Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Samhain Blessings

It's Samhain...and I'm not at work.

I didn't try for a religious holiday from my employer. Though I'm pretty well "out" as a Pagan to the faculty and students who care to know, I've hardly made a point of my Paganism to my administration. Can't have it both ways, after all--maintain that my religion is a personal matter, and then go out of my way to make it universally known. And, though having a whole website on the matter might be expected to take any concerns about my "hiding" anything off the table, the fact that I'm also a Quaker--and "out" about that, as well, to anyone who cares to know--means that my religious identity does not fit easily into a soundbite.

As any American in this era of televised political news can tell you, we are not a people who take well to nuance. Anyone whose beliefs, practices, or understandings go beyond soundbites is immediately suspect.

So I didn't ask to take the day off on religious grounds. Nope--However, I'm home quite legitimately, having scheduled visits with my doctor and dentist today rather than some other day. Rather than take some random day away from work, why not take one of the holiest days in the Pagan wheel of the year?

What makes Samhain holy? Memory... and love. And loss, and the acceptance of loss. Samhain is the holiday when we deliberately honor the fact of mortality: our own, and that of those we love. It's the day when we look at the skull in the mirror... and smile.

And how does this fit with the Quaker teaching against "the keeping of days"? Surprisingly well, actually, because Samhain, however important it is to me to have had the chance to take today off, is not a day, but a season, a tide. There's no magic charm in the 31st of October... the magic is in the earth itself, and in the cycles of life and death that happen here.

Pagans like to say that, at Samhain, the "veil between the worlds" is thin. And in a sense, it's always thin. The dead are never far from us, and neither are the spirits of nature, of the trees and the earth, and the cycle of life that becomes death and becomes life again. People die at any time of year, after all.

And yet--and yet: There's a reason that so many hospices and bereavement programs take some variation on the fallen leaf or the tree in autumn as a symbol. This is the time of year, in the Northern Hemisphere, when the world gets quiet, and death or sleep overtakes so many species. Everywhere we turn is death--some of it, the product of our own human hands. My students have begun to plan for the annual hunting trips with their parents; the crops have been harvested, cut down to feed our human selves. Life and death are more clearly cheek by jowl now.

So I am readying myself for a visit from our Beloved Dead. I've laid in the feast foods: Guinness for Peter's many-years-dead college room mate, squash for my much-missed former father-in-law, Earl... lobster in real butter for my Grampy, apple pie for Nanny, and sticky buns and tea for Nora, Peter's grandmother. I even brought in roast beef for my Pappy, my father's father, happy carnivore that he always was. I eat meat at no other time of year, but for Pappy--for all my ancestors--I will set aside my own ways for this one night, and remember when I was a little girl, and happy with their own.

Too much of the food is from the freezer or from Boston Market; if I had taken the day without the medical appointments, I'd have made my Nana's cabbage, and chopped and roasted and basted more of the meal myself. But that is not the point, surely: I do not think that my ancestors will be appearing physically at my dining room table an hour from now, to lift their meals with knife and fork to their ghostly lips. I know full well that a full plate will go down to the compost in the morning (though Peter and I will have eaten our own share with great relish by then). I'm hopeful, though, that if spirits linger and can sense our hearts, my ancestors will know that I have tried, within the confines of my silly, mortal life, to set a feast for them within my heart.

It's Samhain, Halloween. And I feel something stirring, in the land and in my body. I feel the tide of Samhain. And I remember.

To you and yours, and to all our Beloved Dead--blessed be.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Peter on Names


I’ve decided to try spelling it “G*d.”

I once saw a Jewish author do that. It was thirty years ago and I no longer remember who the writer was, but I recognized at the time that he was echoing the practice the ancient Hebrews had of never speaking the name of the Holy One. I think that practice came partly out of a deep, visceral nervousness about too lightly invoking a Name of such Power, but I think also it was a way of reminding themselves of the transcendent and ineffable nature of their God. YHVH was father to His children, but He was also creator of the universe, and it was an awfully big universe even back then. You could call Him Papa, but you always knew He had a special secret name besides; a Name that spoke of infinity and eternity and thus would never fit on a human tongue.

