to my devotion to Freyja. I’m very ecumenical in my Christianity – I have been and will quite happily go to Catholic Mass, Quaker Meetings, Anglican services ranging from high- to low-church, and places like Emmaus Rd, the church a friend of mine went to before she moved across the country, which has an honest-to-God rock band providing the music. And Ellie said she got the feeling that I could be described as Pagan with a devotional relationship to Jesus, so… As much as I’m incredibly grateful for the help Freyja has given me since I realised She wanted my attention, and as much as I truly enjoy having Her in my life, there are times when I miss the days when this was an accurate, if basic, description of my beliefs.

I can say what, or Who, I believe in, I can explain some of the relationships I see between Them, I can even tell of my experiences that have convinced me that yes, that was Freyja or God making Their presence known to me, but I don’t feel that I can, in all honesty, state precisely what I believe about the existence of Deity as I percieve it. And I may never be able to. I’m fine with the idea of never knowing how or if my gods all interlink, up until I try to explain how I deal with four differently-named Divine figures. Then I get a feeling akin to… failure maybe? I don’t know the answer, but at least I admit I don’t know the answer, which is better than either lying and saying that I do, or deluding myself into thinking that I do? I guess?

What is my life…

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3 thoughts on “What is my life…

  1. I have been meaning to respond to this, but gah, the Trinity!! I had such a hard time with this one pre-Polytheism. Not gonna lie. It was choppy waters.

    I don’t know if this will help, but I was taught (as a Roman Catholic) that there are mentions of the Trinity throughout the Old Testament; that the plural pronouns in the beginning of Genesis were due to this Triune nature and God was literally speaking to Himself; that the spirit that passed over the face of the waters during the creation of the world was the same Holy Spirit Who descended at Pentecost. That the Son existed as part of the nature of God before He was incarnate (“in the beginning was the Word (meaning Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”- this from the beginning of the Gospel according to John, and it may not be a precise quote, I’m drugged, forgive me.) Thus the Word God spoke that created the world was Christ, the third Person hereby accounted for from the very start.

    The analogy that clicked in my head was the one about the egg, have you heard that one? The idea is that the Trinity is like an egg, which is composed (for the sake of explaining this to junior high students 😉 ) of 3 distinct parts: the white, the yolk, and the shell. All three are equally egg, and all three are the same egg at the same time, but they are, at the same time, separate and distinct parts while inextricably connected as a single egg (at least, unless you mean to destroy the egg). I don’t know if that helps or further muddies the waters, but I thought I’d toss that out there.

    (The trouble I had with all this, personally, is that if Jesus always existed, even prior to His incarnation, and God is incapable of changing–another dogma of the Church–how is that possible when taking on a human nature would have inevitably changed Him? The very experience of being human was a change. “Fully God and fully man,” I was taught. He wasn’t always fully man if He existed prior to the incarnation. So, to this day, I get the Trinity thing…kind of…but I don’t really get it. I find it all baffling. When I was still a Christian, it was one of those things I told myself I needed to accept on blind faith. Because there will always be things that defy explanation or can never have proof when it comes to faith, it’s just really a question of what we are willing to accept as belonging to that category and what we are not.)

    I really think how hard, soft, or medium-boiled your Polytheism is boils down to how distinct you believe the Gods are. If you believe They’re all just different aspects of one and the same God, that is the softer side of the spectrum, but if you believe They’re distinct People with Their own individual agencies, that is the harder side. I think you can be a hard Polytheist even if you accept the traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity; all that’s “required” (I use that word very loosely) is that you believe there are multiple, distinct Gods Who are not all the same God. So believing Freyja is a separate God from the Holy Trinity is sufficient to be a “hard Polytheist” by my reckoning; you’d be on the softer side of the spectrum if instead you believe She’s another aspect of the Trinity (Who would no longer be a proper Trinity, in that case) or if all Gods are part of the same God (the “multi-faceted crystal” approach, which is the one I started out with when I first left the Church).

    And it’s perfectly ok if you still have no idea what those answers really are for you. It can feel really weird / uncomfortable not to be able to put a name to everything going on in your head and heart, but it will come when it comes.

