On prayer

Morrigan, show me strength so I may model strength;
Mannanan, show me fluidity so I may model fluidity;
Brighid, show me creativity and practicality so I may model both.

I was praying to my gods while on the bus, on the way to work this week.  I was not looking forward to my day and thought that perhaps a quick prayer to the gods would help.  Perhaps it would remind me of the traits that I know I need.  Perhaps it would bring the thought of my gods to the front of my mind so that I could more mindfully enter my workplace and do the work that I am expected to do with the skills I know I have, but that sometimes get buried under all the associated junk of peoples’ emotional baggage and stress.

But as I was sitting there, looking out the window, crafting the prayer in my mind, I was struck by something.  The way that I could pray and the way that I was intentionally crafting my prayer was different.

I could have prayed in this way:

Morrigan, give me strength so that I can make it through my day;
Mannanan, give me fluidity so I can pass over my problems;
Brighid, give me creativity and practicality so that I can apply both to my issues.

You see how that is different than the  prayer above?  Not only is it more negative, focusing on the problems and what I need help for, but it also externalizes all the good qualities as something I inherently need.  It makes it seem like if I don’t get the results of my prayer, then the gods weren’t listening, or they have some mysterious reason for not fulfilling my request.  It’s like a test.

And that’s not how one should be approaching this.  At least, not in my spirituality. The gods aren’t like Santa.  You don’t send them your wish list and hope to get the shiny new bike under the tree at the predetermined time.  The gods are inspiration.  They guide us by being the example.

In my final version, I am asking for examples of what strength, fluidity, creativity and practicality look like, so that I can emulate it.  It’s asking for my ability to build that in myself.  I’m not assuming that I can’t do it.  In fact, even my prayer is flawed in that I am not sparking it in myself, but sometimes one needs to look to their archtypes for help.  Sometimes, that’s why we’re praying because we can’t see it in ourselves, and we need the reminder of what it looks like to be able to find it.

I wrote an interesting prayer poem years ago that I recently unearthed in a quick cleaning of one of my boxes of papers.  In it, I do ask for Strength, Wisdom, Prosperity, Courage and Favours, but the Goddess doesn’t give me any of them.  She gives me Difficulties, Problems, Brains and Brawn, Danger and Opportunities.  Thus She requires me to build these things within myself.

Praying for a deity to give you something easily is a cop-out.  It externalizes the help and the blame.  It absolves you of the responsibility to do it for yourself, and allows you to continue to blame outside forces for you not achieving, not getting what you want, not having a happy life, not marrying the guy of your dreams, not loving your job, not having that baby.  It allows you to continue to be a victim of circumstance and it prevents you from growing to deal with these problems.  If you pass all your problems on to God to handle, you don’t learn how to handle them yourself.

And so, why not pray to whatever deity you wish to help you grow, help you to build skills, build strength, develop the abilities to deal with your own problems, to chase your own dreams, to live your own life? Why not remind yourself of the example and emulate it, rather than making a wish list and hoping to receive it someday. Pray actively. Live actively.

(Originally posted on December 4, 2012)

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Let there be reason

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” – post made by an old friend to his diocese on Facebook, from facebook.com/StopPlayingChurch

(The sidebar notes “We acknowledge that this is a general statement and that there are not statistics to back up this claim.  However, we hear this a lot from our atheist members.  It is our hope that we can begin to change this perception – or at least begin the conversation. […]  By Christians Tired of being Misrepresented”)

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this afternoon and stumbled upon this post by an old friend.  He was not someone I would have pegged to become a priest, but he did.  He actually gave me one of the most interesting explanations of anyone I’ve known to the question of “Why did you choose this job?” Although I suppose in his case it’s more of a vocation.

Anyway, I read the little picture and thought little about it.  But then I actually did think about it, and it struck me as not a valid logical statement.

I would suggest that very few true atheists are atheist because of one or even many Christians’ hypocrisy.  In fact, I suggest that other people have very little to do with someone’s loss of a concept of deity in the world.  At least, not in that way.

If anything would happen through the observation of hypocrisy, I think it would be the leaving of a church or community, distancing oneself from that group of people who are silently accepting that hypocrisy and perpetuating it.  I find it difficult to believe that someone would up and say, “Oh, Martha is an embezzling, gambling gossip and unChristian – that’s it, I’m giving up on God if He can allow a woman like that not to immediately burn in Hell for her behaviour.”  One could consider that kind of a reaction a bit much, and potentially the person wasn’t all that attached to their Christianity anyway.  But the real measured response would be to leave that group and seek out a community of more like-minded spiritual folks who one could agree with.

