PBP Week 8 – Diversity, Division, and a Devotional

In light of the controversy at this year’s Pantheacon, I set out to write a post about diversity and defining ourselves.  I’d intended to talk about how embracing and encouraging diversity can promote spiritual growth.  Furthermore, there was a discussion to be had about who has the right to define who we are – spiritually, socially, sexually, gender-wise, and otherwise.  I think it would have been an interesting, albeit long-winded, post that would require at least one soap box and an intermission to put out the fires of illumination caused by the flamethrower.*

When I sat down to write however, I found that there were no words forthcoming.  As sometimes happens when grappling with a difficult issue, some part of my brain decided that it would strike out on its own, seize control of my hand, and put down in words what I most needed to say, what was in my heart at that moment.  So instead of a diatribe about diversity and definitions, this is my post for this week, a mediation/prayer from my pen.

This I ask of you…
Help me to be a beacon,
to illuminate the world
with hope and acceptance
in this time of gathering darkness.
Allow us to come together
with open minds and hearts
that we might someday thrive
in a world without hate and fear.
Enable us to clearly see,
to recognize our own prejudice
with the same clarity and acumen
that we see the prejudice of others.
Let us find within ourselves
the courage and determination
to resolve our conflicts
with respect for all sides.
Enable us to recognize,
above all of these things,
the unique beauty of each individual
and the shared spark of divinity within.

And that’s about all I have the energy for this week.  Be well, all.

*Some of you may have noticed that there are occasionally veiled (and outright) references to certain authors.  This is yet another one of those. More on it later, I think, to be filed under F for Flamethrower.


Path Forging – Ancillary Beliefs

Defining the core tenets of one’s path is vital to forging a cohesive, workable belief system.  The examination of one’s beliefs should not stop there, however.  In looking at our spiritual lives, we often find that there are ideas that we hold near and dear that fall beyond the pale of those central beliefs.  These ancillary beliefs can shape our religious and spiritual selves as much as, if not more than, the tenets that form the foundations of our beliefs.

  • Aside from your core tenets, are there beliefs that you hold in your spiritual practice or path?
  • How do these ancillary beliefs affect your path?
  • How much importance do you assign to these beliefs?
  • Are your ancillary beliefs fixed or have they changed over time?
  • Do these beliefs ever clash with your core tenets?

My core tenets are simple and have changed little with the passage of time:  the Divine exists and that Divinity expresses itself uniquely to each individual.  While these ideas act as my spiritual compass in all things, they leave quite a lot of undiscovered spiritual territory.  They say much, yet speak little, about my spiritual practice or being.

My ancillary beliefs give my path its shape, defining its landmarks and pitfalls.  For example, I believe that acts of charity and hospitality are beneficial to my spiritual self.  It’s not a central tenet of my spiritual path, nothing in my core tenets say that charity or hospitality  are required.  Yet, through these acts, I allow myself to connect with other people, their needs, hopes, and fears.  By giving of myself, it provides opportunities for spiritual growth.  My path would not disappear if I stopped holding this belief, but the landscape would certain look much different.

Means, Motive, and Opportunity

The phrase “means, motive, and opportunity” typically appears as a layman’s summation of the three things necessary to convict a person of a crime.  The suspect must have the means, or physical ability and tools needed, to commit the crime.  Motive is merely another way of saying that the suspect had a reason to commit the crime and opportunity is simply the chance to commit the crime.  While these three don’t entirely ensure guilt, having all three will point the finger of suspicion at a person.

What pray tell, you say, does a pop culture phrase referencing criminal justice have to do with a blog about spirituality?  Is this post to be some sort of reference or rant about the persecution and prosecution of the faithful?  Is it to be a post about the marginalization and criminalization of certain paths and acts of belief? 

Never fear, this isn’t going to be a rambling discourse on the relationship between the legal system and various religious paths.  While that is a subject which should be examined, I’m more interested at present in how the concept of “means, motive, and opportunity” can be applied outside of the criminal justice system.   Specifically, I’ve been considering how this might be a useful lens through which to consider spiritual practices. 