I’m probably projecting more onto ancient Hebrew theology than was really there. Modern Christian ideas about infinite-and-eternal-God may descend more from Aristotle than from Abraham. If so, please forgive the error, but bear with me…whatever the history, I think what I’m saying is still true in the present.

Names. As a Pagan, names are less of an issue. The Gods we worship as Pagans all embody the Divine, God-beyond-God, Ain Soph Aur, or whatever you want to call it. As God-stuff reaches down through levels of the Tree to touch the lives of us mortals, it particularizes and takes on personalities. We call Them by names. The names may be traditional or coined on the fly, but I don’t believe any of them are the True Names of the Gods. My sense—just an intuition I’ve picked up along the way—is that the True Name of a God is not something a mortal can hear…at least, not and still stay mortal.

It was incredibly liberating to me to become a Pagan and a polytheist, because it meant I could build a relationship with the Divine again without having to go through a church and a Bible about which I had developed some profound misgivings.

[nb: I worry that this paragraph will offend Christians. That is not my intention. I worship alongside Christians even today, and many of the Quakers I most admire and seek to emulate are Christian. But the path that G*d set me to walk led me through Hell for a few years when I was younger, and I cannot talk about my relationship with G*d if I am too polite to describe what I saw of Christianity from the perspective of one of its damned souls.]

The Christian God also exists on many levels of the Tree, but Christians (and monotheists in general) cannot differentiate between the levels. The Creator of the Universe is the same as God the Father is the same as Jesus Christ is the same as the Holy Spirit that inspired Paul is the same as the Word of God is the same as the Bible is the same as any right wing Bible thumper… As a Christian (and I was a very committed and devout Christian for many years) I hit an impasse where I couldn’t pray to God or even think about God without being overwhelmed by all of the evil done in His name. Christians come up with some very creative ways to try to get their God off the hook. It’s not my purpose here to argue with them—only to say that the first time I prayed to “Goddess” instead of to “God” was the first time I was really able to cut myself loose from all the butchery and hate and conquest and enslavement that has followed like a shadow behind the message of love and salvation.

Names. If a Celtic Goddess and a Middle Eastern God share some common divinity, it’s at a level where there are no names—a level so transcendent that it’s beyond any possibility of personal relationship. Above the level of the Gods, Pagans will speak in very abstract terms like "the divine," or "the ultimate reality," or "the ground of all being." (Some Pagans at least. I don’t speak for us all.) God at that higher level is much more like a force of nature than a personal deity.

And that was fine until I became a Quaker.

My experience of the Divine in Quaker worship is both very like and very different from my experience in a Pagan setting. The experience of the Horned God in a Wiccan circle often feels to me like hands laid on my shoulders by Someone very large (a proud parent, perhaps?) standing behind me, or like a cloak draped over my shoulders and enveloping me in warmth and strength. The presence of G*d in Quaker meeting is every bit as intimate, but somehow less personified. The difference may be as simple as Quakers doing corporately what a Wiccan priest or priestess will do individually. In a Wiccan circle, even if everyone present were covered with God or Goddess, each one’s experience would be more individual and each aspect of the divine presence might take a different name. The Light that covers a Quaker meeting doesn’t seem to want a name. It’s close enough to the human level to touch us, but still universal enough that it feels right to say things like, “There is that of God in everyone,” when I would never talk about “that of Herne” or “that of Athena” or “that of Jesus” within everyone.

After spending enough time talking with Quakers, even a Pagan Quaker will start using the word “God” just because it’s convenient. It’s the word everyone else in the room is using. It’s a single syllable, unlike any of the other terms that come to mind. And it does encompass most of what I want the word to say…but it makes me uneasy. As an ex-Christian worshipping alongside Christians, in a religion that has its roots in Christianity but includes both Christ-centered and non-Christian members, “God” is a really loaded word. It’s very hard to say “God” without someone in the room hearing “Jesus.” So it came to me a few days ago to start writing “G*d,” as I once saw a Jewish author do, as a way of avoiding the pitfalls of using THE NAME.

