Sunday, January 18, 2009

Can I Get a Witness?

I received an email  from someone at work recently (who reads this blog and will know I'm talking about him) that made my heart sing. He just asked if we could sit down and talk sometime about my path. In his words, "I'm generally fascinated with the teachings of Wicca and Paganism (well, I’m fascinated with teachings of most faiths, but I like naturalistic aspects of the two particularly), and I'd really enjoy learning more about it from someone who practices the faith."

If more people said just that, not only about Wicca and Paganism, but about any faith or system of belief they are not familiar with, how many walls could we tear down? How many bridges could we build?

I believe that one of the biggest ways we can begin to tear down the walls of religious intolerance is through awareness, education, and understanding. That requires that more people have the courage and openmindedness my friend displayed in asking to know more about a path he is unfamiliar with. It also requires that there be people in all paths willing to put themselves out there to be asked.

Another good friend shared with me the wise words of a missionary who told his fellow Christians, "You can't witness any more than you already are.:"  Everything we do is a witness to our spiritual path - if our path is known. People observe us and our lives are our testimony. A responsible, caring, thoughtful person who respects others, is honest, accountable, and sets a positive example in society is a living witness with a stronger message than any stand-up testimony could ever hope to deliver.

Among those who walk the various Pagan paths, there is a great reluctance to be "out" and, in many cases, there are good reasons. It's a sad but true fact that former and current spouses have challenged the fitness of Pagan parents in court based on their spiritual path, employers and, more often, coworkers have made work life difficult, and families have shunned, abused, and berated those who come out about their paths. Openly walking a spiritual path outside the mainstream always carries risk of disapproval, and the risk is greater for some than for others. If we are going to change the way Pagans are perceived and, hopefully, reduce the risk of disapproval and repercussion, those of us with minimal risk have to start letting ourselves be visible, allowing our lives to be the witness and testimony that tears down the misconceptions and builds bridges.

That does not mean that we have to make grand announcements, start dressing "witchy" (save me!) or wearing pride bracelets everywhere we go. In fact, I'm convinced that it's more effective in the long run to simply live life according to our conscience and allow our spiritual paths to reveal themselves in the normal course of conversation and discovery. It doesn't have to be your lead card. But it doesn't have to remain hidden up your sleeve, either.  And if you have been witnessing with your life, the revelation of your spiritual path is much less likely to be met with ridicule, fear, or loathing. 

I know as I write this that there are those who simply cannot afford to take that risk. I respect that and would never suggest that anyone put themselves, their livelihoods, or their families at risk.  But I also know that there are a lot of people like me...people who are in the enviable position of not being as vulnerable to potential fallout from revealing a non-mainstream spiritual path...people who are well respected professionally and personally, and who do not dress or behave in ways that reinforce negative stereotypes, and who, hopefully, are willing to be open when it is appropriate to do so. 

We are the bridge builders, the Pagan Corps of Engineers who can, if we will, continue building infrastructure begun by others who have put themselves out there.  Our testimony is subtle, our witness quiet, but we can affect change one interaction at a time if we have the courage.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Community: I've talked a good game, but...

Back in October, I participated in Blog Action Day by posting on the 2008 theme, poverty. I felt pretty good about the post and about the response it generated (I made good on my promise) and then, sad to say, I pretty much forgot all about it.

A recent essay on The Witches' Voice yanked my chain and shamed me back into awareness. Jeffrey Pierce's, "The Magick of Giving" is an engagingly written, passionate wake-up call to examine our me-more-mine culture.

I tried in vain last night to write a clever review of Jeffrey's essay and restate his already well-stated points.The fits and starts convinced me that I was trying to reinvent a perfectly fine wheel. Better I should just point you toward the essay and toward the author's website, Old Ways, and let you feel first-hand the impact of the stark truths he presents and the reminder of our accountability to our community I felt when I read this admonishment:

Being Pagan isn't simply about working magick or casting a Circle. It's more than taking a magickal name or building an occult library to further our own growth and knowledge. We follow the phases of the moon and the journey of the sun around the Wheel of the Year, we attune ourselves to the cycles of Nature, but we lack any sense of community. Yes, we have Pagan friends - but that meets our needs, not the needs of those who are struggling simply to survive.

Community isn't simply about developing friendships, but putting the whole ahead of the individual. We staunchly argue that it's not how things should be, that we deserve to pursue our individual goals and have earned the material rewards we heap upon ourselves. And yet the ancestral village, tribe, or clan of our spiritual ancestors that we look to for inspiration on our path put their neighbors and their community ahead of their own personal gain.

Not pulling any punches, Malidoma Patrice Somé, an African Shaman, writes in his book, Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community, "The only place where abundance is warranted is in nature. A person who wastes is a person who insults the gods. In light of the waste encountered in the modern world, one wonders if anyone knows that there is a world outside of this abundance where people are aware of priorities other than materialism."

Go read the essay, then visit Old Ways...and then let's talk about what we can do.

Monday, January 05, 2009

3,000 Beautiful Words

Sharing some beautiful things that have captured my eye, my lens, my heart of late...

Heraclitus said (loosely paraphrased) that a man cannot stand in the same stream twice because it is never the same stream and he is not the same man. We are constantly in flux, dynamic, evolving, works of art and works in progress.  The stream is always moving.

I love sunrise, expecially in winter. As the days grow short and cold, the daily affirmation that the wheel is always turning warms me and renews my spirit. From light to dark to light again, from strength to weakness and back to strength...take no great pride in days of light...feel no great despair in days of darkness...turn, turn, turn...

Beautiful things are this gentle gift from a farmer's market awhile back. I'm grateful that glowing slivers of July can be saved through the lens to light the shadowy corners of January.

Photos by Autumn Heartsong; Stream in Cosby, Tennessee, USA; Sunrise in my back yard, Harrison, Tennessee, USA; Sunflower and Grapes, informal farmer's market, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA.