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Holy communion

February 11, 2015

Recently I found myself in the congregation of a confirmation service at an Anglo Catholic church. I am not Christian, nor do I intend on being – however, as I am interested in the phenomenon of faith, the gift of belief and the magic of ritual, I try as far as possible to keep an open mind.

As somebody with a spiritual heart, somebody from a pagan, druidic belief system, I felt it necessary to partake as fully as was ethically possible – singing the hymns, standing and sitting when appropriate, but declining communion and most of the prayers.

The first thing to strike me was the sense of community and friendliness that wafted about the church like incense. Everybody was friendly and very welcoming. I won’t talk any more about this because I think I may have already touched on this in a previous post – important to say nonetheless.

So, we have the ingredients for the creation of magic, the elements to subtly change the brainwaves and gently shift the plain of being and focus of consciousness. We have music, incense, shared will and place – in many ways this is no different from ancient rites, although here there is a clearly defined sense of hierarchy and order.

Sadly, the beauty and theatre began to erode when we come to the meat of the occasion. The bishop, a seemingly kind and genuine man, along with the “candidates,” eight men and two women, began to weave the charms of transformation and initiation to their mysteries. This I found moving, the bishop speaking with a calm intensity and the candidates clearly moved by the occasion; an occasion they had prepared for, one that was enormously important in their Christian journey.

To paraphrase, “You are no longer in the dominion of darkness…” this ridiculous piece of ideological arrogance, along with the notion of sin, piety and humility sat very ill with me. The crushing sense of disillusionment and fear, the concept of the church guiding you towards a better life, the idea of sin and the notion of smugness – join our club and leave the darkness. Come with us and we’ll show you the light. The very real underpinning concept of god somehow caring enough about an individual to call them and rescue them feels odd to me.

This was largely a beautiful and moving ceremony, however, the joyousness that should have been apparent was tempered by the sly and subtle use of language to subvert and cause fear. Guilt and sin figured heavily, surely making those who haven’t chosen to be confirmed or even baptised to feel guilt and weariness. Renouncing the devil and believing in Jesus, imaginary friends or real and tangible entities? Or simply a construct, a means of control and manipulation invented by men….?

I don’t have all the answers, I don’t even have all the questions. But I do know that the psychology of ritual can be a complex and beautiful ballet. I also know that that suggesting that those who haven’t been confirmed do not walk in the dominion of darkness, bleak and low, they are every bit as valuable and important as the bishop himself.

You don’t need a club to interact with your chosen deity. You don’t need a man to whisper in your ear and anoint you with oil. All you need is your heart, your mind, and the ability to see past the literal into the lands of possibility and wonder.

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