To have the spiritual means to engage in a practice requires three things: 1) knowledge, 2) ability, and 3) access.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to engage in a meaningful spiritual practice without having some knowledge base from which to draw.  This knowledge may come in one or more forms – an understanding of our deities and what they require from us, a gnosis of our personal spiritual needs and goals, a comprehension of rituals and beliefs, etc.

Ability, like knowledge, may be a multifaceted and not as simple as it initially appears.  On the surface, ability is often linked with our physical capacity to perform a task, but our emotional and mental capacities need to be considered as well.  Our bodies, brains, and souls do not exist in isolation from each other and while we may find ourselves emotionally capable of a practice, the ability to physically perform the actions may elude us.  We may find that we are physically capable of performing an action, but the mental and emotional aspects needed to complete it are just not there.

In order to have the means to do something, it is necessary to have access not only to knowledge and abilities, but often to other things.  What is needed depends largely on the particular spiritual practice – access to a deity or higher power, access to a particular space, access to tools or sacred objects, access to offerings, access to clergy, access to other practitioners, et al.

“Motive”  in a spiritual context supplies the fuel for our practices and can be mind-bogglingly complex.  When we decide to engage in a particular spiritual practice, it’s worth considering our reasons for doing so.  Are we doing something because it’s what our path says we should do? Are we engaging in a practice in hopes of gaining something particular?  Are these motives something that is compatible with our spiritual tenets?  When we are engaging in a practice to assist another, what is motivating us to take this action?  Motives, like so much else in life, are rarely a clear-cut case of black and white and failing to understand our own motivations may create unforeseen problems as we proceed.  We may find ourselves in a position where multiple motives for an action conflict with each other.  We may find that our own motivations conflict with those of the people we desire to help.  Learning to navigate through our own motivations and those of the people who we interact with in a spiritual context becomes a vital part of developing sustainable spiritual practices.

Means and motivation alone cannot grant us a spiritual practice; we must also have the opportunity to make that practice happen.  While many of us on an eclectic spiritual path aren’t limited by conventionally scheduled times for weekly spiritual practices, we do find that opportunities for spiritual practice sometimes elude us.  Schedule conflicts or lack of means may keep us from seizing opportunities or those opportunities may never materialize in the first place.  We may find ourselves in the wrong time or place for a particular practice.  

By looking at a spiritual practice through the lens of means, motive and opportunity, we can gauge whether a particular practice might work for us before committing ourselves to that practice.  We can foresee potential problems with our practice and adjust our plans in ways that might allow make it workable. 

For example, I have often toyed with the idea of making a practice of morning mediation.  Do I have the means to do this?  I know how to meditate and have a lovely private outdoor space to do so undisturbed.  Do I have the motivation to do so? What are my motives? I know from past experience that morning meditation helps to keep me grounded and calm throughout my day.  I want to create that calm and grounded state for myself in order to help deal with all the little things life throws at me during the day.  Do I have the opportunity for a regular morning meditation?  It was all going so well, but the honest answer is no, I don’t.  I am a night person who is prone to insomnia with a job that requires me to leave the house by 6:30am.  I can’t afford to cut into the precious sleep that I get during those early morning hours before rising for work.  I might be calm and grounded if I meditate before work, but I will also be so exhausted that I won’t be able to function by the end of the day. 

And so it goes, examining that which we wish to do in the name of spiritual growth and practice.

Path Forging – Core Tenets

In forging our respective paths, one of the most fundamental actions that we undertake is to define what we believe.  Without a fundamental understanding of our beliefs, it’s impractical to attempt to create practices, prayers, and rituals.  Describing our path to someone else becomes nearly impossible when we cannot define, even for ourselves, what core tenets of belief we hold dear.

  • What are the core tenets of your spiritual path? 
  • What is the basis or source for these tenets? How did you come to embrace these particular beliefs?
  • Are there guidelines, rules, or laws within your path that govern how you express these beliefs?
  • Are there exceptions or flexibility within these beliefs?
  • What are the consequences of acting in contraction of your beliefs?
  • How are your actions and interactions affected by these beliefs?
  • Have your beliefs changed over time? If not, is there potential for them to change in the future?

