Saturday, April 26, 2008

There is a Spirit Which I Feel

I was always a "rational use of force" gal. For most of my life I believed that the use of force--by which I meant human beings taking up arms and going off to war to try to kill one another--was a regrettable necessity. Sometimes I liked to imagine that Paganism held an alternative to that, particularly back in the day when I believed in that mythical past era of the peaceful, goddess-worshipping matriarchal societies. (I really liked that version of history, and was sorry when I stopped believing in it as factual.)

But that way of seeing reality changed for me, in the time between one footfall and the next, on a sunny fall morning: September 11, 2001.

I was already running late for work that day when the phone rang; my friend Abby was calling, to give me the news that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York.

So? I thought to myself, picturing a small private aircraft. Abby tried to convey some of what she was hearing--terrorists, fire--but the magnitude of the situation required visuals, or more time than I had to stay on the phone. I was brusque and I was hurried (and it took Abby a long time to forgive me for that) and I was simply puzzled when she told me she was going to pick her daughter up from school immediately.

Why on earth would she do that? I was thinking, as I raced out the door.

That was back in the days when I worked for myself as a psychotherapist, in a small private office downtown. I loved walking to work and back. I also loved, though it wore me out, the intensity of concentration that each clinical hour took on my part. During an hour of psychotherapy, my world would narrow to an almost single-pointed focus on my client's feelings and thoughts. Aches, pains, my own preoccupations would dissolve. That day, as always, my own morning fell away from me, and I thought no more of Abby's strange phone call.

After the intensity of an hour of focused listening to each trauma survivor, it was my practice to book in a half-hour of down time, not just for notes, but for finding my way back into my own skin. On that particular morning, I was free until after lunch, and decided to walk around the corner to my favorite small bookstore, whose owners were friends of mine. When I got there, however, I discovered them completely absorbed in watching images streaming over the web onto the shop's computer. That was when I first saw the images that burned themselves into so many of our minds--the Towers burning, collapsing; the expanding shock wave of black dust and death spreading from them.

And I understood why Abby had called.

We stood together and watched the images repeat. Chris searched online for the likely daytime population of the Towers--a horrific 45,000 at peak use times was the initial figure he arrived at, a number greater than the number of people living in Burlington Vermont, or Amherst, Massachusetts. It gave the images a genocidal scale, and I realized that, in fact, the attacks were a kind of genocide, against Americans because they were Americans. This notion numbed and bewildered me: as an American, I am used to feeling insulated from the horror of world events, as if it were a kind of birthright.

Then I realized, good, knee-jerk liberal that I was that morning, that of course, this would make a magnificent excuse for a war; in fact, only a very strong president would dare defy the anger which (my experience as a trauma and bereavement counselor instructed me) surely would follow the nation's shock and grief. And Bush? Bush was going to love it. He was going to get the boost in popularity of a wartime president in charge of a popular war.

And I began to rant, in predictable, knee-jerk fasion, about Bush as I stood beside my friend, leaning on the counter that held the cash register and computer screen.

"Don't you do that!" Chris exclaimed. "Don't you say another word!" He turned red as he bit off the words. "I don't care how you feel about George Bush--he is our president, and we need to stand behind him!"

And I stopped. I had never seen Chris angry before. And he was angry with me. And I felt a little bit ashamed--not of my thoughts about George Bush, but for putting my reflexive need for a liberal rant against noticing what my friend Chris needed. Which, come to think of it, was pretty obviously not going to be anger.

With the images of the falling Towers replaying in my mind, shaken both by the sense of the magnitude of death and by my own callousness, I left the shop.

Downtown Northampton is a beautiful, exciting place. But it is not a place that holds many green spaces. I, on the other hand, knew where they all were--every small patch of green was mapped in my mind and visited when, my spirits worn down by stories of grief and violence, I would seek them in order to lie on the grass and gaze up at the leaves.

I was walking across one such green oasis--the lawn outside of St. Michael's House--when it happened.

Someone spoke to me.

Not with words at first, but with a tremendous physical sensation. I have described it, ever since, as being as if a great hand seized me by the spinal column. I stopped. And I knew something all the way down to the core of me.

