Monday, February 21, 2011

Power Seeds

When do you feel powerful? Powerless?

I feel powerful when I find that place within me that is at peace with the world. Every once in a while, I find a place within myself that allows me to be calm and cool and collected no matter what the universe throws at me. I can look at each problem and take a deep breath and see just how much of it is me, and how much is other people, and own my parts and let go of the rest.

Powerless is what I feel when people are saying one thing and doing another, and it affects me. For example, telling me that I have X amount of work to do, then telling me that my work is worth nothing. That opposite attitude really bothers me and leaves me feeling unable to win, unable to succeed. It saps my strength. Of course, there is no way to WIN it. You have to work through it, find a strategy that works for you.

What kind of power attracts you? Repels you?

I think it depends a lot on what you mean. The kind of power I want is personal power; the power to make my own decisions, create my own future, build my own dreams. That's what attracts me for myself. In others, though, I like strength of personality. I want to be around people who are able to be blunt and honest, even if it prickles a bit. That "bleeding edge" honesty is a source of strong and abiding power in my opinion. It speaks of a lack of interest in other people's drama, and strength of personality. I also like powerful people who are able to take control of a situation when it's appropriate. Misuse of power repels me. People who have power (for whatever reason) who then abuse it, really makes me ill. Priests who molest children or adults in their care, preachers who dupe thousands of dollars from their "flock", doctors who cop a feel, teachers who are nasty just because they can be... These things make me feel physically ill.

What are symbols of power to you?

Truth is a strong symbol of power. Honesty. Love. Intelligence. Physical symbols would include uniforms, badges, special vehicles (fire truck, police car, etc). Religiously speaking, any symbol of a god is powerful to me, whether it is a cross, an ankh, a star, a pentagram, or an Ohm.

How was power used in your family?

Power was often misused in my family. My  mother thought that being brutal in her punishments, whether deserved or not, was the way to keep me in line. Her use of power was never designed to teach me to be a good adult; it was designed to make me kiss the hem of her robe in abject misery, to enforce her authority over me.

How has power been acted out in intimate relationships?

I have a very interesting exchange of power within my relationships. I am a strong, able person who wants to be the captain of her own ship, and yet I also enjoy the power that I willingly give to my partner at home. This isn't the place to talk about that power exchange, though.

How do you know the difference between fulfilling a mission and being a "chosen one"?

I think that the difference would be in the duration. If I have a mission, then when it is done I am done. Being a "chosen one" would imply that power and/or authority was kind of open-ended, going on until people become disillusioned.

What do you consider to be "enough" -- enough money, popularity, accomplishments, and so forth?

I think the answer is different for different things. For me, enough money would be enough to pay all the bills, pay off some of the debt at a reasonable pace, and have some left over for both savings and for spending on things we want rather than need. Popularity I've never really cared about, and so very little is enough. If my friends are true and like me, that's just fine. Accomplishments, on the other hand, consume me. When I do homework, it must be letter perfect. I must put my utmost into every project, no matter how large or small. I never just throw something together at the last minute. I struggle and spin over each and every word.

How do you feel about money and service?

This is a tough one. For a long time I refused to take money for any religious service. My Wiccan training had put a tainted spin on money that was hard to walk away from. Now, having seen the methods of the more organized religious institutions, I understand that it's okay to take some, but I am not quite as mercenary as some. I would never turn away a couple who wanted to get married but didn't have enough cash, for instance. I'd simply adjust my fees to a level they could afford. I'm not interested in "ministry for money" but I also have bills to pay. As an example, in the creation of a wedding, I can put upwards of 50 hours of work into it. Those hours are taken away from school, family, chores, and any other jobs I might have. I also have transportation costs, printing costs, and sometimes registration costs depending on county and State. If I'm providing candles and matches, music, or anything else, those too are out of pocket expenses. I see nothing wrong with expecting reparation for the work I have done. As I say, though, I never turn anyone away, and not being able to pay full price will never get you a "lesser" wedding.

What kind of people do you put on or off pedestals? Have you examined why you do either?

I used to put sexual partners on pedestals, but I don't do that anymore. Even the most wonderful partner still has feet of clay. I would do it because I had such a desperate, clinging need for love from anywhere. Once I began to learn a bit about self love, my need to put people up on those high platforms went down.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

New Book

My new book is tentatively titled The Road to Ritual, and is covering information about how to create your own, personal rituals. Some of us have been doing this so long it's kind of second nature, but for those who have never written a ritual before it can seem very daunting. I've watched my classmates suffer through stage fright, concern, worry, frustration, and anger as they learn the ins and outs of ritual. For some of them, it was a true trial to understand what was and was not a part of the ritual process. I am hoping that this book will address many of the issues that came up during classes at The New Seminary, as well as other problems that might occur as people are in the process of creation.

