Thursday, January 31, 2008

Imbolc Poetry Challenge: Part III

Here's our final offering to the Triple Goddess of poetry, one from our good friend, Penny Novack.

TRIBALISM

Certain hills painted our feet
Colors of growing, colors of birth.
Certain springs drank us into them,
Watered our children and made them strong.
Certain rivers asked us questions
We answered according to season.
Certain seasons taught us the songs
We sang to our little ones
Bare-painted by the hills at our feet.


Blessed Imbolc, everyone. Let us rejoice in the returning light!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Imbolc Poetry Challenge: Part II

I grew up listening to my father read at the supper table: he read short essays by Mark Twain, Tolkien's The Hobbit, and poetry--lots, and lots of poetry. Sandburg and Whitman, and, my favorite when I was young, Robert Frost.

I can't remember a time when this poem wasn't one of my favorites. I love it both because of the message--one that's especially appropriate to this blog, perhaps--and because of all the hours I have spent scrambling on and over stone walls, picking my way between strands of barbed wire, and holding the cool, lichened surface of stones like those Frost writes about in my hands.

MENDING WALL

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!" I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Imbolg Poetry Challenge (part I)


Over at Executive Pagan, we read about the third annual Brigid in Cyberspace Poetry Reading. Cat and I have decided to post three poems in honor of the triple Goddess. Here is the first.

Wendell Berry has been my favorite poet for almost my whole life, ever since I was the 23-year-old hippie organic gardener in the picture at right, and this is perhaps my favorite of his poems.

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the treesevery thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

by Wendell Berry

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Is a Christian?

I've been contacted this week by a reporter on religion, who wants to talk about my Quaker Paganism. I feel clear about going ahead and speaking to this man--I'm not going to represent "all Friends everywhere", and I'm certainly not going to represent all Pagans. In fact, I may not be representing anyone at all, including myself; I can't be sure that, after the most recent exchange of emails, this fellow will still think me worth an interview. Turns out that the original spark for the article may have been a mis-impression that I consider myself both Christian and Pagan. And, though I know and respect a number of Christian Pagans, or Christian-leaning Pagans, I'm not one of them.

Unless, of course, I am. Can we define our terms, please? (Warning: Christ-centered language and vocabulary follows.)

Brent Bill--a Christian Quaker if ever there was one--wrote about the experience of worship in his book, Holy Silence:
...worries about work waiting for me at the office, and the flood of minutiae that swamps my mind when outside noise stops slowly vanished--dropping into a well of holy silence. I let myself be guided into the deep waters of the soul.

That is when it happened. The only thing I can compare it to is the Catholic belief that in the "celebration of Mass...Christ is really present through Holy Communion to the assembly gathered in His name." It is the same way with silence for Quakers... ...That October day, on the side of the Green Mountains, Jesus was good to His word that, "where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." In the silence, where outer and inner noise ceased, we became what Quakers call a gathered meeting--gathered together and with Jesus. We sensed Him in the electrified air. I felt charged with an awareness of the miraculous--the marrow of my bones hummed in holy recognition of the One who had stood at the dawn of creation and called the world into being. And it did not just happen to me.

...As if something had been lit deep inside and now shone from their faces, we saw "grace and truth" reflected in the people around us.


Now, unlike Brent Bill, I have things I can compare this experience to other than the celebration of the Mass. I can compare it, for instance, to direct encounters in Pagan worship with the Goddess.

Also unlike Brent Bill, I am not inclined to search for Biblical names and stories for language in which to cloathe my experiences.

But I know the experience of which he speaks here. Can I prove it, to a Friend inclined to disqualify me from Quaker life because the story of the historical Jesus does not "speak to my condition"? No, I cannot, any more than I can prove to an atheist that there is anything more to religious experience than self-delusion. But I don't think that's an interesting problem on which to dwell. These words do "speak to my condition"--and, in Quaker worship, I have found the most consistent and deeply moving and transformative spiritual experiences of my life.

