Landing. It may seem like a natural thing to land when you have flown half way around the world and back, but it isn’t as always easy as you might think.  This last post about the conference really is about the ending of one thing and the beginning of another and that is why it has taken me so long to write it.  Physically we landed on solid ground in the United States on July 17th, or maybe the 16th depending upon if you are talking wheels down or getting through the door of the plane and deboarding.  I truly didn’t land until this last weekend, long after we got back from Australia, so let me explain.

The final portion of my adventure down under was the presentation that I was part of.  It was on the morning of the last day and was the last official event of the conference. It was a great deal of activity to get there since we had to get all of our baggage and take it to the campus with us.  Then again so did just about everyone else attending.  As I stood in the lobby, though, going over in my head what I was going to be talking about I found myself standing next to a woman named Cass.  She was one of the main organizers and leaders of the conference and I had watched her guide us through the week of events with apparent ease.  As we stood there she turned to me and asked one simple question. Did this make up for Yale? I was floored. She knew what had happened, what my reaction had been to the last conference and she, along with several others, had orchestrated this conference to be different.

I smiled at all of the thoughts that were going through my head and simply said “yes, this has been an amazing experience and one that I was beyond my wildest expectations.” She then explained that she never wanted anyone to ever be treated the way that I had been, to feel how I had felt, at the previous conference. It was her goal to make sure that never happened again to anyone of any faith. I thanked her and we both realized that it was time to start the presentation and so into the conference room we went.  What I spoke about doesn’t matter much to anyone other than those attending; what does matter was that the content was accepted with open minds and open hearts that some chaplains struggle to do their work based on resources while others not so much. My fellow presenters and I were split – two with resources, myself and one other without. I then watched transformation happen. Chaplains of a various Christian faiths were saddened and appalled that minority faith Chaplains struggled to do the same work and they were amazed (at least the ones that talked to me later) that we continue to do the work without financial backing.  As I told them, we are not a faith culture that asks for donations every week.  When we ask it is because there is a true need and the community responds as best they can.

It was then time to come home and a good portion of us rode the same train to Melbourne to either catch flights or find rooms for the night.  There are plans for the next conference and I do intend to go wherever that might be.  I do have four years to plan for it!  The next day we boarded our plane and flew home.  When we made it to JFK you might think that I landed but our travels were not done.  The following day we were off once again. A festival where I co-facilitated a full moon ritual, attended classes, spoke to many old friends and learned how to sleep again.  Leaving that sacred space I came away with much to do over the next year and I will get to it all.

This last week was laundry, catching up with work, figuring out why the cat is clinging and beginning to tear apart our kitchen for remodeling.  Yes, now I have truly landed back into life and back into the new adventure of moving forward from a once in a lifetime conference.  I say it is a once in a lifetime conference because next time I will have a different perspective and probably a lot less apprehension about what it will be.  Next time I will be seeing friends and colleagues rather than jumping into the unknown.  As for now, I have landed.  A weekend of good food with my daughter-in-law with music to match was just what I needed to get my feet back on the ground

Today is the day when I participate in a panel discussion on how the Chaplaincy works. It will be an interesting presentation with me being one of four speakers, an interactive art portion, and a question and answer period on what works well and where are the pitfalls of what each of us four chaplains do in our day to day work.  It will be interesting to say the least but there is much to talk about before that time comes.

I have had conversations with people from all over the world: an American man who at a University in Ghana with only 700 students, a Hungarian woman who works in the Netherlands, multiple Australians and New Zealanders, an Englishman from Sheffield and a Scot from St. Andrews.  There are the Catholic priests from different countries in Africa, a Buddhist monk from here in Bendigo and this is just touching the tip of the iceberg.  The one thing they all have in common, we all have in common, is that we are all Chaplains and we all serve the greater good of the students, faculty and staff that make up are representative campuses.

The last two days I have had open discussions with a Catholic priest who wanted to know if Pagans still harbored resentment for the 2000 years of atrocities that the Church had done to them.  I answered honestly – yes, many do.  He was surprised, truly surprised, but I explained that wounds sometimes heal slowly, but they do heal. I don’t know, my thought is that maybe, just maybe, having a priest ask a Pagan such a question will be acknowledgement enough for some to speed that healing process along.  We talked more through the evening and he and a Lutheran Chaplain who had joined the conversation, were truly interested in the theology of paganism or more specifically my theology and beliefs as a Druid. There was no subject left untouched as they tried to find similarities and understanding between the monotheistic Christianity that is theirs and the polytheistic Druidism that is mine. Sin, salvation, redemption, moral codes, texts, the sacredness of nature, the destruction of groves and so much more was discussed and absorbed.  It wasn’t until we got to the subject of marriage did the conversation end and only then due to a need to leave the restaurant.  At the conclusion I was told “you are the only Druid, the only Pagan I have ever talked to. Thank you.”

The next day found me in workshops on multi-faith, interfaith and dealing with the death of students. In each one the discussion never focused on exclusion but how to have students work together for mutual understanding of each other and how to respect each other’s beliefs and practices.  Lunch found me in another conversation with a gentleman from Helsinki, Finland.  A devout Christian we talked about a few things and I could see that he was struggling with something from our conversation. I didn’t know if it was the topic or language since English was not his first language. Finally it came out, he did not understand polytheism or Paganism and wanted to know more – he wanted to understand.  As he explained there were new religious movements within Finland one of which is called the The People of the Bear. He explained that the bear and the moose are sacred animals in Finland and this is a reconstruction of pre-Christian beliefs. He wanted to know more. So we have exchanged information in order to keep in touch and converse, exchange ideas and help each other understand new and emerging faiths that may be in formation.

Last night found Bill and I at the final dinner, a more formal and altogether fun event.  Wine and beer for those that wished to partake with an amazing dinner and dancing that followed.  We were invited to sit at a table almost as soon as we walked through the door.  The Chaplain from Ghana, Steve, was asking us to join in at their table and as he did so he apologized that they were all Americans. As it turned out the Chaplain from Sheffield joined us and it was an amazing evening.  A young woman from California asked if I was going to another conference in Florida this coming February.  I don’t belong to the association whose conference it is and I informed her of that.  What happened next I can honestly say is the summation of what has happened here in Bendigo.  She told me to join the association and to please come to the conference because “we need non-Christian voices to be heard.” It was at that moment I knew things were different.

Things have changed in four years, I have offers of continued dialogue and true interest from individuals wanting to know more and understand what it is I represent and how does that fit into the landscape of university life, and more specifically beyond university life.  To me that has made this trip more than I could have expected.

The first full day of workshops and discussions is done and I must say that it was what I had hoped for – a wonderful experience of learning, sharing and new ways of thinking.  The overwhelming majority of presenters are local to Australia and New Zealand with others being given by visiting nationalities.  A wonderful mixture that has shown me the international attitude for the most part is one of acceptance and engagement for the benefit of those they are dedicated to helping – their students. From discussions on sacred spaces to walking labyrinths and presentations on newly developed apps for exploring the deep search for belonging, everyone was open to multiple interpretations and understandings of what faith and belief are. The most significant revelations of the day, however, did not occur within in the workshops.  Rather they were during a conversation over tea.

As I sat talking with two gentleman from New Zealand enjoying light conversation and for a moment a third gentleman named Jeremy sat down with us.  As it was, the break was mostly over but the two of us continued to talk on “stuff” which was mainly regarding his earlier presentation.  I had too many good things to go to at the same time and his workshop was one that I had decided to bypass.  So what did I give up? A tremendous endeavor that he and another person have undertaken in order to develop an app/website that helps individuals of any faith tradition navigate the deep questions and shifts that many of us encounter in this thing called life.

As he continued to talk to me about it he explained that his perspective was truly from a Christian standpoint since that was his faith tradition (his words) but had done this work in a very conscious manner so that anyone from any tradition could use it comfortably.  It was at the moment he ask what denomination or tradition I represented and I told him – Pagan, most specifically Druid.  He was/is British and was immediately interested in having a conversation so he could better understand what that meant. So we talked.

