If with all your heart you truly seek me …
… ye shall ever truly find me. Thus saith our God. (Mendelsohn, Elijah, paraphrasing Jeremiah 29:13)
Martin Shaw, a notable in British Neo-Paganism, went out to to the woods for a 101-day vigil (!) of some pagan sort, roughly around the beginning of Covidtide. At the end, he had an attention-getting vision, and then began having the dreams — like Christ coming to him like a stag:
Shaw says he used to think Christianity was dull and domesticated. “I was wrong.”
His problem was that he thought the tame bourgeois Evangelicalism in which he was raised was the be-all and end-all of Christianity. He says, of that church, “What on earth would they have done with Blake?”
Shaw says that he believes he was in contact with the One who made the universe. It rendered him speechless. “I have been appropriately silent,” he tells Mark Vernon, adding that this is the first time he has revealed in public his conversion.
“You could not have argued me into Christianity,” Shaw says. It took this overwhelming experience of awe.
He goes on to say that Christianity is the fulfillment of all kinds of pagan myths.
“There was this deep interior announcement: ‘You knocked, and now I’m here. What should we do?”
On modern Christianity:
“We seem to have lost our saints, we’ve lost our monks, we’ve lost our connection to our bush soul, we’ve lost the angular, strange, weirdness of Christ.”
Shaw describes the call to Christ as “an invitation, not an imposition. … It’s chucking keys into cells to try to get you out into fresh air.”
He tells Mark Vernon that he’s been trying to figure out which church to embed himself in. He’s visited a Baptist church, an Anglican church, and a Catholic Church. “People will forgive almost anything except for becoming a Christian,” he says, alluding to the anti-Christian propaganda that’s everywhere. He found in all those churches “really kind, gracious, invested people.”
“But last Sunday, I walked into the Eastern Orthodox church, into the Divine Liturgy. I walked into a kind of Christian dream that was so deep. It had no beginning, and no end. It was absolutely unlike any form of Christianity I’ve yet come across.”
“It was as if every 15 minutes that passed, the door through the centuries was opening. I found in an almost unimaginably deep way a contact with … a sort of Christian dreaming.”
Shaw says he had never thought about Orthodoxy’s “aboriginal presence in Britain” before the great schism of 1054.
Vernon, a former Anglican priest, suggests that Orthodoxy, not having gone through the Reformation, could be more about drawing us into participation with the mysteries — doing something, rather than having something done to us.
Shaw responds by saying the last time he felt like he did after that liturgy was when he was in a sweat lodge with an American Indian twenty-five years ago. He was so dazed after the Divine Liturgy that he drove through a stop light, and almost caused a crash. Everybody was yelling at him. He rolled down his window and yelled, “I’ve just been to church! And I don’t know what’s going on!”
Shaw, who is best known says the truth about myth is that it’s not about the past at all, but about something always present. This resonated with me in light of what the Cambridge cultural anthropologist Paul Connerton said about the qualities traditional cultures that have successfully resisted modernity have in common. As I recall, they all 1) have a sacred story that tells them who they are; 2) celebrate the sacred story in an unvarying liturgy; 3) use their body in their liturgy; and 4) experience the liturgy as taking place in some sense outside of time.
Rod Dreher, writing about the conversion of Martin Shaw, "a big name in the neopagan/neopagan-ish world, who recently converted to Christianity." It appears that he isn’t going to be satisfied with anything less than the fulness of the faith that’s found in Christian Orthodoxy.
I would suggest that God saw Shaw’s heart and said "time to reclaim my own."
I also would suggest that Protestantism (perhaps Catholicism, too) may "have a sacred story that tells them who they are" and "use their body in their liturgy," but they vary their liturgies, which in no sense take place outside time.
Paul Kingsnorth and now Martin Shaw. God is up to something He hasn’t shared with me. He’s like that, you know. I have no other explanation for how Shaw could apprehend the timelessness of the Divine Liturgy on first exposure than that his paganism has kept his intuitive powers sharper than most of ours.
Elizabeth Oldfield perceives some commonalities in these and other "later in life" conversions:
[T]hey are slowly losing the youthful idealistic sense that they alone can locate the levers of change. They are butting up against the limits of their own intelligence and agency, and looking for something other than themselves to have faith in.