Names. I keep coming back to the theme of the limitations of language for describing the ineffable. Paul was swept up into the Heavens, given a tour of the Celestial Spheres, and then plunked down again on Earth to try to describe what he saw using a language that evolved to communicate about hunting and fishing and sewing and cooking… You might as well try to write “I love you” in Fortran. How can we ever communicate with clarity about our experience of G*d? I don’t have an answer to that. What I have is a message that someone delivered in meeting on the morning that I started writing this post:

"Live up to the Light that thou hast and more will be given thee."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Afternoon Thoughts

A couple of quick things today. (Even if I finish the next part of the spiritual journey series, I won't be posting it tonight--this one is hard to write, and deserves some discernment time when I eventually do finish it.)

First off: I've been reading through a couple of the blogs I was following closely all summer. I hate that I don't have the time to stay up-to-date on all the Pagan and Quaker writers I love... but I'm very happy to notice that many of those same writers feel a bit like old friends who I may not see for months or even years on end, but who somehow I can always settle back into intimacy with.

Reading through the comments on one Quaker blog today, noting the level of honesty and openness I find there, I found myself thinking, "I love (insert name here)."

And this is about a person I have never met.

Does this make me unrealistic? Some kind of boundaryless freak?

I don't think so. Sure, if I had to live with and wash dishes with a lot of the men and women I love and admire as writers, I'd have plenty of chances to get to know their perhaps many human faults and failings. I'm sure we'd bump up against each other and feel pain, because that's just how humans seem to be.

But, see, I think love is never the illusion. Yeah, we're all capable of projecting our illusions onto others at times--but I think that simple, happy, unpossessive sense of simply loving another person in the moment is not a projection, but rather, a rare moment of clarity--a kind of grace, even.

The times we're too pissed off to deal with the complexity of it all--those are the times we're caught up in the illusion. Not that it's not gonna happen, because it is--we'll reach the limits of our merely human capacity to see clearly, whether due to fatigue or hurt feelings or disappointed desires or (favorite Britishism coming up) sheer bloody-mindedness. And we won't see through the eyes of love. (Hmmm... I'm realizing this thought has more to do with the Felicia Hardy posts than I thought at first blush.)

But the loving glimpse of the other is the real one. The rest is when we're seeing "through a glass, darkly."

Right. So, that was Afternoon Thought #1.

Afternoon Thought #2 arose driving home with our Indian exchange teacher in the car. He has never seen a New England autumn, so he's pretty much blown away by the fall foliage. He's never seen a maple tree or an oak tree or a white pine before this year... and our winding, hilly road to and from work takes us past some extraordinary stands of forest.

I get to see all of this through new eyes, because he is in the car with me. And I loved it a lot already with the old eyes, I can tell you.

So here's the thought I had, gliding past swirling eddies of orange and yellow leaves on the rain-slicked road: Maybe I am Pagan simply because I had the good fortune to be born and live most of my life here, in New England, surrounded by all this beauty.

How could I live in this place and at this time, and not give the whole embrace of my heart to the trees and hills of home? How could I look on the warm, smoldering fire of autumn maples, sumacs, and oaks, bright against the grim deep greens of hemlocks and pines, and not feel an answering warmth from deep inside my belly?

I dearly love the flooding light of Quaker meeting, and I trust the Spirit I encounter there. But the earth's musk and the lifted head of the doe who catches my scent, and the fire on a Berkshire hillside... I have no words for the depth of the love I feel for this vivid, living landscape of mine.

How could I not be Pagan, when my life and my heart have grown up here?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Brilliant!

I just had to put in a quick plug for a brilliant musical group I just discovered today--The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Too cool! Check them out on our back page.

