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Showing posts from 2012

Growing Well in the Light

I've been laboring for a while to put into words just what makes community such a necessary part of spiritual life.  I don't mean by this that it is wrong or a failure for any of us attempt to stay faithful and connected to our gods alone; I don't mean to echo the words of Gerald Gardner, who said we could not "be a Witch alone."  Sometimes all magic, whether of a Pagan or a Quaker variety, has to happen in solitude.  Sometimes there is no community that is hearing the music we hear; sometimes we are called away, on our own; and sometimes, solitude is for a time precisely what we are called to experience. But solitude in itself can never allow us to find our fullest spiritual growth. Without a community around us that is also striving for direct experience of Spirit, our own efforts in that direction will be held back.  For one thing, when the men and women around us are good at going deep, they tend to pull us deeper along with them.  I think of that as

Roots and Seeds

If you are a reader, you probably know the feeling.  Having moved from one house or apartment to another, you find yourself wanting to take down a particular book, and you know exactly where it is... in your old home. That kind of phantom access, to a world that is no longer there, is more and more familiar to me as I age.  So often I will catch myself in a reverie, thinking of a friend or vista from my past... and somehow, the past feels like that misplaced book: I know exactly where it was, and it is a struggle, sometimes, to remember that I will never again walk down the halls of my old high school (they've torn the building down) or jump off the swingset I had as a child, or crawl inside the hollow log that used to lie hidden in a wood that is itself, no longer there. The past feels present to me, and I reach out my hand for it, only to discover with puzzlement over and over again that it is gone--at least, gone in the shape I knew. Last spring, we lost a neighbor .  This

Black Month

The black month November says M de la Villemarque is the month of the dead. On All Saints Eve, (the Scotch Halloween) crowds flock to the grave yards to pray by the family graves, to fill with holy water the little hollows left for this pious purpose in the Breton grave stones, or in some places to offer libations of milk. All night masses for the dead are said and the bells toll; in some places after vespers, the parish priest goes round in procession by torch light to bless the tombs. In every house the cloth and the remains of the supper are left on the table that the souls of the dead may take their seats about the board; the fire too is left burning on the hearth, that the dead may warm their thin hands at the embers as they did in life. When the dead mass has been said, the death bell tolled, the supper eaten, and the household are abed, weird wailings are heard outside the door, blent with the sighing of the wind. They are the songs of the souls, who borrow the voice of the pa


In Part 1 of my Open Letter , I feel that I made two important errors, and I need to own them here. The first was a lack of clarity on when I was asking that Christian Friends should take pains to discern the will of Spirit in sharing based on the Bible or Christianity.  I was not as clear as I meant to be that I was not talking about when Christians speak among themselves, or when established friends within a spiritual community are speaking to one another.  My caution applies to cases where Christian Friends--within liberal meetings, where it is relevant, as it is not in the other branches of Friends--speak in meeting for worship, or on behalf of their meetings or one-on-one with non-Christians they don't know.  In those situations, the dangers from outrunning our Guide is great, and a good way to avoid hurting one another unnecessarily is to stay low to Spirit while speaking boldly and confidently what Spirit gives us to share. Some took my words to mean that every mention o

Peter asks, what thou speakest, is it inwardly from the Gods?

Last month, I went to the annual gathering of Friends General Conference, one of the large umbrella organizations that many of the Yearly Meetings belong to.  While there, I met several other Friends who also identify as Pagan.  One of them wrote to me afterwards, asking himself questions about the compatibility of Quaker and Pagan religious paths.  What follows is based on my response to him:  What Quakerism and Paganism share most profoundly is that both are experiential religions.  Neither one demands that you believe a doctrine or recite a creed, but both lead you through experiences by which you come to experience the Divine directly. Those experiences often happen on a level that is wordless.  The Gods transcend language, but human beings live by words.  The Gods break us open, changing us at our deepest levels; words knit us together again in our new forms.  All of the Quaker testimonies, and all of the Pagan myths, are afterthoughts, and subject to change. Not random chang

Stewards of Joy

I am blessed by some remarkable friendships. One friendship that has grown over time into something extraordinary is the one I share with my Quaker friend Kathleen .  Kathleen loves to tell the story of how she and I met at a Woolman Hill retreat a few years back: she had found herself, a deeply committed Christian, feeling at loose ends among the liberal Quakers she knew then, as few of them spoke much or often about the Christian aspects of their Quaker practice--and, indeed, many did not consider themselves to be Christian at all. So, being Kathleen, she prayed about it.  She asked to find someone she could connect with deeply about her spiritual journey, someone with as deep and important a reliance on Jesus as she had. What she got was me. This makes us both laugh--and laugh with joy.  Because we can both see that Spirit gave her (and me) exactly what we needed, even if it was not exactly what either of us had been looking for.  For, while she has gone on to make many com

