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Why I Blog: Many Conversations

After a post I made not too long ago, I found myself reflecting on the kinds of comments I was hoping it might provoke. For those of you who might not, yourself, blog, let me simply say that this is one of the main differences between blogging and other forms of writing I have done; while all writing has an audience (if only the voices within an author's head) in blogging, the audience writes back, usually within a few days of a piece's publication. There really is an element of conversation to blogging, that's absent from other types of writing. The original post informs the comments, that inform return comments or entire new posts, that inform new comments, and so on.

For me, the back and forth of this conversation, particularly with Quakers from a variety of places on the Quaker continuum, has had the effect of deepening my Quaker practice far beyond where it would be had I not found myself in the midst of this conversation. I'm not putting down the Quakers I know from my meeting, nor the quality of the adult education and spiritual nurturing I've had there; I think I'm very fortunate in the meeting I attend. However, there's something about the completeness with which a written thought can be communicated that can take written words deeper than most face to face discussions are ever allowed the space to go.

So a written conversation, with Friends from all over the world, has been a great gift to me.

Something similar happened to me, not around worship or ritual, but around Pagan scholarship, at the time Chas Clifton invited me to join something called the Nature Religions Scholars listserve. In the wider Pagan community, I have been honored for the part I played in helping Cherry Hill Seminary get off the ground... Neither of those parts of my life as a Pagan would have happened without the written conversation with Pagan writers and teachers like Chas, M. Macha NightMare, Fritz Muntean, Brendan Myers, Michael York, and Gus DiZerega. Both Cherry Hill and that listserve have evolved beyond me at this point, but my gratitude remains; the give and take of readers and writers took me a long, long way to becoming whatever it is that I am.

The Quaker blogosphere is different from that, however, in that Quaker readers and writers often do a particularly good job in stirring, not just intellectual growth, but spiritual deepening. As I blog, I often have the names of particular commenters, Pagan and Quaker, in my mind--the way the faces of members of my meeting rise up for me in Quaker worship sometimes. And when they respond--especially, when my Quaker readers respond--I often find myself challenged in ways that lead me deeper into a kind of worshipful writing... and, I think, deeper into worship generally from week to week.

Quaker blogging almost seems like a mutual ministry to me. Or is it that the comments from many Quaker readers are a kind of eldering? In any case, the comments nurture the Truth that is latent in my words, and draw it forth.

It feels wonderful.

A seasoned Friend and minister in my meeting told me last year that she thought I had a "budding gift for vocal ministry." And maybe that's so, and maybe it's not... but it does feel as though there is something in my writing that is a budding ministry.

(I admit to feeling a bit pretentious in saying this. I also worry that by naming a gift with traditional Quaker language, I'll actually distort it rather than let it become whatever odd beast it is meant to be. But it seems relevant today, so I'll trust my readers to take my words for however much or little they are worth.)

One thing that you may notice, as you read this post, is that I have spoken almost entirely of Quaker readers, and a kind of Quaker idea of ministry. But I have two audiences in this blog, not one: Quaker and Pagan. (I think it says some pretty good things about the open-mindedness and sincerity of my Pagan audience that they are willing to wade through as much Quakerese as I put up here in order to encounter whatever relevant insights there also are for Pagans in this blog!)

This crossed my mind, as I was thinking about the blog the other day. I began to wonder--is Quaker Pagan Reflections really a Quaker blog, fully and entirely? Do I actually have a use for my Pagan audience at all? For a moment, thinking purely of the one blog post I had just completed, I had an eerie sense that, no, Quaker Pagan Reflections was no longer a Pagan blog at all. It was a startling revelation, and a bit sad, but it seemed perfectly clear.

However, in talking about it with Peter I realized that I was wrong. It is not that I no longer write for my Pagan audience; it is that I write with different concerns and different needs to my Quaker and my Pagan readers.

I am still in an early stage of vibrant growth as a Quaker. The blades are still green and the grain is yet unformed on the stalk, and I am taking in nutrients from the Quake world as fast as I can process them. So I often write "Quakerwards" with a palpable hunger for what feedback I will receive.

