I’ve not spent a lot of time on this blog discussing my spirituality. I guess In my opinion, each person’s spirituality is a very personal, intimate choice, and no one out there is looking for me to tell him or her what to believe. But some events that I recently became aware of have me thinking a lot about my spiritual path, about the state of public discourse regarding religion in the U.S., and about my right to practice my chosen faith in this country. I’m not very good at summing up legal fights, etc., and I am TERRIBLE at arguing a point rationally or backing myself up with facts. Sad, but true–amazing that I passed my logic course in college. So I don’t know that I would be able to participate effectively in the conversation about Patrick McCollum and California’s “five faiths” policy. Please go read the article I linked to above, and this follow up. Then come back.
I feel like . . . there’s so much anger and fear about religion out there right now. I don’t quite understand. Faith/religion/spirituality, isn’t it supposed to make our lives better? Isn’t it supposed to help us become better people–kinder, more loving, more at peace? Why, instead, does it seem to drive us, again and again, to wage war on each other in one way or another? I know, I know, I’m not asking any new questions–this problem is as old as society, it seems. Fighting over the “right way”, as if there’s only one color to paint your house, one way to wear your hair, one food to make you healthy, one way to approach the divine. It makes me tired. It makes me so, so, so sad.
The truth is, I don’t need to convert anyone to my spiritual path. I don’t need to educate anyone about my particular eclectic path to god. I don’t care what faith you practice–I only care how it affects you as a person. Worship bunnies. Worship pigs. Worship your girlfriend’s tattoo, I don’t freaking care, just . . . be nice. To yourself, to me, to everyone. And let me be follow my own path, as long as I’m nice too.
But then I wonder . . . is that some kind of cop out? If more of us pagan types–and that is a big umbrella term, people, it covers a lot of diverse ground–were willing to talk with people, answer questions, really engage in a conversation, would things be different? Could we help people understand that there really is nothing to fear? Or is meanness and small mindedness so ingrained in religious dialogue at this point, there’s no fixing it? I don’t believe that. I don’t believe in “incurable”. I think everything can be healed. The problem is finding the way. And I just don’t know what that might be.
From sundown February 1 to sundown today, we celebrate Imbolc–a time of honoring the goddess Brigid. No coincidence that the Feast of Saint Brigid of Kildare falls on February 1 as well. Both figures share patronage of blacksmiths, poets, and healers. Both are associated with perpetual flames. There is a theory–which I think seems true–that they are, in fact, one and the same, the Saint evolved from the Goddess during Ireland’s conversion to Christianity. A day that celebrates a figure so wound up in the struggle between religious paradigms seems an appropriate day to muse on that struggle–and an appropriate day to ask how we can bridge the gaps between us. I have honored Brigid as one of my patrons for several years now. Having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, and eventually found my way to a pagan path, I’ve found a lot of comfort in Brigid’s survival of the war between faiths. She adapted. She made the leap, and she still brings comfort and joy to her people. In Brigid, Christianity and Irish paganism intermingle. She gives me hope.
And Imbolc is also a celebration of hope. We’re halfway between the darkest day of the year and the equinox. Spring is coming. Soon we will have a lot of work to do–good work, planting seeds, tending our gardens. So at Imbolc we engage in purification that prepares us for the work ahead. We burn old, tired herbs in the fire, and the greens that we brought in to celebrate the winter holidays. We practice letting go, and giving away, to make room for better and brighter things.
Somehow I feel like there has to be a way for us to use the energy of this time to infuse something new into the conversation about religion. Can we let go of our need to be right? Of the idea that there IS only one “right”? Can we let go of our fear of each other? Can we let go of our anger, and make room for better things? I’m trying to let go, to make room for better listening. For more happiness, more love, more kindness. And if I can’t do that, then I hope I can at least let go of worrying about what other people are doing, that I can at least really roll with the whole “live and let live” idea. I’m not perfect here–I tend to be kind of a control freak, I tend to think I’m right about everything (sometimes in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary), I tend to want people to listen to me dammit! But I’m trying. Every day, I’m trying.
Happy Imbolc, everyone. If you can, if you wish, I’d love it if you’d join me in focusing on letting go of the ideas and habits that cause separation. Maybe light a candle and ask Brigid–or any other entity with whom you feel a rapport–to help us find a way across the chasms that divide us.
And to my friends who find the idea of paganism, or any other religion, threatening or frightening or just weird–how can I help? What can I share with you, to help you understand my path? I promise, if you ask me a question from a genuine desire to understand, I will do whatever I can to give you an answer–even if I have to ask someone else.