(I'm working on something more substantive--I promise. But this one is just too good to miss...)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Religious Freedom to Marry Appeal

Though this appeal is being made to the Pagan community, and is a wonderful chance for us to come together and show our values on the subject of GLBT equality, I would also like to encourage Quaker readers who support this cause to read Maureen's letter carefully. There's no reason that words like "religious", "spiritual", and "faith" should become the province of people who equate their own bigotry with the will of God(s. The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, whose activism was key in gaining recognition for same sex marriage in Massachusetts, will happily work for the inclusive spiritual insights of both my faith communities.

I still remember my tears of joy on the day that same sex marriage became legal in my home state... It was a time of many challenges for me personally, but that moment has become one of my touchstone moments. My own marriage has been a source of such wonder and depth in my life, that it breaks my heart to think of others who are arbitrarily denied it in other states. And something in me is healed, likewise, when I see how deeply concerned so many of us are to show our support--our religiously convicted support--for same sex couples' rights.

I feel great pride that my coven, my Quaker meeting, and my local council of the Covenant of the Goddess are all signatories to the declaration of religious support for the freedom of same sex couples to marry--and deep gratitude to all people of faith, everywhere, working to recognize human dignity and freedom on this basic issue.

Let's show the world what loving spirits can do...

Credit card donations can be made online at the RCFM website, and you may leave the note "Pagan Contribution" in the comments field, if you wish. (An address for checks appears below.)

Rev. Maureen Redddington-Wilde
Church of the Sacred Earth : A Union of Pagan Congregations
Board Member, Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry

20 October, 2007

Dear Friends,

For the past ten years, I have served on the Steering Committee, now Board, of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. During this time, the RCFM has frequently turned to various faith organizations for significant donations to keep us running. Since Pagan organizations are so decentralized, I have not hitherto tried to raise funds from us.

However this is a good time to try. The struggle to keep equal marriage legal here in Massachusetts is pretty well finished after the end of the Constitutional Convention this past June. However, the struggle still continues on in the rest of the country. The RCFM has a lot of experience and help that we can contribute.

The RCFM Board has just concluded an all-day retreat to re-vision our mission as we proceed forward from here. As of January 1st, we will return to being an all-volunteer organization. This is a good time personally for the people who are our current paid staff to step down and a good time for an organizational shift.

We have a major project to be completed by March 1st -- the creation of a How-To manual, documenting what we have accomplished over the past ten years and how we did it. This resource will be made available on the web to help other states in their organizing efforts. National and state leaders have been requesting and are awaiting this manual. The RCFM is awaiting word on a grant proposal we submitted to cover the costs involved in this project.

Meanwhile, we still need to raise $10,000 to cover our operating expenses and salaries for our Executive Director and Office Assistant through the end of 2007. In addition to helping us prepare for a number of victory celebrations in the months to come for the RCFM and MassEqulity, our staff will be preparing all the initial work for the manual during this time before handing on the framework and computer set-up for it to the volunteer committee.

Please give generously. We have accomplished an amazing victory for civil rights and freedom of religion here in Massachusetts. But this is only one state, and we must share our knowledge and experience with the rest of the country so that the rights we enjoy here can be expanded to everyone.

The RCFM is a 501(c)(3) organization, and all donations are tax-deductible. After ten years of my own work with the RCFM, it will mean very much to me personally to have an outpouring of support from the Pagan community so that we can share our success across the country.

At Samhain and other Pagan gatherings this month and into the start of November, please ask the people who gather together to donate to the best of their ability. If ten people contribute $20 each, that's $200. If ten groups do this, that's $2,000. Please, ask people to contribute $20 if they can. Lesser amounts are gratefully accepted, larger amounts are quite welcome. If you can afford a $100 or $200 donation, please consider doing so.

Make checks payable to: Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. In the Memo line, please note: "Pagan Contribution". Send to:
The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry
11 Beacon St. Suite 1125
Boston, MA 02108

Donations can also be made online with a credit card at RCFM.org.
If you contribute online, in the Comments field, please note: "Pagan Contribution".

