Ritual use of salt by Elisha

salt_of_the_earth.jpgThis story is told in 2 Kings 2:19-22:

The people of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” “Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.

Understanding Zen Ritual

zen-ritualThe following excerpt is taken from “Zen Ritual: Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice” edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright. It provides an informative counterbalance to the western perception that Zen is inherrently anti-ritualistic.

“That Zen life is overwhelmingly a life of ritual would not always have been so obvious to Westerners interested in Zen. Indeed, early attraction to this tradition focused on the many ways in which irreverent antiritual gestures are characteristic of Zen. This side of Zen is not a misrepresentation, exactly, since classical literature from the Ch’an/Zen tradition in China includes some powerful stories and sayings that debunk ritualized forms of reverence. Huang-po’s Dharma Record of Mind Transmission, for example, dismisses all remnants of Buddhism that focus on ‘outer form.’ It says: ‘When you are attached to outer form, to meritorious practices and performances, this is a deluded understanding that is out of accord with the Way.’ Following the lead provided by that image, the Lin-chi lu directs its strongest condemnation to what it calls ‘running around seeking outside.’ Such seeking is deluded and irrelevant because, from Lin-chi’s radical Zen point of view, ‘from the beginning there is nothing to do.’ ‘Simply don’t strive — just be ordinary.’ ‘What are you seeking? Everywhere you’re saying, ‘There’s something to practice, something to prove’ . . . As I see it, all this is just making karma.’ Other now famous stories in classical Zen drive the point home, from Bodhidharma’s provocative line to the Emperor that all his pious observances warrant ‘no merit’ to Tan-hsia’s sacrilegious act of burning the sacred image of the Buddha.”

“This critique of ritual piety in early Chinese Ch’an was later understood to be part of a larger criticism of any aspect of Buddhist thought and practice that failed to focus in a single-minded way on the event of awakening. Encompassing formal ritual, textual study, and magical religious practices, a full range of traditional Buddhist practices appear to have been submitted to ridicule — what do any of these have to do with an enlightened life, some Zen masters asked? In this antinomian stream of Zen discourse, ritual was simply one more way that mindful attention could be deflected from the central point of Zen. What the essays in this volume make clear, however, is that although slogans disdainful of ritual can be found in classical texts, the traditions of Chinese Buddhism appear to have proceeded in the same well-established ritual patterns as they had before the critique, even, so far as we can see, in monasteries overseen by these radical Zen masters. Ritual continued to be the guiding norm of everyday monastic life, the standard pattern against which an occasional act of ritual defiance or critique would stand out as remarkable.”

Sacred shit

sacred-shitI have encountered all sorts of strange rituals in my engagement with other religions, but possibly the strangest I have ever personally witnessed was cow dung puja.

It was many years ago in Darling Harbour, at one of the seasonal Mind Body Spirit Festivals. I had struck up a conversation with some Hindu converts earlier that day and they’d invited me along to their sunset ritual. Ever curious, I eagerly accepted and arrived at dusk, just as they were lighting up this sacred … faeces, imported specially from India. They prayed over it in a kneeling posture, offering devotion to their gods and goddesses. I was amazed. But then, how strange must our ways seem to others? After all, we Christians indulge in symbolic canibalism.

Are some Wiccan rituals not so Pagan?

There are a couple of interesting posts on the Christian origins of Wiccan rituals over at Pantheon. See Is Wicca a Christian Heresy? and The Watchtowers and Abrahamic Wicca. I’m glad this is coming from a member of the Pagan community. It echos my own surprise upon first reading the earlier Golden Dawn rituals, on how Christian they sounded in comparison to later forms of Paganism.

Gallipoli or Calvary?


Gallipoli or Calvary from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

At the risk of alienating a few people I’ve decided to repost this hard hitting ANZAC DAY video by Jarrod McKenna. It asks the simple question: Gallipoli or Calvary? So maybe I’d ask you all the same.

Thanksgiving for the Dead

candlesComing up on October 31 we’ll be running an alternative worship service at Pendle Hill Baptist to give thanks for the dead.