… Men who are arrogant or apathetic cause harm, and a path that requires humility, courage, vulnerability and service might just act as an antidote.
There was some of all that in my conversion, from deracinated to primal Christianity, at 48-49.
I’ve subscribed to Martin Shaw’s Substack, and it looks as if it could rise very near my favorites. He’s doing something I think is unique, valuable, and congruent with Orthodoxy (assuming that’s where he settles for a spiritual home).
A remarkable execution
I’ve never read last words like these:
First, thank you, my precious Father, for shepherding me for over 20 years and leading me to the edge of Paradise. I want to thank my beautiful wife who has loved me with everything she has. I want to thank my friends and legal team, and, most of all, Jesus Christ, through this unfair judicial process that led to my salvation. I pray the Lord will have mercy on all of us and that the Lord will have mercy on me. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me! Panagia Theotoke soson me! [All Holy Mother of God save me].
Last words of Monk Ephraim, formerly known as Frank Atwood, before his recent execution in Arizona for a murder which I doubt he committed:
on june 8, an american orthodox monk was executed for murder. how did this come to be? in 1987 frank atwood was convicted in arizona for the murder of a child. at the time of his arrest & trial, & ever since, he insisted on his innocence of the crime. (i have no way of knowing whether he was guilty or not, but that may also be true of those who tried & convicted him.) in prison, he read the mountain of silence: a search for orthodox spirituality by kyriakos markides. powerfully moved by it, he wrote to metropolitan athanasios of limassol in cyprus, who appears in the book. a correspondence began, which led to frank’s coming under the spiritual care of fr paisios at st anthony the great monastery in arizona. he was baptized & began to practice a life of prayer & asceticism. a few days before his execution, he was tonsured a monk & received the name ephraim, after fr ephraim, founder of st anthony’s monastery. his spiritual father paisios said that, regardless of his guilt or innocence, he had undergone a "complete transformation of life".
the case received great attention in greece, but as far as i know was ignored by american secular media outside of arizona. this account of his execution includes a powerful first-hand report from the arizona republic. you can see photos & video of his funeral at st anthony’s monastery here. metropolitan athanasios, who first received frank’s inquiries, has some remarks here.
as it happens, the assembly of canonical orthodox bishops of the united states of america has just published a "statement on the sacredness of human life & its untimely termination". it offers a whole-life teaching, rejecting abortion, euthanasia, & capital punishment.
o lord, remember us in thy kingdom.
From the rags of light monthly newsletter of my cyber-friend, John Brady, an Orthodox fellow of about my age (original formatting). You can subscribe here.
I formerly opposed the death penalty because our criminal justice system is more error prone than the powers and dominions want to admit. I’m aware, obviously, of the Innocence Project, but this is the first case I can recall where an innocent man was executed (rather than conclusively exonerated while on death row).
Now, with a push from my nation’s bishops, I’m opposed because it’s morally wrong even when they get the right guy.
From a reporter who witnessed the execution:
The Department of Corrections protocols ensure that few people see an execution, and there is little public awareness of this most serious and final act of justice. The death penalty is presented as a clean, sterile, administrative procedure carried out flawlessly and by the book. Now I know what they were trying to hide.
I have looked behind the curtain of capital punishment and seen it for what it truly is: a frail old man lifted from a wheelchair onto a handicap accessible lethal injection gurney; nervous hands and perspiring faces trying to find a vein; needles puncturing skin; liquid drugs flooding a man’s existence and drowning it out.
I have written extensively about Atwood’s case. I listened to the victim’s family talk about the pain and suffering the murder of Vicki Lynne, and subsequent court case, caused them — the generational trauma it left with their family and the community of Tucson. I talked with every attorney I know about the process and asked questions about what I was about to witness.
But I was not prepared to see the act of capital punishment carried out in front of me.
The state of Arizona conducts executions in all of our names. I thought I understood the weight of that process, but now I feel the reality of it. We killed a man today. I killed a man today. And I will live with that realization for the rest of my life.
If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.
Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes
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