Thank you very much. Love & Blessings,
Rev. Maureen Reddington-Wilde

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cat's Spiritual Journey, Part IX: Felicia Hardy and the Tower of Babel

All posts in this series:
Part I: Getting (and Losing) That Old Time Religion
Part II: Coming Home
Part III: The Fool's Journey
Part IV: The Underworld
Part V: Seven of Cups
Part VI: A Letter and a Kiss
Part VII: Morticia Loves Gomez
Part VIII: Nora
Part IX: Felicia Hardy and the Tower of Babel
Part X: When Babel Fell
Part XI: Community 2.0
Part XII: This Forgiveness Stuff

Picture this:
You stand in a forest. All around you, a rich smell of leaf mulch and growth fills the air. Receding into the distance are the boles of giant trees, redwoods, towering, and in the peak of green life.

From above, shafts of light pierce the canopy and slant toward the forest floor, like light piercing the living silence of a cathedral. Except for the singing of one far-off bird, there is no sound but the soft drips of moisture from the canopy above--the sound of life too rich and strong to measure.


Now picture this:

A woman stands before you. She is round, with a wasp waist and tiny feet, but otherwise like an overstuffed child's doll of a girl. And she bounces on those tiny feet, and her smile shows many teeth. Her eyes are full of mischief, her hair curls in a cloud of softness around her face, and her voice is high and elfin when she speaks. She is fond of purple things, and leopard prints, and cats. She loves Taco Bell, pop culture, the works of Aphra Behn, and tech theater. She also loves the Spiderman comic book anti-heroine, The Black Cat, sometimes known as Felicia Hardy, and all her friends would recognize that it is she I am describing in this paragraph, even though I will call her by the name of that favorite Marvel comics character. There's just no way to disguise this part of my story.

But what may not be recognizable is that the first picture, of the forest, and the second picture, of the round and bouncing woman, are two pictures of the same person. Let me start there.

When I eventually moved in with Peter and his grandmother, Nora, we gradually set about assembling the multi-generational group and family house I described when I explained what life was like with Nora. Felicia was not the first person to join our household to try and assist in Nora's care, but she stayed longest. She was still living with us when Nora died, at Samhain the year that my daughter turned nine.

I first met Felicia at Peter's bachelor apartment, just as he was planning to move in with his grandmother. At that time, I was completely bedazzled by everything connected to Peter in any way--I idealized the very coffee he drank and the plants on his altar to the Green Man. I thought even the towels in his bathroom were somehow special, unique, somehow more real and deserving of love than other people's towels.

Laugh if you like, but you know what I mean: I was at that early, intense rush of love that is almost incompatible with common sense. So I ignored the signs that Felicia might actually be a little high-maintenance for lasting friendship, and embraced her blindly and completely. Felicia was a friend of Peter's, and therefore a friend of mine.

And when a personal crisis in Felicia's life left her in urgent need of a place to live, Peter and I rushed to invite her to come and live with us.

I don't mean to imply this was a charitable project. Though Felicia would be starting over with a lot of debt and little money, and though she needed safe people she could trust to help her get back on her feet, she also brought another set of adult eyes and hands to a household in desperate need of them. Peter and I were starting our new life together with a lot on our plates, caring for a five year old and a ninety-three year old, and with Felicia on hand, we knew that there would be someone who could sit with Nora when we could not, cook the occasional meal, and pitch in as a babysitter and companion with my daughter from time to time, so that Peter and I could have an evening out.

So Felicia moved in. Eventually, she would wind up living on the same floor as Nora, in our rambling old Victorian, to be available for middle-of-the-night calls... and eventually, as Nora became more and more frail and needy, and Felicia found it hard to locate and keep full time work in the area, Felicia would become a paid health aide for Nora.

We could not have managed without her.

From the beginning, she and my daughter got along wonderfully. Felicia had a vast store of knowledge of movies and theater, and made a real point of sharing them both with her, taking my daughter to plays and musicals that I would never have gotten around to sharing with her. And with Felicia added to the household, I felt that we were engaged in something that I had always wanted--building a real, committed community. A Pagan community, something tribal and visceral, unafraid of sharing the details of daily life.

Felicia and I became very close, in the way that sisters perhaps become close. (Having only a brother, I'm left guessing here.) She gave me sweaters that matched her own. We shopped together, and compared notes on the big purchases--ritual garb, a leather jacket for Felicia (which she let me try on for photos), an amber necklace for me. We shared books and talked about ritual and eventually, once we'd formed Stepchild Coven, worked some together. We talked about Qaballah and the Pagan gods and goddesses, and began to reach out to other Pagans in the area, meeting one another by ones and twos. It was about this time that the Church of the Sacred Earth ordained me as clergy in their organization, so I did a lot of networking, but quite often, if I couldn't attend something, Felicia did. She was outgoing, well-informed, intelligent, and fun.

We meditated together. We worked magic together--and we played with magic together.

It was during one of the times we were playing at magick together that Felcia let me "look" deep inside her... let's say "aura", because I have no better word. Felicia had deliberately lowered her shields, let me see into her heart as deeply as I could.

That's when I saw that forest I mentioned: Richness. Greenness. Life. All of that is who Felicia Hardy is on the inside, at her deep core. Her heart--soul? spirit?--is beautiful and good.

I said so then, when we were so close. I say so still, though we can scarcely speak to one another, or bear one another's company. Hold that thought in mind. I'm going to sift the ashes of that friendship one more time, and see if I can't find some way to explain what went wrong, not just in our friendship, but in the community we had been part of together.

******************


I was incredibly grateful to the Pagan community for letting me find Peter--and, truth to tell, myself. I'd been such a brittle and self-conscious teenager and twenty-something, and Paganism gave me Mystery and color and the sense that things matter: there is holiness in the smallest salamander crawling across the forest floor, and there is a richness of immediate experience of Spirit that only grows deeper the deeper you explore it. And somehow, in all the explorations, I learned how to be myself: fully and simply myself, without pretense or worry. I learned to sing with a full-throat, even when people were watching me. I found my voice in more ways than one.

And it was my coven and my community that taught me all of that, at least as much as the gods. Nurturing Pagan spiritual community was one of my greatest ambitions in my life. I wanted to say thank you to the universe that had given me so much in so short a span of time.

So creating an extended family with Peter was living out a dream. It filled me with great gladness to have Felicia move in. Every person we helped to weave in to our community made life a little richer. Every strand in the web of community made the world a little warmer.

When Felicia met and began dating (and training) Frodo, that was terrific, too.

I believe my first introduction to Frodo was actually to his shoes--innocent white running shoes, parked in the front hall when I came down to breakfast one morning. There was such an innocence in those abandoned shoes! I was simply charmed to meet their owner when he emerged, sleepily into the family rooms at mid-morning... As it turned out, our friendship with Frodo long outlasted the fling he and Felicia shared. Catching our joy in community, Frodo became one of the earliest members of Stepchild Coven.

Many other friendships sprang from our connection with Felicia. Felicia suffered from terrible insomnia, and she would sit up late at night at Peter's computer, set up just outside our bedroom. I would hear the clacking of keys, sometimes punctuated by soft laughter or the squeals, squawks, and boings of the modem. She was always there at the keyboard if I got up in the night.

Al Gore may have invented the Internet, but Felicia Hardy discovered it, at least in our household, in it's earlier incarnation as networked computer bulletin boards--BBS systems: FidoNet, WWII, and a lot of other names I can't remember. It wasn't long until she had introduced us to a host of local BBS users and hosts. Long, threaded discussions were growing up about religion, politics, role playing games... We met Pegasus, a former "jar-head", local cop and BBS host whose curiosity about Paganism became something much stronger--and who eventually became my "grandson" in the Stepchild Coven lineage, when La Contessa (another BBS friend) not only completed her own training with us, but trained him in turn.

