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Honoring an Ancestor

So today, on Samhain, I’ve been reminded of my longstanding sense of connection to Ann Putnam the younger, the second-youngest of the “afflicted girls” of Salem Village, and probably the most persuasive of all those who accused innocent men and women of witchcraft.
Ann Putnam, today, this day that is sacred to those of my religion, I claim you as ancestor to my spirit. May your heart have found peace and your spirit, wisdom. I realize this is an odd choice of an ancestor for a Wiccan to honor. Here’s why: the way that I view reincarnation is that we hold within us a part of the spirit of everyone who has lived before us. I hold within me, then, seeds of the greatest kindness and the most horrible cruelty of all humanity. This is who I am: in potential, at least, I am the same as the best and the worst of us.

In honoring the spirit of Ann Putnam, I honor that truth–and also the truth that, when we find ourselves in the wrong, we can choose to recognize that, and to chang…
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To the Servant-Leaders of the World

This is my love letter to the servant-leaders of the world.

I see you.  I see you there, working so hard.

You have a gift, or a mission, or a vision.  You have a knack for pulling people together, or you have reached down deep inside yourself and found something to serve in its place, because the need you see is so strong.  And you have brought together a group: a service project, a spiritual community, a movement against injustice, and you are engaged down to your bones.  You can sense the coming of the Beloved Community, and you are holding open the door, inviting in anyone who is willing to join you.

And then it happens.  (It always happens.)  Just as you feel the first faint flush of success, of forward momentum toward your goal, the infighting begins.  (It always begins.)

And you feel despair.  This is what I need you to know: do not despair.

We are always falling in and out of the Beloved Community; we find it for a span of heartbeats, and then it dissolves away in ou…

Yeah, It Really Is About Race

This story is old news.  Unfortunately, this story is old news: as old as my country, and older still.
America is a racist nation.


Mike Brown’s death is barely mentioned in the news cycle these days.  I’m not sure who, outside of activist circles, has paid attention to the too-little-too-late “apologies” of Ferguson’s chief of police to his family–nor to the tone-deaf gesture he made, of marching with the very protesters calling for his resignation, while refusing to resign.

I do know that the events in Ferguson have lit a fire under me that seems to have completely destroyed my complacent sense that racism is an evil that lies comfortably in the past.  I do know that, almost two months after a man was shot with his hands in the air in surrender, I can’t rest.

My restlessness is made worse when I am in worship.

Week after week, day after day, in meeting and in my own times of meditation, I find myself suddenly overwhelmed by my unease.  My mind comes back and comes back, …

Stories that Last

To write is to share the truth of your life, of your heart.

Now, I don’t mean to be pretentious here.  I’m aware that, while Quaker Pagan Reflections has a certain value, it’s not earth-shaking or transformative.  Neither Peter nor I are a Walt Whitman, a Henry David Thoreau, or even an Ursula LeGuin.  But we do our best to speak our own truths, our own hearts, and on some level, our relative lack of skill is not the point.  We’re trying to be honest–we’re trying to share what is real in our lives.

In my life offline, I am a teacher in a small, rural high school.  The kids aren’t perfect (what kids are?) and we don’t have all the resources we need (what public school does?) but we’re a small enough school so that hardly anyone gets lost in a crowd.  I get to know my “kids,” my students.  I get to know their stories–not always, but often.

And I get to teach them writing–and, with seniors, I get to guide them through what can be the
powerful, personal writing of their col…

Prayer for Today

by Peter Bishop

If I had a prayer that I were going to recite on a daily or weekly basis, what would it say?

The question came to me recently when I heard “A Prayer for Today,” written by Phillips Brooks.  He was an Episcopalian theologian in the 19th century, best known for having written “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  The prayer was sort of a riff on the Lord’s Prayer, and like the Lord’s Prayer, it gave a laundry list of a dozen or so of what the author felt are the most important things in life.  There were parts of it I liked a great deal, other parts less so, and of course it had to conclude “in the name of…our only…” because Christians—even the most liberal of them—seem to feel they cannot honor that one manifestation of the Divine without putting down all the others.

But never mind that.  Hearing it got me thinking, if I were to write my own ‘prayer for today’ to bring before the Gods or to hold in the Light, what would I ask?

Cat and I have had an occasional prac…

What Do You Mean, "God," Cat?

I am utterly inconsistent in the spiritual language that I use.  One day, I will write “Spirit.”  Another day, I will write, “God,” or “gods.”  Here’s why:

Outside my window, I can hear the forest breathe. It is a hot day–one of the last really hot, humid days of a New England summer.  Thunderstorms are predicted for the afternoon, and they will be fed, in part, by the moisture that the trees–swamp maple, sugar maple, white oak and hemlock–are transpiring into the air above the woods.

The forest is breathing, breathing out in a long, deep, sighing exhale, and its breath passes over the and through the tops of the trees. And through my window, I hear the breath of the land. I hear the life of the land.

Between the waves of wind that ruffle the leaves, I hear the soft, high music of crickets, singing their death song to the summer.  I hear the hawk perched in the top of a white pine.  I hear a different set of sighing waves, as traffic passes along the road beside my house…

On Privilege

I took a vacation last week.  And I got to spend much of it at one of my favorite places in the world:
Schoodic Lake, in Lakeview, Maine.

My family has been going there since the mid-sixties, when my grandparents built a “camp” on the lake.  My grandfather had lived his whole life in Maine.  He was a farmer’s son who started out as a truck driver, then worked his way into sales. He raised four kids during the Great Depression, and sent them all to college, too.  In fact, each of his children went on to earn a graduate degree, and to excel in their professions: college professor, nurse, teacher, lawyer.

The postwar years were good to my mother’s family, and to a lot of families.  Lakeview, home to a spool mill that closed before the war, found a new life as little home-built cabins sprouted all along the shore, my family’s among them.

My father and my uncles helped my grandfather to build his camp from a prefab kit, and the cabin’s four rooms were all open to the rafters…