Thus far, no direct encounter with the Light of Quaker worship, or with the gods of Paganism, has implied any contradiction in my Pagan thealogy and my Quaker practice. This seems entirely reasonable to me--the Light was around a long time before they invented paper, on which to record Bible stories... or language, in which to discuss spiritual experiences... or humans, to have our own peculiar variety of them. The universe is old, baby; old and mysterious and full of Light and passion, and I see the Light and the passion as One thing, and all our gods and all our stories and all our words as only echoes of it.

Some of the echoes are more useful than others. Christianity, at least as Friends understand it, clearly is useful.

I know this because Christ-centered friends manage not only to encounter the Light on a regular basis, but to become transformed by It and filled with It and to go out into the world and let their lives speak.

As do some Pagans (and members of many other religions, I am sure, though I'm not speaking of that now). And more will, over time, if Pagans can develop some of the kinds of spiritually grounding practices Friends have found over the last three centuries.

But I'm not a Pagan or a Quaker because their stories hold truths that are useful in general.

I'm a Pagan because, when I stand before an oak tree with leaves gone russet, or when I glimpse the stag when the deer are in rut, my belly grows tight with the joy and lust of the earth. And I have looked into my beloved's eyes, and seen a god looking out again, and smelled him on my skin.

I'm a Quaker because, when I center down into the silence, a Light comes and bears me away in a flood tide of joy and certainty that I can just tell runs inside the cell of the smallest animal, and fuels the fire in the most distant star.

Is that Light "Jesus"? Seems like a small name to me. I can't see it, guys. Not disputing that some of you can, and do. And that many of you find yourselves better able to follow that Light when that's the name you use. OK. Good-oh...

I love that Light. I rejoice in it. I am trying to listen to it, to be faithful to it, and perhaps to grow into it.

Is that Christian?

Truth to tell, I don't want it to be. Christians have so much to apologize for. Hey, Pagans have more than our share of embarrassing nitwits, to be sure--but none of them are running for president. None of them are close to the kind of political power it takes to mess things up on a national or even global scale. Which is kind of a relief. Honestly, I don't know how you Christians who own that name can stand the humiliation of what is done by so many who share that label. And I'm not saying that as a put-down. Rather, when I think of those who are honestly trying to live up to the messages of peace and love I hear in my Friends' meeting (if not in my Bible, when I pick it up and read it) I'm a bit awed that you're willing to accept the name. Simply calling yourself a Christian, in a world where that word has become so useful to the self-righteous and the hateful, takes a lot of integrity--it is a small way of taking up the cross, I guess, for a Peggy Senger Parsons, or a Marshall Massey, to refuse to concede the name to folks who use it to champion bigotry and hate.

All the same, I don't want to take that name for my own. Yeah, I do think that you can be both Pagan and Christian--from a polytheistic Pagan perspective, there's no difficulty at all in adding one more to the pantheon. I know plenty of Christians disagree with that, but, well... not a Christian, so, see, not really a worry on this end.

But a lot of Pagans disagree, too. Even my Quaker Paganism is "welding a little too close to the gas tank", as my friend Gwyneth once said of something a little too explosive to deliberately embrace. And part of my love of Paganism is its rootedness--the bonds of community. Oh, my friends would still love me, and I'd still be tied to the communities of love and trust we've created together--just as we embrace the atheist or non-Pagan parents, children, and spouses we've accumulated over the decades. But it would feel very sad--a co-optation, for me to step out of our Sacred Circle. So for that reason alone, I would wish never to be called to do so.

I have a Quaker friend who believes that Friends need to begin to incorporate elements of Paganism into our practice--because mere "stewardship" is not immediate enough or strong enough to express the passionate love for the planet he believes we must have, if we are to avoid our own extinction, among other evils. Well. He'd say it better--it's his ministry, not mine. But there is something in the Pagan message that, at least for some of us, is as needful as the scriptural messages more traditional Friends embrace.