The next step is potentially to become agnostic.  This is far more likely to occur in observing the hypocrisy of religious types resulting in some suffering or racism/sexism/etc., or potentially due to watching the news and seeing all the horrible things going on in the world, or personally suffering some great loss or calamity.  It sparks questioning, soul-searching, anger against the deity in question.  How could a God that is supposed to be all about love allow so much suffering in his children?  How can His plan involve the murder of innocents, of loved ones, of the millions of people who die through disease and famine?  Even the most steadfast in their faith must question when something bad happens.  When, say, a priest is found to have assaulted some children, and the church covers it up.  That’s when one could drift not just from the bosom of Mother Church, but from the teachings themselves.  Something doesn’t add up, they say.  I believe there must be something, but I don’t know that it can be what is described in this book.  Or if they just find an essential schism in the philosophy that develops over time, with experience.  They still retain a vague concept of deity, but they don’t identify with the Christian teachings any more (or insert any other religion here – I’m simply using Christian as an example because it was the premise of this discussion).

The final step to true atheism comes from inside a person.  Atheism is no belief in any form of deity.  None.  There is the Earth, revolving around the Sun, in a manner that can be described by astrophysicists.  There is life continuing due to oxygen inhalation, food consumption, blood pumping and neurons firing.  And then, when these processes cease, there is nothing.  Nothing mystical, no continuation of the soul (or ego), no ghosts, no spirits, no angels, no Heaven, no Judgment, no Hell.  This sort of a change in mindset from Christian has to happen because the person themselves loses or divests themselves of the belief in deity.  Somehow they have reached a point where they do not need to believe in a deity, in some guiding force, in order to be able to make sense of the world.  This is kind of a big deal, as far as someone’s personal philosophy is concerned.  And to belittle it by saying that it comes about because someone observed Christians being hypocritical?  Give me a break.

Also, by assuming that someone divests themselves of a concept of deity due to the observation of hypocrisy, one infers that they can regain it by observing good Christian behaviour.  And not just regain their belief in deity, but regain their belief in the “One True God”, the Commandments and all that.  And frankly, that’s just insulting.  And a little egotistical on the Christians’ behalf.  Sure, the atheist could be fantastically impressed by someone living by the Christian virtues vaunted in the Bible.  But I find it hard to believe that a real atheist, not just someone professing a lack of belief in God because they are currently in a fight with God (hint – if they’re in a fight with God, they still believe that there’s a God to have a fight with), would do anything but applaud someone for being a decent human being and looking out for their fellow human.

So, you know how I would change the statement that began this post?  Like this:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is people thinking critically about their religious beliefs and finding that they do not measure up to how they observe the world to work.  It’s not the hypocrisy, and it’s not the community of the church or the management of the church.  It comes from within the people themselves, and they will be hard-pressed to return to an unquestioning or even a questioning belief simply because you’re a better Christian.  And frankly, that’s a terrible reason for someone to practice their religion better anyway.

And that is what a believer simply finds unbelievable.

(originally posted August 13, 2012)

Flakiness

In the next couple of posts, I’ll deconstruct some of the ideas that I introduced in my previous post.  The first one I’d like to attempt to tackle is the flakiness idea.

Imagine, for a moment:

She looked up from where she was kneeling, eyes falling on the carven image of the man hanging from the cross.  His expression is one of pain but peace.  She prayed in his name – asking for help, for guidance, for some way of knowing the right thing to do.  She left the church feeling peaceful – perhaps not knowing exactly what she needed to do, but feeling that she could try.

A simple story of communing with one’s God.  Seemingly acceptable – one prays for guidance, for help.

Imagine again:

She looked up from where she was sitting on the cold stone.  The vast expanse of the sky shining above her with millions of stars and the darkness in between.  She whispered her call to the night and flicked the lighter to illuminate and then ignite her message, sending its essence into the air through the smoke and destruction of the paper which bound it.  She bowed her head and touched her fingertips to the middle of her forehead in a salute and then lifted her eyes to the sky once more.  Her intention sent out to the universe, she poured an offering of whisky out onto the ground before returning to her home, prepared to work on her intention.

