Saturday, June 08, 2013

A Pagan Jesus?

As a Quaker Pagan, I'm often accused (and, yes, that really is the word for it) by other Pagans of being a closet Christian. 

Nope.  I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Jesus Club.  Though hanging out with Quakers has given me a deepened awareness of how much there can be of value in Christianity, and being Quaker myself has taught me how to approach Christian messages by "listening in tongues," I have yet to feel a call to Jesus. 

Given how hard it is for other Pagans to hear anything that is said after the word "Jesus," I'm grateful for that.  That bare word tends to drown out anything else that the person who speaks it might have to say, at least for some listeners.

Meanwhile, over at Bishop in the Grove, one of my all-time-favorite Pagan bloggers Teo Bishop has posted a deliberately provocative essay,  "Who's Going to Be My Pagan Jesus?"  He's pretty clearly not asking the question that many of his readers seem to have heard; he's explicit about not seeking a savior, but figures who would make it "easier for me, personally, to connect my actions to a system of values."

Unless I'm misreading him, what Teo is actually seeking is something very close to what I think I've found among Quakers, and desperately want to help nurture among Pagans: a range and host of models of how walking our spiritual walk can reshape a heart and a life.


Whether we're talking about Paganism or life among the Religious Society of Friends (Christian or not) seeing other human beings living fully realized, spiritually consistent lives helps us to do the same.

Our fanatical Western individualism makes us suspicious of all models.  We call them gurus, and then identify guru worship as pathological.  But the truth remains that it is simply easier to develop depth and virtue with a few human exemplars to study.  Elders, in a spiritual sense that goes beyond simply attainments in a degree structure, or even years lived on the planet.

In the years that my husband and I were coven leaders, we did our best to model what a Pagan life, rightly lived, would be. However, our own spiritual growth was hindered by the lack of strong models of Pagan elders around us. For while I know of many, many Pagans whose knowledge I admire, I know far fewer whose wisdom is seasoned enough to offer me guidance as I try to deepen my own. 


It can be frustrating--for those who hold out any hope that there might be more wisdom among us than is contained in our own individual hearts! 

It sounds good to say we don't need to look beyond ourselves for wisdom.  It sounds good (to many modern Quakers as well as Pagans) to talk about inner guides, or taking responsibility for our own growth.  And there definitely is growth that can come from being true to the inner voices that are available to everyone.  But too often, we listen only to inner voices, because we cynically refuse to believe that anyone out there has anything to teach us, or because we are willing to settle for being a big fish in a small pond... or because we don't have any local models of anything bigger or better to strive for than what we find within ourselves at first glance.  

Some of what is posing as spiritual independence is actually spiritual lethargy or complacency, in other words.  And it doesn't have to be that way.

It was a great relief, upon becoming a Quaker, to discover wise elders who were genuinely wiser than I was--and kinder, more daring, and more deeply loving. I realize that this may sound arrogant on the one hand (implying I'm so wise that few Pagans have anything left to teach me) and also sycophantic toward Quakers on the other (implying that Quakers are inherently wiser than Pagans.) I don't mean to be either: I do know wise Pagans and foolish Quakers, beyond a doubt.

But my life among Quakers has me surrounded by people who do extraordinary things on a daily basis, without self-promotion or self-importance. My Quaker community and my Pagan community are about the same size. But, while I know of a few examples of selflessness and powerful service among Pagans, I know of too many examples among my Quaker kin to even begin to inventory them. In my time among Friends (Quakers) I've shared my life with dozens of people who have made great sacrifices in order to relieve poverty, oppose war, train prisoners in conflict resolution, end carbon-fuel dependence... and so much more. I can point to some Pagans whose lives are similar. 


But, I wonder, who do our Thorn Coyles, Wren Walkers, and Patrick McCollums look to for inspiration? It is not enough to have some individuals whose lives are exemplary. We need a way of nurturing, recognizing, and encouraging the growth of similar gifts among us so that our exemplars can continue to grow and get encouragement from one another--rather than going it alone, or almost alone, in their communities.

