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The Empty Bucket

Recent conversations with Pagans, in person and online, are bubbling up for me this morning, bringing with them troubling thoughts.

Do we care more about our rituals than we do about our gods?

It's happened more than once, lately, that the response to some concern expressed among us has been a rather pat, "I wrote a really good ritual about that, once."  As though the authorship was the main thing; as though the performance of a ritual script was enough to settle whatever questions living posed us.

I'm not knocking a good ritual.  But surely, the point of ritual is communion, relationship, and change--not carving a notch on a staff or athame.  We seem to think that rituals work if they're good theater, if they move a human audience.

We rarely ask if they are of any interest at all to any other audience.  Indeed, I've heard Pagans go on at length about how nothing any individual one of us can do would ever attract the attention of a god, and that those who thi…

Gardens Are Just Weird

And amazing.

This is tonight's harvest.  After several nights of frost, and 18" of snow in a blizzard that left us without power for about 48 hours.

The Saturday Farm

I love Saturdays.

I have come to think of the work that I do on Saturdays as "farming."  Now, I know it isn't farming--not really.  We have a medium-sized vegetable garden and two dogs, and that's not a farm, by any stretch of the imagination. 

But I keep thinking of a comment Joel Salatin made in Yes Magazine once, about how Americans have become used to thinking of our homes as centers of consumption, but how once, thinking of your home as a center of production (typically, a farm, for most of us for most of our history) was the norm.

And between trying to live with less plastic junk and trying to eat more sustainably and locally, Saturdays at home have become very productive days.  And that productivity--the willingness to substitute patience, skill, and thrift for consumption--I've come to think of as a species of farming.  (My apologies to actual farmers, whose work I increasingly appreciate.  But thinking in this way works for me, somehow.)

First thing this…

So Much

So much of the pain in our spiritual lives, it seems to me, comes down to this:

It is bitterly hurtful to have our spiritual gifts rejected or ignored by the communities we belong to.

And yet, the price of bringing those gifts to those communities is being able to accept their guidance on where we are falling short, in error, or mistaken in how we use those gifts.  And that hurts, too--a desperate, sharp, shameful pain in the part of us that sees ourselves willfully rather than honestly, in ego and not in open-heartedness.

And then, for a lot of us, giving guidance that holds the potential to inflict such pain is almost unthinkable.  We are compassionate; we love, and we don't want to be the instrument of one another's hurts.  (And then, too, we don't want to risk losing the love of those we need to guide.)

And this turns out to inflict another kind of suffering: that of the lack of full and present receptivity and responsiveness to one another's gifts.

It is a rare g…

The Great Outbreath of Summer

This past weekend, sitting out on my porch in the long twilight of a summer's night, I noticed how, where a few weeks past, our lawn was spangled with fireflies, their lights have almost all gone dark.  I noticed, too, all around me in the night were the songs of crickets.  It was not so many weeks ago that there were no crickets to be heard, and now their songs of love and death fill the days and evenings both.

It must be Lammas-tide.

The long, slow gathered breath of of summer's beginning is over; the wave crests, and the outbreath is beginning.

Tomatoes are ripening in the garden we scurried to plant at the end of May.  Zucchinis mature in such numbers and size that I am challenged to put them all to use; the early lettuce has bolted in the heat, the raspberries are done, and the blueberries are blushing at the end of the garden.  Summer's end is coming, and anything that can bear fruit or give birth is hurrying to do so while it lasts.

This is not the summer I thought I…

New at No Unsacred Place: Disturbing Miracles

Some reflections on this summer's experiments in organic gardening.  Hint:  it's a jungle in there!

Pagan Values Month: Living in Relationship

The very fact that I am writing this entry for Pagan Values Month--June, in case you missed it--is a testimony to the importance of relationships in Paganism.  Despite the fact that we are now eleven days into the month of July, I can't bear to let Pax down.  Not only is Pax a kind and generous-spirited Pagan writer, not only did he invite me to participate this year, but he has become a friend, although we have never (yet) met in person.  We have that so-important thing in my religious life: a relationship.


So this one's for you, Pax--but also for the spirit of Paganism, that I think lives in our need to form and honor powerful relationships in the world.

