In August 2010, just past the waxing quarter moon, I attended a retreat on Celtic spirituality and peacemaking in Northern Ireland. The hosts of the retreat asked us to respect the safe and sacred space created by the community, and refrain from attributing direct quotes to any of the attendants or speakers. With that in mind, the following are excerpts from the journal I kept.
Day Three — Telling Our Stories
I find that I very much want to tell my story and that as I rehearse it in my head, new aspects come out, come into focus, in the narrative of my journey towards peacemaking. I want to share this.
Perhaps I want to share this more than I want to listen to others — and I wonder why this is. I'm trying to sit with that and not come down too hard on myself. There is a process of articulation that I am longing for, not even to be heard, but to hear myself telling the story again. Yet I do want to hear the stories of others as well, and as I listen (sometimes through thick accents) I can hear resonating ideas that I have experienced, too. The violence and sense of silent invasion of both illness and Western medicine, for instance. The lessons of dealing with abuse and creating and defending that safe space into which even the violent cannot and will not come. The experiences of war and the implications of being part of the culture of aggression, being implicated and a part of that violence against our own individual will — and how we resist, in all the little ways.
I'm surprised that so few people have spoken about 9/11 — this is a very important part of my story that I want to share — the realization that these ideas of peace and love that I had been playing with since my childhood suddenly became real, and I could see their importance, how vital a difference they made, as those around me grieved and their grief was bent to anger and fear — and then to war. How big a difference it made, to be able to see the beauty and hope within the sorrow and grief. How it sustained me.
Over dinner, I had the chance to talk extensively with C. about Paganism and Catholicism. It was basically a getting-to-know-you conversation, and nothing much stands out (besides the fantastic rice and veggie dish), though it could just be that I'm still tired.
As a "cradle Catholic" perhaps in some ways I was able to be more vocal in my protests right up until the point when I made my official break with the Church. Now I'm struggling and working with a lot of the pitfalls and flaws within Paganism that led C. to leave in the first place — in that way, our stories are very similar. It's almost as though we're helping to make each of these communities more welcoming and truly loving, and doing the work — the same work — each in the places that we feel most called and most comfortable. This is very heartening.
I'm so glad to be here, meeting people in person. The experience of C. in person, for instance, is different from my experiences of his writing online — I have a greater sense of his enthusiasm, a kind of gentle eagerness about these subjects. Authorship in some ways had given him an authority in my mind which I found myself pushing back against and filling with my own projections, in my typical anti-authoritarian way, about the kind of self-assurance and even presumption that goes along with that. Part of that is, I think, that his is not a confessional kind of writing. And if you'd asked me before if I preferred confessional writing, I probably would have said no. Now I wonder if this is true or not — I wonder if the blogging medium is particularly amenable to confessional writing. And after all, confessional writing doesn't have to be bad and full of sins and guilt and shame. Sometimes we can confess our love and awe of the world.
It's raining so peacefully and gently outside right now.
Something that struck me as so important and relevant, especially to the project of Pagan peacemaking — "seasons of conflict." Conflict has its own seasons, its own processes that it moves through, and sometimes it cannot merely be resolved and ended, but must first be managed. Other places of healing must begin first before the heart of the conflict can be approached safely in a way that will bring real and lasting resolution and peace. I want to think more about this later on.
Something that just occurred to me is how the Pagan approach to Christianity, when it's not blatantly prejudiced and sweeping in its accusations, often downplays or dismisses the types of Christianity I've been seeing at this retreat so far. Pagans want to pretend that these kinds of Christians don't exist, or that they are merely borrowing (or usurping or stealing) aspects of Paganism to fill out or supplement their Christianity — and that this is a losing battle or lost cause. I know some Pagans have posited the idea that Christianity has a "fail state" that is naturally prone to hierarchy and patriarchy, to monopoly and empire. These are not issues that can be too easily dismissed, I think, but require some honest reflection on behalf of Christians — and perhaps I'll get a chance to ask some of the folks here about it. I mean, it's obvious that Christians as individuals can seek peace and equality and diversity — to what extent are they fighting against the currents of their own religion is really the key question. And it's vital to know this — or at least to ask this kind of question — because it might also give us insight into the Pagan limits and natural tendencies, and where we must always be watching and working to guard against "fundamentalism" in all its forms.
So much to contemplate. And through it all this notion of storytelling, and how being present to people and learning to tell your story to them in a way that is meaningful, evocative and beautiful is not only an act of sharing, but a movement towards clarity. There is just no time for that "diarrhea of the mouth/mind" in times of storytelling. Even those folks who would probably apologize for rambling — it is clear that even they are only managing to articulate a small part of what is in their hearts and minds, so clear how much runs deeply below the surface of words. This is an experience hard to replicate with blogging, where the assumption is that everything is on the surface to be read and responded to immediately. Here, in person, you can watch the process of articulation happening in the faces and gestures of the people speaking, in their pausing and their breath. To be present to this — to recognize the depths and its ineffableness in the end — is so vital, so essential. It makes every spoken word so very sacred.