Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lifting Rocks

I spent most of today's meeting for worship lifting rocks.

That may not sound very much like worship, or very much like fun, but, in fact, it was both. Here's how it went:

Very often, when I enter the meeting room at Mt. Toby, I pause a moment just inside the door, and let the richness of the waiting silence rise up in me. For just a moment, I like to savor the sense of standing at the edge of the sacred precinct, the temenos.

Our meeting room is plain. Some members complain about the slight musty smell from the carpet. (It's kind of a guilty secret of mine that I almost like that smell; it is such a reminder of the basement rec rooms of my youth that I immediately feel six years old when I smell it.) Others complain that, surrounded by so much beautiful farmland, our windows are placed too high to see through.

I, however, love our meeting room with a deep and perhaps idolatrous love--entirely in character for a Pagan Quaker. And part of what I love about it is the way our benches are arranged, not in the manner of a Quaker meeting house of old, with most benches facing one direction and only a one or two rows of "facing benches" looking back in the opposite direction. Instead, our benches face the center, in a blunted square, or octagon.

It is quite easy for me to accept this shape, so close to the circles I came to love when I became a Pagan.

And today, as I entered the meeting room, as I paused at the threshold, I felt rising up in me with the quiet of Quaker worship the memory of the many times I have paused at the outskirts of another temenos--the stone circle my friends and I once built on land in Vermont.

Kirk and Black Lake and I decided to build that stone circle one summer about twenty years ago, now. We set aside a hot June day for our labors, got permission from Kirk's dad, who still owned the land, and whose greatest concern was fire. We agreed to carefully watch any fires we set to burn scrap lumber or dead wood that had accumulated in the future sacred grove, and we set to work: pulling out raspberry canes and raking up sharp twigs, clearing away clutter and debris, and encouraging the grass to grow.

And we hauled rocks. Sitting in worship today, I remembered the feel of the rough stones, rounded by glaciers or squarely split away from the slate beneath Kirk's land. I remembered how dry the air was, and how dry and bruised and roughened my hands became. We stood one massive stone beside a half-buried glacial erratic the size of a calf: the standing stone to mark North in our circle, next to the altar we would use for rituals there.

We built cairns to mark the four quarters, and made them level and flat to hold mason jar candle-lanterns to illuminate the circle in the dark.

We built a fire-pit, and watched it carefully as we burned away scrap wood from a childhood fort that time had disassembled for us, and reclined, sipping water from bottles, resting our bruised and dirty hands and bodies, smelling the sweet smell of woodsmoke in a pine forest.

I have seldom felt greater joy and love in community than I did on that day, as Kirk, Black Lake, and I shared the joy of creating a worship-place together.

Maybe it was not on that day, but it would have been soon afterwards that I began the practice, on approaching the circle, of pausing outside the edge. Two saplings marked, for me, the doorway into the home of the goddess and the god. And in my going out or my coming in, I would pause, face the altar, and curtsy.

Those stones were only stones, and those trees were only trees. But if you could dive deep within the most ordinary of stones, reach into the heart of the most ordinary of trees, you would find something gold and shining, living at the core. You would find God, in whatever form you can see Her, smiling lovingly out at you. And that is why I paused, and that is why I always curtsied.

God doesn't go away if we forget to pause. But we may forget to find Her. If we do not pause at the edge of the sacred circle, how will we remember, when we have left it, that we never do leave it, after all?

So I would pause, as I often do at meeting. (Though at Mt. Toby, I do not curtsy. Not outwardly, at least.)

And today, at meeting, as each person came into the room, I felt such a joy and a delight in their presence. Every entrance was a deepening of the sense of being home, in the sacred circle; every person came bearing another stone to build the temple.

And, at rise of meeting, when we shook one another's hands, I could feel in the texture of skin against skin the vivid sense memory of those rocks I lifted, so many years ago.

How good it is, to build the temple with your friends.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Growing Together in the Light: Spontaneous Thanks

One of my favorite bloggers, though his posts are not so frequent as I might wish, is Will T., of Growing Together in the Light.  Today, scrolling randomly through the lists of places my visitors came from on their way to my blog, I encountered a link to a post of Will's I hadn't read before, from 2006.

I haven't anything to add to it, or any insightful comment or anecdote to carry it into some new territory.  But I feel that I must quote it here, because it is so beautiful and so true: 
… I felt that we had dropped down until we had come into the gathered silence of the Meeting for Worship that has been going on since before the world was formed and which will continue on until after the world has ended. The world is being held, will always be held, has always been held, in this worship. I was blessed to step into this worship briefly but it is still going on. 