The words that came to me reflect just a ghost of the power of the knowing. I'm still working on finding all the implications of that knowing, so no single set of words was going to capture it, but the words were these:

If half a dozen men, armed only with box-cutters, can kill thousands, then the day when force could "settle" conflicts--if it ever could--is over and done.

Mostly, though, what came to me was a sense that the idea of force as a means to peace was just done for me. I had come to believe that, as the chestnut goes, there is no way to peace; that peace is the way.

It was in response to this that I began attending Mt. Toby meeting.

I remember sitting in that first meeting I attended, almost weeping with gratitude, watching Friend after Friend arrive. I'm just a single leaf, I thought. I'm just a single leaf, on a single tree, in a great Forest of those who are seeking peace. And as each Friend settled into their seat, I felt gladness. I felt that I was, at last, surrounded by teachers. I felt that everything was going to be All Right.

My only fear was that I would not be seen as belonging there. It was so transparently clear to me that I did that it made me a little afraid.

Now, I'm sure that those who have been through the mills of politics, either of the Quaker or the Pagan variety, have taken a moment to snort with cynicism over how inflated my idealism was, at that point in time. And of course Quakers are as capable as anyone else of letting you down, if you go pinning your idealistic illusions on them. I'm sure that is so.

But here's the cool part--there are some Friends who don't. There are some Friends who have been listening hard enough, long enough, to the Spirit of Peace that its Light shines from their eyes, if only in reflection. And that, dear reader, is what makes the game worth the candle. That is the reason I keep trying to grow and change and deepen. There is something here, in what the Quakers practice, that is real, and true, and can change your life if you let it.

My own faith--and read that in the traditional, Christian sense, please, as in hopeful dependence upon a thing unknowable--is that it can change the world.

Of all the testimonies and ministries of Friends, past and present, the one that has always touched me most is that of James Nayler, the charismatic early Quaker whose ministry rivaled that of George Fox in importance. When he was jailed and tortured for blasphemy, the actions that led to his arrest were seen as signs of dangerous enthusiasm by other Quakers as well as by the courts.

I imagine Nayler, alone and feeling outcast and abandoned by other Friends. If the Quaker accusations of extremism and enthusiasm were sound, then he probably had shame to wrestle with as well; if they were not, how difficult he would have found his isolation from Friends. Any way you look at it, it would hardly have been surprising if he had emerged from his two years in prison as bitter in his spirit as he was broken in his body.

But he did not. It is from the period after his "fall" and imprisonment, indeed, from the day after he was robbed and beaten after returning to freedom, and as he lay dying, that he gave his most famous testimony:
There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it; nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for with the world's joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places of the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life...
I think of this, and I think of my small angers and humiliations day to day. I am not James Nayler's equal... but I want to live up to his legacy. I want to feel that same Spirit, and I want to do it justice, not just when my enemies treat me unkindly, but when my friends do. (Which is harder, do you think?)

This sounds much easier to do as a theory than it is in practice, at least for me. I don't find forgiveness especially easy; I don't know that I entirely understand what it means. I do know that I used to say, before that day in September, that forgiveness was not a Pagan doctrine, and that Pagans have no ideal of forgiveness. I may have been wrong about that, but certainly, though I tried not to be a hothead, I had no testimony of forgiveness.

It is the conversion to the Spirit of Peace (by whatever name you choose to call it) that has created in me this hunger to learn the skills of forgiveness.

I was talking to my friend Spellweaver today, and she gave me such a gift. We were speaking of a controversy in the Pagan community that has weighed heavily on both of us. And I spoke to her of my peace testimony, and how I know I'm probably clumsy about it sometimes. I'm sure there are times there's an odor of sanctimony or falseness to how I go about so earnestly trying to live by these lights.

I talked to her about how I'm working to figure out and to practice living like a Quaker--and how I realize that this means I have to forgive the Felicias and Lady Q's of my life, even if I don't quite know how. I told her that I felt like I had to try, even if I make a fool of myself or stumble at it, because, well--

--somewhere in Rwanda, a Hutu or a Tutsi is having to forgive and reconcile with a member of the other ethnic group, after having seen their parent murdered.

How can I ask them to make peace, if I can't even attempt peace in my own community? This is what I've got--I don't know how to bring reconciliation or justice to Iraq or Israel or Bosnia. I'm just trying to start with what I've got.

