Friday, April 14, 2006

Exclusivity

One of my fears in starting this blog was that I will eventually find myself under attack by either certain Pagans or certain Quakers who find it objectionable that I self-identify as a member of both groups. I think I'm more afraid of this coming from the Quaker side of the aisle, actually--probably because, having been a Pagan in some sense for most of my life, and in a formal sense for twenty years, I feel pretty comfortable in that identity. I've been around long enough, and accepted by enough men and women I deeply respect long enough, that I have no worries about being denied the keys to that particular castle.

With Quakers, I'm a little more sensitive.

Early on in my convincement process (to use the Quakerese) I posted some of my thoughts on it on an earlier website I owned, and joined a Quaker web ring. All was well for a while, until one day my link to the ring simply failed to function. When I contacted the owner of the ring for tech support, I learned that, by decision of the members of the ring, I had been expelled from the group. At least one group, in fact, threatened to cecede from the ring were I not expelled. I could not, it was explained to me, be both Quaker and Pagan at the same time. So it was not proper for me to be a member of that ring, nor of a Quaker meeting.

I found the process very painful. It made me skittish about applying for membership in my meeting for quite some time--not really a bad thing, I guess, as it made me take a more careful look at my motivations, and urged me to work as deeply as I could with my clearness committee, when I did apply. I hope I've moved on, and I hope I'm not unjust or distorted in how I remember the events. But it feels very sweet to me to read words like those of James Riemermann, a non-theist Friend, who writes:

"Some might also take this as a rejection of Christians or Christianity in my vision of liberal Quakerism. It is not. It is a rejection of the notion that Christians (or theists, for that matter) are exclusively entitled to define us as a religious society, or that we should be centrally concerned with how to distinguish ourselves from everyone who is not a Quaker.

"What defines Quakerism for me is, the people I sit with in worship. When someone new comes in and sits with us, they redefine Quakerism, immediately and without effort. A Quaker is one who shows up and takes part. To me this is breathtaking, that we can have the courage to be that open."

That everyone in meeting is part of meeting, is part of the definition of it, each time they worship in that unique Quaker way... that is my experience, too. And it's why, without being Christian, I can honestly celebrate the Christianity of other members of my meeting. When a member of my meeting finds a spiritual deepening in the Bible, and shares that in spoken ministry, I am graced by it even if I am not especially enamored of the spark that kindled that Light. I don't need to be Christian to have my own spiritual life deepened by the deepening Christianity of the Christ-centered Quakers around me. I can feel it in my roots, in my belly, in my heart. As in the story of John Woolman among the indians, "I love to listen to where the words come from."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Breakfast Memories

There are a lot of reasons I'm starting this blog right now. But I think I'd rather jump in in the middle than at the beginning... I'm going to start with yesterday, and what came up for me over breakfast.

I always listen to the news on NPR as I get ready for work. And yesterday, NPR ran a story about the sentencing hearing for Zacharias Musawi. As part of the coverage, they described the testimony of the surviving friends and family members of 9/11 victims... and I found myself reflecting on my own experiences at that time. I remembered my initial sense that, well, at least I didn't know very many people in New York...followed by the dawning realization of just how many people in New York I did know. Actually, it turned out that more people than I could have imagined were in harm's way on that day. I remember, for instance, telling my daughter, then in middle school, that her best friend who had moved to Queens over the summer was nowhere near the WTC--only to find out days later that she had been attending school that day only a few blocks from there. (They had let the kids out early that day... and sent them all walking home. Walking home...to Queens...on that day, of all days. Incredible.)

I was, on September 11, 2001, a Wiccan High Priestess (HP for short) of a busy coven, and a psychotherapist in private practice. I was also on faculty for the then brand-new Cherry Hill Seminary--a kind of graduate training program for Pagan clergy. I was teaching a course on pastoral counseling techniques, and all of a sudden, every one of my students needed me to talk them through crisis counseling for communities. Some of their communities were pacifists; some were military Pagans; most had communities with a diversity of feelings about war and peace. And everyone was in crisis.

I remember how cold I was, and how my hands shook as I sent out emails and wrote articles on traumatic bereavement--what to do, what to watch out for, and how to help one another.

I was also, at that time (and still am), a member of a group of Pagans who gather for a religious and educational retreat on an annual basis. Over the years, we have become very close--the event is in its twenties, now--almost like a village. Every Columbus Day weekend, including in 2001, we meet to teach, and touch, and celebrate one another. And that year, we met, among other things, for a trauma debriefing for the walking wounded members of my tribe.

The retreat had been started by New York city Pagans, and about 1/2 to 2/3 of its members still live there, or very near the city. Some of our members missed death only because they had been running late to work that morning. Others were close enough to flee for their lives, or to have horrible visions of the carnage visible between the crash of the first airplane and the collapse of the towers. And one dear friend, a firefighter from outside the city, had spent every day off between 9/11 and the retreat attending the funeral of at least one NYFD member.

Remembering his agony, again I have to stop to wipe away tears. I wear reading glasses now, so I can't cry and type at the same time any more.

It was the morning of September 11 that I first knew in my body as well as my mind that deep and absolute conviction that war was just not the answer for anything. In a world where a half-dozen men armed with box-cutters can kill thousands, it becomes clear that no amount of force or the threat of force will ever save life. All killing will do is pile the bodies higher.

Today, I say it with words. On September 11, I felt it in my marrow, in my spine.

Between September 11 and that Columbus Day (ironically, the weekend when the bombing of Afghanistan began) I found the Quakers. I have been a Quaker ever since.

And yesterday morning, as I listened to the news, I felt it again in my core: killing will never make it--make anything--right. I know that the reason the prosecution is bringing forth victim testimony is to try to convince a jury to put Musawi to death. I know that many surviving friends and family members--and other sincere people--believe that this will in some way help to balance a scale or heal...something.

But I also know as deeply as I know anything in this world that killing Musawi is not right, is not justice, and is not going to heal anyone. So many things have changed for me in the five years since that day. I'm no longer a HP; I no longer run a coven; and I no longer teach pastoral counseling. (I am still Pagan--my love for the earth and the Old Gods does not change. But other Quaker testimonies and practices have grown in me, about oaths, clergy, simplicity... and they have changed how I worship, if not what or why.)

This one thing has not changed. Killing is just killing. Just more death. And we will never win our way to peace over more dead bodies... no matter what they have done in life.

Hm. Long entry for a first. But I think it's faithful. I think it's true. I'll let it go at that.

Blessings,
Cat

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