That's not really what drives me to write these words, today, though. No--I think it's because, unlike most Americans, whether Quaker or Pagan, I have never been Christian. What that means, I think those who have been lifelong Jews or atheists could explain: I have never been what my culture deems "acceptable" spiritually. My culture has been at war with my deepest spiritual yearnings for my entire life. And the tension is terrible--and not voluntary. I never chose to be non-Christian. And, though I have chosen to follow my Pagan leadings, the leadings always came first. It would have been an act of violence for me to disregard them.

Among Friends--among liberal Friends--I have the first faint glimmerings of what it might be like not to be living in a state of spiritual siege. What it might be like to be fine, part of not only a community, but my culture, without severing myself from half of who I am. And it grieves me when I hear, as I do, of Quakers in liberal meetings who are afraid to voice their Christianity, for fear of the same kind of cultural rejection I know so well.

I would have us all speak the words the Light gives us, and, as in the Woolman story, "listen where the words come from"; I would have us set aside what we cannot yet hear, but to do so gently and tenderly, knowing that we are none of us ready to hear all the truth at once... but as we live up to the Light we are shown, more will be given us.

I would have the war be over. I would take your hand, friend, whether you are Quaker or Pagan or something else entirely, and sit with you in the Light, and listen lovingly to you and with you.

I would have peace.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Spirit in the Body

Erik, of Executive Pagan, has been thinking about things missing in his spiritual life as a Pagan.

In his last post, he writes, "my paganism is more in the head and heart than in the hands," and I found myself nodding vigorously. I know that, as a new Pagan, in an area of Vermont that back then had even fewer Pagans than it does today, it sometimes seemed just easier to stay home, do my own personal trance journeys, and forget the community piece. I vividly remember the trance journey when the Goddess disabused me of that idea--one very strong message that that was NOT THE WAY. I kept seeking, and I did eventually find a community to connect with, and those connections made my spiritual practice real in ways it could never have been if I had remained a solitary practitioner.

Erik has worshipped in community, too. But his experiences and mine both go to show, one of the frustrating things about Pagan communities is that they are volatile, and even when the friendships survive, the forms of communal worship sometimes evanesce. It's frustrating!

In my own life, two things have been helpful to finding and keeping a Paganism of the hands, not just of the heart and head. One is the satisfaction of time... There is one annual retreat which my husband and I have been a part of for the past 14 years; other groups I regularly connect with I have ties with that go back twenty years. Babies I held in my arms before they were a week old are in high school now, and couples I handfasted have large, happy families. Celebrating with these groups isn't as intensely involving as my earliest Pagan rituals were in some ways, but in others, the slow burn of banked up community warmth is deeply satisfying.

I am enjoying building connections with my Quaker community, too, but I will say, that sense of a warm central hearth is not there in the same way. I suspect Erik, who is active among the local UU church, may have found some of the same things: that those connections are satisfying, but somehow less visceral than the feeling of building a tribe or a village to be had among Pagans, even when we're not as good as sustaining our institutions.

But the Pagan world is getting better at all these things--it's been fun, for instance, listening to Margot Adler, who until recently, had to some extent pulled back from the Pagan community, finding her primary spiritual sustenance among the UUs. But in the last few years, she's been much more involved with Pagans again, and it's fun to hear her list the ways the movement has matured. She's so clearly delighted and enthusiastic with the changes among us.

That makes it easier to see how fast the movement is growing. Some of what we lack just hasn't been built yet. But it's in progress--the foundations poured and the lumber ready.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that patience and hanging in for the long haul have led to some of the missing pieces falling gradually into place. Which is bearable--especially for those of us, like you and like me, who are fortunate enough to have membership in more than one worship community. (There are perils and frustrations that go along with that, too, of course, but, well, whaddaya gonna do?)