The conversation came around to his explaining that he had dated a Pagan-Christian for a while but it didn’t last and it had always left him with a sense of wonder on the topic.  As we moved forward through a couple of questions he asked if there was an unbroken line of tradition that could be claimed by Pagans.  It wasn’t a question asked with the intent of determining validity to tradition or faith, it really was an honest question. So I answered him the only way that I could.  No, there wasn’t one that I knew of, not that was centuries old like he was asking.  I explained that there were many factors that made me come to that conclusion.  First was that many traditions were oral, such as if it was a family based tradition.  Of those I truly would have very little knowledge.  Second that many things were oral and when the history keepers, teachers and such were either killed or converted much of the stories they had to tell went with them. Last, but not least, what was written was often destroyed by the churches and that this was an act of conquering and assimilation.  Now I do have to say that I never eluded to any “central belief” or church or organized faith structure having been present.  Rather, that what different people did , fractured at best multiple times by those that would be their conquers. There was never any chance to have a recognizable and continuous line of history and practice. In other words, no, the church didn’t want us so it did what it could to eliminate us.

As he sat there and thought about it I went a little further and explained that what had been done, however, was that the good Christian monks would write down the tales and stories as folklore without credibility so there were enough references and points of common knowledge save that many of the customs could be reconstructed and that is what modern pagans do well. At that moment I could the see the light bulb go on.  He smiled and said that makes sense.  How could anyone have an unbroken lineage if we kept trying to destroy you?  He got it.  He made the analogy of new traditions in Christianity begin considered cults until they gained enough following to be “real” but explained we have a right to claim validity more than anyone and we should.  The system was created to steal that right away.  He told me he appreciated the conversation, probably one of the most insightful one he had had to that moment, and that he had new perspective on his own religion as well as others.

It really was amazing to be understood rather than trying to converted.  This truly is a wonderful experience and it just keeps getting better

I have a confession to make – I got scared and hid.  I’m not talking about in the last few days or on my arrival in Bendigo.  No.  I’m talking about four years ago at the Global Conference that took place in Yale. The last Global Conference for Chaplain in Higher Ed.  Yes, I got scared. I was hit by a ton of rocks created out of ignorance in such force and magnitude that I did what many of us do.  I hid, I retreated, I stepped back into the closet, kind of, hoping that my wounds would heal and the world would be right again. Or at least it would go back to what I remembered and that meant familiar ground.  Well the wounds did heal, but the world didn’t go back to what it was; it can never go back. The experience changed me and in the process I stopped writing which is horrible.  I love writing, but by not writing this blog and exposing my vulnerabilities I was able to stay in the “closet” a little longer. But a curious thing happened. A gentleman named Rob Lingard read a paper where I let all of my feelings out and promised me that things would change. Rob is not Pagan, he is a Christian and he is also a man of his word; a man of honor.

Yesterday we arrived in Bendigo after approximately 34 hours of travel time and in a slight state of exhaustion.  My husband Bill came with me this time as the support system that I didn’t have last time.  We decided that we would go straight to the conference venue since the opening ceremony and dinner was starting within 40 minutes of our stepping off of the train.  I was happy to get our name tags and to just sit without being in motion.  We were greeted warmly by the conference staff and I asked for Rob.  He was the one who had encouraged me to come, asked if I would be on a panel of speakers, and with whom we are sharing a house while we stay here.  It wasn’t long before we spotted one another and hugs ensued.  As his duties quickly took him away, he is one of the organizers, we were left to begin meeting people on our own.  A little tea and quite for just the two of us, however, is what we took in most.

I watched the room, it WAS different this time. This was a smaller, more intimate gathering than the last conference and I thought that might be what it was. This was a better place to get to know one another, to make connections… but there was more. Bill had found the evening’s outline. The opening event was a ceremonial greeting by the indigenous Dja Daj peoples of the land.  We were taken outside and the smoke we ran into was amazing.  We were being told of the tradition of smoking off the evil spirits to allow good to come in so that our works would be positive and of a good nature.  We were being smudged by eucalyptus leaves – the indigenous tradition of the land – and being told of the honoring of the elders and ancestors and how it was important to remember them always as they are the ones that teach us how to live and how to be.  It seemed ironic in one way that this was being talked about.  We had just met a gentleman from St. Andrews in Scotland and had been talking about Pan Am Flight 103 and the connection that Lockerbee and Syracuse have due to that tragedy. This week he is giving a talk on how we honor students that pass.

