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Discernment and the Spiritual Activist, Part II: Stewardship

Previously in this series: Part I: Injustice
Part II: Stewardship
I got an email from a friend not very long ago, commenting on my own recent engagement with the work toward racial justice.

“I see your inner warrior is still going full tilt,” she wrote, somewhat ruefully.

“I’ve been staying out of this debate, she continued.  “It’s not because I deny racial inequalities.  It’s because… this is not my fight.”

I’ve heard a lot of (white) people make the argument that they have no obligation to engage with racism, that they’re “not racist” and so their work is done, but that wasn’t what my friend was saying.  She wasn’t denying the importance of the work I had taken up, nor her need to remain open to engaging with it herself… should that become her work.

Rather, she was making a case for the stewardship of her gifts.

“Over the last couple of years,” she wrote,  “I’ve become more intentional with everything I do.  I have to choose where to put my energy.  I’m not running out to p…

Stillness at Solstice

There are two ways to experience this time of year: as movement, and as stillness.

The name this season’s holiday is given by Pagans reflects that duality.  Call it solstice; call it Yule.  One means the sun standing still… the other means wheel: the wheel of the sun, presumably, or the wheel of the year, turning and moving, changing all the time.

And though we crown our tree with a burnished copper sun, and leave candles burning throughout the longest night to encourage its return, I realize that, for me, the most important aspect of this holiday is its quiet.

My first Solstice as a Pagan, I was a new mother of an almost one-year-old girl.  Her father and I set up a tree–we put it in the pantry, behind a baby gate, to keep our daughter from pulling down the shiny lights and baubles.  I remember spending as much of the day as I could alone, outside as much as possible in the chilly Vermont wind.  It was a gray day, I remember, and when I came inside and turned off all the…

Discernment and the Spiritual Activist, Part I: Injustice

Part I: Injustice
Race hatred is back in style.  Have you noticed?  And ever since August 9, 2014, when a teenager named Michael Brown was shot to death and left in the street for four and a half hours, I have been unable to look away from the train wreck that is modern American race relations.

Modern American race relations.  And yet, it feels like 1968 all over again.  I can’t believe my eyes–and I can’t close them, either.

What’s more, since I’m a writer and a very social human being, my friends haven’t been able to look away very much, either.  What I think, I write, and lately, I can’t stop thinking about how so many of us white people want to believe we live in a post-racial society, that we ourselves are “color blind,” and that it is enough for white Americans to “not be racist” in response to what we really don’t want to believe is systematic and violent oppression of black Americans by the very institutions we created to keep us safe. We were raised to believe in O…

The Blessings of Foreign Gods - By Peter

I am Pagan.  I am Quaker.  Once I was Christian, but that was a long, long time ago.
These days I no longer have a Pagan group to practice with. 

I attend Quaker meeting regularly, but Quaker worship, while it feeds me in vital ways, still lacks some of the spiritual juiciness that I need if I am to feel fed and nourished by my spiritual practice.
So I—already a “both/and” with two spiritual identities—have been dropping in at a once-a-month Wednesday evening TaizĂ© worship at the local Episcopal Church.  It’s been interesting.  The first time I went, almost a year ago, I felt very strongly there the presence of one of the Pagan Gods, the one who is my own patron deity.  I continue to feel His presence at those services, sometimes strongly, sometimes less so.  It can be vivid enough for the Christian elements that pop up in the services to be kind of jarring at times.
One Wednesday that I went was, by coincidence, the Christian observance of Ash Wednesday.  Being anointed…

An Island in an Ocean of Air

I was twenty-two the first time I made the ascent.
To those who dwell in the Western United States, Mt. Katahdin is hardly worthy of the name, “mountain.”  At a mere 5,269 feet, it is dwarfed by even foothills in the Rocky Mountains.  It isn’t even the highest in New England.