The book will have somewhere around 12 chapters, and will likely be a bit meatier than Longing for Wisdom. I'm discussing the history of ritual, and the place of ritual in our daily lives in the modern world. I'm going over all the different parts of ritual and teaching people how to assemble them reasonably. I'm even talking about family, seasonal, life cyclical, and festival rituals (those big ones with hundreds of people).

I started the book about 2 years ago, during a quiet time in my life. I think that was the LAST quiet time I had! I've poked at it a few times in the intervening months, but haven't looked at it truly seriously. Well, last week I started looking at it seriously. I've been chunking along, writing a bit here and there. I'm going to be trying to put in an hour or two a day writing it. When I wrote LfW, I was writing for hours and hours each day, and the words just poured out of me. This one is taking a lot more out of me, being much less about opinions and much more about facts. I'm enjoying, though!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Seeds of Disillusionment

Review the major disappointments of your life. What did you want and not get? What was the gift in not getting it?

Major disappointments, eh? Working backward, I'd have to start with the ending of my current poly relationship. I wanted it to continue, and I wanted the other people involved to have the same strength of character and morals and ethics as I did. I'm not sure about the fit in not getting it; I'm still suffering with it and it might take time to figure that one out. Prior to that, I'd have to say losing custody of my daughter to my parents is the next major disappointment. I wanted her to be here with me, safe and loved and held, and instead she's with my parents and miserable and pretty sure no one loves her. While it's been incredibly rough being separated and not seeing her, it's also given me the time to become stronger, more able, more competent as a person and as a mother. I was a mess emotionally when I had her, and though I wish I could say I'd have done just fine raising her as a single mother, the truth is I would not have done well at all. I've reached a point now where I probably could, but the moment is gone. I've also gained self-respect.

What disillusionments have you experienced with people and with beliefs and ideas that you held? What is still "hot" and has emotional charge for you?

My biggest hot button is lying. I spent years not knowing whether I could believe anything my mother said, because she would change her mind and often not even remember her previous comments. I would be punished for such arcane actions as loading the spoons into the dishwasher incorrectly, punishments that would last weeks. This has led to me being a very blunt person, dispensing the truth almost as an instrument of pain at times.

I expect people to be generally truthful. I don't mean about birthday presents and such, but when you ask someone about finances or whether they love you or if they really want to have kids, you should be able to trust the answer. What I discovered is that people tell untruths a lot of the time, even on the important things which should basically demand truthfulness. That scares me!

Right now, I'm going through mediation with my poly divorce situation, and have been told quite bluntly that because I intimidate and frighten some of the people involved (?!?), they reserve the right to tell me whatever's on the top of their mind in an attempt to get rid of me, and that I have to take what they say in good faith even though they've said they'll lie outright to get me to go away. See, I have massive problems with that. Not only do I feel I have reason to doubt the truthfulness of their statements, they've confirmed that the doubt is reasonable, to my face, in front of mediators. And yet I'm still expected to act as if they are acting in good faith. I'm also being told that I'm not trustworthy, but when I ask for reasons why they feel that way, they can't come up with anything. It's just a feeling. My proof is trumped by their feeling, per the mediators. Oy.

When did you doubt that God/Goddess was present? In your personal life? In wars, natural disasters, and other large-scale events?

I have never, to my knowledge, doubted the existence of the gods. There have certainly been times when I have felt that the gods were not present with me, personally. When I was pregnant, my ability to feel anything magickal or spiritual was largely diminished. I felt abandoned for a while, but at no point did my belief and faith in the gods disappear. It was only my awareness of their personal attendance that waned.

I don't see natural disasters and such as being the result of actions (or inactions) by the gods. Human beings existing explains most of those things, and it seems to me that the gods are as frustrated and upset about them as the rest of us. As Death says to the Goddess in the myth of the Descent of the Goddess (Wiccan), "It is not I who causes all things to wither and die; it is time and fate, which I am helpless against." The gods are as chained to natural rhythms as we are, at least in my personal observations.

Seeds of Faith

What were your dreams for yourself as a child? As a teenager? A young adult? In the present time?

When I was a child, I had childish dreams, as the saying goes. I dreamed of normal things, like being a fireman or a doctor or a singer. I also had dreams which now seem so sad, dreams that I had a REAL mother out there somewhere who really loved me but had given me up because the pitiful woman pretending to be my mother was so poor of heart that she couldn't have her own child. I dreamed that she was out there, and that some day I would find her, that wonderful, amazing woman who had given birth to me.

