Local CUUPs group featured in Your North Hills   Leave a comment

Nature creates spiritual path for small group of pagans

by Dona Dreeland Staff Writer
March 29, 2012

Pagans have soul.

In fact, that’s the connection by which some pagans would define themselves.

Dictionaries offer a variety of meanings for the word “pagan”: someone who believes that everything has a soul; one who doesn’t ascribe to monotheism, such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam; or a believer in an earth-centered reverence for all of life.

The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, or CUUPS, has been meeting once a month since September at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills in Franklin Park.

Kristilee Williams, of Bellevue, and Chris Vaughn, of West View, facilitate the group.

What you won’t find at any of their meetings are “‘Macbeth’ witches cackling or running naked through the woods,” said Williams, who considered herself a pagan after she began to explore spirituality as a teen.

Her Protestant denomination, Methodism, wasn’t a good fit for her, she said.

“I was interested in the idea of a female deity,” she said.

Also, she missed the attention to the cycles of nature.

“Neo-paganism celebrates the wheel of the year, the solstices and equinoxes, but with nature and the seasons,” said Williams, the mother of two.

Vaughn missed the connections with nature, too, as he practiced the Catholicism his family practiced while growing up in Altoona. When he began asking questions about his faith as a sixth-grader in religion classes, he said, he felt put off.

“I’d ask questions that weren’t malicious and get yelled at, so I didn’t want to be involved.”

But hiking in the woods always had been peaceful for him, so when a friend told him about nature worship, he listened.

“Nature is essential to our survival,” Vaughn said.

“Saving the environment is about saving us. The human focus, then, is about helping people and experiencing love.”

Vaughn said he never could understand the disconnect between modern lifestyles and an awareness of the earth. He felt incomplete without it.

Via different paths, Williams, 44, and Vaughn, 30, discovered a home in the Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills and the CUUPS group.

Unitarian Universalist paganism operates through a focus on diversity and inclusivity, the same way that the main church does.

“On Sunday mornings, we have people who relate to the Christian tradition worshiping next to those who are humanists. We have people who follow Buddhist practices next to those who relate to an earth-centered spirituality,” said the Rev. Scott Rudolph, pastor of the North Hills church.

“The church is less concerned with what a particular spiritual path is but rather that it compels one to seek love, justice, connection and compassion in the world. As a church, we are united by these values rather than our personal theologies.”

CUUPS takes its pagan designation from the word’s first use: “The Latin paganu, meant ‘country dweller,’ or for us urban dwellers, someone who lives ‘close to the earth,'” according to the group’s fact sheet.

Following that thinking, members uphold an earth- and nature-centered spirituality, “which celebrates the sacred circle of life and instructs us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature,” as the group describes itself.

Participants celebrate the cycle of the seasons with eight festivals, she said.

“We light a candle, sit in a circle and create sacred space,” she said. “There’s a period of sharing and drumming to connect to the energy.”

There is incense and a representation of earth elements on a little altar. In the fall, there might be wheat or bread, she said, with this question asked: “What will you harvest in life this year?”

The ritual’s purpose is to “connect with God, the great spirit or however the deity expresses himself,” she said.

Acts, not beliefs, are real, Vaughn said.

“If you follow the Bible, it should change how you act in life,” he said. “If you feed the poor, (your God) becomes real because of your actions.”

A core group of 10 to 15 people — some members of the church and others, not, attend meetings, Williams said.

“We’re nice, middle-class people,” Williams said, “just happy about nature.”

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Posted March 29, 2012 by otterblossom in Groups

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