As this cleansing concluded we were invited back in to hear the initial greetings and I quickly understood that Rob had truly kept his word.  The four directions were explained as the people of the four directions were called to come forward to take their place we found out that we were the people of the four directions – Americas to the East, Asia and Europe to the North, Africa to the West, and Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Isles to the South – and as we spoke the words in the familiar call and response manner an energy was laid down.  We were asked to take a stone from the center table while we moved to our designated seats and to hold it to our hearts with one hand to place in it what we brought to give others. It was then we were asked that the other hand be open in order to receive what others had to offer. Our third task was to contemplate how we had prepared for being here – a triad of inquiry and responsibility for all of us.  It was then that I knew that true change had taken place these last four years.  We were asked to come forward and to place the stones we had selected in the center, a created space symbolic of all of us coming together to agree or not, but to be community together. We received a blessing of hope and understanding which ended in three times stated Blessed Be… Blessed Be… Blessed Be. Amen.

We were then asked to talk and share until dinner and share we did.  I met friends of our new Catholic Priest at Syracuse, a Chaplain from the south that wants to go out for drinks, one from the Gold Coast of Australia, discussed politics with one from the Netherlands and ate dinner with the wife of our Chaplain from St. Andrews.  There are so many more that I haven’t mentioned but I can say things are different. Pagans mentioned in the opening statements alongside Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Humanists and others. Yes things have shifted, especially when Rob asked me if I felt as if I had been included and respected within the ceremony.  He was sincere in his question and I could not feel more welcome than I did at the moment.

I hope that this shift in attitude towards the “other” begins to move outward and touch more than just those who are here. This world needs to be as inclusive as this conference has become. It is proving we can change, we need to, and that it can be positive.

Oh… and the kangaroo was delicious!

Pairs PeaceI don’t understand. I don’t understand how anyone can believe that violence and killing will cause a shift in the world that will be positive. I do not know of any religion, faith, or belief system which has an underlying premise that violence is good and that killing people who are simply going about their daily routines is okay. I don’t understand.

The attacks in Paris today are not about religion, faith or spiritual righteousness. This is twisted ideology that has no basis in a higher power or higher understanding of the world. It makes no difference if you are a person of spiritual faith or of secular faith, you understand these acts of terrorism are wrong. They must end. As a world that depends on all of us moving forward in a collective manner, for the good of all humanity, we must understand that we need to work together to end the violence, end the terror, and end believing that we are not affected by these acts. We are.

Words cannot truly express how I feel at the moment. I am only a month out from one of the most amazing events I have ever participated in – the Parliament of World Religions. A place where 10,000 people of varying faiths with completely different understandings of the divine stood together in one place and pledged to work for peace. Today I watch the news and see that once again violence of unimaginable magnitude has ripped through the soul of humanity. What is wrong with us as a species that we haven’t figured out how to get along and let those standing next to us live in peace?

I work hard to educate others about difference. That it is only a perception created in the mind based on arbitrary ideas that didn’t even start out as our own. We are all different. There are no two people identical, not even identical twins. Each has their own quirks and thoughts that make them unique and perpetuating difference. So why is it so hard to accept others in their uniqueness? Why must people believe that the “other” is evil or that it must be eradicated? An enemy that should not be allowed to live? I don’t understand.

What I do understand is that at the moment we need to end this. We need to embrace the wounded and help them heal. That might be the person in Paris, their family member, their friend or your next door neighbor that you have never spoken to who just saw the news report. We all need to begin to make change in our life. Speak kinder words instead of those of hate. That means taking time to understand what it is we say – do we speak hate when we talk without knowing it? Possibly. Examine your words, your ideas and your actions and change what needs to be changed. Help heal those that need it and that includes the self. Actively begin to work for peace.

World peace is a big thing but it is achievable. Start in your own back yard by making peace with someone you have harsh feelings for. Making peace one step at a time will create a ripple and a change and a path for peace to grow in.

I don’t ever want to say “I don’t understand” again. I want to know that the world can be safe and I want to understand that what I give my children and grandchildren is a sense of hope.

Understand peace and create it in your world.