Here's the gift. She got it. She really got it, and her eyes got soft, and filled up with tears just as mine did. Right in that moment, it was such a relief to me, to have someone else hear what I was feeling. She knew just what I was driving at; not that I was trying to change her point of view, or sell her Jesus, or anything else. Just the truth of my heart today:

There is a Spirit Which I Feel.

I want to be faithful to that Spirit. And that's my peace testimony. Never mind Quaker, never mind Pagan, that's where I'm trying to go.

22 comments:

Ali said...

What a beautiful post! Thank you!


I remember my initial reaction to the news on 9/11 (I was a freshman in college, which is I guess the time for most people when the world gets blasted open anyway)... was overwhelming grief. But grief for the attackers. I had no delusions about America, I knew it is a powerful (and often isolationist) country that has used its power quite often to further its own needs and security rather than contributing to the world community... I wasn't concerned about how Americans (as a people) would manage to cope, because I do believe that when it comes down to it we're a good group and we hold very important values (even if we do not always live up to them). But to know that there were people in the world so angry and feeling so helpless (and that we were not altogether innocent or unconnected to their suffering) that they would willingly destroy themselves and thousands of strangers just to make a symbolic gesture--I grieved deeply that, in their desperation and fear, they had basically condemned us to inevitable war, one that would have no winners no matter how it turned out.

(I don't think it's a "liberal rant" to have the foresight, even from within pain and shock, to know how our government would respond to the situation. After all, they've always responded that way, as have most governments, I think. It's a difficult and heavy responsibility that we take on as citizens of a free country--that even in our grief and pain, we cannot afford the luxury of just falling in line behind the President simply because he's the President. We've seen, time and again, what results from that choice to keep silent and nurse only our own private hurt. I think sometimes the only thing you can do is to insist, strongly and gently, that grief cannot justify revenge, that pain cannot excuse violence, and that peace and punishment have vastly different aims.)

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Well, it was a liberal on my part--I was venting from a place that was not centered in love or compassion: not for my friend standing next to me, not for those who died in the attacks, and not for those who have died in wars waged by our country, before or since. I think I was taking refuge in something familiar, in fact, as a way of blocking out the grief that an open hearted engagement with the moment demanded.

It was a distancing technique on my part, and, in its way, a retreat to anger every bit as much as was the war that followed. I'm grateful to my friend Chris for allowing his anger with me to show that day, so that I could step back, and see how unhelpful and unloving that anti-war stance really was on my part. Would I have felt the Spirit of Peace without his frustration with me, that day? Would I have been open to it? I think I would not.

I still do not see a way that human beings can create a world without war. The difference between then and now, for me, is that I no longer believe that human beings, on our own, must do so. I have come to believe that there is a Power that wants us to live peacefully, and is ready to teach us how.

I am in hopes that Friends' disciplines and practices will help me to be open to those teachings. I'm trying to learn how to wage peace--and it seems to me, in hindsight, that I was not waging peace in my liberal rhetoric up until that day.

There's also the truth that, however much compassion I might have for the alienation, some of it a direct result of American foreign policies over the decades, that led to the attacks, I also came quickly to understand how close I really was to the victims of the attacks. It wasn't long after taking in the news that my mind began building barriers between myself and the victims; I began reassuring myself that I knew no one, really, who would have been near the Towers that day... forgetting entirely that I belong to at least one beloved Pagan community, half of whose members are New Yorkers. Though it did turn out that I knew no one who had died, those I knew personally were not all so lucky, and some were all too close, physically in some cases, to the disaster.

I've become suspicious of those things that distance me from my sadness and grief. For me, at least, my liberal anti-war politics were such a defense. I'm trying to live a little more skinlessly these days, and to feel a little less complacently distant from any victims of violence, anywhere. Turns out, the world is very small indeed.

kevin roberts said...

Attagirl, Cat.

Yvonne said...

My initial reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Centre was also embarrassingly inadequate, simply because I didn't know how many people had died.

One way I have found for increased compassionate response to the news is to listen to it on the radio - it's less voyeuristic and somehow feels more connected to the people involved.

Jacqueline said...

