There was a lot that was rich today in our meeting for worship, and I am tempted to try to transliterate it all onto the page of this blog. But I don't think I could capture the life of the messages, and that's not really what I think I need to write about tonight, anyway. Instead, I want to write about something that rose for me that was entirely personal: an encounter with the god with arms.
Liz Opp at The Good Raised Up recently picked up the thread of my Quaker Pagan identity posts from this month, and used them to reflect on the process of transitioning from one spiritual identity to another. In responding to her post, trying to reflect once again on what it is in Paganism that makes me continue to identify as Pagan as well as Quaker, I think I implied that I do so primarily out of loyalty to Pagans as a people.
I think I implied it because I have wondered it--is this my only real reason for staying?
I don't often write here of my relationships with the gods of Paganism. When I do refer to them, I usually do so in the past tense. Are those relationships, then, a thing of the past tense? Surely the gods should be as important to me as the people of the Pagan community, if I am in fact Pagan.
I don't think I've wanted to let myself think about that one very closely.
Part of the reason, of course, that I do not write much about Pagan gods is that most of my regular worship comes in the context of my Quaker meeting. And, though Peter might disagree, it has not been my experience that Quaker meeting lends itself to communion with the Pagan gods and goddesses. What I experience in Quaker meeting is something different, as a rule.
My most meaningful experiences of Pagan worship have usually taken the form of dreams and trance journeys. Under Peter's influence, I've done trance journey work to a recording of a drum; before I was with Peter, I was as likely to depend on my own breath for the rhythm that would drive my journey. Standard-issue Harneresque stuff, at least in some ways. I won't bore anyone with technique, since I think technique is what matters least.
But of all the things that have meant something important to me in Paganism, direct encounters with the gods, in the course of dreams or trance work, have been the most important. And every now and then, without trance work, I'll have a sense of one of them--of Rosie, the aspect of the Goddess I relate to most often, or of Herne, horned god of the hunt--close to me. With inward hearing and with inward vision I will glimpse them, and hear what they have to say, in the split second before they are gone.
I had one of those flashes today in meeting for worship, and it's comforted me a lot.
Our worship today had a strong universalist thread winding through several messages. J.H. rose at one point, and shared the story of a Friend she knew through her work with the GLBT Affairs committee, whose life had been a ruin of addictions and unhappiness until the day he heard a voice, which said to him something like, "Hi--I'm Jesus. It doesn't have to be like this. Come home." And he did--as he put it, he went into those arms, and he told his hearers, "Don't hold this against me, please. At that point, I needed a god with arms."
J.H. finished her message by reflecting on how often she has needed a god with arms, and sat down.
And right then, I heard a voice in my inward ear, and felt as though Herne were sitting right behind me on the bench. I felt his strong, brown arms enfold me, and I heard his voice say to me, "When you need a god with arms, I will be that god."
I've been struggling with a concern that my time as Herne's daughter was over and done. That perhaps, when I offered him my loyalty and my love so many years ago, he had not accepted it--or that he had passed me along to that Other God that speaks in the silence. And, though I love that Other God, I love Herne, too.
I know that the courage to let go of the familiar--whether it be a spiritual label, a job, a home, or a vision of myself--is one of the things Herne loves about me. This I know: he'd rather see me follow another god than lose that integrity. If that were where the path led, I suspect he would be quite stern with me, in expecting me to follow it. I could not be faithful to him any other way.
But apparently, that is not required, at least for the moment. And now I know this, too: when I need a god with arms, his will be there for me. And that eases my mind.