As a teenager, most of my dreams had to do with escape, getting away from the situation I had grown up in. The world is tough enough for teens, but having to live through my mother's intermittent drinking and insanities made it exponentially worse. When other teens were buying jeans and records, I spent my money on dishes and things for the house I would have the minute I was old enough to get a job and get away.

When I became a young adult and moved far, far away from my parents, I discovered new dreams. I dreamed of the gods, of my priestesshood, of the joy of exploration and freedom. I dreamed of unconditional love, and found it in a wonderful man named Davydd. I dreamed I could do anything I wanted, and I did.

Now my dreams are simpler. I'm sure that's because I'm not 20 years old anymore. Being 40 certainly gives you perspective, if nothing else. I dream of a home that is peaceful and joyous. I dream of having my daughter with me. I dream of the twins growing up to become successful at whatever they choose to do. I dream of growing old with Gray and Sis, in a life that is both exciting and sometimes boringly normal.

From what persons or circumstances did you learn to doubt? To be cynical?

That would be my mother... Just living with her is enough to make a saint cynical, and to doubt that there is a Divinity out there. Because she was unable to tell me the truth about things, I learned to doubt very early. I doubted anything she told me, because it was probably wrong. That's another one of those sad things.

Are you building in faith now or waiting for evidence?

I'm building in faith on a daily basis! My life now is very faith based. This doesn't mean I ignore science and rational thought, but faith is another side to that coin. When everything eludes understanding through "normal means" I can turn to my faith for strength and knowledge. It's a very peaceful thing. Mind you, I'm willing to accept evidence as it presents itself!

Do you trust your own guidance? How do you recognize that your faith is in operation?

I think it's important to question our guidance, especially from spiritual and faith means. It isn't that I don't believe such guidance can be good, however I do think it's important to always question so that we don't become complacent and start saying that every urge or whim is "faith based guidance." That's a slippery slope that leads to ruin, and so we must always be vigilant to see we don't start down it. I question everything; it's my nature. There are times when it's appropriate and right to accept things on faith, but not without personal questioning.

How do I know my faith is in operation? I am breathing... I think that covers it. How important it is for faith to be in operation almost all of the time. It's what keeps us going, keeps our chins up during the rough times. It's what fuels our challenge to things that need to change (civil rights movement, anyone?) as well as the joy of celebrating that something is going just fine.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Seeds of Will 2

What did you dream about doing when you were young? What if that was God/Goddess dreaming you?

An interesting question. My earliest memory of "Divinity" was of calling out in the late night because I needed a mother. My biological mother didn't answer such calls, and I had spent many nights alone in the darkness, scared or sobbing. I called out one night and then I felt the largest, most encompassing arms cradling me as if I were an infant. I will always remember that moment, of settling to sleep in the arms of someone who had infinite and unconditional love for me. I didn't see her face, but she was quite female, and she wore dark robes, perhaps a dark blue. I remember they were soft. I think I was perhaps 7 or 8 years old at the time. That moment of comfort meant everything to me, and I just knew that it was God who held me. I was actually kind of startled to find out that "the rest of the world" saw God as male, a few years later. I had a hard time internalizing that idea.

What did I dream of when I was younger? I dreamed of teaching, of serving in some capacity. Certainly as a young child I had the normal career desires: fireman, librarian, astronaut, that type of thing. By the time I was 10 or 12, certainly long before I entered high school, I had desired a career that was language based. I wanted to write, to create, to inform, to teach. Throughout my life, that has been a theme, and it is one I still pursue. If Goddess still dreams of me, and I do believe she does, then I believe I am living that dream now. The rough stuff going on in my life is periphery. It's the usual chaff blown away by the winds of initiation and change. I dislike it, and it certainly challenges me, but it in no way makes me want to change my course.

What did you want before you were taught you should want something else? What if that earlier desire is what God/Goddess wanted for you?

I think I largely answered this above. Once I got past the childish desires (astronaut et al) and began to think about what I really wanted to do with myself, I knew that it needed to be related to writing and/or teaching. Despite working my way through a variety of unfulfilling job choices, I always seem to come back to writing and ministry. I do believe this is what the gods want of me. Sometimes my view of the end is clearer than others, but I do my best to keep focused on that.

What really brings you rushes of enthusiasm? What if that is God/Goddess inspiring you?