    Does that any of that make sense? I don’t know if any of this is helpful or not. You’ve probably thought of it all before already, and if it’s actually right there in your post and i spaced out, I apologize. i’m typing through a migraine. I just get sick of doing nothing but staring at walls. 😦 Anyway, you’re right that it’s quite a tangle and I don’t envy you the frustration of it. Believe me, i’ve been through it, and may well go through it again (and again, and again) before my life is over. And still don’t totally understand the Trinity thing lol! Grappling with these questions is a good thing, though, and i have a feeling from your other recent post that you’re on the verge of a personal breakthrough! I would love to hear what conclusions you eventually reach if you feel comfortable posting them. Wishing you much clarity and wisdom on this journey ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your reply – it did make sense, and I hope your migrane goes away soon.

      I would be willing to put money on every Christian struggling with the concept of the Trinity at some point in their lives. I honestly can’t remember when I discovered that the three parts were supposed to have all eternally existed, but it was fairly late in the day – either from RS lessons at GCSE level or when I was taking Confirmation classes at sixteen. It didn’t make sense then either, for pretty much the reason you gave; if Jesus always existed as an entity, He must have been half-man half-god from the start (leaving aside the debate on Jesus’ nature, because there are some things with which I’m just not willing to deal right now. The Trinity is easy compared to that…), which kinda makes sense with the whole humans-made-in-God’s-image thing, but then I run into the problem of what’s the point of His existence that far back unless the Incarnation was going to be required, which means that whatever choices people made they’d still wind up in a position where the Incarnation needed to be a thing.

      I think the closest I can come to sorting it out in my own mind that makes sense to me is to view God as the ‘main’ part of the Trinity (ignoring the fact that all three parts are supposed to be equal for the moment), with the Spirit being a smaller part that acts somewhat like a messenger or inspiration in the Old Testament and the Gospels. Say a 2/3 to 1/3 split God:Spirit. Then when the Incarnation became a thing God split part of Himself off and (somehow) mixed it with human nature, making it completely different and a seperate part, forming the Trinity – splitting the salt and fresh water and adding, say, gelatine. That way it accounts for John 1:1-2, but also how you’ve got this human-god/god-human existing from a specified point in time and then continuing to exist since then after Jesus ascended into Heaven. I also get the feeling that the Holy Spirit really comes into Her own after Pentecost, especially when you have Jesus in John’s Gospel promising the arrival of the Spirit, like She’s been popping in and out but hasn’t sat down and made Herself comfortable yet. For example John 7:39 ‘By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified’, or John 14:25 ‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’. It’s all future tense, the idea that the Spirit exists and that the Spirit has been in the world before at Jesus’ baptism etc., has already been mentioned, but there is this idea that the Spirit isn’t as constantly in the world or constantly accessible as it would be after it was sent at Pentecost.

      I think one of the differences between our approach is due to the differing doctrines of our respective denominations. Catholicism is notoriously strict in its doctrinal teaching, whereas Methodism is a lot more relaxed (we are a non-conformist Church after all), and I think it helped that we used the Apostles Creed more often than the Nicene Creed, which doesn’t have as many theological bits. Granted, even my earlier views of the Trinity would probably be considered unorthodox even my Methodist standards, let alone what I think of it now, but as I never remember getting taught ‘and this is the way it is’ it’s given me a lot more freedom to adapt my beliefs to include the Divine Feminine. And get hideously confused. I have to say though that I love the egg analogy. I’d never heard that one before, and it makes a lot of sense. Although it is very hard polytheist in its view – it’s all egg, but shell, yolk, and white are -very- different, especially just after watching the Great British Bake Off semifinals. 😀