The second thing that has helped me to keep my Paganism a thing of the hands as well as the head and the heart is practicing quite literally a hands-on spirituality. In another trance journey, years after the first one I mentioned, the goddess I work with most often appeared to me in the underworld. She was sitting beside a well (or a pool--the imagery was inconsistent) and spinning at an enormous wheel. When I approached her, she set me on her lap, rather the way an adult might set a child on their lap to let them "drive" a car. She put the thread she was drafting into my hands, and had me spin.

I took the hint. When the Mother of the Universe (or one of the Norns or the Fates or the Disir or Lady Frigga) tells you to take up a craft, you're well advised to do so. It took a while to find teachers, materials, and books, but I did eventually teach myself to spin and to knit (a skill that had eluded me since childhood). And, though I'd be hard pressed to explain why, I am in fact able to feel a strong, deep connection with the gods when I'm spinning and knitting. Oh, not all the time--having a wheel spin out of true, or having to take out rows and rows of stitches after a really BIG knitting mistake tends to make me pretty cranky, actually. But often enough, I feel this gentle, warm sense of connection.

Literally warm. I received a Reiki attunement some years back, and, as you may know, one of the hallmarks of that system of energy healing is that the hands of the practitioner become noticeably warm, even hot, while they're using the energy. Usually, it's when laying on hands, but, wierdly enough, I often feel that heat in my hands as I knit or spin.

I feel it in Quaker meeting, too, and have developed the habit of placing my hands over my heart when I'm in worship. It just feels right, and whether the energy of my hands deepens my worship, or my worship heats up my hands, I couldn't tell you. But I find it happening, not always, but a lot.

I also find that, when I have really important spiritual truths I'm trying to say, my hands and my body feel them first, before I have the words. Some spiritual experiences I have only gestures for, not really any words that seem to fit. My spiritual life, in other words, has become grounded into my body. My body--my lumpy, imperfect, middle-aged body, which nevertheless does not know how to lie or boast or or become complacent. I've come to use my body as my barometer of truth and spirit in a way that is very hard to explain, but good to feel.

I honestly don't remember whether it was my Quaker friend, Jan Hoffman, who said it, or whether I thought it because of something she said: that spiritual discernment feels like a plumb line, lining up, straight and perpendicular, inside me. That sense of things being lined up, just so--of heat in my hands, and of hands doing well what my ancestors' hands surely did before me... There's something about embodied spirituality that keeps us from drifting off into silly, self-inflating, faux spirituality.

Embodied spirit--doing what you can feel in your hands (and muscles and spinal column--you know what I mean!) is a great way to go the distance in a religion based on life in the here and now--in the body.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hooray! Deo's Shadow Returns

In case you missed it, after a five month hiatus, Deo's Shadow is back!

Deo's Shadow has no competition in the world of Pagan talk podcasting. (In the world of Pagan musical podcasting, I must put in a word for Jason Pitzl-Waters' A Darker Shade of Pagan, a really professional mix of "Pagan Sounds from the Underground"; and more and more Pagans have already discovered the high-quality Pagan news commentary of Jason's Wild Hunt blog.)

A long hiatus from Deo's Shadow was disappointing, of course. Still, it's no surprise--full time graduate school has competed with the unpaid work of running a talk show for the Pagan community, and is likely to continue to do so. Alas! The price of having such articulate and intelligent hosts is that Deo and Mandy have lives beyond the podcast. Go figure.

Given the hiatus, a good deal of this return episode is a discussion of the ins and outs of running a Pagan podcast and managing relationships with a sometimes ornery and demanding Pagan public. (Someday I will figure out why doing something for free makes so many people think they are entitled to you continuing to do it, for free, and with bigger and better product. Is this just a Pagan thing? I haven't encountered it yet in the Quaker world, but I bet this demon lurks in that community, too...) So, if you're not yet a fan of the show, I'd recommend starting your addiction with an earlier episode. (I'm especially fond of the show which features an interview with Gus DiZerega, the show which featured the Dragon Ritual Drummers, and the somewhat controversial discussions of firepit behavior at Pagan gatherings.

