The events for the installation of the Dean of the Chapel did not end with the reception afterward.  Oh no, there were activities that evening and then into the next day.  That is right, what was to come next was a great deal of fun… and momentary terror.

After the reception the Dean and her guests (family, close friends, chaplains at Hendricks, and a few special guests) gathered to share a very fine meal and conversation.  In our case, Tim and I were seated with some of the Chapel staff and two members of the Board of Friends of Hendricks.  It was a great dinner; conversation initially was a little awkward but only because the two of us didn’t know the Board of Friends members.  Actually I didn’t even know who they were at all until after the dinner.  But that is neither here nor there.

Tim and I talked and were joined with small conversation with the Chapel staff, but our two other dining mates were somewhat silent.  In order to break the silence I decided to introduce myself and then, well, wing it.  The conversation that ensued was great and I found out that the wife of the couple had noticed, really noticed, Tim’s kilt.  Gotta love a Scot in a kilt – most ladies do.  But we talked about the students and the different things that I do with them as the chaplain.  There were questions regarding my cloak and what the meaning behind it was.  If anything it was pleasant conversation and I believe that is was enjoyed by all those that participated.  But then it happened; the speeches began.  It was two small bits followed by the guest speaker Brad Hirschfield, Orthodox Rabbi and author of “You Don’t Have to be Wrong for Me to be Right.”

As he spoke he set the tone for the events of the following day: a thought-provoking discussion regarding Sacred Envy. He talked about meeting in the middle and doing good for each other.  It carried into finding the good and was continued in this thought for a bit. His words were profound and struck deep cords with everyone in the room.  When he finished it was silent.  How do you follow him, how do you follow the deep profoundness of what he stated?  I sat there wondering and then it hit me, tomorrow I was one of the panel members to talk on Sacred Envy.  I had to follow this man’s words that were let hanging in the room.  Terror began to set in.

The next day I made my way to the Hillel Center.  This would be where the panel on Sacred Envy would take place.  I was there early and only a few others had arrived.  In fact only the Dean and the staff members that I had eaten dinner with last night were there setting up.  The chairs for the panel members were in place with their name placards next to them letting me know where I was going to sit.  Then I saw it and I really began to panic.  The order of seated members was set.  The moderator was on the far right, then Brad Hirschfield, and then me.  The other three members didn’t matter at that point.  I had asked the question out loud and in my head a dozen times: “How do you follow Brad?”  Guess what I was literally following him on every question and discussion point!  I explained my “panic” to the Dean with a chuckle in my voice and she smiled.  “Mary, we did that on purpose.” Oh my… what does that mean!?  People began to file in and soon we were asked to sit, I was nervous, I was scared.  And then it began.

The questions for the panel were simple.  There were only two of them:

  1. What do you find beautiful in your own tradition, something you are proud of.  And then what do you find beautiful in faith traditions not your own.
  2. What do you find challenging in your own tradition and what do you find challenging in faith traditions not your own.

Like I said simple questions; however, the answers were anything but.  Brad went first and he was eloquent.  His eloquence came from his genuine nature, something that I had been talking with him prior to the start.  This is a man who speaks from the heart and has no pretense about him.  He is real, that is where his power is born.  But it was from his words that I found my calm.  I knew what I was proud of, what I found beautiful in my own faith tradition, in being Pagan.  I find the fact that we are an oral tradition beautiful.  This one fact makes us unique.  But there is more to it than that, it makes us responsible for passing along our traditions and teachings.  It makes us personally responsible for what we pass on to others and that those we give knowledge to are ready to receive it.  It makes our faith personal, so personal that we hold it in our hearts and minds and share it in the most personal way.  We share it through spoken word between two people.  Teachers must find students who must find teachers and in the end who sits in the role of teacher and student is up for debate.  I’m also proud of our perseverance to continue our traditions and to continue practicing our faith.  It isn’t easy being Pagan; it takes courage to face what we face from those that do not understand us or our practices.

The conversation of the panel continued and many subjects were covered.  Both the moderator and the audience asked questions of the panel and in the end of each other.  You see at the end of the “formal” discussion we had lunch.  At our tables we began to talk intimately regarding the two questions of the day.  It was interesting what others had to say on the subjects. 

Then it was time to go. I began to say good-bye to several people and a funny thing happened on the way to the door.  People wanted to talk more.  Pagans had been in the audience and had asked great questions.  People who had not identified their pagan nature to the general public were introducing themselves and letting me know who they were.  And then I found Brad to say my farewell and to my surprise he thanked me.  He thanked me for being on the panel and speaking the way that I do.  The entire day was humbling and it began to dawn on me the immense magnitude of what had just taken place.  A Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, A Muslim, and a Pagan came together to talk frankly about what they loved and didn’t about their own faiths and the faiths of others. 

For us, the man whom I could not fathom following said: “What I love about the Pagans is their abundance.  Abundance in everything they are and do.  They wish to share their abundance and do so freely, it is wonderful.”