      What with now having Freyja in my life as well, I kinda have to describe myself as polytheist, as I just don’t see Her as being part of the Trinity. But I’m not sure whether I see Her as truly seperate from it either. I’ve read a lot of different views on how interconnected Deities are, from hard polytheists to soft, to those in the middle who see the differences and similarities as existing on a spectrum where things blend one into the other. Like going from blue to green to yellow. At one end it’s definitely blue, the other end is definitely yellow, the middle is definitely green, but you can’t say precisely where it changes from blue to green. I’m more inclined towards the middle view, but I can’t say for definite that that’s what I believe, or even feel. I think I may have to just resign myself to throwing up my hands and saying ‘fucked if I know’ for the forseeable future. And I find I’m ok with that, as long as no-one asks me about it… Unless I start carrying printouts of this post with me on the off-chance? I think this uneasiness stems from two things – unless one is agnostic then an adherent of prettty much any religion can explain how they view the Divine that they worship, from Hindu to Muslim to Wiccan. Even Christians can use the egg/shamrock analogy to give an idea of how the Trinity works, even if it boggles the brain. But I’m stuck in the position of going ‘I honestly have no idea how Deity works. I don’t even have a theory’, which I’m not used to. The other problem is that a lot of beginner books and information for new Pagans says that one thing you should do is be able to explain your beliefs clearly and concisely. Now this is an excellent thing to be able to do when starting out on a spiritual path that has a small (if growing) number of followers, and is also much misunderstood. Parents, friends, co-workers, family, are all liable to ask questions and/or challenge a new Pagan’s beliefs. And I can’t do that. *Sigh*

      Also? I love the idea of God talking to Himself during the Creation story. I have this hilariously irreverent mental image of the traditional depiction of God – white robe, grey hair and beard – wandering around a workshop muttering ‘where did I put the creatures of the sea? I just put them down a moment ago…’ 😀
      Although I’ve always read the ‘let us make mankind in our own image’ to be the use of the majestic plural. I take it the Catholic Church teaches differently?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If I remember correctly, I was always told the plural pronouns of Genesis were used as “evidence” of the Triune nature. Whether that is some kind of dogmatic teaching or just what I got from my well-meaning sponsor into the Church, I don’t remember at this point 🙂 I’ve never heard the majestic plural thing but remember, I’m American and taught by Americans, so that doesn’t mean much LOL!!

        I’m sure you probably know this, but the Holy Spirit, in the original languages, was usually referred to with either neutral or feminine pronouns, not as a “He.” That was a later “adjustment” made by scribes as the doctrine of the all-male Trinity became cemented. So when I first left the Church, knowing this, my understanding of the Trinity was of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as Mother. Which probably sounds bizarre because as a Catholic, I should have gone for the Virgin Mary as Mother, right? But I felt very strongly that all living creatures have a father and a mother. It seemed unbelievable to me that humans alone would only have a Father at our creation, but no Mother. If we were made in God’s image, both male and female, it’s even more mind-boggling that God would not also be our Mother. There HAD to be room in the Divine for a Mother, and given the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit–the Breath that animated man at creation, the Power that generated Christ in the Virgin’s womb, the One Who brings man to new life in baptism and Who unlocks the gifts of Pentecost in the human soul–I mean, it had to be Her, right? 😀 I remember reading an absolutely heart-wrenching biography of St Francis of Assisi where he confessed on his deathbed to his closest friend that if the Church had not forbidden it, he would have called God Mother, for God was surely a Mother to him, just as he called his friars the “little mothers” of those in their care. That left a very deep impression on me, even though the historicity of it is questionable.

        But anyway, saying you have no idea how it all works is wisdom, pure and simple. I mean, I can theorize all day, anyone can, but do we really KNOW? I think it is a perfectly clear and succinct statement of belief: I believe this and this, but I don’t understand how it all works together yet. I don’t think we owe other people any explanations, to be honest. There’s a lot of pressure put on people to be good representatives of their faith, whatever that may be, Pagan or Wiccan or Heathen or whatever, particularly as these faiths are so small and marginalized by other, more popular belief systems. But ultimately, we all have to find our own answers, and I have much more respect for people willing to admit they don’t know everything and they’re still working it all out than I do for people who claim to know exactly what they think about all the things, full stop. Because I used to be one of those people who had all the answers and the succinct statement of belief for any topic. And I turned out to be wrong. And in my arrogance, I did a lot of harm. Didn’t mean to, but that’s what happened. What I’m trying to say here is that your wisdom shouldn’t be looked down on, because wisdom is exactly what it is, not a shortcoming of some kind.

        People may try to challenge your beliefs, but it’s up to you whether to accept those challenges or decline playing those games. (Because they really are games. The people who are genuinely interested in understanding you better won’t get up in arms if you don’t care for a debate. It’s the people who want to change your mind or who want to denigrate different beliefs who will feel the need to argue the most strongly.)

        I love your mental image! I really enjoy all the creation stories. I made my kids last year do a comparative study of how different cultures and religions explain the creation of the world. It was a lot of fun. 🙂

        Like

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