It is, however, a mountain that an athletic climber can manage from base to peak and back in a single summer’s day.  And it is breathtaking: an isolated island in an ocean of air. Geology has made this mountain dramatic: the granite has been nibbled by glaciers, a giant’s cookie with Titanic bites taken out in four places.  Mt. Katahdin has been narrowed by cirques, leaving places like the Knife Edge Trail to pick a way forward delicately, along a yard-wide path edged with a whole lot of nothing, a whole lot of air.

Up on the Knife Edge, you actually feel closer to the sun.  The salt on your lips tastes different; the windburn on your cheeks is harsh, and strong, and exhilarating.

Then, too, not on…

Practicing

A few years back, I accepted a challenge to commit to a “regular spiritual practice.”  The terms of the challenge defined that as a daily spiritual discipline of at least twenty minutes. 

Unfortunately, the year that I took this on was an especially hectic one.  Try as I might, I just could not clear any twenty-minute windows of time, other than my daily commute to and from work.  And so, my daily practice of rolling meditations was born.

This has worked out better than you might suppose. Five days a week–fewer if the weather is snowy or icy, and I need to pay full attention to the road–I start my engines, ease out into traffic… and, as I turn off the main highway and onto the back road shortcut to my destination, I begin my day with prayer.

That prayer, or mediation (my practice varies) takes on one of a number of related forms.  Some days, I center down in as near an approximation of Quaker worship as I can achieve while operating a motor vehicle.  Other times, I let t…

We Do Not Have to Be Broken

The last few weeks have been hard.

November is always a place, as a teacher, where I realize how tired I have become. 

Somehow, the workload of the teaching year is especially heavy in October, and by November, some mornings it is all I can do to get out of bed.  Then, too, there have been an unusual number of challenges coming my way outside of school: groups where I connect to and love other people who are committed to doing good work in the world have been struggling through conflicts, friends have been living with pain that I cannot do much to ease, and I’ve been subjected to a couple of personal attacks by near-strangers that left me rattled in spite of my sense that they don’t need to be responded to or taken seriously.

The cumulative effect, taken with the steady news of injustice, indifference, and anger out in the world has been heavy.  It has been hard to pray.  It has been hard to feel close to the Spirit of Love and Truth, or to any spiritual presence at all.…

Honoring an Ancestor

So today, on Samhain, I’ve been reminded of my longstanding sense of connection to Ann Putnam the younger, the second-youngest of the “afflicted girls” of Salem Village, and probably the most persuasive of all those who accused innocent men and women of witchcraft.
Ann Putnam, today, this day that is sacred to those of my religion, I claim you as ancestor to my spirit. May your heart have found peace and your spirit, wisdom. I realize this is an odd choice of an ancestor for a Wiccan to honor. Here’s why: the way that I view reincarnation is that we hold within us a part of the spirit of everyone who has lived before us. I hold within me, then, seeds of the greatest kindness and the most horrible cruelty of all humanity. This is who I am: in potential, at least, I am the same as the best and the worst of us.

In honoring the spirit of Ann Putnam, I honor that truth–and also the truth that, when we find ourselves in the wrong, we can choose to recognize that, and to chang…

To the Servant-Leaders of the World

This is my love letter to the servant-leaders of the world.

I see you.  I see you there, working so hard.

You have a gift, or a mission, or a vision.  You have a knack for pulling people together, or you have reached down deep inside yourself and found something to serve in its place, because the need you see is so strong.  And you have brought together a group: a service project, a spiritual community, a movement against injustice, and you are engaged down to your bones.  You can sense the coming of the Beloved Community, and you are holding open the door, inviting in anyone who is willing to join you.

And then it happens.  (It always happens.)  Just as you feel the first faint flush of success, of forward momentum toward your goal, the infighting begins.  (It always begins.)

And you feel despair.  This is what I need you to know: do not despair.

We are always falling in and out of the Beloved Community; we find it for a span of heartbeats, and then it dissolves away in ou…

Yeah, It Really Is About Race

This story is old news.  Unfortunately, this story is old news: as old as my country, and older still.
America is a racist nation.