When I get up and preach, when I teach at church or in Circle or at seminary, these are the things which bring me that rush that tells me I'm doing it right. It isn't an ego rush, although I've had those too (who doesn't like to hear their sermon inspired people, after all?); there's something completely outside of ego that fills me when I manage to pull off a good sermon or teach a new skill to those who want to learn. I fought the idea of ministry for a very long time, because pagans don't have ministers really, and I didn't want to be a Christian minister. Therefore it seemed obvious to me that the ministry calling was just something silly I'd made up. Now, I see a bit more clearly that this is, indeed, what I am supposed to be doing. I don't have to give up my pagan background, but I can also add to that with an understanding of the other religions and belief systems out there. I can work at being the bridge between religions. I can teach people not to fear one another. This is what I feel the gods are inspiring me to do. I believe they've been pushing me this way for a long, long time.

Seeds of Will 1

What would you be willing to die for?

I would die before I would give up myself. Over the years, I've run into several situations where I had to choose between subsuming my personality and my ethics and morals in order to live comfortably. Every time I have chosen myself over comfort. I will continue to make that choice as many times as needed. I cannot become someone else just because it's easier or more convenient or a bit cushier. I am who I am and while I don't thrust that upon other people, I also don't hide myself. I'm not an "in the closet" kind of gal. I'm me, and I don't apologize for that.

If you had only one year left to live, what would you do? How would your priorities change? Who and what would you forgive and release?

With only a year to live, I think I wouldn't change a whole lot. I would rather not be in the living situation I'm currently in, because it's highly stressful, but life itself is pretty good. Seminary is coming along well. I'm happy in my spiritual practices. I'm enjoying church practices. It doesn't seem to me that there's any major thing that MUST be done. I mean, I'd enjoy visiting Scotland and Japan, going to Disney with the kids, seeing my daughter graduate... but those are just things. I don't think my life would change all that much, to be honest. I think the most pressing "forgive and release" moments, for me, happened last year in regards to my mother and my ex. I guess the only major forgiveness I need is of myself.

What would you want said in your obituary?

Gah. I don't want to think about my obituary. I'm just 40, not 80! I suppose I'd like people to say I was a good person, that I worked hard and made a difference. I'd like it if I somehow made enough of an impact that people would miss me and mourn me, but not for too long. I'd like it said that I lived life to its fullest and never gave up on improving myself or the world around me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Seeds of Love

Where do you draw the line on love? Is it a rapist? An abusive parent? A mass murderer? From whom would you withdraw your love?

Love is love. If I love someone, I love them. I don't know that I ever actually withdraw love from someone. I do know that I still love my ex-husband and my mother, though they both abused me in different ways. I could not have been as angry and mad at them if I hadn't loved them. I suffered a lot coming to terms with the fact that I still love them even now, but I managed. A more difficult way of looking at the above question is what do you do when the other person's love is withdrawn? Eventually, the love on your side begins to fade. Perhaps it changes, rather than going away, as it did in the case of my mother and my ex. It's hard to maintain agape or philos or eros when the other person simply isn't emotionally available. There is a moment when it's appropriate to let the love fade, change, transform into something else. Otherwise, you cross the line into stalking or fanaticism.

How do you know the difference between disliking a person's behavior and withdrawing love?

I'm not sure I know how to differentiate between disliking a behavior and withdrawing my love. That's a tough question. I know that I can dislike a behavior and continue to love; that has happened between me and Gray, and me and Sis, on several occasions. Eventually you find a way to talk it over, deal with it, and you continue on. Withdrawing love ends something.

Review your family messages, your experiences, and your attitudes about other races, ages, social status, religions, nationalities, and other sex.

I think I'm a pretty open person. I do admit I have prejudices, though. I don't want to lie and make on like I'm perfect; I'm not. I admit to being prejudiced against Muslim extremists, and that I have a hard time telling the difference between a real Muslim and an extremist unless I get to know them well. I admit I have a general dislike for women drivers. I struggle with a prejudice I didn't grow up with, one against black Americans. I grew up in Canada, and I have heard the blacks there referred to as "Oreos" by American black people, because they're "only black on the outside, and white on the inside." After hearing that from a black man when I had newly moved to Maryland, I was upset, shocked, and realized that I had a very deep prejudice against people like that. So yeah, I have them. I also fight them, to the best of my ability.

Age, race, social status, religion, for the most part really don't bother me. I'm a bisexual female who is polyamorous and pagan, and is now also practicing Christianity. I don't think there's a much smaller niche that would hold someone! I try to treat others as I would want to be treated if I were them. I try not to push my ideals onto others.