With the help of Quaker models, I've become more peaceful, more generous, and happier. I've developed connections to specific communities in poverty, undertaken some major environmental witnesses, been inspired in my work with impoverished and behaviorally challenging teens, and my husband has led a group of students to study third-world health care through a trip to Kenya. Many of the things we've done would have seemed unusual to us, if we hadn't found models outside the Pagan community. Some of them, we might not have followed through on if we had not had models of how commonplace such actions can be among those with practice in their practice.

We didn't need Jesus. And I'm not at all trying to say being Quaker is the answer for everyone.

But 350 years of working together has given Quakers a head start on us. The Pagan community does not yet have an abundance of the sort of models that allow a contemplative to understand that, yes, what we're seeking to do is possible.

And that makes it harder. We are still growing the traditions and customs that will allow us to nurture, not just a few outstanding individuals, but a whole tradition of depth and compassion, which will allow our Pagan virtues to be seen--by ourselves, never mind others--as normative, and not actually exceptional at all.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I'm not interested in finding a Pagan Jesus.  But I would like us to grow a whole tribe of... call them Pagan saints.  Bodhisattvas, if that's a more comfortable word.  But whatever the word, I want more of them, I want more respect for them, more support for them, and more access to them.

Because only when we challenge ourselves as individuals to deepen our practice and our worship as much as we can will we be able to draw those depths into our communities as a whole. 

5 comments:

Dana Morgan said...

I agree, I agree, I agree, but there's a dynamic you're not considering. If I may share a perspective from the been around a few decades crowd ...

"But I would like us to grow a whole tribe of... call them Pagan saints. Bodhisattvas, if that's a more comfortable word. But whatever the word, I want more of them, I want more respect for them, more support for them, and more access to them."

You've missed the part about where people seem to put folks on a pedestal just so they can tear them down -- and tear them up -- in as public and humiliating a way as possible. Regrettably, there is also the part about the people who believe their own PR (always a mistake). And then there's the part about the wounds left by sheer vicious attacks by students, colleagues, whole communities. Not that every Elder is perfect -- few are, and even fewer think they are! But that simple respect seems to be too much to ask for and certainly too much to expect.

One of my favorite Elders, now passed, a lady by the name of Ellen Cannon Reed, once penned a poem titled something like, "From a Teacher to her Student". It had the refrain, "for I am human too." And it had the last line, which has stuck with me for years now -- "for I am human too. Never forget that. And for all that we both hold holy, don't let me forget it either." (My memory is probably a paraphrase, she was an elegant writer.)

Instead of looking in the mirror to see our common humanity, some or many Paganii seem to use thoughts like that as an excuse to tear down anyone or anything that has gone before them. The scars from that drive many of us far away from being willing to interact with general Paganfolk. Exactly how many times are we required to be attacked before we refuse to participate?

Looked up the nearest Quaker meeting to me; unfortunately, it's on the other side of town and I'd have to get my passport stamped to cross the river. Maybe some day I'll visit to meet this other stream which so enriches your Path.

Best and blessings -- :Dana

Hystery said...

I like this post very much. My reaction to the title, "A Pagan Jesus" was interesting to me because it caused me to realize that my Pagan Jesus is Jesus.

Ash McSidhe said...

Dana says much of that with which I would respond, especially in the "I agree, I agree, I agree, but ... ".

Buddha didn't look for others for inspiration, he sought it within himself ("Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without."), which echoes the words of Doreen Valiente's "Charge" - "... that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee."

Do we need role models? Certainly. Do they need to be Saints? I don't think so, but it helps it you notice the feet of clay early in the process.

Jhonthit said...

Blogwalking here

Sasha Serrano said...

There is no deeper love than Jesus' love, and once you reach that level, whether as a wiccan or a quack, then you automatically become Him who is carried by the holy spirit if you care for a name. There is no difference in identity.

There was an error in this gadget