It is so uplifting to hear another speak of how we must struggle, however haltingly, in our own lives to build peace - to forgive and to allow ourselves to be forgiven - before we can ever hope to speak to another of how they should follow the path of peace. It is a life of work to follow such a path just for my own little self, to give up my angers and furies. When I hold the peace testimony in prayer I am reminded that the testimonies are "fruits of the Spirit", something that comes from deep labor within, not from preaching without. It was a gift to hear this today, thank you.

dmiley said...

My initial reaction to 9/11 was (I am not making this up) that the Government of George Bush would use this as an excuse to trample civil rights. My reaction was considered to be callous at the time, although it proved right. So my sympathies on this one.

david

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Kevin, as always, thanks for stopping by. (Dare I hope for a new post soon on quakerthink? I loved your post on Fish Tank Day, but, I can't help it--I'm greedy, and you're one of my favorite writers.)

Yvonne, like you, I find I'm more reflective with radio news than television, though I don't know if that's because of the quality of the coverage, or because of the medium. I do know that, after 9/11, my family made a conscious decision to turn OFF the television. We actually covered it with a drape, so we wouldn't even see it's staring eye, let alone the endless reruns of death and violence.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure if that's when we gave up television (though we do watch videos) altogether, or if that came a year or so later... I do know I don't miss it.

Jacqueline, I'm so glad my post spoke to you! It always feels good to see that something that meant a lot in our own development means something still to other people. (I notice, too, that you have a blog that looks pretty interesting. I'll be adding you to my blogroll as soon as this comment is up; it looks like an interesting place!)

David, thanks for the sympathy. I felt especially bad once I realized how many people I loved were quite near to or traumatized by the events of September 11. But I'll always be grateful to Chris, for being the first person to show me that political cynicism is not actually a very helpful response to tragedy--even if we're right. Daring to feel the hurt of human-ness is harder, at least for me, but I'm sure it's more helpful to me and to the world at large.

Blessed be, everyone. Thanks again for commenting on an event that was a real turning point in my life.

Allison said...

What a beautiful post.

My kneejerk reaction is to get very upset at the state of the world and also within Quakerism. The message I once received was, "The world is out of balance. Balance will be restored." I have to remember to have faith that balance will be restored.

- A Taoist Christian Friend

PS - I became Taoist after I received that message, not before.

Michael said...

Thank you, Dear One.

You speak my mind.

Bless├Ęd Be,
Michael

celestialabyss said...

This is such a beautiful post it brings tears to my eyes. Thank you.

I do remember feeling reddened anger: not at the misguided people on the planes who caused this to happen, but their controllers, safe in their sanctuaries, who did not have to feel or empathize for individual lives they desired to destroy to make a pointless point. I own not feeling pacifistic at all those days. (But as always, I wanted a direct "target", not something off the path like, well, say, Iraq...)

I recollect that I didn't end up in any rant mindset, "liberal" or "conservative" -- it was just too horrifying, considering I knew many people who lived and worked in lower Manhattan. Instead, I continued what I was doing at work -- operating a machine robotically. They sent us home before lunch, but I stayed until I was done, because I went on robot mode, and didn't trust myself to drive.

The comment about television watching: Before 9/11, I already had a tenuous connection to TV, relying just occasionally on broadcasts via the roof antenna on the two, sometimes-three available channels. Anyhow, my broadcast reception went down with the Towers and I've never taken steps to get re-connected via any other means.

Rhonda Kirk said...

Wow, I'm not sure how to say what I experienced reading your blog. I was raised a spiritual Quaker and in pursuing this path I developed into the nature loving pagan I am today. But my Quaker experiences are very much a part of who and how I am. A Spirit you feel, exactly. Listening in silence, seeking to achieve peace and truth within.

Thanks!

James Riemermann said...

This is indeed a beautiful and courageous post. We all need to spend more time trying to suss out our own blind spots.

I remember being angry and afraid in about three different directions in those days, which surely is not a good sign. I was angry and afraid of the insane level of dedication the attackers must have had, and thought with horror, anything can happen now. And I was angry and afraid of how our government might respond, and in the end did respond. And finally, I was angry with the tendency of so many Friends to move immediately beyond the suffering of the victims of the attacks, into condemnation of America for creating the attackers (some truth to this, but surely a great over-simplification, spoken at the wrong time in history). And because of that that imbalanced liberal Quaker reaction, I was afraid of the irrelevance of our efforts to stem the slide into war, because no one would take us seriously.

