Goddesses, Leprechauns, and Jesus
The Spiritual Development
of The Rev. Dianne
Out North Under 30
3800 DeBarr Road, Anchorage, AK
January 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, and 15
Music: Loreena McKennitt, The Book of Secrets: Prologue; Lighting of candles. (Slides)
Good evening. May the Force be with you. (Audience: And also with you.) I am a Presbyterian minister and performer of rituals. Rituals like funerals and marriages, healing circles, and solstice bonfires. I’ve baptized a bundle of babies. I baptized one dying child with a cotton ball and her mother’s tears.
I’ve been a minister and a hospital chaplain going on twenty years now, but I didn’t grow up on Bible stories. For me, it was fairy tales, mythology and Family Tradition. Tonight you’re to get a glimpse into the spiritual development of one rather non-traditional individual – namely me. But as we go along you might reflect upon the forces that have made you who you are. That’s by far more important than who I am.
When I was a kid, I memorized the names of the Greek Gods and Goddesses long before I learned about Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. My favorite goddess was Diana. The Goddess of Wild Things. Goddess of the moon. And, Protector of Women. My mythology was all the spirituality I needed for many, many years.
But when I was six or seven I started attending Sunday
School with my best friend, Marilyn. She
introduced me to my Bible. I learned
about Moses and the Ten Commandments, King David, and Jesus himself. I really
liked them. But I never gave up my mythology.
And when I got into the Letters of Saint Paul, I noticed that my guys
and the Christians all hung out in the same places anyway –
This is Indian Corn. How many of you decorate your home with Indian corn during the Thanksgiving holidays? Me, too. For me, Indian corn is more than a decoration. It represents a connection to my father and to his father and to all my German peasant ancestors. My father sternly warned me as a child to Never Forget Your Black Earth, Peasant Roots! Disconcerting, since there hadn’t been a peasant or even a farmer in my family for four generations.
My dad was proud to come from German peasant stock. To be a
peasant meant to have strength and stability and a self-righteous surety about
life. My dad grew up in a tiny town in central
After my parents divorced, I went to
My dad’s brother died a few years ago – and the family flew
You know, of course, that the Goddess Herself is caught up in the last bundle of corn at the end of the harvest. The goddess is brought inside and receives a place of honor by the fireplace all winter. This sacred corn is used in the new planting the following spring. The Germans honored the goddess in this way. The Celts honored the goddess in this way. And by God/ess, I do the same thing.
My family was real tiny. After my father left, most of the time there was just me and my mom. We didn’t have a television that worked and my mom worked most evenings, so it really was just me and the dog.
Later, it was me, the dog, and some fish – and for a while, a hamster. But the fish and the hamster died – and when I was 14, the dog died, too. I had thrown him a piece of ham. He jumped and caught it as always. But this time he choked. Fell down on the kitchen floor and died in my arms. My dog had been my best friend for more than 10 years. When he was snuggled up to me, “all was right with the world”. When he was not, it was not.
After the dog died, I entered my Depressed Stage. It was time anyway. I was as teenager. But even the Bible gave me trouble. Jesus was really down on divorce, for instance. And my parents were divorced. The whole thing worried me.
My mom wasn’t worried. She was in her Egyptian phase. Nefertiti. Ra the Sun God. Isis, Osiris and their son, Horus. She explained the birth, death and rebirth cycle in all mythology: Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology, and I got the connection, even Christian mythology. I found it all very interesting. Interesting, indeed.
Over at Marilyn’s Church, they had left their Egyptian phase back with the birth of Moses, and now were in their Martyrdom phase. The Christians and the lions. Burning at the stake. The Question for these folks was: Could you stand up to the pagans and false gods and face the lions for Christ? I looked at my mother. Nefertiti and Akhenaton were in our living room. Buddha was sitting cross-legged in the bedroom. And Edith Hamilton’s book of Greek Mythology was right there on the bathroom sink. :::sigh::: Pagans everywhere.
I may not have turned my back on the pagans, but those Christian martyrs got to me in a different way. I can stand up to my own “lions” in my own life. My husband calls me a Kamikaze. When I believe in something, I’ll swoop in regardless of the risk and fight to the near death. For this ornery personality trait, I blame Jesus. And those Christian martyrs. But I should say that Marilyn’s martyrs and I eventually did have a falling out and I found a little Presbyterian Church in a neighboring town.
In the 1960s, the Presbyterians weren’t talking about being eaten by lions. They were asking questions like whether or not the youth group would welcome a Black family into our church if one should happen to move into our town? They asked, would Jesus approve of us getting deeper into the Vietnam War? And Sex! When was sex okay? Good Lord, was it EVER okay? I joined that church – and even got my mother to start coming. I was growing up and the juices were pounding in my soul. I was about to enter my sexual phase and I had every intention of enjoying it.