But I am about as mature a plant as grows in the Pagan orchard today. I don't say I have nothing left to learn: after all, even if I were fool enough to believe myself the wisest Pagan alive, the gods would still know more than I. But that first, demanding stage of growth, all about the taking in and taking in of new knowledge and insights... that passed in the mid 80's sometime. (If I'm ever inclined to forget when that era was, all I have to do is look at the publication dates on my Pagan books. I was one voracious little reader, back in the day!) And when I write about Paganism, I am either writing about the past, the period of rapid growth I once went through, or I am writing from my perspective of today, as a Pagan elder and teacher.

From Quakers, I have much to learn.

To Pagans... do I have much to teach?

Well, it may be that I do, judging by the traffic from other Pagans to this site. By the way, I don't at all mean that my teaching is of the sort of a high mucky-muck to a humble newbie; the Pagans who stop here and leave their comments are either "weighty" or "seasoned" Pagans (to borrow some Quaker jargon) or are on their way to becoming so. Instead, I think a good part of what I offer my Pagan readers is something that Quakers are pretty good at (though less good, maybe, than they wish to be): mutual nurturing and eldering by peers.

With its emphasis on mysterious, charismatic leadership, Pagans have largely missed the boat on that. As a group, Pagans suck at collaborative eldering and support for one another as we grow. We are lousy spiritual friends and mentors to newcomers, too often preferring to impress them with our drama and our importance... and we are lousy peers and elders to our leaders, too often losing our way in hierarchies, Witch wars, or turf squabbles. The result is that we lose too many promising newcomers, or see vibrant new developments in the Pagan world run exclusively by and for new Pagans with few or no ties to seasoned members of the community. And we lose too many of our best--folks like Deo and Mandy of Deo's Shadow--not, I think, to our lack of critical thinking, but to our lack of spiritual support systems for those who find themselves in positions of leadership.

Children, we can't be having with this!

Seriously, I think I am discovering that my purposes in writing this blog are many. I think that, in addition to what I have to learn from Quakers, I have some few things to teach, too: things about plain speech that can involve humor, for instance, or about how the silence of waiting worship was never meant to drown out truth telling and intimacy on a human scale outside the worship. And I think that I will continue to learn from my Pagan peers and teachers, too, things about communities that may get lost in our passions from time to time, but do not purchase an easy semblance of peace through passivity and silence.

I think I blog because I love to write, and because the comments from all my readers provoke me to think harder and feel my way more deeply into my subjects. I'm motivated by my own need to learn and to grow, and by my own hunger for community.

But I think I may also be standing in this cross-roads for a reason. It's not theology that I want to share--with the possible exception of the peace testimony, there's not much of Quaker theology I feel a need to evangelize about, and as important a message as the sacrality of Earth is to Pagans, I think Quakers are receiving that message loud and clear from other messengers than me. But there's something about community, about connecting with and loving one another for real, that the two groups have to offer one another. I can't put it into words, excactly.

So I think I'm just going to stand here in this crossroads until the words come to me. And then I'm going to write them down... for all my people to read.




IMAGE CREDITS:
Conversation
, from Western Governors University
Crossroads Image courtesy of Free Photo.com

Comments

Erik said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik said…
Sorry, the first try had formatting problems.

...willing to wade through as much Quakerese as I put up here in order to encounter whatever relevant insights there also are for Pagans in this blogLight is light, whatever the source. Candlelight and fluorescent light may affect us differently, and we may even perceive that they are different at some fundamental level (incandescent vs. luminescent, for example), but in the end it's still waves - and we're still limited in the fraction of the spectrum that we can perceive.

Similarly, Quaker truth may taste differently than Pagan truth, but if both are true then both can enlighten either. And both are by nature limited... and as long as we remember that I think we can have much to say to each other.
Hystery said…
When you speak particularly of your Pagan experience, I am often taken by how unfamiliar your Pagan world is to me but when you speak as a Friend, I hear our common Paganism very clearly.
Tom Smith said…
For me one of the great joys of being a Quaker is that I get to be a life-long learner/questioner and a life-long teacher/"sharer."

