Shawn Sanford Beck is an ecumenical priest and Christian Druid living off-grid on the shores of Murray Lake in Saskatchewan. The founder of the Ecumenical Companions of Sofia, an informal web of spiritual seekers, Sanford Beck spoke with Alison Brooks-Starks last fall.
Alison Brooks-Starks: What have you been focusing on lately in your Christian druidry practice?
Shawn Sanford Beck: Your place is your parish. That place has its own history, its own spirits, its own personality. As soon as you start thinking like that, you enter into a real neighbourhood filled with neighbours, only some of whom are human. I’ve been really experimenting with that, to commune and communicate more effectively with these other members of my ecological family. A concrete example would be this relationship that I’ve been building with what I think of as the lady of our lake, the guardian spirit of our lake. We get our water directly from the lake; we haul it by bucket. Every morning when I go down to the lakeshore to get water, I also do a water blessing ritual and I have this short, respectful conversation. I try to listen as much as I can. Some folks might say, “that’s all very poetic, but it’s just in your imagination,” and part of me responds, “that’s true, except I would never use the word ‘just.’”
ABS: And is that “magic”? You’ve said that magic is the active use of imagination. Tell me more about that.
SSB: Imagination is the way into these realities. A good “magician” of whatever tradition is somebody who is able to shift between ordinary levels of consciousness, dreaming levels of consciousness, deep meditation and active imagination.
ABS: What do you experience when you shift your consciousness like that?
SSB: It’s a matter of centering, taking a deep breath, and letting my level of consciousness just sink down a level, into the heart. Then I really try to turn my attention to the other creatures around me and they come alive to me in a way that I definitely don’t experience when I’m in the ordinary level of consciousness.
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ABS: How does the embodied nature of druidry intersect with your spiritual life?
SSB: I’ve been an intellectual for years and years and years, so there’s something ironic about having an embodied practice. I am embedded in a way of life where I have to use my body whether I like it or not. If I don’t do the bodily practice of chopping the wood, milking the cow and hauling the water, then life just sort of falls apart. The longer I’ve been here, the more I realize that the daily rituals of life, as long as I’m aware and intent, become the rituals of spiritual practice.
ABS: What do you draw from Christianity?
SSB: I’m very much a Nicean theologian, a Trinitarian theologian — all the really traditional pieces of Christianity are very close to my heart. My goal is to hold as much of it as possible in this dynamic conversation and tension with pagan cosmology, this essentially animistic and enchanted view of the universe.
A version of this interview first appeared in Broadview‘s March 2020 issue with the title “Your place is your parish.”
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