My mother HATED my sexual phase. In fact, I don’t think she ever got over my sexual phase. How did your parents come to terms with YOUR sexuality? Well, we tried not to talk about it. In fact, we DIDN’T talk about it. What we did talk about was equally disturbing. We talked about GOD.
When I came home from college, all my mother could talk about was God – and some related matters. Like fortune-tellers – they were good for her but bad for me. Edgar Cacey – spiritual healer with a special diet. Norman Vincent Peale – the Power of Positive Thinking and how it can improve your business success. The Rosicrusians, she had recently become a member – studying the secret knowledge of the Middle Ages. She was also studying Hinduism, reincarnation, you name it. A regular Shirley MacLain, my mother – during her God phase.
Pushed by my mom to think about the nature of God, I decided that God was a Green Magnet. And all of us little earthly souls were like iron shavings – unexplainably drawn to God, an Irresistible Magnetic Force. Sin? Well, some shavings got so out of kilter spiritually, that they faced the wrong way and were repelled from God.
I liked my Green Magnet Theory. It explained all sorts of things to me, in a mysterious and fun sort of way. Why the green? When I think of the primordial ooze out of which our Darwinian little souls emerged, I think of green – life-bearing green. About this time I met a boy, got married, and gave birth to a baby girl. The baby died. I dreamed the Green Magnet drew my baby’s little soul safely back to God.
A few years went by. Finished school, moved to
My first marriage faltered. Divorce, five years of being single, re-marriage, and in a couple of years, not one, but two baby girls. Life was on the upswing again.
Life was on the upswing, Until Catie died.
When I re-married, my husband brought three children to the family, ages 12, 10, and 8. My son was 9. With the two baby girls, we made eight.
Six months after our youngest daughter was born, Chuck’s oldest daughter Catie became ill and died. Emotionally, everything died.
Not much comfort in the Green Magnet, some might say. But, for me, a magnetic force did feel warm and embracing. But I never felt it was something I could talk about with others.
My family didn’t talk – certainly not about what was killing them most inside. We just hurt, quietly, in our own ways. I’d know better how to help my family today – but back then, I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Our sons, both teenagers, began to live life as dangerously as possible, like there was no tomorrow. Why should there be a tomorrow – there was no tomorrow for Catie.
My husband threw himself into his work like there was no today. Everything family-related could wait until tomorrow – just couldn’t deal with it today. And tomorrow didn’t come for a long, long time.
In my case, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to deal with anything today or tomorrow. I didn’t know how anyway. I wanted to crawl into a cave and pull the rock over the front door. And I did just that.
After a while, I came out of my cave and declared, “I’m going to seminary!” Confused a lot of people, but it seemed entirely logical to me. I didn’t want to think about the mundane issues of day to day living. I wanted to think about something Important. Applied to San Francisco Theological Seminary, was accepted, and packed up and left town with the little girls, leaving the wounded menfolk at home to deal with their pain the best they could. Not proud of it, but that’s how it happened.
I reminded myself of my mother when she was in her God phase – we were like kids in a spiritual candy shop. My mom and I picked out different candy, but it was the same shopping spree.
Here’s where I really got to know Mary Magdalene. She and her women friends financed Jesus’ ministry with their own money. I don’t think she was a prostitute, or Jesus probably wouldn’t have accepted that money.
Learned a little about Jewish Midrash and took a liturgical art class.
Out of the bowels of Chaos the world is born.
This is Eve – it was she who lifted the veil so that we could experience the world in all its color and vibrancy – without Eve everything would be pretty black and white.
And Shekinah, the Spirit of God watching over Her people as we journey through life.
I loved the Wiccan retreats – not very Presbyterian, I realize. I participated in rituals of all kinds, looking for sacred space, sacred time, and sacred being. And I met the three-fold goddess again –the maiden, the mother, and Hecate, the crone. I did seminary a little differently than most.
I wasn’t really accepted by all the seminary students. And
it wasn’t just that I went on Wiccan retreats, although that might have been part of it. No, there were other things, too. I was sitting on a bus once
going to a liberation theology lecture in the city, when I overheard a pair of
young scruffy-looking seminarians talking:
“What’s she doing here?”, one asked the other. “How can someone who wears business suits and
high heels know or care anything about the poor and oppressed peasants of
I looked at my feet. Damned. High heels. They were talking about me. Since that time, I’ve tried to remembered that, for some, it’s difficult to trust a Middleclass Woman in Heels.
