We’ve had the habit for many years of constantly making stock. We are always saving any bits of vegetables left after slicing and dicing — carrot tops, onion skins — as well as the occasional bone. We save these in the fridge and, every few days, we boil them in water to make a stock. If we already have a stock on hand, we simply combine everything. The stock grows richer, and darker, and more flavorful, with each iteration. A stock will keep indefinitely if you boil it often enough. Each stock is different, unique. We couldn’t recreate them if we tried. We use the stock to give flavor to rice or greens or other such cookery.
It’s economical, it’s fun, and it also tends to make the house smell nice. I highly recommend it. It seems like a metaphor for something, but I’m not sure what. That’s the very best kind of metaphor, if you ask me.
Maybe it’s a metaphor for what I’m doing right now. As I continue my quest for discovery and definition, I’ve been storing up bits and pieces, ideas and aspects. I want to pause, take stock, simmer in my own juices for a moment, see where I’m at so far.
I can say three things with some degree of certainty. I’m not sure if these qualify as statements of value or just descriptions. This is what my religion or spiritual orientation looks like in broad outline. I’ll unpack each term a little.
- Celebratory: The main function is to celebrate, not to manipulate. Ritual practices mark our place in the world and the universe, in the wheel of the year and the cycle of life, in family and community. I use the term celebrate in the old sense. It is not a synonym for “party,” though parties are celebrations of a sort. But so are funerals. In New Orleans, of course, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.
- Naturalistic and humanistic: The natural world, as revealed through sense experience and through science, invested and storied with meaning and mythology by countless generations of humanity, is sufficient and complete in itself. Deep mysteries remain, but supernatural explanations are best understood as metaphors or thought experiments. Gods and goddesses hold special power as archetypes that emerge from human consciousness.
- Earth-centered: The planet we live on, our home and mother, is the source of much inspiration. There is wonder in the sun and the moon and all the stars, but the Earth holds a special place of reverence and awe. To experience this place as sacred is a continual challenge for the individual in a technological-industrial society. To recognize and refocus on our participation in the ecosphere is a main purpose of religious celebration.
To these three I’m tempted to add a fourth: Communitarian. I’d like to see our practice connecting us to a larger community beyond the immediate family. I hesitate because this seems more like an aspiration than a plain fact, and I have a certain deep ambivalence about other people, especially when it comes to our most deeply cherished notions of value and cosmology. I’m skeptical of radical individualism even as I’ve lived and breathed it all my life. Civic engagement is important; revolutions of conscience are necessary; our way of being in the world must be transformed; but exactly how all this intersects with spiritual practice is a puzzle that continues to unfold.
All of this is enough to suggest some sort of naturalistic or humanistic paganism, which comes as no surprise. Through the net I’ve discovered many others of like mind. But these are very large umbrella terms. One major question that remains unresolved is whether I’m on any established path or simply blazing my own trail. It is perhaps the main question, a fact which has only become clarified through the process of writing this.
Which is what making stock is all about.
Delicious post. The stock is a great metaphor and play on words. In this post, you’ve boiled your path down to its essential flavor. I love it.
I never thought of understanding gods/myths as “thought experiments.” By that do you mean something that you entertain as “true” hypothetically, in a temporary state of suspension of disbelief, to see where it leads?
Thought experiments — did I write that? Huh, I guess I did. I never know what I’ll find in these entries. Now I can only speculate. Perhaps I was merely trying to appeal to the skeptics out there, to encourage them to dip their proverbial toes in the water of mythology for a minute, to see how it feels, to imagine tentatively without deep commitment. Or what you said. Dang, I just wrote this and already I’m mystified.
On a more pedestrian note: where do you find the room to keep (I presume perpetually refrigerate) a stockpot?
Stockpot? We just use any old pot. I suppose any pot in which one makes pot becomes a stockpot temporarily. But we keep the stock in the fridge in a storage container, plastic or glass. Occasionally we freeze some if we have too much and know we won’t be boiling it soon.