I haven’t posted in quite some time, for many reasons that I won’t go into, but I read this post today and thought as a Pagan and a Chaplain the sentiments provided are some that I agree with.

The fight should never have had to happen, more importantly there is so much more we can all do to help all the inhabitants of this world. It’s okay to disagree, so what if we do. Let’s agree to that and then move forward from there. Take the time to read this post (a re-posting from a friend I’ll admit) and see what your heart tells you to do, who to help.

http://edcyzewski.com/2015/06/26/the-supreme-court-just-gave-american-evangelicals-a-gift/

Yesterday was a trying day.  It was one of those days when it seems like everything that could drain my energy, did.  So like most people I took a look back to see what it was that seemed so draining and it was no surprise to me.  My day started off amazing but one incident was all it took to remind me what the world is really like.

Most of you that know me personally know that my work as a Chaplain is not the only thing that I do.  For those of you who I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting in person yet, I do a lot more than my work at Hendricks Chapel.  I have a wonderful husband whom I should say takes care of me, we have a small 56 acres to care for and I own my own business – a small metaphysical shop in Oswego, NY.  Beyond that I write, study and teach all the time.  My time is stretched, but in a good way and I wouldn’t really change any of it.  I enjoy my life without regrets and with a multitude of smiles! But yesterday was a reminder of the work that is left in front of me, in front of all of us.  Yesterday the world walked through the door of my shop in the form of an old woman with a question.

184312_719247819725_28406679_36325422_539982_nI had watched her standing outside of my front window looking at the statue of “the lady” in the window.  Finally she came in from the cold and approached me at the counter.  Her question was “who is that in the window?”  I knew the look, the tone, the accusation and I answered her “that is the moon goddess.”  “Who” she asked and I repeated that it was the moon goddess.  She told me that at first she thought it was a statue of the Virgin Mary but had looked and saw that her lap was empty, there was no Jesus, and she was confused.  After all, this is the beginning of the celebration of Christmas which is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Her face was harsh and so were her words.  She continued on that people have forgotten that the real reason for this time of year is to celebrate the birth of our lord and savior Jesus and they don’t go to church to say thank you.  She explained she had disowned her daughter for not going to church anymore and thought it a right punishment.  And then she asked the big question: “Is that a mockery of the Virgin Mary?”  I told her no, it wasn’t, it is the Moon Goddess and not a mockery at all.  She looked back at the window, the Goddess who holds in her hands the offerings of many, and then stated I needed to take it out of the window.  People would be offended by mocking the Virgin after all, especially this time of year.  Besides she said, we all have to answer to god including her but stated she had all the right answers.

Yes, I had forgotten, or at least had not been reminded in a while, what the world is like and apparently I needed a reminder in the form of an old woman.

As she walked out of the shop she turned and looked at me and the Reiki Master standing with me and told us to have a Merry Christmas.  I wished her warmth for the night and blessings of the season and then she was gone.  With her, hate and ignorance left as well but in her wake she left anger and painful reminders that while a great deal has changed nothing has changed.

The anger dissipated quickly but the reminder has remained.  But it is different from before.  The reminder is that a lot of work yet to be done is waiting.  It was a reminder that I cannot change the world, but I can control how I respond to hate when it walks up to me.  But mainly it was a reminder of the need to create more space where ignorance can be challenged and understanding can be fostered so that acceptance can be achieved.

So to the little old woman who walked in to my shop – may the blessings of the Goddess be with you that she might teach you the compassion you so desperately need in your life.  To the old woman’s daughter and everyone else – may the blessing of patience be yours.  The earth moves slowly but change does happen in time including the changing of minds.

Ritual in a Box (TM).

Every now and then a moment comes along and it hits you – this is what it is all about.  Last week when the final stone was laid it was one of those moments.

Last Monday was the day that all the work on the stones was finished.  I hadn’t planned on being outside when the stones were actually laid into the ground but a friend needed a little fresh air so outside we went.  The day was cool, cloudy and threatening rain; for me it was a perfect day.  As we walked outside I pointed out the holes for the stones to our right, but in front of us we noticed a purple and white banner on the quad.   Neither of us quite knew what it was for but it seemed interesting.

