I wonder about our ability to bring deity along with us, especially when a great deal of our modern lives are overrun with hyper movement, distraction and dislocation. For the past few months now, I have been working to build a relationship with Brigid, the Celtic triple goddess of fire, of poetry, healing and smithcraft. Sometimes, I feel as though she is very present in my life, a kind of voice whispering in my ear. Other times, I seriously doubt how a goddess of the British Isles could have made it across the Atlantic and arrived here in any familiar form. Yet how could I possibly connect with the gods and spirits of this land as the indigenous peoples of hundreds of years ago knew and connected with them? So am I to be godless, after all? Brigid cannot remain for me merely an abstraction inherited from my ancestors, nor an imaginary friend I can talk to when I'm feeling especially "spiritual." A real relationship with her means that I discover her unexpectedly in the world, that I see her in moments of grace and epiphany and comfort and recovery. I do not want to manufacture experiences of the divine.
And so, with the extreme discomfort and anxiety of this trip, I found myself feeling cut off and, frankly, weak. The cynical voice of Mother Culture kept prattling on in the back of my head about how I should have a thicker skin, how my disorientation was not in fact a symptom of how well-grounded I was in the local landscape of my own beloved city of steel and hills and three rivers, but merely evidence that I was coddled and overly sensitive, inflexible, that my life was just, well, small. Here I was, feeling like an ignorant native jerked out of her element. And what could my writing, my voice, my ideas and my heart — what relevance could any of these things have for others on the other side of the world, or even next door, if my life was miniscule and limited this way? If not even a goddess can make it across the water, what can I do? My body rebelled against the plastic and chemicals that suddenly seemed to be everywhere when what I wanted most was the feel of sycamore bark under my fingers, and a little space to breathe. I belong to my city, and to the larger landscape of Pennsylvania; I am rooted there and move with comfortable ease and confidence. I know how to live, and live well, which is something more than many people can say. But this was a wholly different world, encased in advertisements and bought with the willful ignorance of imaginary capital, and I didn't understand it, couldn't touch down to something real, couldn't discern the laws of physics I was meant to obey. I had opinions, about politics and class and consumerism and environmentalism, about spirit and breath and connection — but suddenly they seemed irrelevant, even laughable. And what good is knowing how to live, if you don't know how others should live?
But that's the wrong question to be asking, of course, because there is no one right way to live. There is only living, fully present in the here-now, in touch with what is real. All of these thoughts were confused and only half-articulated in my mind, mixed up with images of opulence and science fiction utopias rattling around next to steampunk and bad historical-fantasy romances and Vonnegut's metaphor of artists like canaries plunged into the dark of claustrophobic mine shafts. I was distracted by surfaces. And so it was through surfaces that Brigid, goddess of fire and water, exalted highness of the sourceless spring and the ashless flame, slipped in and opened my eyes. I watched the puddles gather on the ugly tan roof, watched the glimmer of sunset on the surface of the water, and I knew again the goddess in the details, the spirit of small things weaving their connections over the whole world, sustaining life through their simplicity and presence. Within the cacophony of the World Song, I heard again the healing resonance of those same few simple notes turning over into melody.
Yet it wasn't Brigid making herself known. There was no higher layer of spiritual awareness, no voice whispering, it's me, dear, listen up.... There was only the rain, and the flickering spotlights, and the steam of their meeting. But something happened for me. And because I know, intellectually, that Brigid is a goddess of fire and water, as well as of poetry and healing, those things which I so desperately need — I make the choice to give her this experience, to see in this experience the work of her presence. It's as if some great being were moving through the world, almost too huge to pay any mind to my little noises and existential crises, so great as to be indifferent the way we are indifferent to the bacteria in our lower intestines, but not unkind. A mighty goddess who works in the smallest things, the simplest movements of water and light. Here She was, moving and being just as she is, and I was only some small creature happening to reach out to touch the hem of her green mantle as she passed by, touched almost as if by accident by the wholeness of her beauty.
Am I okay with this? Impersonal but still feeling blessed, not called by name but touched nonetheless... yes, I think I am. So, though perhaps she won't know it, though it's possible even that she is only a name, an idea, that I am giving to something real — I give her this experience of mine as a kind of offering, in gratitude. Maybe next time she will turn her eyes my way.