Jean said...

Cat,
I enjoyed reading your reflections, "There is a Spirit Which I Feel." I know this was posted several years ago, but your message remains potent and thought-provoking even today, seven years later.

I am taking a class at Fuller Seminary about faith-systems (I prefer the word faith-system over religion) which were started or formalizd during the last 200 years in the USA.

One of our assignments was to find a Christian/Pagan site. I came across your site and enjoyed reading your relfections because you are so honest and transparent. After I read through your site (not word for word - but reading various reflections) I wondered what was the common denominator between Paganism and Quakerism? I searched to see if there was a site for Pagan Methodists or Pagan Baptists etc. and did not find any. My class is 10 weeks long and covered 6 different faith-systems that started in the last 200 years, which means that we went about one inch deep in the belief systems. I was wondering what draws you to Quakerism, instead of the Baptists or another denomination? From my limited understanding, I would say that it is the belief that Quakers have in pursuing peace. If that is or is not the case, are there other belief compatibilities between the two? I must also tell you that I do not know much about Quakers (most of what I know comes from the movie Friendly Persausion- which a favorite of mine).

I understand that you wrote in another reflection that you can only speak for yourself and not for other Quakers or other Pagans. So I am asking you what draws you as an individual to these two faith systems.

So you know my background, I was raised Baptist, but had non-Baptist experiences with God which makes me a sorta Baptist but not really. I don't listen to Christian radio or watch Christian TV. That gives you a pin-hole picture of who I am.

Thanks,

Jean

John said...

Friend speaks my mind :) Thank you for posting this! We are in fact “surrounded by teachers”-it is a challenge to identify them sometimes. I completely harmonize with Nayler: “There is a spirit…”

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Jean, John, thank you for your remarks.

Jean, I hope my reply to you is not coming too late to do you any good for your assignment. If you would like to correspond in more depth than this exchange of comments, do please feel free to email me at quakerpagan AT mac DOT com, and I'll get back to you as quickly as I can.

You note that there are no Pagan Methodist or Pagan Baptist sites out there that you have noticed, and wondered about that. I'm not at all surprised by that finding, and I think I can at least help to explain what the key differences between Quakers and other Christian groups is that is responsible for the presence of Pagans who identify as members of the group.

The peace testimony, while absolutely crucial in the story of how I became a Friend, is not all there is to it. In fact, the peace testimony kept me out of Quakers for a long time--no matter how appealing I found Quaker worship, until I was convinced of the peace testimony, I knew I did not belong among Quakers.

What was it, then, that attracted me even before I became convinced, as this post describes, of the peace testimony? What is responsible for drawing so many other Pagans to the threshold of Quakers?

First of all, there is the different way of understanding God that Quakers generally have. From very early on in their history, Quakers have had a universalist approach to religion. You may know the passage in John, "None may come to the Father save through me." Quakers have tended to read that passage inclusively, not to mean, those who do not explicitly worship Jesus by that name and that name only will not be saved, but rather, those who are saved/have found God have done so through Christ, by whatever names they understand Him.

Now, that isn't how I think, necessarily, nor how all Quakers think. But it has been an element in Quaker thought for hundreds of years. Quakers have recognized that the Spirit has been present among and working within all human cultures, through all time, though Christianity has historically been thought to be the very best way that God's spirit has worked in the world. This degree of universalism goes back a long way among the Religious Society of Friends.

However, in the modern world and in the United States, Quakers are divided into four main branches. (There is overlap, and I'm going to oversimplify, but I'll try to be at least broadly accurate here. For more information, I recommend the excellent history by Thomas Hamm, The Quakers in America.) Three of the four branches are fully and explicitly Christian--period--however much they may respect other religions in the world.

The fourth branch, liberal Quakers, is historically Christian, but many (not all) of its meetings will accept for membership Quakers who do not claim to be Christian--or, indeed, claim to be of an entirely different theology than Christianity. In those cases, you will often find Christian and non-Christian or even Pagan Friends sitting side by side in worship, with no readily apparent differences between the two. Sometimes, indeed, Christian Quakers can feel a bit of a minority in their meetings, and have even experienced being "eldered"--officiously, I think--for messages or announcements that are "too Christian."