We continued our conversation as we began to watch what was unfolding – it was a ceremony by the Native Americans Students at Syracuse (NASAS). As they began their celebration of song and dance I heard noise coming from the area where the stones where.  The stones were going into the ground at that moment.  I struck me then.  I was standing at a point of convergence.  I was in front of the Chapel, a place most associated with Abrahamic religions and at the same time witnessing traditional Native American ceremony through song and dance while a stone circle was being laid for Pagan gatherings.  Hendricks truly is a place of interfaith dynamics; a home for all faiths and a place for all people.

Not one of these things took precedent over the other.  The Chapel, the stones and the dance all had equal value and all were living in harmony with one another in the same virtual space. Isn’t this what true respect and diversity is supposed to be?  I believe so.

A few days later I was asked a question that I had never been asked before: “When people bring their religions and traditions to a new land how do they reconcile and respect the spirits of the land who are already there?”  I thought about it for only a second reflecting on the events of the previous Monday and my response was easy.  You ask permission.  When I began the process of requesting the stones seven years ago I did two things.  The first was in the original proposal I simply stated that the University has a unique and solid connection to Scotland and while all cultures in one way or another have some sort of connection to stones and megaliths Scotland’s connection is special.  Scotland has more standing stones and stone circles than any other country in the world.  How better to honor the University’s connection to Scotland than through stones. The second thing I did was I began to ask permission of the land here in Syracuse to allow this to happen.

When the holes for the stones were being dug a contingent from Lockerbie Scotland was on campus for Remembrance Week.  A coincidence that had nothing to do with the stones being brought to campus.  When the stones were being laid the Mohawk group Kanienkehaka Ratirennenhawi danced their song on the quad only yards away.  I believe both events blessings underscoring that all connections and energies were in complete agreement – it is time we lay aside differences and see what can bring us together to make us better in this world.

Today is a day for dreams.  Today is the day a dream of mine became reality and it is the day that new dreams are to be born.  Today is the day that a circle of stones, dedicated to the religious gathering of Pagans, was created at Syracuse University.

Seven years ago I wasn’t the Pagan Chaplain at the University.  There was no Pagan Chaplain, but I was the religious advisor for the student Pagans on campus and at that time I had a vision where the students would have a place of their own.  It didn’t have to be exclusive, in fact I didn’t think it should be.  Rather it needed to be a stone circle where they could observe ritual, meet with friends or do whatever.  This needed to be a place where they could feel the energy of their gods and their beliefs – a place where they would be reminded that they did matter.

Seven years ago I requested a stone circle to be built on campus.  For seven years I would periodically bring the subject up to those that needed to be reminded that Pagans did not have a place of their own like other faiths.  For seven years energy was built to push a dream forward and for seven years the ancestors watched and waited.  After seven years the energy culminated and the ancestors were heard.  I was asked to resubmit the proposal and all agreed that a circle would be built.

What changed in that seven years?  My position changed from advisor to Chaplain and with that a voice formerly foreign at the religious table was now heard. A new Dean at the Chapel was introduced.  The previous Dean had welcomed Pagans to the Chapel but it was the current Dean that understood the need for place. What changed was Pagans became recognized as valuable members of the religious makeup of the University deserving the same respect as any other faith tradition.

Yes, today is a day of dreams.  The stone circle doesn’t look like the stone circles created so long ago.  There are no standing stones familiar to so many.  There are only four stones – a stone at each cardinal point creating a 20’ inner circle.  The stones are large and made of blue stone, imbedded in the ground laying flush with the earth.  They needed to be unobtrusive, reflective of landscape and useable.  They are altar stones and any tradition, Pagan or otherwise, will be able to use them.  The dream came to life today when four stones were laid.

However, the laying of these stones is not the end of the dreams.  It’s the beginning of dreams.  A place for the seeds of possibility to break through and find sunlight to help them grow.  For many the creation of this circle seemed like a natural process and in many ways it was. When the voice of the ancestors sang once again those ready to hear their story listened and all barriers became non-existent. This was the right thing to do, this was the right day to do it and on this Samhain the ancestors will be honored in their stone circle.

Today I am overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed with both the awe that I feel when I realize what has happened but also at the thought of what will be the next dream to come to life.

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