An evocative sight greeted me when I reached the top of the winding path that led up the hillside with its tall trees and winding thick roots. As I looked to the right I saw Chanctonbury Ring and about thirty people gathered there. Standing in front of them was my beautiful friend, Juliet, who had wrapped herself in a white blanket and was carrying a large stick on which she had attached a big white flag with a gold cross on it. The flag, the blanket and Juliet’s hair were all fluttering in the north wind that blew up the hillside and I felt like I was entering a scene from Narnia.
It felt entirely appropriate, as I was there to celebrate the Celtic Easter, which happens on a different date to the Roman one that we customarily celebrate, and which is the date that the first followers of Jesus in these British lands would have celebrated. As Juliet rang the bell she had brought with her, calling us to prayer, Greg explained what was to happen and off we went.
We walked round the circle of Chanctonbury Ring, stopping at each of the compass points, engaging in a different reflection at each point. At one we recited a Psalm; at another we sang St Patrick’s great hymn, ‘Be Thou My Vision’. At one point, Karen Lowe from Antioch Church in Llannelli led us through a reflection around a lit brazier and a meditation on what ‘home’ is and how our home is found in the risen Messiah. Finally, we went into the middle of the ring, where Friar Micha led us through communion, reminding us that as we have walked up to this high point on the Sussex Downs so we walk along our journey of life with Christ, and we are sustained in that through the bread of his body and the wine of his blood.
It was a truly beautiful experience and I’ve been trying to work out what it evoked in me. Some while ago – provoked by a good friend who left the Christian faith to become a practising pagan – I did a bit of research around paganism and the different rituals that they do, particularly around the four equinoxes of our British year. What I discovered surprised me and I was struck by the fact that much of what they do would actually give me little cause for concern (I can write more about this in a subsequent post if anyone is interested – let me know in the comments box if so). The key difference is the Name/s in which their rituals are carried out. So, for example, they might start off an evening by invoking the spirits of the North, South, East and West. We did something very similar, except – crucially – we invoked the One Holy Spirit and asked for his (her) presence to be with us instead.
What I was struck with was the earth-centredness of their rituals. In comparison, my main act of corporate worship takes place in a bare building with concrete walls and shutters over the skylights in the ceiling allowing no contact with the wider creation at all. Many churches around the country are like this and I’m not being unduly critical of my own. But, this lack of contact is a lack that I feel acutely and – if you’ll allow me to be honest – there were elements of the pagan rituals that I researched that resonated with me strongly. That evening, watching the sun set from Chanctonbury Ring, sharing communion with other believers, felt like the most authentic experience of corporate worship that I had taken part in for a long time: worshipping the Lord of All Creation, as a part of the community of creation.
What do you think? Do you also feel that disconnect in your corporate worship, if you are reading this as a Christian? How might we create more contact and connection with the wider community of creation?