It is important that you recognize and "celebrate" your gifts. The trick for me is to remember these are gifts to me and are not really "gifts" I give to others. The "I" becomes secondary but is as critical as the instrument on which music is played. As a science teacher the "I" becomes secondary to the questions being asked of nature and the answers that are given back. However, the danger of putting the "I" first is evident. Excuse the "political" aside, but the evidence that scientific knowledge was betrayed by personal ideological concerns has been very clear over the past number of years.

In my mind that is one of the difficulties that many "religious" people demonstrate when their own ideological "truth" becomes TRUTH without going to the true source of a living Spirit.

I "enjoy" many of your blogs because they are challenging and up-lifting, as well realistic. The question of teaching "burn-out" is one I have struggled with for decades, but again when I realize that "I" am a conduit and not the "be all - end all" I somehow have been able to continue.

In Peace and Friendship,

Tom
Rachel said…
Have you seen Richard's post on "Traveling in the electronic ministry"? http://quakerphilosopher.blogspot.com/

Yours made me think of his.

I'm grateful to those of you who blog; it's a way for me as a more solitary friend to hear ongoing discussions.

And yes, your Meeting is a special place. I have missed it often since leaving that area.

Rachel
dmiley said…
I'm with Tom on the conduit issue and who's doing it. There is an i, but i sits on top of Ancestors, the Land and Deity. The Greeks talked about their Muses, after all, and were well aware to honor them.

I wonder too about labels. Is the working of the Quaker Spirit of God significantly different than Thorn Coyle's understanding of God Herself? The descriptions have lots of similarities and the leadings toward service seem to be the same.

What I'm getting at is that religion, any religion, is an attempt to deal with the truth of Spirit in all of its manifestations. Mystics of all types seem to come to similar conclusions regardless of the labels and can sometimes understand each other even if their religious systems are in opposition.

Where the difference is, as you've pointed out, is in community. Perhaps after a few hundred years, we'll figure that out:-)
Yewtree said…
I don't think Pagans ARE that bad at community, actually. I've been thinking about this a lot, and as a matter of fact lots of other Pagans I know, have a strong sense of service to the community, and maintain links with other Pagans in the area and around the world. (Yes, so there's bitchcraft and bicker and egos, but there is community spirit.)

A propos of your earlier post about lectio divina, I just saw another post about it and thought you'd like it.
Carol Maltby said…
"Do I actually have a use for my Pagan audience at all?"Heavens, we need to be useful? I like to think of us as being like the lilies of the field. [wry grin]

With this you've helped me clarify the nature of my own blogging (currently on hiatus, while I shore up some foundations).

I don't actually have that much interest in dialogue on my blog. I've been active in a number of forums, ever since my first involvement with online life 15 years ago. I think my conversation on forums, the conversations all interpenetrating in relationship to both the thread subject and the greater unifying of the forum's overall perspective, is a weaving that is stronger than just my single thread. My interest in research and investigative work becomes part of the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts when on a forum.

Not to say that I don't do that on my blogs too. But I see the blogs as strengthening the overall weave of the net, pointing out good nodes of information, and as the old Whole Earth Catalogues used to say, "access to tools."

I do have stand-alone pieces of research and essays that I'll be tweaking and putting up eventually, many based initially on material I've contributed to forum conversations and then expanded. But they're longer than the usual blog format is optimized for, not set up to retrieve from "April archives" or whatever.
Pax said…
Cat,

You are a spiritually weighty Pagan and a still hungry Quaker? (grin)

Your own words have helped to widen and deepen the boundaries of my own Pagan spirituality. Your discussions of Quaker worship have inspired me, and helped me in some of my adventures with Spirit.

I cherish your words and mentoring and wish you many years of blogging and discussions!

Thank you,
Pax

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