And we met Kevin and Beth, hosts and guiding lights of the Peace Frog BBS, and among our closest friends to this day. When they were seeking Pagan clergy to perform their wedding, all those years ago, I offered to be that clergy. Now my own daughter is older than Kevin was they day he and Beth were married, and I have no words for what it means to me to have watched their own three children grow.

We offered a monthly Pagan study group, and kept up lively connections with Step by Step Farm, a list of Peter's old Pagan friends from his days with Valley Pagan Web and as editor of Moonrise, and of course visited Kirk and Amy on their land in Vermont, especially whenever anyone connected with the Church of the Sacred Earth held a gathering or an event. We pitched our tent in Massachusetss' poison ivy patches for Beltane, under tall Vermont pine trees at Lammas, and dossed down in a communal heap of sleeping bags on the floor at Touchstone Farm for Samhain.

I remember the year that we brought Nora to Touchstone Farm. We had asked Shaker if the community of circle dancers could join the assembled members of the Church of the Sacred Earth for a night, and if he would lead us all in sacred circle dancing. The room, lit only by strands of Christmas lights, was crowded and bustling. By that time, Nora was blind, and in the wheel chair, with her oxygen tank slung over the back. Peter and I had been taking turns staying with her, answering her questions and holding her hand during the dances; I was with her when a member of the circle dance group asked if Nora could be wheeled into the center of the ring for a dance specifically to honor elders--the haunting "Old Woman" song.

Nora had no objection, so in we went. My daughter, perhaps six years old at the time, joined me, feeling a need to be close to mom in the crowd.

All around us, the dancers wove. It's a lovely dance, mysterious and sad and soft, with lots of raised arms and quiet steps, lowered eyes, and slow circling.

It was only later, when we had left the circle and I was heading off to bring Nora home for the night, that Brightshadow pointed out to me that, between us, Nora, my daughter, and I, had made up a living icon of the Goddess: Maiden, Mother, and Crone.

Life in Pagan community was full of such moments of sudden richness and surprise.

One of the best came on a visit to Laurelin Farm, for a weekend retreat on sacred sexuality offered by the Pagan GLBTQ-affirming ritual group, Q Moon.

It was a dismal weekend, with a light rain that the tents kept out but which still managed to soak everything through sheer humidity. It was a day as warm and moist as a mouth, which featured too many mosquitoes, and a total lack of decent drumming. It was also difficult being present at a weekend where it turned out we did not share some very basic, core values with the other attenders: not so much as the token straights at a retreat which focused on gay and altnernative sexuality, as a deeper, more basic incompatibility:

Neither Peter nor I eat red meat. And the pig roast turned out to be the major Saturday night event. Ugh.

Happily, our lifestyle was shared by another attender, a man we had met only once before, Two Bears of the Moon, a committed vegitarian and--delightfully--an afficianado of good, dark beer.

Two Bears shared with us some of his good dark beer, and we sat morosely in the rain, soaked to the skin, trying to take our minds off of the off-putting sight of the pit being dug for the pig carcass a little ways down the hillside. Something about the circumstance of sharing the rain, the beer, and an antipathy for dead pig led to particularly good conversation, and as everyone else gathered for a blessing before the meal, the three of us snuck off to town for a (vegitarian) pizza in a dry and well-lighted place.

We talked about community, and how important it was to all three of us. And, only half-jokingly, we told Two Bears that we wished we lived in community with him, and described life in our house and in our coven to him.

We were surprised--but not at all displeased--when some time later, Two Bears called us up at home and asked us if we had been serious. He wanted to move in with us, and he'd like to start visiting from Eastern Mass. from time to time to hunt for work. What did we think?

We thought it was a terrific idea, though Felicia, who had not been at the weekend camping retreat (and probably would have stayed for the dead pig if she had been) had reservations, and insisted we put him through a formal interview process, which we did. I still remember sitting solemnly in a row, peppering Two Bears with questions about how he would handle this domestic crisis or that, explaining to him exactly what he would or would not be allowed access to in the house--certainly no parking space! That he would have to find for himself! And he'd have to pay his full share of the groceries, mind you!

