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.