Mike Brown’s death is barely mentioned in the news cycle these days.  I’m not sure who, outside of activist circles, has paid attention to the too-little-too-late “apologies” of Ferguson’s chief of police to his family–nor to the tone-deaf gesture he made, of marching with the very protesters calling for his resignation, while refusing to resign.

I do know that the events in Ferguson have lit a fire under me that seems to have completely destroyed my complacent sense that racism is an evil that lies comfortably in the past.  I do know that, almost two months after a man was shot with his hands in the air in surrender, I can’t rest.

My restlessness is made worse when I am in worship.

Week after week, day after day, in meeting and in my own times of meditation, I find myself suddenly overwhelmed by my unease.  My mind comes back and comes back, …

Stories that Last

To write is to share the truth of your life, of your heart.

Now, I don’t mean to be pretentious here.  I’m aware that, while Quaker Pagan Reflections has a certain value, it’s not earth-shaking or transformative.  Neither Peter nor I are a Walt Whitman, a Henry David Thoreau, or even an Ursula LeGuin.  But we do our best to speak our own truths, our own hearts, and on some level, our relative lack of skill is not the point.  We’re trying to be honest–we’re trying to share what is real in our lives.

In my life offline, I am a teacher in a small, rural high school.  The kids aren’t perfect (what kids are?) and we don’t have all the resources we need (what public school does?) but we’re a small enough school so that hardly anyone gets lost in a crowd.  I get to know my “kids,” my students.  I get to know their stories–not always, but often.

And I get to teach them writing–and, with seniors, I get to guide them through what can be the
powerful, personal writing of their col…

Prayer for Today - by Peter

If I had a prayer that I were going to recite on a daily or weekly basis, what would it say?
The question came to me recently when I heard “A Prayer for Today,” written by Phillips Brooks.  He was an Episcopalian theologian in the 19th century, best known for having written “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  The prayer was sort of a riff on the Lord’s Prayer, and like the Lord’s Prayer, it gave a laundry list of a dozen or so of what the author felt are the most important things in life.  There were parts of it I liked a great deal, other parts less so, and of course it had to conclude “in the name of…our only…” because Christians—even the most liberal of them—seem to feel they cannot honor that one manifestation of the Divine without putting down all the others.

But never mind that.  Hearing it got me thinking, if I were to write my own ‘prayer for today’ to bring before the Gods or to hold in the Light, what would I ask?

Cat and I have had an occasional practice over the su…

What Do You Mean, "God," Cat?

I am utterly inconsistent in the spiritual language that I use.  One day, I will write “Spirit.”  Another day, I will write, “God,” or “gods.”  Here’s why:

Outside my window, I can hear the forest breathe. It is a hot day–one of the last really hot, humid days of a New England summer.  Thunderstorms are predicted for the afternoon, and they will be fed, in part, by the moisture that the trees–swamp maple, sugar maple, white oak and hemlock–are transpiring into the air above the woods.

The forest is breathing, breathing out in a long, deep, sighing exhale, and its breath passes over the and through the tops of the trees. And through my window, I hear the breath of the land. I hear the life of the land.

Between the waves of wind that ruffle the leaves, I hear the soft, high music of crickets, singing their death song to the summer.  I hear the hawk perched in the top of a white pine.  I hear a different set of sighing waves, as traffic passes along the road beside my house…

On Privilege

I took a vacation last week.  And I got to spend much of it at one of my favorite places in the world:
Schoodic Lake, in Lakeview, Maine.

My family has been going there since the mid-sixties, when my grandparents built a “camp” on the lake.  My grandfather had lived his whole life in Maine.  He was a farmer’s son who started out as a truck driver, then worked his way into sales. He raised four kids during the Great Depression, and sent them all to college, too.  In fact, each of his children went on to earn a graduate degree, and to excel in their professions: college professor, nurse, teacher, lawyer.

The postwar years were good to my mother’s family, and to a lot of families.  Lakeview, home to a spool mill that closed before the war, found a new life as little home-built cabins sprouted all along the shore, my family’s among them.

My father and my uncles helped my grandfather to build his camp from a prefab kit, and the cabin’s four rooms were all open to the rafters…