We later joked about just how easy-going and flexible Two Bears was, both in that interview and, once he did move in, as a housemate. We would reminisce about the interview, making it more and more extreme: "Then we said, 'You'll have to sleep on the roof, you know, whenever we have guests!' And then you said, 'Oh, that's all right... I really love the night sky.'"

Not that Two Bears was a perfect housemate. He was always a bit of a slob. He watched far too much TV, and I'm almost sure the foot fungus I got that year came from sharing a bathroom with his bare feet.

However, he was peaceful, playful, and accepting of all of our little quirks. Slow to anger, he would always respond to a request to pick something up or turn something down quickly and without defensiveness. He had a warm, kind, curious spirit that was refreshing to share a home with...and memories of caring for his own mother, in her last days, that gave him an experienced empathy for what Peter, especially, was living through in Nora's decline. With the addition of Two Bears to the house and to the coven, that sense of being grounded in a real, meaningful spiritual community, of having built something lasting and fine, was complete.

Felicia, on the other hand, was becoming harder and harder to love.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

New Druid Blog

David Miley, a Druid whose comments have appeared here at QPR on occasion, has begun a new blog of his own! My knowledge of David is entirely online, but his writing and his seeker's spirit have both impressed me many times. His initial entry into the blogosphere is an unusual reflection on a traditional Arthurian story which I quite liked--no surprise there, from the writer of pieces like "There is a Sound":
There is a Sound,
That supports the World.

It is tree dance
And brook babbling.
It is summer storm and volcano.
It is in us and apart.
As loud as sleigh bells -
Still, you may not hear it.

Touch tree.
Face fear.
Light fire.
Dance in moonlight.
Make love.
Sing.

The Sound is silent
Til you sing it.

For more glimpses into David's world, stop by his brand new livejournal blog. Here's hoping it will be a rich and productive outlet for his words.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On Spiritual Maturity

Peggy Senger Parsons is one of my absolutely favorite Quaker writers, and her blog, A Silly Poor Gospel, would be reason enough for a heretic like me to value Christianity, even if I knew no other wise and grounded Christians.

So it's not a total surprise that she has written some deeply wise words on the subject of spiritual maturity today--ideas she credits to her "Quaker Yoda", her friend Vivian, recently hospitalized for a heart attack and stroke.

Here's something I loved so much I had to share it:
Our value as children of God does not depend on our spiritual maturity - grandparents do not have more intrinsic worth than the babies - but neither are they less valuable. So it is with spiritual maturity. It is merely the natural consequence of time spent in the presence of the Holy One, like age is the natural consequence of life. But maturity is a need of, and a blessing to, the Body of Christ.

I know that my Pagan kin will prefer other words than "Body of Christ"--but the deeper concept I think transcends labels and sects.

Certainly, it speaks to my condition...

As I try to live out my spiritual path, I feel something deepening in me, and I love it, and I value it. It's something that I must allow, and even seek, and yet it does not make me any more lovable or worthy than those who have less of that ripening in them.

It is something that is coming about naturally, as I drink from the waters of Spirit at my meeting (and in nature, and in community, and in my beloved's eyes; find the Light in one place, and you'll see it again in many).

But it's not I alone who benefit, nor even other people I affect in daily life. Nope--"maturity is a need of, and a blessing to, the Body of Christ"--to the whole living, shining shebang of gods and Spirit and all.

Peter and I have asked one another what it is that the gods want of us, we puny and silly human beings. And we keep coming up with the notion that what they want most of all is for us to grow--so that we will be better company for them.

So that we will be in deeper communion with them--and with the Light, whether we call it Christ or Goddess, or have no name for it at all.

There's lots more good stuff. Go read the original post. (Even if you're a bit Christophobic, O Reader, go read it; it's worth the time to translate it into the language that God uses when She speaks to you.)

I'm very grateful to Peggy Senger Parsons... and that "her Yoda" is doing well, and hopefully will continue to heal.

Share it