In this piece we observe a conversation between a Pagan and a Christian about the meaning of their respective December holidays and the theological significance for them. They are both influenced by process and relational thinking, and that approach has allowed their friendship to flourish in wonder and exploration. They are two very different people, but their friendship is warm and full of discovery. There are many lessons to be learned here but, most importantly, that a process-relational approach to friendship has many layers. We find curiosity, discovery, warmth, and change as each person impacts the other.
May your December holidays be filled with as much affection as we find here in this conversation between Clarence White and Kat Reeves.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.“
My Dear Kat,
As the holidays approach, I am thinking of you, and how rich our friendship has become. I am pondering what our relationship means to me and how enriched I am by knowing you. This is a time of year when people celebrate different days and traditions, and yet I am amazed at how much these festivities have in common. I am wishing you the most blessed celebration of the Sun, while I celebrate the one, Jesus, who, for me, is the Son.
I have spent my life as a Christian minister and theologian, and that journey has led me to different spaces in my mind and heart, as my life has been a pilgrimage around the life of the Son as the earth we live in journeys around the Sun. There was a time in my life when I saw other faiths as wrong. I was a fundamentalist type of Christian, and getting people to "accept Jesus" was my aim. As I have aged, however, and now at 63, this journey has profoundly changed my outlook, and the goal is much different as well. I used to think only Christians had spiritual life.
But in this time of year where we look to the Sun/Son, I see that what brings us together is the theme of light. And Jesus, who I believe to be the Son of God, is described by his closest earthly friend as "the light of all people." Eventually I began to see that the concrete expression of that light in Jesus of Nazareth was not incompatible with the idea of a cosmic Christ. I can, and do, believe in both. And because God sent that light for all people, I do not have to carry the burden of turning on the light, so to speak. I believe God does that for any open heart. We can, to be certain, turn off that light in our own hearts. But thanks be to God, no one can turn out the light (or turn it on) for anyone else. That is a process for each of us in our own journey.
My Dear Friend Clarence,
Ours is a friendship that formed because of religion yet despite religious differences. We both are influenced by process theology and apply it to our different faiths. I’m glad that you embraced your “becomings” and that your beliefs allow you to have a friendship with a pagan such as me. Process theology opens us up to possibilities and our friendship has manifested out of these possibilities.
As a Pagan I celebrate the winter solstice at this time of year. After Samhain on October 31st, the wheel of the year turns another notch toward the dark time. This is our season of hibernation and rest. We are in the womb of the mother, gestating, awaiting our rebirth. We also await the sun’s rebirth, which happens the day after solstice night. We, like the sun, are ‘becoming.” We look forward to spring when we plant our metaphorical seeds that will turn into our harvest of possibilities later in the year. We emerge out of the dark and into longer days. The world is changed by the birth of the sun.
I imagine that for Christians the world was changed by the birth of the son, the cosmic Christ. Indeed, every birth is holy, and every birth adds to and changes the world. In this way, I can embrace the idea of the nativity.
I am so glad you mentioned the journey of the sun and the calendar. I believe, in the Christian faith, we have a reverence for seasons much like you do. In fact, the liturgical Christian calendar is, if we are honest about it, an adaptation of the calendar of those whose faith you share. It makes all the sense in the world to me that my faith would embrace the same rhythms which were part and parcel of the agrarian life which the pagans, many of whom eventually became Christians, observed with care.
One of my heroes is Paul Tillich, who wrote of the "God beyond God." He believed, as do I, that religious faith is a concrete expression of a reality so vast and deep that even our faith expressions cannot contain it. My mentor, the Quaker philosopher D. Elton Trueblood, said one time that if we love Christianity more than we love truth, we will love our own version of Christianity more than others and end up loving ourselves most of all! I believe the process community is so helpful because it holds before us constantly the important truth, that the amount of truth we actually understand is always less than the whole truth. We are in a journey, as I said in my first note to you.
Therefore, as you have stated, every birth is holy. Just writing that makes a shiver go down my spine. Each birth is life emerging at a new place in this process in which we are immersed. Our process colleague, Monica Coleman, has written about the nativity in light of her own experience of giving birth. I observed both of my children being born. Monica is right when she says birth is messy. She chides the Christian community because our candlelight services and nativity scenes sanitize the nativity too much.
During the height of the issue of our government in the US separating families at our border, a local minister created a stir by putting his church's nativity scene in a cage. But I think he was right on. At that time, Jesus was a child in a cage at our southern border. Sanitizing the nativity prevents us from seeing those unlike us as being at the manger. What we are celebrating is Light coming into a messy world through a messy process. As messy as our lives are, I think if we look at the nativity the way Monica does, we can see ourselves there, in both the messiness and the holiness. This is as true for you as it is for me.
My Dear Friend Clarence,
I love your observations. This is why interfaith friendships are so important. When we understand that this is a relational world, we see that we are each other’s teacher. Our friendship is enriched by the novel ideas we bring to each other.