I do not think that is a good state of affairs, for what it is worth. Even among meetings where a majority of members might not term themselves Christian, to reject Christian language or understandings among us is to turn our backs on how the Spirit of God is speaking to us through those Friends today and on the history and insights of the hundreds of years of explicitly Christian Quakers in whose footsteps we follow. I would very much like to embolden Christian Quakers to speak their experiences fully and freely, and in whatever language the Spirit speaks to them. I'm a big girl, and I can learn to translate where Christian language does not work well for me. In fact, I take it that, as a Pagan among Quakers, it is my job to do so.

OK--so, thing one that attracts Pagans to Quakers is universalism; the recognition that Pagan practices and beliefs can be valid paths to the divine.

But this is true for Unitarian Universalists as well (and, in fact, there are a lot of Unitarian Universalist Pagans out there!) Why not just go join a UU Church, some ask? This is a question that Christian Quakers who are feeling a bit crowded by the Pagan newcomers are likely to ask, because, as I've hinted, Christianity is still a vital part of all four branches of American Quakers... and not, as far as they can see, of UUs. So why burden Quakers in any branch with enough diversity to very possibly be disruptive or at least complicated? Go be a UU, is the tacit wish. (To be fair, I've only rarely encountered that lack of hospitality. But just as it is painful when a Christian Friend feels silenced by unseasoned "eldering" on their visible Christianity, so the memory of those times non-Christian Friends have been wished away can linger.)

The reason I am not a Unitarian Universalist Pagan, but a Quaker Pagan, has to do with the way that Quakers worship. It is the understanding of Quakers that the Spirit of God is available here and now and always. George Fox, the father of the Quaker movement, said that Jesus Christ had come to teach his people himself, and Friends of his generation pioneered "waiting worship"--waiting in silence to discern the leadings of God--as a way to come together and listen for that Inward Teacher, the paraclete.

I would not, myself, name the Light of Friends Jesus. However, I would say that it is both the Inward Teacher and the Light that Christian Friends call Jesus... and it is in the practice of silent waiting worship that I encounter that Spirit. I believe that the Spirit that gave me my peace testimony, as in this blog post, and the Spirit felt by James Nayler, is one and the same Spirit. And I desire nothing else in life so much as to draw near to and commune with that Spirit.

I do not attend Quaker meeting because my beliefs are compatible with Friends, so much as I attend because it is there that I directly encounter and experience that presence of a living Spirit. Labels like Christian and Pagan seem very small things to me when I am sitting in that Light. Ideas and beliefs seem small to me.

Quaker worship is almost unique among Christian practices in its emphasis on direct spiritual encounter. In Quaker meeting, I do not go to hear speeches or to sing hymns or to follow familiar and comforting rituals. I go to experience immediately and viscerally, the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps some UU Churches do this, too. But it has been my experience that most churches offer an intellectual, or, at best, an emotional sense of what it might be like to be close to Spirit. Quakers offer a practice that allows the experience of Spirit.

This is where Quakers have a lot in common with Pagans. Pagans can become very notional, very "in-the-head" about our rituals and customs. But the intent is similar to that of a Quaker meeting. Pagans (and there are a lot of different sub-groups under than umbrella, of course) do what they do in order to experience the gods of nature and of earth. It's less about what you believe, and more about what you do.

This, to me, is the greatest connection between my Pagan self and my Quaker self. In both of those settings, I get to directly experience Spirit. And, while plain dress and plain speech ("thees and thous") seem radically different from drumming circles and shamanic trances, for one who has walked the experiential path of Paganism very long, the deeper similarities become much more noticeable.

Which is why I am a Quaker--and not a Mennonite (an explicitly Christian peace church) or a UU (an explicitly universalist church with liberal leanings). Among modern liberal Quakers, I have both a universalist philosophy that has let me in the door and a practice-centered religious community that allows me to grow in relationship with the Light and Spirit of peace--indeed, which offers me religious practice more consistently and powerfully effective than the years of Pagan practice I had before coming to Friends.

If all this seems hopelessly confusing and complicated, well, it's taken me over two years of writing this blog to get this far and this clear, so it's understandable you might find it a bit of a muddle.

Let me end with a couple more resources you might find helpful:

First of all, though I would not categorize myself as Christian and Pagan, there are some wonderful writers who do. See, for instance, the Druid-Christian Ali's writing at Meadowsweet and Myrrh for some good examples.

Secondly, you would be able to receive a number of answers to the question, why Quakers? from Pagans who do and who do not self-identify as Christian, if you were to join the online discussion group Quaker Pagans at Yahoo. It's OK to join and ask for feedback--no one will mind you being there as simply a curious person, though it would be polite to identify your religious leanings and reason to join the group in your introductory post.

I hope this helps--sorry to have written you such a book.

Blessed be.

Jean said...

Hello Cat,

Yes, you helped. Our assignment was meant to expose the students to different faith-systems out there. I am not a blogger - in fact this is the first time I have ever blogged - which explains the delay in my response, I almost forgot.

I am considering joining the blog you suggested. Thank you for suggesting that I mention up front that I am a Christian.

I wanted to ask if you grew up pagan. Are you a typical pagan? I know that is a loaded question because to ask someone (like me) if I am a typical Christian is difficult. How do you define Christian? There are so many varities. Am I correct to think that paganism is a bit like Christianity when it comes to a multiplicity of expression?

Blessings,
Jean

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi, Jean,
Good to hear from you again! If you decide to join the Quaker Pagans listserve on Yahoo, I'm sure that you'll be quite welcome--and able to get any questions asked you might have. Not that you'll get consistent answers, necessarily, but you'll get sincere ones, at least.

In some ways, I have been a Pagan all my life--I was raised in a family without much outward religion, and it has always been in nature that Spirit has made itself known to me most readily. I began calling myself that when I was perhaps twelve or so, though I had never met anyone else who called themselves that.

It was as an adult, in my late twenties, though, that I first encountered the Pagan movement outside of books--though it began with a book: Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon, which let me know that there were others out there who felt the same things I did. That got me seeking Pagans in the area I lived at the time... and the rest, as they say, is history.

If you are interested in more detail than that, let me refer you to my Spiritual Journey Series, where I tell the story in more detail. It's not quite finished yet--it's only in this post, There is a Spirit Which I Feel, where I connect the dots to how I added Quaker to the ways I understand my religious leadings.

And you are right--there is probably no more sense in asking someone if they are a "typical Pagan" than in asking if they are a "typical Christian"--we're pretty varied.

There is a way that it's meaningful to ask the question, though, and that has to do with the rapid growth of the Pagan movement. Because, in the last twenty years or so, we've seen probably a tenfold increase in our numbers, the "typical" Pagan is often a newcomer, someone who has only recently become Pagan. Also, owing to the many Pagans (for whatever reasons) who are technologically-savvy, the Internet has been very important as a source of information on Paganism--you finding this blog online is not an unusual way for people to discover Paganism, as it happens.

That, in turn, can mean that there are a great many Pagans out there who have been practicing the religion for a fairly short period of time, and whose contacts with other Pagans may be mostly or even only via the Internet. This sometimes leads to a lot of enthusiastic but unseasoned people who seem representative of the religion, simply because of the sheer size of the growth we've seen recently.

In those ways, with over twenty years of active adult involvement in face-to-face Pagan community, I'm not "typical" at all--I'm more seasoned than the average Pagan, who tends to be someone younger and less well-acquainted with Pagans who are leading, teaching, and writing in the religion than I'm lucky enough to be.

It's interesting to me that Quakers sometimes complain about the opposite phenomenon: the slow rate of growth and even erosion of numbers Quakers are seeing in this country, and the graying of the heads in the meeting! Quakers have lots and lots of seasoned elders to lead the way, but perhaps not enough enthusiastic newcomers to carry the word out into the world.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Oh! Yes. One final note--on the multiplicity of traditions under the heading "Pagan": There is probably a much, much greater diversity of teaching, belief, tradition, and understanding among those who would term themselves Pagans than among those who would term themselves Christian! Compared to the differences between an Asatruir and a Wiccan, or between a Druid and a shamanic practitioner, the differences of belief between Baptists and, say, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church seem positively minor! Pagans disagree on whether or not gods exist, are fundamentally distinct in their identities from one another or are aspects of one great, underlying unity or Spirit, on whether or not magic exists, and on whether or not there is any form of life after death.