Now, even though I cannot usually feel it, and sometimes I forget, I know that the world is being held in this worship. All of our sorrow, pain, joy and gladness is being held in this silence. The pain of the war in Iraq and the war in Darfur and all of the other wars going on today are being held. All the hunger and disease and injustice and also our ecstasies and joys and celebrations; our weddings, our births, our dancings, our running and our singing, all of it to the heights and depths is being held. 

Everything that we are and know is only a thin skim on the surface of the earth and it is all being held in such a depth that we cannot comprehend or imagine how deeply and completely we are held.

This deep silence can be seen as the River of Life that flows from the throne of God. It flows deep under everything and nourishes and heals all that is.
Reading Will's words, something in me unclenches, and I remember too.  What could be better news?  It's not that everything will be all right.

It's that everything already is.

Would I feel it if I were in pain, in sorrow, or in struggle?  I hope so.  I might not be strong enough to remember.  I hope I would be, though.  Because I do know, really that it is true.

Thanks, Will, for writing this.  

Read the whole post, y'all.  Like so much else Will writes, it's good.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The God With Arms

There was a lot that was rich today in our meeting for worship, and I am tempted to try to transliterate it all onto the page of this blog. But I don't think I could capture the life of the messages, and that's not really what I think I need to write about tonight, anyway. Instead, I want to write about something that rose for me that was entirely personal: an encounter with the god with arms.

Liz Opp at The Good Raised Up recently picked up the thread of my Quaker Pagan identity posts from this month, and used them to reflect on the process of transitioning from one spiritual identity to another. In responding to her post, trying to reflect once again on what it is in Paganism that makes me continue to identify as Pagan as well as Quaker, I think I implied that I do so primarily out of loyalty to Pagans as a people.

I think I implied it because I have wondered it--is this my only real reason for staying?

I don't often write here of my relationships with the gods of Paganism. When I do refer to them, I usually do so in the past tense. Are those relationships, then, a thing of the past tense? Surely the gods should be as important to me as the people of the Pagan community, if I am in fact Pagan.

I don't think I've wanted to let myself think about that one very closely.

Part of the reason, of course, that I do not write much about Pagan gods is that most of my regular worship comes in the context of my Quaker meeting. And, though Peter might disagree, it has not been my experience that Quaker meeting lends itself to communion with the Pagan gods and goddesses. What I experience in Quaker meeting is something different, as a rule.

My most meaningful experiences of Pagan worship have usually taken the form of dreams and trance journeys. Under Peter's influence, I've done trance journey work to a recording of a drum; before I was with Peter, I was as likely to depend on my own breath for the rhythm that would drive my journey. Standard-issue Harneresque stuff, at least in some ways. I won't bore anyone with technique, since I think technique is what matters least.

But of all the things that have meant something important to me in Paganism, direct encounters with the gods, in the course of dreams or trance work, have been the most important. And every now and then, without trance work, I'll have a sense of one of them--of Rosie, the aspect of the Goddess I relate to most often, or of Herne, horned god of the hunt--close to me. With inward hearing and with inward vision I will glimpse them, and hear what they have to say, in the split second before they are gone.

I had one of those flashes today in meeting for worship, and it's comforted me a lot.

Our worship today had a strong universalist thread winding through several messages. J.H. rose at one point, and shared the story of a Friend she knew through her work with the GLBT Affairs committee, whose life had been a ruin of addictions and unhappiness until the day he heard a voice, which said to him something like, "Hi--I'm Jesus. It doesn't have to be like this. Come home." And he did--as he put it, he went into those arms, and he told his hearers, "Don't hold this against me, please. At that point, I needed a god with arms."

J.H. finished her message by reflecting on how often she has needed a god with arms, and sat down.

And right then, I heard a voice in my inward ear, and felt as though Herne were sitting right behind me on the bench. I felt his strong, brown arms enfold me, and I heard his voice say to me, "When you need a god with arms, I will be that god."

I've been struggling with a concern that my time as Herne's daughter was over and done. That perhaps, when I offered him my loyalty and my love so many years ago, he had not accepted it--or that he had passed me along to that Other God that speaks in the silence. And, though I love that Other God, I love Herne, too.

I know that the courage to let go of the familiar--whether it be a spiritual label, a job, a home, or a vision of myself--is one of the things Herne loves about me. This I know: he'd rather see me follow another god than lose that integrity. If that were where the path led, I suspect he would be quite stern with me, in expecting me to follow it. I could not be faithful to him any other way.

But apparently, that is not required, at least for the moment. And now I know this, too: when I need a god with arms, his will be there for me. And that eases my mind.
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