Messiness. Yes. Doesn’t life feel so messy right now? I guess it always is, but it sure seems worse than ever. Honestly, I’m drained. I worry about the state of the world. I worry about the political fighting and the meanness in politics. I want to be a light, but I do need this winter to rest before I jump back into the mess and try to clean it up a bit. We have a chant by Anne Bearheart that we sing at this time of year:
Deep, deep, deep into the heart of the winter
Deep, deep, deep into the womb of the Mother
Deep, deep, deep where there is no other
song but the song of my soul
The longest night is the Winter Solstice and then the sun is reborn as hope. I place my hope in people that they will be kind to each other. I find my hope in the good souls that I meet along the way, such as you, Clarence. We all need to find each other and hope in the light of those we might not think of as friends just yet. The Winter Solstice is about hope and for hope to exist you must believe in possibilities. So here we are, unlikely friends at one time in our lives. But we had possibilities and we changed.
When I emerge into the light after solstice, I will sing this song by Charlie Murphy:
Light is returning
Even though this is the darkest hour
No one can hold back the dawn
Let us keep it burning
Let us keep the light of hope alive
Make safe our journey through the storm
One planet is turning
Circle on her path around the sun
Earth mother is calling her children home
Clarence, no one can hold back the dawn. I place my hope in the possibilities.
“But friendship is the breathing rose, with sweets in every fold.”
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
The song you sing after the solstice reminds me of the words of the prologue of the Gospel According to St John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:1-12 NRSV)
You and I, each in our own way, are doing what John the Baptist did. We are bearing witness that light has come into the world, and although the messiness we have described may suggest otherwise, the darkness has not extinguished the light. Unlikely friends we are. Yet in my mind we are especially close. In my head, my Christian faith wants everyone to find that light in Jesus, as I have. But in my heart, there is something else at play. In my heart, I realize, as the Gospel passage I have quoted tells me, this light has come to everyone. All we need to do is step into it, and people can do that with or without my theology. That is a blessing, because none of us can make this happen. God does not even make this happen. Light will go anywhere, as long as it is not obstructed by objects which cause shadows. In my sunset years, I am learning that my task is not to give people the light, but simply not get in the way, so the light can reach them. As we both move toward the season of light, I am so grateful for you, because you have allowed me to see more light than I did before.
My Dear Friend Clarence,
Yes! The light can go anywhere. I completely agree. In the light we find hope and the light is what we reflect on during this season. Maybe we seek the light outside of us until we can recognize it in each other and ourselves. I have come to appreciate the light that you bring to the world. I feel it shining through in our friendship. Your words comfort me when you say, “darkness has not extinguished the light”. If I look to my own practice, I find this chant that I send you in closing.
We are the rising sun
We are the change
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for
and we are dawning
About Our Friends In Process
Clarence Graham White is the Theologian-in-Residence for the Diocese of the Emmaus Way. A practicing Roman Catholic since 2011, Clarence was a Quaker pastor for almost 30 years in Iowa, North Carolina, and Indiana. He also has ministerial standing with the American Baptist Churches. Clarence spent a decade as a curriculum editor for Barclay Press, a Quaker publisher in Newberg, OR. He is Professor of Philosophy at Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus, IN, where he has served since 2004 as a professor, administrator, and interim dean.
A West Virginia native, Clarence is a graduate of West Virginia State University (BA), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MA), and Bethel Theological Seminary (D.Min.) He has also studied at the University of Louisville, the University of Iowa, and Earlham School of Religion where he was under the tutelage of the well-known Quaker philosopher D. Elton Trueblood. In 2007, Clarence was a member of the Oxford Round Table.
Clarence and his wife Gay live in Columbus, where they are members of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church. They are parents of two adult children. He is the author of two books, The Wilderness I Left Behind and Finding My Voice Through a Wilderness Journey.
The Reverend Kathleen Reeves is the community relations specialist for the Cobb Institute, leader of the Institute's efforts in spiritual exploration and the arts, and a fundraising and social media assistant. She is working on ways to build a process-relational community through small group ministry. Kathleen is a writer, artist and published poet. She holds a Master of Divinity in interfaith theology and is an ordained interfaith minister. She has been active in interfaith peace and is a member of the Inland Valley Interfaith Working Group for Middle East Peace. She is the President of the Upland Interfaith Council and has held leadership positions in Unitarian Universalists congregations. Her community interfaith ministry led her to volunteer with Syrian refugees as they settled into their new country. Her deep connection with one special family is captured in her series of stories she wrote for the Huffington Post.
She is a student of Japanese tea ceremony through the international Chado Urasenke Tankokai associations of the Urasenke school in Kyoto, Japan. Kathleen has also trained in Restorative Practice. Kathleen is a pagan and was initiated into the Dianic Tradition of Zsuzsanna Budapest. Kathleen has writing and led many rituals for the Covenant of Unitarian Universalists Pagans, and the Grove of The Wild Wood Druid Grove. Kathleen follows an earth-based religion and belongs to The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids. She works as Director of Chaplaincy and Bereavement for a hospice in Riverside California.