*          *          *
My husband Peter, a biology teacher, has a classroom full of odd and interesting animals: a turtle, a gecko, two hamsters, and a ball python.  Next year, he's planning to get finches, to help him illustrate his annual evolution talks, and the references to the Galapagos Islands, and all the varietie…

Happy Fourth of July

I remember when I first learned that war was wrong.

I was nineteen years old, in love for the first time, sexual for the first time, holding my lover in my arms.  I looked at his body, long, smooth, and perfect lying next to me, and I knew that it was Holy.  This body I knew so well, that could bring us both so much pleasure, was sacred for that, yes--but also because it was whole, and it was living and it was inherently a thing of beauty and goodness.

And war, it followed immediately, which could shatter that beauty in an instant, was a blasphemy.

All I needed to understand that war is a blasphemy was to love one human being in the flesh, as an adult.

The peace testimony is different; my peace testimony took many more years to come to me.  But I have known from the age of nineteen that war is a blasphemy.

          *           *           *

Yesterday, I was in my kitchen making pickles.  What with boiling kettles of water and processing pounds of vegetables and brine, making pickles …

New at No Unsacred Place

Cat has a new post, over at the Pagan Newswire Collective's nature blog, No Unsacred Place, "Not Greener-Than-Thou" on the hazards of trying to build up a repertoire of of environmentally friendly living skills.

(It turns out to be possible to make very expensive organic compost.  Details here.)

Peter's Spiritual Journey, Part II: Leaving Home

The Spiritual Journey so far:
Prologue I: Peter In Kenya
Prologue II: A Liberal Christian With Balls
Part I: A Refugee Looks Back
Part II: Leaving Home
Part III: Who Am I?
Part IV: Learning About Race and Gender
Part V: Watching My Students Drown
Part VI: Animal Bones


As a child, my mother and grandmother took me along with them to St. Andrew’s Methodist Church. The people there were all very nice, very sincere Christians, but it was a little bland. I think back on it and my most vivid memories are of the annual church picnic which was always in my grandmother’s back yard, overlooking Long Island Sound.

The closest thing to religious fervor in our household was my father’s agnosticism. You hear the word agnosticism and you probably think of something wishy-washy, a sort of intellectual shrugging of the shoulders. But that was not my father. He was finishing his doctoral dissertation in astrophysics and beginning a career as an academic, and he had a fierce integrity around intellectua…

Peter's Spiritual Journey, Part I: A Refugee Looks Back

The Spiritual Journey so far:
Prologue I: Peter In Kenya
Prologue II: A Liberal Christian With Balls
Part I: A Refugee Looks Back
Part II: Leaving Home
Part III: Who Am I?
Part IV: Learning About Race and Gender
Part V: Watching My Students Drown
Part VI: Animal Bones


My spiritual journey has not been a straight line. It has looped and twisted, sometimes out into non-Euclidean n-dimensional hyperspace and sometimes down into Hell and out the other side. But it has had two or three big turning points that were defining moments. You know, like when that Mesopotamian storm god first appeared in the whirlwind and said to Abraham, Go now, leave your family and your home and wander in the desert. Don’t worry about where you’re going; I’ll let you know when you get there.

So I’m going to tell my journey in medias res, beginning with a turning point at a Southern Baptist commune in rural Georgia when I was 22 years old and discovered I could no longer be Christian.

First came the Fundamental…

Peter Meets a Liberal Christian with Balls

Metaphorically, at least.

Yesterday, Cat and I drove to Boston to hear the annual Weed Memorial Lecture at Beacon Hill Friends Meeting. The speaker was Peggy Senger Parsons, the pastor of Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon, and for the second time this spring I've met someone and think, If I'd known someone like that when I was 22, It's possible I'd still be Christian.

