Holy Week: What I’ve Learned

It’s Holy Week. The last week of my working, which ends on Sunday night.

It’s interesting to look at this working from (almost) the other side. I was kind of nervous about doing it, really, since I hadn’t really done something quite like this before, but I know now that I didn’t need to be nervous about it. Going through it was definitely work and I learned a lot.

From Hecate I learned to let go of people and things that I couldn’t do much about (and about curbing the obsession I can get sometimes with wanting to know everything about people). I also was reminded that I can’t stay in death working mode all the time, and that unless I’m needed in that capacity, that I should save it for Samhain.

From the Dagda I learned why it’s important to ask for help because it’s hard and draining to do it all yourself. (I did improve my cooking skills, though.) I also learned a lot about self care from Him, too, including treating my body with care. What I remember most is that on a bad body image day, He said to me: “If I, as a god, can have a big belly, so can you!” I also realized after His part of the working that it’s best for me to get up a couple of hours early, before I start writing, to have breakfast and do my meditation, or else the brain doesn’t wake up enough.

From Jesus I’ve been learning more about what His role in my life is. He’s more about my public priesting. In other words, His is the ministry that I emulate in public: doing my best to help those who need it, praying, and doing my best to heal in the areas that I minister in. I’m also learning more about my monastic nature at the moment, figuring out how I want to do my monasticism, and how regular ritual can be comforting and grounding.

Overall, I’ve learned just how important daily practice is for me, even on the days where I don’t feel like it. Especially on those days. I have much more confidence in my spiritual work and spiritual connections. A friend of mine mentioned a few weeks ago that we didn’t really learn what it meant to be a contemplative in seminary. I agree. I really wish we had learned more about being contemplative and religious life. It definitely provides a wrapper for my days that helps me be more on focus (especially with my writing) and on task. The other really good side benefit is that my mental health is vastly improved. My anxiety is way way down, and I haven’t had any lengthy depression (some small bouts, but those were more hours than days). Also, minimal interaction on Facebook has also been a big plus for me. (YMMV, but for me, this has been really good.)

I’m going to keep doing the morning and evening meditations, although, I’m not sure exactly how the evening meditation is going to manifest. I’m liking the Compline prayers, since reading from a paper and following instructions is easier at the end of the day when you’re tired. There are a few things I want to add to my altar, too, to tie things all together.

But, I’m at the end, and it’s been quite the experience.

Last Week of Lent: Social Justice Work Comes At A Cost (Paganism, Christianity, and Me)

I want to be able to say something profound here about my working, but I just can’t. At least, not in any way that’ll make sense to people other than myself. Most of what I’ve learned this week is that I shouldn’t read any social media until after I’ve done my morning prayers, had breakfast, and done my writing for the day. I’m writing about social justice, and reading other people’s social justice stuff, or about the election, before I get into my own work makes things difficult. My wife says “Social justice work comes at a cost.” and that’s quite true.

In my meditations, Jesus keeps telling me that even He had to go find solitude while do His public work. Gethsemane, the desert, and many other times He would go alone somewhere to pray. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons from Him: that quiet prayer time isn’t a bad thing to schedule into the day. Or, rather, schedule my day around the prayer time. Public work is hard, especially when you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall.

Speaking of that, one thing this week I commented on (yes, yes, I shouldn’t have bothered, but I was feeling ornery), was a post on Patheos where Gwion Raven was ranting about his identity as a pagan. Mostly about what it is, what it isn’t, and what he didn’t like about Christianity. This isn’t anything new, really, and when I challenged him on his wording, there was a “oh, well, I didn’t mean it that way” kind of response.

Gwion made it pretty clear that he wants anarchy for paganism. But here’s the thing: that’s fine for your tradition. That’s what works for you. You don’t want institutions or churches? Ok, then don’t build any. No one’s forcing you to build any or go to any. Just like no one’s forcing you to accept Christian lore or ritual in your practices.

My problem isn’t really with any of that. My problem is with the unspoken assumption that multi-faith pagans, especially those who are Christo-pagan, are somehow less than “real” pagans. I get it. I get that you don’t want to look like Christians, act like Christians, or have anything to do with Christian ritual. (Although I think that’s tough to do, given that any Gardnerian based tradition, which is the model for most witchcraft in the US and parts of Europe, has Judeo-Christian roots. I’d say that it’s a bit too late to be complaining about that. Doubly so if you’re in a Golden Dawn tradition. But I digress.) Again, that’s fine…for you.

But don’t insinuate that Christo-pagans are “fence sitters,” or delusional, or are only Christo-pagans because they don’t want to be “fully pagan.” While being neopagan and Christian is somewhat relatively new, traditions that combine magick and Christianity are not. And, really, many of those are seriously bad-ass magickal traditions in their own right. I wouldn’t want to tell a practitioner of one those traditions that they are somehow “doing it wrong.” Never mind the Euro-centrism of denying mystical Christian traditions.

Again we have a case of someone saying “All pagans should do X.” or “A proper/real pagan is…” I know the pagan community is full of humans doing stupid human tricks, but for once, I’d really be happy if people would really take a good look at and think about what they’re saying.

These lines are familiar aren’t they? Here, let me spell it out for you: “All Christians should do X.” and “A proper/real Christian is….”

Or what about: “You aren’t really bisexual, you’re either gay or your straight.”

Or: “It’s just a phase. You’ll get over it eventually.”

*sigh*

Yeah, we’ve been down this path before. Many people became pagans to run away from this type of thinking, and yet, here we are. Saying the same things that we came to paganism to avoid.

Why people don’t seem to see that they are guilty of this, no matter what progressive community they’re in (since this happens in any movement), while they loudly proclaim that they aren’t being exclusionary, boggles the mind. It’s as if the people they are railing against are the “them” and not really humans!