The Lincoln's Dog Test

I tend to agree with Abraham Lincoln, who once observed that he didn't care much for a man's religion whose dog and cat were not the better for it.  And it's not just dogs and cats, either, but all the beings of the Earth--including the somewhat annoying ones we happen to share a species with.  I take it that that's what religion is for , and that we honor our religious tradition best by illustrating that. Compassionate engagement with the world ought to be the main fruit of anyone's religious life. I would think that was obvious, if we did not live in the age of the Internet.  But living in the age of the Internet, I am exposed to an awful lot of ideas that go under the name "religion," and some of them bear the same religious label I do.  This bothers me, possibly more than it should, because I dislike having the religious tradition that I love so poorly represented.  This is especially true for me of Pagan ideas, because Paganism is a religion that


When we die, where do we go?  Does more of us remain in the grave, or where we have lived? My husband Peter and I have lived in this down-at-heels farmhouse for three summers now.  It is an odd house, in an odd sort of a neighborhood; I have hundreds of acres of woods, much of it owned by various public groups, in my backyard, a suburban neighborhood of close-built ranch houses across the street, and a neighbor in such another house not a stone's throw from my kitchen window. Despite the fact that deer and bears and hawks and owls are all regular visitors to my yard, despite my flourishing garden and apple trees, I do not live in anything like isolation.  And there is no place on my property that is truly private from my neighbors or from the street. I'll admit, my dream of a house in the woods was of a house off by itself in the woods--maybe not one where I could never glimpse the smoke from my neighbors' chimneys, but definitely one where I would never have to see m

Pagan Values: Hospitality (And the Affordable Care Act)

Yesterday, Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt wrote an email wondering what Pagans feel regarding this week's Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act , and about the ACA generally.  My first reaction was that I really had nothing to say on the subject... as a Pagan, that is.  I do have my own opinions, to be sure, but at first blush, I didn't see them as grounded in my religion. Upon further reflection, I have to say that, yes, I do. Pagans as a group are a pretty political bunch, and of course my Pagan friends have had a lot to say over the past few months leading up to the Supreme Court's decision.  I've heard from friends on the far Right, who would like us to abolish the Federal Income Tax (never mind the ACA) and friends on the far Left, who would like to see us abolish private insurance altogether, and nationalize health care entirely. What I haven't heard is very much discussion of the ACA grounded in our spiritual beliefs rather

Peter's Sonnet

It is dangerous to express ethical or philosophical positions in poetry. People will react to the outward forms rather than to what is said. Great evil may be excused if it has artistic merit, and great good discounted if it seems trite or derivative. I think this is part of why the early Quakers were so stodgy, rejecting music and theater and always dressing in grey. I think it's also why modern Friends still place such a high value on plain speech. A rhetorical flourish might help me to win an argument with you, but in so doing, cost me the benefit of your wisdom. The corporate process of listening for the leadings of Spirit means listening deeply to one another, and that works best when each of us speaks our portion of the Truth with neither preamble nor apology, trusting that if the message is Spirit-led, it will be heard on its own merits. This is all true. And in spite of it all, I have written a sonnet. Light and Darkness One My mind cannot deny my body’s truth. The pa

Peter on Silence and Intimacy

This past weekend, Mt. Toby Friends Meeting held a weekend-long retreat. About sixty Friends gathered at Woolman Hill, a Quaker retreat center that’s about half an hour to the north. Many of us stayed there Friday and Saturday nights; others commuted. The Friends attending included slightly more than half the regular attenders at our meeting. One of the queries that was asked early on in the gathering was, “What do you most long for in your faith family?” Some of us felt more comfortable with the phrase “spiritual community,” but the question was valid for all of us. What I said I most craved—what I have been longing for my whole life, really—are spiritual intimacy and a sense of shared meaningful work. I have had this at a couple of points in my life. At Oberlin I felt like organic gardening and left-wing Christianity could save the world, and in the Oberlin Farm Co-op I felt like we were beginning to do it. In my 30’s, in the Church of the Sacred Earth, I felt like we were inv

Winter Light

I find myself almost incredulous at how deep a vein of contentment I can find in a single afternoon at home. I love my home: my house, my garden, my woods.  I've understood for many years that buying stuff, things , doesn't actually build much contentment once I'm not in need.  I'll think, when I contemplate buying a new whatzit, that once I have that whatzit I'll be happy; I envision all the good and satisfying things I will be able to accomplish once I have my whatzit.  And, of course, once I have purchased it, brought it home, and unpacked it, it's only a matter of days or weeks before I'm no happier in my daily round than before I got hold of it. This house has not been like that for me.  It's actually pretty rare that I come home without thinking, as I walk up to my door, open it, and slip inside, "I really love this house." I think that is because a house, like land, is not really a thing at all.  Properly considered, we don't o