Friday, March 09, 2007

Holding Back?

I’m realizing that I’ve been holding back from commenting on the Quaker blogs I read lately.

I don’t exactly “hold back” from commenting on Pagan blogs that I read. The conversation there seems to be a bit different. Pagan blogging seems, somehow, to take place in a larger “room” than Quaker blogging does. I suppose that makes sense, given how many more Pagans there are around than Quakers—over 400,000 in the United States alone , according to some recent data, compared to an estimated 123,000 Quakers in North America. But it’s not just that. Pagan bloggers seem to be writing in a more public vein, even when they write on personal experience.

Quaker blogs, though, seem to me to partake more of the tradition of journaling… or of a conversation of letters recopied and sent on, something harking back to eighteenth century norms and traditions. Maybe that’s a stereotype—being Quaker surely does not keep me from holding them—and there’s not really something old-fashioned in the Quaker way of thought. But there is something peculiarly intimate in how Quaker bloggers write, I think… at least, those I consider the best of Quaker bloggers. And there is assuredly a Quaker blogging “set”—a somewhat small circle of men and women reading and responding to one another’s blogs, in a conversational style.

And, I’m realizing, I feel like a pest when I comment on Quaker blogs—like I’m butting into a conversation where I’m not entirely welcome. I imagine the owners of the Quaker blogs I read reading my comments or my posts and thinking to themselves, “Oh, not again! There she goes, still talking about _that_!” The way one does when a Friend with a history of offering frequent political speeches in meeting rises and begins to speak.

I feel as if I’m constantly in danger of wearing out the welcome of my audience. In the case of whatever Quaker audience I may have, I fear wearing out my welcome with my language—my brass-balled temerity in calling myself Quaker at all. To some extent, that’s a fear I wrestle with at my meeting, too, though there the issue is much less troubling. There may be some at Mt. Toby who consider me to be a crank, or at least think some of my ideas are wrong-headed. But I’m pretty clear that there are many members who, even if they held such opinions, consider me to be _their_ “wrong-headed crank.” Even the minority (and I’m pretty sure they are a minority) of folks who may find my ideas pesky in my meeting do, I’m pretty sure, own me as a member of that community. Overall, in fact, my sense is that for those who know me best through worshipping together, words in themselves just aren’t important enough to be troubling. I like that.

I’m sure I alienate some of my Pagan audience as well. Language, again—there, it’s probably the conviction (shared by plenty of Quakers, to be sure) that all Quakers are Christian that grates… or, perhaps even more, my increasingly frequent use of the word “God” in the singular. My polytheism is suspect, and since Pagans rely on that concept so heavily to support ideas about the rightness of diversity, that’s surely an issue to those who don’t know me.

Again, though, I think the trouble is more likely to lie with those who don’t know me—and those who are new enough to Paganism to be dogmatic. There are “weighty” Pagans, even as there are “weighty” Friends (a concept I wish Paganism would borrow—the closest the Pagan lexicon comes to that idea is “Big-Name Pagans”… or, less reverently, “Big-Nosed Pagans,” mainly published, well known authors and emphatically NOT the same thing.) Weighty Pagans are far more willing to wait, read, think, and reflect before rushing to judgment based on a word.

Wait, no. It’s not even about not rushing to judgment. Pagans who have been around the block a time or two have typically had the experience of standing in circle with Pagans whose pantheons, understanding of what a “god” is, what a “spirit” is, and what ritual is for all differ wildly… and having it work. Wiccans, in fact, are sometimes rather resented by other Pagans, for the reason that they are less likely to have had such experience, and thus more likely to over-generalize about the beliefs and experiences of others. Still… my formative years as a Pagan, I routinely circled with a charismatic Catholic Goddess-worshipper, a self-taught Wiccan with an appreciation for ceremonial magick, a self-described Erisian who quoted Rumi constantly, a shaman turned priestess of Aphrodite, and a number of Judeo-Pagans for good measure.

The Gods didn’t seem to mind our heterogeneity. And, while our little band proved quite unstable in some ways, it wasn’t our theology that divided us, so much as our newness at community process. More to the point, though the original groups I circled with have changed drastically over the last fifteen years, most of us are still quite close and committed to one another.

My experience, and that of most of the Pagans of my generation, is one of the possibility of spiritual unity (note to Quakers—yeah, I am using the word “Unity” in _that_ sense) among people with diverse perceptions. There are ways I rely on that experience among my Pagan readers—and trust, very comfortably, that the majority of experienced Pagans out there have had it, and are used to bridging the gap that language can impose on people. It makes it hard to be shy.

It also tells me something about the importance about being willing to be present with my differences. Maybe I will be seen as a pest. Maybe people will mentally take a deep breath when I begin to speak from my weird little both-and perspective on the world. But that experience of finding one another despite difference, of being surprised by unity in the midst of apparent difference, is precious. I’ve had it; I’m blessed to have had it. Maybe I get called to “be a pest” as a way of carrying that experience to others.

I will try to be braver, and to reach out to online Quakers as well as local ones and Pagans.

3 comments:

Lorcan said...

Dear dear fFriend:
I hope thee feels completely at home in the small community of my blog. There is more than room on the bench for thee, there are ears and hearts open to thy messages.

In frith and fFriendship
lorcan

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Thank you, Lorcan. It is good to feel welcomed. Needless to say, the feeling is mutual.

Plain Foolish said...

I also, in my own wierd little way, would like to set out a chair and a cuppa tea (unless you like something else better) for you. As I've posted before, Paganism has been an important part of my spiritual journey, as I suspect my current interest in Quaker community is becoming.

The memorial service I attended this weekend was Pagan and reminded me of how much I still love the small circle that nurtured me when I lived in Ohio. We have since moved elsewhere (Mid-Atlantic, Florida, the Western Desert states, the Northern Midwest) and yet when we see each other, that closeness is there again.

I have no idea what I count as, if anything. I've lost words to describe myself with, religiously. To describe myself as belonging to any one step on my journey currently feels false, as though I am denying the journey itself, the way the path has dinged me in different ways, the pain of changing communities and the joy of discovering new ones.

So please, I don't know whether you've classified me as one of the bloggers who is writing in a private vein, but I hope you know that you're more than welcome there.

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