The unfortunate part of my spirituality is that I often feel awkward trying to explain it in terms that won’t bring up the potential flakiness issue.  This is the power of language.  The difference between a prayer and an intention, for example.  Consider asking God versus asking the universe, or the life-force, etc for help.  Even the actions speak volumes – the difference between praying with hands clasped and sitting in a field, on a rock, looking up at the sky and burning a scrap of paper which has an intention written on it.

The strength of the language and the meaning of the words will cause certain reactions.  Even amongst the extended pagan tribe there is judgment against ‘fluffy bunny’ by the more ‘serious’, against the ‘fashionable’ by the ‘down-to-earth’.  It’s all very reminiscent of any other human interaction.  Someone, for whatever reason, believes that they are superior/are following the ‘right’ way, and those who don’t seem as studious/serious/ get-down-in-the-dirt-and-muck-about enough are judged.  And I don’t want to come off as anti-judgment.  Clearly if we weren’t critically thinking people then anything would be acceptable, nothing would be wrong and there would be a raft of other issues to deal with.  Yes, we need to apply critical thinking.

However, when it comes down to a ‘more pagan than thou’ argument, or a judgment about someone’s dearly held beliefs because what you hear makes you want to change them, correct them or cure them, then we have a problem.  Because that isn’t dialogue, that’s judgment and a ceasing of listening.  To be able to converse, we first must be brave enough to listen and set aside our little internal judges.

I stumble because I have an internal censor sitting right beside my internal judge as well.  In addition to the concern that my explanation be well-received because of the word-usage, I have to dance through my own mental minefield.  I will judge myself as I use words, second-guessing the way I’m explaining something and wondering whether a certain term will set off someone’s internal judge.  So I try to be careful with my language.

For example, a good friend of mine once asked me how my beliefs interacted with my scientific background.  It’s a fair question, and one that I think most scientists receive regardless of their spirituality.  He was interested in the beginning-of-life question.  I thought about it for a moment, and said something along these lines:

My spirituality does not really impact my perspective of the beginning of ‘life’ on Earth.  To me, evolution explains how life developed to the present day.  The energy around life just is – it is a network.  I don’t really have a Creation story.  That’s the Big Bang and evolution story.  My gods and whatnot exist within it fairly happily because I don’t need them to have Created the world.”

He was intrigued by my answer.  I should say that he and I share a similar spirituality, so speaking of ‘energies’ with him didn’t necessarily frighten me, as I figured he would know or guess close enough to my meaning (depending on what ‘energy’ means to him.)

In trying to explain my beliefs to a non-pagan friend, I stumbled more because I was describing my concept of the gods as forces of nature, and feeling no need to worship, per se, but perhaps appreciate and respect being better descriptors of the veneration aspect.  Mainly because I have a feeling that worship doesn’t matter as much to forces of nature – why would a force of nature be concerned with the adoration of a human?  (This concept was first introduced to me when I was reading a book by Emma Restall Orr and I had an “ah-ha!” moment.)  My friend was able to relate to the idea of worship not being strictly necessary because why would a god/God care?

I also attempted to explain why I felt that it was  important to have female deities within my pantheon.  Firstly, I am a woman so I can relate to a female archetype.  Secondly, to encompass the natural generative force, or more simply, because females give birth and it makes sense to me that they have a hand in the constantly renewing world.  But here comes the internal censor and judge saying, “But gods don’t need to give birth actually, right?” to which I reply, “All is symbol anyway.”  In addition, the archetypes that these goddesses stand for resonate with me.  “Isn’t that cherry picking?”  Not at all, one honours all gods, but can be drawn to certain ones because of what they stand for.  I know I need to rein in the internal censor.

So where does the flakiness come in?  Is it flaky to believe in unseen energies, forces of nature, or god and goddess archetypes that symbolize important things in one’s life compared to one big-g god who runs the whole thing?  Is it flaky to revere the amazing things that the Earth and nature can produce and do?  To get goosebumps at the sheer force of a thunderstorm or the surging ocean?  Or is it flaky to think that crystals may have different vibrations and energies that can be tapped to create change in one’s life through a spell?  I will address that question in an upcoming post (or two).

I don’t have the answer.  Flakiness is subjective.  But by creating a dialogue to foster understanding of different viewpoints, I think we can go a long way to breaking down the potential judgments on all sides.  An open mind can create more opportunities for learning.

(originally posted April 24, 2010)