However, in practice, most Pagans find it pretty easy to set aside theological differences and worship together in powerful and meaningful ways. That's because Paganism, done right, is much less about what is believed--the creed--than it is about what is experienced and practiced.

This is a tough concept to take in, if you've been raised in a religion that values orthodoxy. Paganism, however, is much less in the head than most Christian religions, and the diversity of belief among us, that many members of more mainstream religions might fear would be crippling, is actually a very minor concern.

Oh, we love to talk about our different ways of seeing and understanding the divine--but when the drumming starts and the bonfire is lit, we take one another's hands and focus on the the here and now of being with our community and within the world of Spirit, however we understand it.

Barbara Mann said...

Cat, thank you. This was a beautiful reflection to read, and shows me a soul already more beautiful than she perhaps realizes.

I came to my mainly Pagan place today through a Christian experience fortunately given by people of compassion. I was taught by one minister that "God so loved the WORLD," so he believed yes, my cat had her own soul and went to heaven. I was taught by another to see the white sheet, not just the black spot in the middle of it. And I was taught by a third that angels don't have wings... they are messengers, not celestial beings, and at any time each of us might be employed as an angel.

As perhaps you have been in this lovely and moving testimonial, to people you may never meet.

I find, oddly enough, my beliefs today are not any different, really, than the beliefs of my youth. I have the same gentleness, the same fierceness, the same honesty, the same compassion... they were taught me by my elders and my teachers (the real ones), and I have honed and melded them into a framework that helps me make the decisions I'm presented through my life. I don't always get it right... but I DO know what right is to me personally.

The idea of waging war to obtain peace is not a logical one to me. I can, however, be fierce in my defense of those under my protection and myself, if actually attacked. And I weave no illusions for myself about the difference... this is not to obtain peace, but to stave off personal destruction. And that may be best for me and those I protect, but may well lead to more destruction! How I would balance that... I will only know when and if it comes to actual physical conflict. I AM wise enough to know I can't be sure of my reactions until that time. *smile*

I remember looking at the pictures of the men with the boxcutters when they were first published. The people around me, all Christians, were responding to them with anger and hatred and "just what you'd expect..." The Pagan - me - who'd been taught by compassionate people, reacted very differently, and I surprised myself, to be honest. I looked at those pictures, and all I could think was, "once these people were all someone's innocent baby... once their mothers held them in their arms and sang to them. What in the name of the Divine can so twist an innocent child, that they would decide to do something so horrific, would consider it right to do so?!" And I have always considered those men to be as big a part of the total tragedy as the people given no choice but to die that day.

Not sure, to be honest, what all that might mean to you or anyone else. But it somehow came out as a response to your experience... which I again thank you for sharing with me and others!

credencedawg said...

Thank you - a beautiful, brave post. Of the things which separate us from the core of our spirituality, and from listening to each other and living in conscious comuunity (or even starting to), I think I've felt that anger, ideological opinion and glamour are maybe the top, at least in my experience as a Pagan. I truly believe in the power of peace and integrity though, and I thank you.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Credence Dawg,
Thank you for your words. Though this post is now no longer new, the experience it describes is still fresh for me, and continues to feed and strengthen my heart as I try to grow into my peace testimony.

I firmly believe that there is That In the World which longs for peace--a Spirit that seeps, like water into basements, into all the creeds and doctrines and pretenses of our beliefs, and is fully resonant with all that is truest in any world religion.

I am convinced that the Spirit of Peace touches and teaches anyone who listens for it... though, as something of a slow learner, I'm also grateful I've found some human teachers to help me in my listening.

Blessed be.

credencedawg said...

Thank you Cat,

I believe in that Spirit also, and have felt it in different spiritual traditions, and outside of recognized tradition.

Yes, like water, funny how we come upon the same metaphor - waiting for the rain, drinking deeply ...

I am greatly encouraged that there are people who hold to this.

blessed be

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