Aligning with All Saint’s Eve it will be a time to reflect on lost loved ones and the faithful who have gone before us and impacted on us. Second year we’ve done it, last time it was very sad, joyful, humbling and moving.

We run it as a sort of reverse tenebrae service, beginning with darkness, ending in light as people come forward, light candles and offer reflections or silent thanksgiving.

Let me know if you’d like to join us, or have someone you want us to light a candle for.

Community life in Pendle Hill

Very busy weekend coming up again.

Tomorrow night at 8pm, on the eve of All Saint’s Day, I am co-leading an open prayer service of thanksgiving for lost loved ones down at Pendle Hill Baptist Church. We’ll be running it as a sort of reverse Tenebrae service, moving from darkness to candle lit brightness, as we celebrate the hope we have through the resurrection of Christ. My mate Keiron and I dreamed this up over a few wines some weeks ago. We wanted to create a space for people to feel free to express grief and thanksgiving. Since then his father died, and other members of our community have experienced loss, so now this will be particularly poignant.

Then on Sunday, my friend Jenny will be up from Melbourne. Jenny used to co-lead a missional cell group with me a few years back and always brings smiles and laughter so it will be good to catch up and hear of her missional goings on in Melbourne. I hear she’s going to be singing on Sunday too.

Then after that I’ll be helping my brother out with some minor building work … and hopefully fit in a swim if its hot.

I’ll also be catching up with my Indian-Australian neighbours tomorrow or Saturday to chew the cud and help them finalize their passport arrangements for an upcoming trip to India. I was over at their house earlier tonight, to get the ball rolling, and you know it struck me again how improtant it is for new Australians to have regular Australian mates. To get their passports approved they basically need someone who is not a relative and has known them for over 12 months, who is willing to go guarantor for them, who can vouch that they are who they say they are.

Just some thoughs:

  • Have you experienced loss lately?
  • Do you find yourself far from home, missing loved ones?
  • Do you find comfort in God?

Pagan Eyes on Jesus

Witchvox had a couple of interesting articles last week on Paganism in relation to Christianity. The first, Why Not Jesus, Too?, featured a hypothetical Christopagan ritual invocation of Jesus and Mary. The second, Future of Paganism, voiced fears that Paganism was becoming intollerant like … shock, horror … fundamentalist Christianity.

And while I was searching around I stumbled upon a new blog, Beltaine 08, advertising an upcoming Pagan gathering in Sydney in October this year. It seems to be associated with Pagan Gatherings Australia. Never come across them before. At first glance they seem independant of the Pagan Awareness Network and more cash orientated. Interesting.

Wiccan Rites: Symbolic Sado-Masochism?

I just found the most fascinating essay on the EBSCO database entitled, Inappropriate Sexuality? Sex Magic, S/M and Wicca (or ‘Whipping Harry Potter’s Arse!’)

Despite the tongue in cheek subtitle the researcher, Jo Pearson, is quite serious and has quite a few interesting things to say about the fluffier end of the Pagan spectrum. Here is a public domain excerpt I sourced from Sage Journals to give you an introduction:

Despite its often fervent claims to radicalism, openness and maturity, Wicca articulates a rather complex attitude towards sexuality. S/M concepts which have influenced the development of Wiccan ritual practice (through such figures as Algernon Swinburne, Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders) have been largely abstracted into symbolic forms which strongly deny the ‘inappropriate’ sexuality embedded in Wiccan initiation rituals   (specifically) and formative ideologies (generally). A brief comparison between Wiccan initiation and the S/M dungeon, for example, suggests a common conceptual ground. But, while a rhetoric of disruptive sexuality is retained in Wicca through the use of scourging, binding, ritual nudity, and the ‘Great Rite’, the emphasis lies in its symbolic value and ‘dangerous  sex’ is largely forbidden. Nevertheless, ‘dangerous sex’ remains an issue within Wicca. The overlaps between Wiccan S/M symbolism and rhetoric and the physical spirituality of some S/M practitioners remains unexplored, and issues of power, abuse, and gender are only just beginning to be recognized.

If you are interested in researching Wicca I recommend getting your hands on it if you can.