Though for fans, and for those of us who have also experienced that special category of hostility that the Pagan community reserves for those who offer real labors of love free of charge, the current episode is well worth a listen as well. And Deo and Mandy give the folks behind "The Secret" the benefit of a little critical thinking (in more ways than one) as well.

Apparently more content is on the way--a continuation of the interview with Dr. Brendan Myers, and some material from discussions on the Deo's Shadow forum are both in process. I've got my fingers crossed that more episodes come out soon--and plenty of suggestions for future interviews, in case Deo and Mandy ever run short of material. Meanwhile, I'm just glad to welcome them back, and blessed be!

Monday, January 07, 2008

McColman on Holy Agnosis

This quote from Carl McColman, in a post called "Holy Agnosis", really caught my eye. I think it says something that all of us who practice experiential, mystical religions should bear in mind (though he frames it in a limited way, in terms of Christian sanctity vs. heresy):
Gnosis is holy insofar as it refers to an experiential encounter with Divine Grace; it becomes heretical when it functions as a wedge that separates the “haves” from the “have nots,” thereby creating a spiritual elite, marked by a strong dualism (rejection of the body = rejection of matter = rejection of the ‘unsaved’).

Put another way, profane gnosis deals in certainties and absolutes, while holy gnosis deals in relationship and experience.

I've seen enough Quakers who have palpably lived in the life and in the Spirit go through periods of spiritual drought--and enough charismatic and vibrant Pagan priests and priestesses whose lives are a wreckage of petty conflicts and broken promises, that I know the truth of this. Hearing the voice of a god does not make you into a spiritual "have"...and not hearing one does not make you into a spiritual "have not."

Gnosis and the direct encounter with Spirit is incredibly precious. But it's a gift, and it isn't always given as a reflection of how deserving we are. Maybe the measure is how needy we are, or how effective we will be, or some other thing I can't begin to imagine. But I know that, much as I treasure the moments I can sense a direct communion with Spirit, I don't get to claim it as a personal merit, and as soon as I do, I'm blowing it.

Listening for the voice of Spirit is one of our jobs. But it doesn't always come in bright, flashy, neon colors that the people around us, or even we ourselves, will recognize. In the area of mystical religion, a little humility goes a long way.

If you've never stopped by McColman's blog, The Website of Unknowing, I do recommend it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Code-Switching

I was recently at Jeff Lilly's Druid Journal, and a post and comments thread there evoked something from me I've been trying to say since summer, though it has never come out right before. Maybe it isn't right even yet, but it's the closest I've come...

As we've written before, Peter and I deliberately sought out workshops and activities at New England Yearly Meeting this past August that we hoped would be challenging to us. Obviously, we're what would have to be termed, not just liberal Quakers, but universalist Quakers. At different times and in different ways, Peter and I both have taken a look at Christianity, as it is currently practiced and understood in our culture, and determined that, to say the least, it did not "speak to our condition." I've never been Christian--Peter was at one time, but walked away. (That's a story I hope he'll share some day, so I won't touch on it here, for him.)

Instead, the religious path that allowed us to experience connection with the world of Spirit has been, for the past twenty or so years, Pagan. And it's been challenging to us, since becoming Quakers, to be open to Spirit among Friends in whatever forms it chooses to speak to us. Since becoming Friends, and particularly since being impressed by the ways that even the most evangelical of Friends do seem led by a Spirit of peace, we've both worked to become more open to Christian insights, perspectives, and language within the Society of Friends. We're trying to become spiritually bilingual, in other words.

