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.
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)