Pretty much the only prejudice I grew up with was against religious people in general. My mother made no bones about the fact that anyone involved in religion was just using a crutch, that they were sad, weak people who were deluded. I obviously do not share that belief...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Confirmation and Prayer

This past Sunday I had my second Confirmation class. I'm finding the classes interesting, although basic in a way. I know a lot of the history already, having studied it during my Wiccan years as "comparative religion." It's fascinating to see the differences when studying Christianity from within, rather than comparatively, though. I love that our pastor, who is leading the class, is challenging us to look at different translations and at books not considered cannon by the church. I love that we're going to visit other churches and a synagogue, so we better understand faith as a whole. I love the beautiful prayers we say together.

The last class we talked a lot about Baptism. Everyone in the class (including me) has been Baptized at some point. I was Christened as an infant, into the Presbyterian church. My parents subsequently never attended (even once) and I had no Christian or other religious upbringing at all. In fact, I think I was 10 or 11 years old before I set foot in a church for anything other than a wedding, except to attend Hungarian services with my grandmother (I don't speak Hungarian and mostly counted hats). I definitely was never "churched" in any way. Religion was something to mock and deride, a crutch used by weak people, or so my mother instilled in me. Good thing I disliked her so much; I never did "get" that lesson.

In any case, we talked about Baptism, both of body and of spirit. In the Book of Acts, there are several examples of people being Baptized by water (a la John the Baptist), and then later being overcome by the Holy Spirit. The point our pastor made was that we can prepare the body, but the true initiation into Christianity comes via God alone, not human intervention. I liked the idea; it gels well with my understanding of Wiccan and other initiation practices. We can grant the human part of the Degree, but the actual elevation comes from the gods themselves, not us. In a way, we are only making the body a fit temple for the Spirit to inhabit, or perhaps in some rare cases confirming something that's already happened.

Talking about it with this open-minded group of Christians has been very enlightening. These are not street corner thumpers who annoy passers by. These are people who do their best to live the example taught by Jesus. I've known them for three years now, and I'm a better person for having known them. They accept me for who and what I am, and understand that this Confirmation is, for me, "in addition to, not instead of." I renounce nothing, and yet I feel I am gaining an awful lot.

For years I have had at least a passing interest in Christianity. Part of the reason is that it's so organized and has great study and meditation tools. People have been writing about Christianity for so long! Modern reconstructions of religions  and brand new religions, like Hellenismos and Wicca and Heathenry, are so new that what writing there is has only been produced in the last few years. We don't have the sheer time put in to create the kind of study guides and suggested reading lists that Christianity can boast of. We have things to learn from this religion, and if we can just put aside our prejudices for a little while, perhaps we can discover just how similar we all are.

That is the thing which strikes me most. We're the same. Our theology might differ slightly, and our practices are not always the same, but the roots are there. I mean, let's be frank here. The Christian religion was born out of the mix of Judaism and Greek polytheism of 2000 years ago. That means that some of what Christians do is based on what we Greek polytheists do. You want to know "what the Greeks would have done" had they continued on? Look at Christianity! It's tempered by that Judaic influence, surely, but the roots are there, and no amount of denying can make it go away.

During the month of November 2010, I signed up to provide flowers for the church. Now, originally I just signed up because one of the little old ladies asked me to volunteer, and it seemed an easy thing. I didn't put a lot of thought into it. Over the year, I watched how other members of the church fulfilled their duty in their own months, and discovered that some of these people UNDERSTOOD. Holy cow!

What did they understand? They understood that the flowers placed on the altar were an offering. Great care was put into almost every display. Fresh flowers were put up every week, even when artificial flowers were used and could have been left to sit. Decorations were put up. Care was taken in choosing the colors, the vases used, etc.

When my turn came, I chose to  make the first week my first real offering to Jesus. I'd participated in the services for three years, but never really given of myself, of my heart. I decided to see how it felt. I went to the garden and picked fresh kale, mixed liberally with sprigs of sage and savory, some rosemary, some parsley. I added two bright yellow flowers from our own front garden, for color and beauty. I arranged them with great love in matching vases, and went in on Saturday to set them in place on the altar. They looked beautiful, and I felt very good about it. It was a good offering.

I'm not sure if the members of my church understand the offerings they are making, at least in detail. They definitely understand the love involved, though. Flowers are never "just tossed up there." There's that Greek influence, the gifts given to the gods. It's there; you just have to look for it. You have to be open enough to be receptive to it.

The week before my Ordination I will be Confirmed in the UCC. I feel like this is a large part of what I'm supposed to be doing. I cannot be an effective bridge if I don't have a foot on each bank of the shore, after all!