That led us to workshops like Eden Grace's on Quaker missionary work (a loaded term chosen deliberately, so we could discuss its implications, as it turned out) and, in my case, to attending the Bible half-hours, led by Benigno Sanchez-Eppler. I was suprised to find myself less challenged than embraced by the direction those half-hours took, and I've been wrestling ever since to find a way of putting into my own words what was most powerful and moving for me, in what he had to say.

Today, at Jeff Lilly's blog, I came as close as I have managed yet. I wrote:
I really believe you're onto something with the idea of "belief communities" and the idea that our beliefs are like multiple languages, which we can speak "with other people that have beliefs roughly compatible with yours, just as you can speak with people who speak the same language as you do."

I had a really profound experience this summer, listening to a Cuban American Quaker minister speak on what's it's like to have a rich, active spiritual life with roots in (literally) two languages, since his spiritual development occurred in Spanish in his youth and in English in his adulthood. Some of the language with which he has mapped his spiritual experiences does not translate well from one tongue to the next, and, to truly communicate his deepest experiences, he finds he must have access to to both languages at once--something linguists apparently term code switching. The point Benigno made over and over again was that "code switchers are not confused." And what I believe he meant--what seemed clear from the context, where he was discussing tensions between strictly Christ-centered Quakers and universalist Quakers, like myself, who draw upon many religions traditions in understanding our spiritual leadings--was that those whose religious experiences span multiple mythologies or traditions are not playing pick-and-choose, designer-style spirituality. (Though we are often accused of doing so.) Rather, we are code-switching--using the metaphorical language best suited to reflecting the lived spiritual experience we are trying to convey.

I am not saying that God or the gods or Spirit is a metaphor--the first conclusion people jump to once you bring in ideas of metaphor when discussing religious truth. (You even did this a bit yourself, Jeff, in your original post.) Instead, I'm saying (as I think you were implying, in your Feynman quote on Quantum Mechanics) that, because we humans don't understand the gods (Quel suprise! Humans don't understand the ground of all being and ultimate meaning of the cosmos??? How shocking!) we only ever understand them through metaphors--imprecise, inadequate, but powerful echoes of a reality we can only dimly touch.

Some of us have heard the voice of Spirit speaking in many different metaphorical/mythological "languages." We have become bilingual through experience. We are code-switchers, and it can be hard for us to communicate in ways that others will hear and respect.

But we are not confused--except to the extent that all of us, attempting to meet the eyes of God, necessarily are...

I haven't really tried to capture the sense of Jeff's post, on the nature of religious truth, and I know I haven't done anything like full justice to Benigno's ministry this summer. But this, at least, is a part of what I've been laboring to say about what I took away from this summer's sessions of NEYM.

For those who are curious about Benigno's talks, I believe that New England Yearly Meeting has recordings of those half-hours. (Peter and I have received a set, though I haven't had a chance to listen to them again--partly because I am afraid that, like so much of the magic of a spiritually-charged moment, it will not have made the translation to a mere audio-recording.) And Jeff Lilly's thread on the nature of religious truth--including his question regarding whether or not, spiritually speaking, there is in fact a Santa Claus, is also available for you to read.

PS: For those following the situation with Eden and Jim Grace, the blog among Friends has posted a series of articles, including a very recent email from Eden, describing a very tense and difficult situation, though she and her family are currently in a safe place; a link to a photo gallery of recent pictures from Kenya, showing some of the destruction; and a suggestion on some ways to offer monetary relief to Kenya, as well as, of course, our prayers, vigils, or spells. There is also a good summary of the history of the divisions in Kenya up at Peggy Senger Parsons' A Silly Poor Gospel, written by David Zarembka, Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative/ Friends Peace Teams, who lives in Western Kenya. Parsons' blog has other excerpts of news which may be of interest, too.

May there be peace--in our hearts, in our villages, in our world.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Different Kind of Mission

There's a certain contrast between the work I spoke of in my last post, on Eden and Jim Grace and their Quaker outreach in Kenya, and the work of the writer I'd like to draw attention to today.

