Wednesday, December 31, 2008
But I'm still here, anyway.
I certainly can't speak to the reasons others have for these kinds of changes. The Pagan community has always been a group in flux, made up of many seekers used to striking out on their own, pursuing new directions when traditional paths start feeling stale and restrictive. Still. I've always believed there was something very important about "going deep," making a commitment to a particular path and dealing honestly but quietly with the obstacles that path presents to us.
It took me three years of studying Pagan-ish nature spirituality before finally officially calling myself something other than just plain "Catholic." For two more years, I called myself a Christian Druid, and although that name might still apply, the usefulness of the Christian label has, for me, finally worn off. The mythology still speaks to me, perhaps even moreso than to most self-named Christians I know (Christmas Eve Day I made my family watch a National Geographic Special on the historic roots of the Gospels, followed by the film "Jesus Christ, Superstar," which still makes me cry a little at the end). I only officially left the Catholic church last winter, when the current Pope Benny made some very anti-feminist statements harkening back to pre-Vatican II days, and a close friend of the family sat us down to tell us about her brother's lawsuit against the Church for molestation when he was a child. These were the two straws that broke the proverbial camel's back. Not doctrinal doubts or even my increasing bored with the somewhat conventional social atmosphere of my old church... I could have dealt with those, as the kind of routine obstacles that come up when one is part of a community. After all, I was part of the community too, which meant by remaining a member I could help to influence the social atmosphere and the diversity of doctrinal attitudes and spiritual experiences. It never seemed a realistic option to just "drop out" as though my religious community were a sports team or after-school club I'd joined while going through a phase. It took a few key current and on-going events that I simply could not forgive or allow myself to be associated with--the continuation of institutional and dogmatic oppression of women, and the active cover-up of child abuse and molestation--to finally push me all the way out.
And even that wasn't without angst. I have, for a while now, been going through a time in my life when cynicism often dominates and my moral life seems guided by the realization that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot get others to change for the better. All the more reason to commit yourself to an ethical life of love and integrity... But leaving the Catholic church because I had finally accepted that no number of ordinary good people could sway the leaders of hierarchy to take moral responsibility was still a difficult and sad decision. Sometimes I find myself hoping that the Church itself will finally collapse as it drives away more and more of the moderate believers who prefer their perfectly ordinary kindness and faith unsullied by misogynistic back-sliding and abusive cover-ups. But this is my own cynicism again, the cynicism that prefers to see people struggling daily against a broken system than somehow living happy lives in spite of it.
I can't imagine anything so severe ever happening within the Druid community, or the Pagan community as a whole. The nice thing about lacking core institutions is that institutional corruption and oppression are harder to come by. So once I came upon Druidry, once I felt its "rightness" and fit for me, it seemed my natural home. I doubt anything others in the Druid community did could drive me away, no matter what politico-personality conflicts arose. And since Druidry is just the name I have come to apply to the spiritual path I've been pursuing all along--even though that path has incorporated many different things over the years, from Buddhist-like meditation to a focus on art and poetry to shamanic journeying in dreams, sleeping and waking--I can't see what could lead me to abandon the label that I was so slow and careful to adopt in the first place. Druidry, for me, was never something I learned from a few 101 how-to books, like those on crocheting or building model airplanes. It was never a hobby, and only a craft insofar as living your life everyday with a certain degree of aesthetic awareness and self-discipline is an on-going craft. Druidry isn't something I do--it's merely part of who I am. I often don't know exactly who that is, of course, and years will pass as my beliefs about and relationships with the world around me, spiritual and mundane, evolve in ways I'd never expected. This, to me, is all just Druidry--just as, for years, it was just as much "just Christianity."
While I was visiting my parents over the past week, I got into a brief discussion with my younger brother. Although growing up he had always been the loudest in his complaints about attending weekly Mass and Sunday School afterwards, now he attends church regularly, goes to Bible studies and prays every night. I asked him what it meant to him to be religious--and after citing all those ways in which he acts religiously, I asked again, "No, I mean, what is it like? What do you experience as your religious life? Those are all social things you do, but I want to know why you do them..." He explained to me that it was a way of reminding himself to seek God, to listen for him and to make room for his presence. "It feels like there's Someone there with me," he explained, "Someone present in my life who helps to guide me and comfort me." Then he asked me, "And what about you? What is--what's it called? Druid-ish-ic?--what is that like?"
I told him: Being a Druid is like searching for the presence not just of one God, but of all things--everything has Spirit, everything has a song. When I pray or meditate, I'm not just listening for that one Someone, I'm listening for the Song of the Whole World, and how we all fit into it. I quiet myself down and connect, and then I reach out to sing my own soul's song, the best way I know how. In Druidry, we can feel the whole world living and breathing around us, pulsing with sacredness and inspiration. We sing, we tell stories, we study old myths and new myths, we decorate our homes with pieces of art and expressions of nature--but mostly, we spend a lot of time trying to learn how to be fully present to the world.
And my brother replied, "Well, I think that whatever people believe or practice, if it helps them to live a good life, then that's what's most important." He's pragmatic like that. He just graduated college and is about to step into the cut-throat world of business marketing--so I have to agree, if Bible study will help to keep him grounded (and bring his attention on occasion to the lilies of the field and Jesus overthrowing the money-lenders' tables in the Temple). I'm glad, then, that Someone out there is keeping an eye on my little brother.