Later, a seminary professor talked about the need for people INSIDE the political castle to help let down the drawbridge – so the peasants could get in. Shoot, I was a peasant. My dad had told me so. I figured I’d have an opportunity to help get that drawbridge down if I ever got back home. It was time to get up and get going. Time to bring the family back together and see what we could make of it.
And so, the girls and I drove back North.
who came to Alaska a hundred years ago – yes, to bring the Good News of the Gospel to the native Alaskan people, but also to bring much needed education and medical attention to families living in what for the missionaries anyway, was utter remoteness.
Presbyterians were some kind of gutsy people. Us Presbyterians probably made some mistakes.
But I tell you, our motives were good.
And the results were good, too. The
Alaska Native Land Claims Movement was funded in large part by the Presbyterian
Church USA. And the Rev. Sheldon Jackson,
After getting home, I worked with the Presbyterians; I worked with the American Baptists; I served as chaplain at
But my real spiritual home for about a decade was
Could I tell them about my Green Magnetic Force in the Sky? Probably not. But they did need to connect into some Force to survive. They needed a friend. All the chaplain could do was grieve with them and be that friend. It was good work and I did it for ten years.
What is spirituality? Spirituality helps you get up in the morning – gives you purpose and enthusiasm and guts for living. Spirituality keeps you going throughout the day – drawing upon the stories of the ancients, giving guidance, instilling values, encouraging us to love one another, protect one another. To love our God – be He a Zeus-like figure on
Maybe God is like a Green Magnet. Or maybe like a Raven. Maybe God is like the life-force in a grain of corn – able to weather the winter and burst into new life in the spring.
Spirituality is seeking that God: seeing God in the Ravens, in the moose, in the Sitka Spruce and even those scrubby little spruce down by Girdwood. Spirituality is seeing God in everything around us – the strong, the quiet, the good.Spirituality is being grateful for life’s gifts. Spirituality is knowing from whence our strength comes in time of trial.
But spirituality isn’t worth much unless it helps us at the end of the day. Spirituality is about Death. I can remember when I first thought of death – and the fact that I might myself die someday. I was paralyzed with fear. Not fear of damnation. Fear of not existing. Poof.I have a bunch of ancestors, and so do you. My ancestors include Puritans and Presbyterians, Mennonites and Lutherans, French Huguenots, a Catholic, a Jew, a whole bunch of pagans, no doubt, and Several Secular Humanists. I figured one of those ancestors could tell me something about death. I decided to ask three of them.
I asked my grandmother. I said, “Grandma, what happens when we die?” Akk. She confirmed the “poof” theory. “The light switch just goes off”. It’s over. Now that I’ve grown older, I’ve come to terms with this as a possibility, but it certainly isn’t my first choice for an answer.
So, I asked my father. “Daddy, what happens when we die?” He looked at me, and sternly warned, “Don’t ask a question like that. Just have faith.”
So, I had to ask my mom. “Momma, what happens when we die?” She began to explain the seven tiers or levels of heaven and the secret keys to the secret knowledge that can unlock each secret door – and at about the third or fourth door, I spaced out and I didn’t listen anymore. Maybe I just wasn't ready.When my mother died in 1999, I conducted her funeral. Presbyterian minister. My part of the service wasn’t very profound. But when the sharing time began, a blessed thing occurred. I got a glimpse of heaven. I’m not sure which tier.
During the sharing time an old family friend stood up. Now John had always been a “little fey”, if you know what I mean. Just a little off of right on. John began to talk and John said Ellen loved to laugh; she loved to be with her friends; and Ellen was very proud of being Irish. Plus Ellen was short. John stopped and looked at the congregation, and flatly declared that Ellen was With the Leprechauns.Now, he said gravely: Leprechauns are only male. There are No Female Leprechauns. But men always loved Ellen. So they made an exception for my mother. And there she was. Those with eyes to see, could see her very well, dancing in the green Irish meadow with her leprechauns.
My children giggled. And then they laughed. And then a magic thing happened: “all was right with the world”. During the luncheon after the service –all my mother’s elderly friends were talking about Ellen and her little men dressed in green.And frankly, we still talk of Grandma and her Leprechauns.(Extinguish candles, one per line.)
This is my heaven. You, my dear friends, you and your loved ones must make your own magick, dream your own sacred, heavenly place.And when you do, do as my Father said, “Just have faith”.
The Green Magnet will do the rest.
Commissioned by Out North, Anchorage, Alaska, and first performed in January 2005 at Out North as part of their Alaska Artist Access Program.
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