Oh, wait…

WIP snippet “What is most feared: Church burn and the Neo-Pagan”

This is an excerpt from the book I’m writing on radical inclusion for the pagan community. Given some of the posts I’ve seen floating around recently, I thought I’d post this here. (I’m hoping that I’ll finish this book in time for Pcon next year.) Also note, that this is from very much a first draft…

“Before we can dig deeper into questions of inclusion, we need to understand how people convert to paganism. Most people who are in the pagan community are converts, or people who have come from a different religions or atheism into paganism. This creates a challenge to paganism as a whole because much of the outer work that groups have done have been reactionary to mainstream religion, and Christianity in particular. As Yoda says: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

What I see a lot in the Pagan community as a whole is a strong backlash against anything remotely Christian. It’s really not surprising, especially since a lot of new pagans come from Christian backgrounds where they have experienced significant “church burn.” Church burn is a concept that I learned from Bishop Yvette Flunder, and it is the result of abuse caused in a church or spiritual environment. This definition is used particularly in reference to Christianity, and is what will make up the bulk of this chapter, but it’s important to realize that “church burn” isn’t exclusive to Christianity. In fact, when talking to most people who are involved in coven-based traditions, you’ll inevitably have the conversation about coven explosions and most people in the room will roll their eyes and nod in understanding. These explosions can be just as damaging as any of the abuse coming out of Christianity. The difference being that Christianity has more history of it and on a larger scale. In other words: witches, Wiccans, pagans, etc are not immune from their own extremism. We are a group of humans after all.

But back to those who come into witchcraft from Christian traditions. There are a few stages that I think most people go through when finding a new spiritual path that fits their particular needs. The first stage is a honeymoon or zealot stage where one is learning all they can about their newfound religion and is super excited to tell everyone all about it. The second stage is where it becomes incorporated into one’s identity as part of their sense of self and is also incorporated into one’s uniqueness. And third is the integration stage, where the tradition is a part of one’s identity, but they have a more expansive worldview, tending to regard it as one of many aspects of their being. In other words, their sense of self, while strongly influenced by their tradition, is not reliant on their tradition. In my experience, it’s easy for many people to get stuck in the zealot and identity stages for a long time, sometimes never managing to get to a more tolerant and expansive worldview. This, I think, is highly influenced by past religious experience, particularly if one has experienced a great deal of church burn. Also note that these phases aren’t necessarily linear. A person can revisit these stages at any time when new knowledge creates change. There are plenty times in life when a person can find out something new about themselves that they didn’t have words for that can set off the process anew.

In this chapter we’ll look at these phases and how they can be good and detrimental to the individual, the group, and the community as a whole. We’ll also look at some of the hypocrisies that arise in the pagan traditions around these phases that can lead to conflict. Yoda’s words at the beginning of this chapter, while simple, are quite correct. And the suffering that comes from it does more than just harm others, it harms the self.”

5th Week of Lent: Into the Last Phase

I’ve just realized that I’m over halfway done with my Lenten working. On Tuesday I started the Jesus part of my working, and so far it’s been good. What I’m realizing, though, is that Jesus and I don’t know each other quite as well as we used to. What I mean by that is that while I’ve had a relationship with the spirit of Jesus, it’s been more as an acquaintance rather than a close relationship like I have with The Dagda and Hecate. I realized that this morning at the beginning of my morning meditation, and so instead of doing the rosary like I have been doing the last few days, I just did a quiet meditation and had a conversation. It was a good conversation, and I think I’ll need to keep doing that for the time being.

In the evening, before bed, I’ve been doing a set of Compline prayers that I adapted and redacted from the Daily Office of the Society of Saint Francis. (Out of all of them, the Franciscan prayers and theology are the ones that speak to me. It doesn’t really surprise me, given my witchy proclivities.) I’m finding that I really like the little ritual each night. It’s got me thinking, though, about maybe creating a Wiccan Christian Daily Office (as if I need yet another writing project), but it’ll have to wait until after I get the radical inclusion book done.

I still have a couple of weeks until Easter and the end of this working. I’ve been learning a lot, and I know I want to keep doing the morning and evening meditations, but right now, I’m not sure exactly what that will look like. While part of my brain wants to figure it out right now, but the rest of my brain is saying “Don’t worry about it until the working is done.”

I think that would be the wiser course. Besides, there’s still 16 days left….

4th Week of Lent: An Appreciation for Getting Things Done

Reflecting on the 4th week of Lent where I’m still in the Dagda part of my working, I realize I’ve done quite a bit. I’ve “normalized” my work day and have gotten more written on my book this week than I have in several months. I cooked a lot, and have a lovely visit with my friend River and her little one on Thursday. I created a booklet of the prayers I need for the next phase of my working and shared that with those who I thought would be interested. I called the gardener and had them come sort out our yard (before the rain started). I got a new phone and set up our fancy new lights that we can control with our devices!

In other words, it’s been a busy week.

I keep wanting to write about some of the interesting conversations and thoughts I’ve been having about the state of clergy in paganism, but it seems like I need to think about the more before I write on it. I keep starting and deleting, so…

One thing, though, is that my social media need is way down. More often than not I’m just checking Facebook to see if there’s anything specific I need to address, and then I move on. Same with Tumblr. The further I get into this working the less I really want to deal with social media. If it wasn’t good for the podcast or the way I communicate with a lot of the east coast, I’d just jump ship from Facebook all together. As it is, not being on Facebook a lot has done a some real good for my mental health.

A definite thing to come from this working is that the twice daily meditation is doing a lot for my anxiety and depression issues. I know it’s one aspect of this working that I’ll definitely keep up with afterwards. Even the wife has noticed a real difference in my mood because of it.

This is just a short update since, apparently, the other stuff I want to write about is going to be saved for a later date…