While I’ve struggled over the years to define the core beliefs of my own spiritual path,  the primary one has remained unchanged throughout my journey:  I believe in the existence of the Divine and embrace the idea that Divinity expresses itself uniquely to each of us.  Having this particular belief has forced me to keep an open mind when it comes to the experiences of others and to understand that my own experiences and interpretations of Divinity are just that – my own and not a standard by which other can or should experience that Divinity.

Path Forging – Defining Deity

While I continue to forge my own path on a daily basis, I’m afraid that writing about it has taken a backseat to some many other aspects of my life. As winter settles down upon my little corner of the universe, I hope to get back on track with these entries.

Here’s another set of questions to ponder as we travel our individual roads:

  • How does one define Deity?
  • Are there qualities or traits that make a being divine?
  • Can deities exhibit so-called negative attributes?
  • What form(s) does Deity take?
  • Are all gods/goddesses one or is each an individual being? Or are various deities part of a greater whole? Can they be both?
  • Does/can Deity have a physical form?
  • Are deities extant/immortal or can they die?
  • Do deities take an interest in the affairs of individuals?

If these questions seem random, that’s because they are. Trying to understand deity is an intimidating and impossible task. Each question that we ask leads to a hundred others. Our answers to the questions shape our spiritual paths, as well as our understanding of the universe.

Notes from the Coffehouse – Pagan is…

My desire to measure an afternoon out in coffee spoons was once again thwarted this week. There’s just something about this town and this region that attracts religious believers of all types and two of them descended on my favorite coffeehouse this week. May the gods bless them both, they ruined my plan to get some writing done by having a small battle over what is or isn’t pagan. In this corner, a conservative right-wing Christian and in the opposite corner, his opponent, a liberal lesbian New Ager. wasn’t a discussion so much as a raging debt. Their arguments, sadly, both came down to some worn-out cliches and stereotypes.

In the absolute simplest, practical terms, a pagan is someone who does not follow one of the “religions of the book”: Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. This is complicated a bit by the fact that not everyone who is not of a JCI faith calls themselves pagan. There are religious groups who would find the term insulting. So we come to a slightly more specific definition, the one that I use whenever asked… a pagan is someone who is not of a JCI faith and who identifies themselves as pagan.

I find it quite amusing the number of pagans I’ve run across who are bothered by that definition. Mostly it seems that the dislike of this particular definition stems from the fact that it forces people to acknowledge that spiritual paths that they don’t like or necessarily agree with fall under the same umbrella term as their own. Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard from the mouths of self-proclaimed pagans that you aren’t pagan if…

  • You celebrate Christmas, even as a secular holiday.
  • You aren’t a reconstructionist (i.e., someone who practices an ancient religion in the closest possible way to how the religion was originally practiced).
  • You have ever thought that [insert neo-pagan author here] might be a good source of information.
  • Your beliefs are not nature-based or goddess-centered.
  • You are a solitary practitioner.
  • Your beliefs are best described as eclectic or DIY.
  • You use crystals or meditate.
  • You don’t own an athame, a wand, or a chalice.
  • You don’t keep a Book of Shadows.
  • You don’t follow the Wheel of the Year.
  • You follow deities from more than one pantheon.
  • You’re a monotheist.

In short, there are a lot of people out there who would elect themselves head of the pagan police task force and gladly tell everyone else that if they don’t believe x, y, and z, then their pagan membership card will be revoked. There are also those pagans who would like to present a united front to the rest of the world and be able to say “We are pagans and all of us believe…”

Frankly, those kinds of attitudes make me sad. Paganism is a very broad umbrella that covers a lot of different beliefs and spiritual paths with enough room to allow each individual to follow the individual path of her or his choosing. In fact that is one of the most beautiful things about being pagan in my eyes… I have the freedom and ability to seek my individual spiritual path without necessarily confining myself to a rigid religious dogma or established tradition. Ultimately, it is to my deities that I answer, not to another pagan nor a pagan group. If my deities grant me the use of the word pagan to describe my beliefs (and they haven’t stated otherwise to date), then what human has the right to tell me differently?