Andras Corban Arthen is well known among Pagans, especially in the Northeast, for his leadership in the EarthSpirit Community. Perhaps he is somewhat less known for his interfaith work with the Parliament of World Religions.

Andras has published a really moving account of his participation in the World Interreligious Encounter (Encuentro Mundial Interreligioso)in Monterrey, Mexico, this past September. His descriptions of his interactions with representatives of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, and of his own reactions and his reception as a representative of "one of the indigenous European pagan traditions" were especially meaningful for me.

On one level, the work of the Grace's, as "missionaries" (a loaded word they purposely explored in a workshop we attended this past summer) and Andras' work to raise awareness of the importance of preserving indigenous religious practices, are in some tension. But on another, deeper level, both embody the qualities of respect, reciprocity, and humility that I think are the hallmarks of those who are really walking their religious talk. This seems to have been a theme of the work of the Parliament of World Religions, in fact, and maybe it's a hopeful note in a time of violence and fear.

When we really listen to one another, we find so much to love.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Praying for Kenya

I don't know how many of our Pagan readers have been following the situation in Kenya; I suspect more Quakers are aware of it for the same reason I am: Quakers are present in Kenya in large numbers--in fact, African Quakers outnumber their American cousins. And as an American Friend, and especially as an American Friend with ties to Kenya, through my Yearly Meeting's affiliation with Friends United Meeting (FUM), I've felt a need to learn more about and reach out more to Quakers in that part of the world.

This summer, Peter and I had the great joy to meet Eden and Jim Grace, who are field staff for FUM, serving in Kenya--in a hospital and at offices in the city of Kisumu, where levels of violence have been severe.

It's not that peace or the people of Kenya are more important because I happen to know and care very much about one small family working in that part of the world. But the terrible nature of the violence is so much clearer to me because I am afraid, personally, for people I know (at least a little bit) personally.

There is not enough goodness--plain, unpretentious, open-hearted kindness--in the world. I found it in Eden and Jim. I wish it were possible to tell them to you as a story, to make real for you how funny Eden is, or how she and Jim fit together like pieces of a puzzle... How good they both are at listening, or how good it was to talk about ordinary stuff (kids coming up on adolescence, parenting, books).

I wish I'd had more time with them this summer, so they could have made more stories for me, of the men and women and children of Kenya they spend their days with, so they would be more real to me, too. But my heart is invested and awake to Kenya because of the connection we did make. And perhaps my words to you may wake some connnection for you, too.

Gentle reader, whether Pagan or Quaker or both, may I request you light a candle, say a prayer, and/or hold in the Light the Graces and the Kenyans (Quaker and non-Quaker alike) they love so well?

This prayer request is from John Muhanji, head of FUM's African Ministries Office, who writes that at least as of yesterday, the Graces, their colleagues the Richmonds, and he are safe.
The country Kenya is now in chaos now and many people are dying and properties destroyed as a reaction to the announcement of the results. We are appealing for prayers that calmness may come to our country.

Peace and unity may prevail in our country. We are all safe wherever we are. Pray for Kenya!! Pray for Kenya!!!
God bless,

John Muhanji

The request comes to us via among Friends, courtesy of Carol; this is the blog I'll be checking with for updates. More information on Eden and Jim Grace and their colleagues can be found at the FUM International Field Staff page, where I found the picture of the Graces and their sons.

Carol suggests the blog Kenyan Pundit for further information, though the author's latest post is about her decision to leave the country; if her resolution holds, then it is mostly background information that will be available there. (Though what I've read thus far is excellent, and there are many links to additional Kenyan blogs.)

As for me, I'm printing up a picture of the Graces, and lighting a candle for peace and safety, for them and for the people of Kenya. In my heart and in my cauldron, I'll keep a prayer going.

Keep me company?

UPDATE: Friends United Meeting has posted an update on the situation of their staff, who are all safe at the moment.

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