I picked up a copy of FFC's Faith and Practice while I was there. (For the non-Quakers in the audience, F&P is sort of equivalent to a catechism or a Book of Common Prayer.) There's a passage that she read aloud in response to a question from someone in the audience. I'm just going to quote it here for now. I'll get much more in depth about what it means to me over the course of the summer as I write my spiritual journey.
We renounce the intolerance of religious fundamentalism in all its forms. Free Christians need only to live according to Gospel Order and hold up Chr…

Peter Goes to Kenya, Part VI: Paths I Might Have Taken

Part I: Culture Shock
Part II: A Society in Upheaval
Part III: Fairy Gold
Part IV: Oppressor and Oppressed
Part V: Speaking in Meeting, Kenyan-Style
Part VI: Paths I Might Have Taken
Peter's Spiritual Journey Begins...


As a missionary in Africa today, Eden Grace doesn’t see herself as “bringing God to Kenya,” the way early missionaries would have, but rather as coming to Kenya to find the ways that God is already at work there. She accepts, with open eyes, all of the failings and all of the harm done by missionaries before her, and sees that still, on the ground, there is work to be done.
Eden gets both halves of the contradiction: the Bible is her source of strength and inspiration and guidance and inspiration and connection with God, and the Bible is full of fables and fallacies and failings and corrosive, destructive teachings. Eden has grasped both polar opposites and holds them both, where, when I was younger, they tore me apart. One thing I realized while I was in Kenya was t…

Join Our Celebration!

Today marks the one year anniversary of following a leading to dramatically cut our plastic waste.  We're celebrating over at the PNC nature blog, No Unsacred Place--come read about a year of living with less plastic, more local food, and more fun.

One Morning

I love living where we do.

This morning, in the early gray, just after the alarm clock went off, I found myself stretching lazily to the sound of geese flying overhead--non-migrating Canada geese.  I see them gleaning in fresh-turned fields or in the stubble of newly-mown hayfields at nearby farms, together with the local wild turkeys.

Such a sweet, wild music, the song of wild geese.

Moments later, Peter urged me out of bed.  "Oh!  Come see!  There's a bear--two bears, a mama and a cub in the back yard!"

And so there were.  Ambling along quite unhurriedly at the edge of the woods, down to our partially-rehabilitated perennial bed.  We crowded the bedroom window, watching them out of sight.  (Judging by the size of mama, the bear I saw last fall must have been an adult male.)

We decided to let the dogs out late, today.  We trust the fence we built for their yard, but there's no point in tempting fate.

Such a persistent miracle, a glimpse of wild thing, living their l…

And that's a wrap!

Over this, the last week of our first year of attempting to eliminate plastic waste in our lives, we generated another 8 oz in recyclable and non-recyclable plastic trash... and discovered a cache of another 2 lbs, 5 oz of packing materials from construction and repair projects around the house. 

Everything, everything around here needs repair!  And everything, everything, seems to come swathed in plastic.  Sometimes, when we need to special order hardware for things around the house, we get just what we ordered, plus a whole lot of plastic packaging.  It can get a little discouraging...

However this does mean we have a final weigh-in of 2 lbs, 13 oz of plastic waste for this last week.  And our grand total for the year that began on June 1, 2010, and ends today, May 31, 2011, weighs in at 30 lbs., 15 oz.

This puts us somewhere between 12% and 18% of the national consumption of plastic, per person.

It has been quite a trip.  (More on that tomorrow, over at No Unsacred Place.)

Things do do…

Peter Goes to Kenya, Part V: Speaking in Meeting, Kenyan-Style

Part I: Culture Shock
Part II: A Society in Upheaval
Part III: Fairy Gold
Part IV: Oppressor and Oppressed
Part V: Speaking in Meeting, Kenyan-Style
Part VI: Paths I Might Have Taken
Peter's Spiritual Journey Begins...

Our last day in Kenya was Easter Sunday. It began with hiking to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise and to pray, asking for the blessings of Mother Earth.

Later, after breakfast, most of my students stayed at the guest house or went hiking to see a waterfall, but I had asked Eden to bring me along to experience a Kenyan-style Quaker worship service.

My own Quaker meeting, in the heart of New England, is unprogrammed. It’s what most people imagine when they think of Quakers: silent, waiting worship without a preacher, without a pulpit, without hymns or sermon. The pews are arranged concentrically, and messages are delivered when worshipers feel moved by Spirit to stand and speak. We sit at one end of a continuum of worship among American Quakers. At the other…