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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

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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 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/

Ritual in a Box (TM).

Avebury

Avebury

 

Today think about what you have been given in your life and the things that have brought you to where you are.  Then I challenge you to give thanks…

Thanks for what was
Thanks for what is
Thanks for what will be

Don’t judge any of it, just know that you are where you

are supposed to be at this moment and that all things will be as they are meant to be.

wolf

12/12/12 – A day when balance is supposed to come forward, when light workers and healers are supposed to feel the increase in energies and raise to a higher vibration and so many other things that we have “discovered” will happen are to become manifest.

But I wonder… nature has no calendar other than the seasons as they turn. It does not put numbers on days, months or years so what makes this day any different from any other? The mother herself that gave birth to all from the great primordial sea placed no specific or special date on this one sun rising. Will the wolf, crow, raven, snake, whale, elk, lion, dragonfly or any other creature be lost in this shift that man has defined? I believe not. So why, as just another species in nature, does the human race create such an energy swirl around one random sunrise? Why not see everyday as a time to find balance, for raising our energies and achieving heightened awareness and deciding that we wish to be agents for peace, love and change.

I challenge you all to make those your goals as you contemplate the significance of today’s sunrise and take what you find beyond tonight’s sundown.

Oneness of Humanity.

This last Sunday I was given the honor of hosting a table at the annual International Thanksgiving Day dinner at the University.  It is a time when international students and their families are invited to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in order to experience and learn about a very American holiday.  It was a wonderful evening filled with turkey, pumpkin pie, and everything in between.  I was host to eight people, four students from China and a family of four from Botswana. 

We talked about a great many things, lots of questions asked and answered.  However, the most intriguing question, the one that caught me the most off guard did not come from my dinner companions.  The question came from one of the other Chaplains at the University.  I was asked, “So how do Pagans celebrate Thanksgiving?”  The question truly took me back.

My response was simple. “We do what everyone else does; we eat turkey and watch football or something while gathering with family and friends.  Thanksgiving isn’t a religious holiday, it’s an American Holiday.”  He was a little flustered and then his wife gave him a funny look.  She restated the obvious, this is a universal holiday in America and it isn’t religious in nature.  This made me think, what would possess another to assume that just because I’m Pagan I would have a “different” Thanksgiving tradition. 

I believe it isn’t so much that there was thought put behind the question.  In fact I think that it was someone, whom I make uncomfortable due to my spiritual beliefs, simply trying to make small talk.  But what bizarre small talk.  When did religion co-opt Thanksgiving?  I must say too that this is the same individual who took offense to the besom I wanted to keep in the office.  So, back to the question of what do people do for Thanksgiving?  I think that is simple, we give thanks; hence the name of the holiday.  How each individual does it, to whom they give thanks and why are all personal in nature.  In the beginning it was thanks for an abundant harvest that would allow some extremely unprepared people to survive the winter.  Something that had not happened for more than half of the settlers (Pilgrims) the first winter they were here.  Native Americans helped them by teaching how to live in this strange new land.  What a concept, accepting different ways of thinking and living in order to adapt to a changing environment.  Not trying to change the environment or its inhabitants to adapt to you, but you learning to adapt to it.  They gave thanks to their new-found friends for teaching them new skills and concepts. Now, I’m not sure and you can even call me a rebel here, but wouldn’t be an interesting world if we all continued to embrace that attitude? 

And yes, I am thankful today.  I am thankful for a multitude of things most of which I will keep to myself, but I do want to share a few of the bits of my life that I am most thankful for. 

  1. My health.  I have been ill the last couple of weeks and am finally feeling human again.  We all take for granted the health that we have until it is jeopardized and we see how fragile we are.  In that light, I am also thankful that I have health insurance that allows me to get the medical attention I need when I need it.  Being healthy should not be a commodity that only the privileged are allowed to obtain.  Everyone should be allowed access to health care when they need it and not based on their ability to obtain a job that gives it instead of a living wage.
  2. My home.  Yes, a good solid roof over my head with a wood stove to warm me.  This winter it will be magnificent here.  The snow will pile up outside but I will have shelter to protect me from the forces of the lake.  It gets bitter cold where we live and I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have reliable, safe housing.  I ask the gods to help those that do not have a place of their own to call home.  So many people have lost so much in these tough times that I am thankful for what I have been able to keep.
  3. My hope.  I know things do not always go right, not for me or for anyone else.  I am grateful that I can continue to keep hope alive that things will get better for everyone.  In fact I do believe that it already is.  I know that there are a lot of people whose world’s have been submerged in darkness over the last year or two and they do not understand what happened or “what they did wrong.”  For them I hope that they see that even the darkness can be a blessing.  Out of the chaos of the dark sea new opportunities can be born.  Take the time to “re-invent” yourself, I know in the past I have done just that and it can be very liberating.
  4. My family.  For this I am most thankful.  I have the best family in the world.  They are not perfect and I wouldn’t want them to be.  They are real.  My children (and their spouses) are the most amazing people I have ever met.  As a family we travelled together through good times and bad.  In the end we have found out who we really are at the core and how special is that!  Both my daughter and my son have created beautiful lives for themselves.  They each have amazing little ones for grandma to love.  I am proud of both of them.  My husband is my best friend.  There is nothing false about him; he doesn’t know how to be.  He has stood by me through my dark times and held my hand until I returned to the light.  When I want to start a new adventure he just smiles and laughs.  He has never tried to change me and when I told him that I was thankful for that his response was simple.  He liked the woman he met, why would he want to change me to be someone else?  My family of heart, my family of blood.  I am thankful for both.  They are different groups, each with its quirks and both have helped to shape who I am.  I love you all and thank you all for this journey we are on.

So there are the things that I am grateful for and that I’m willing to share.  Are these things that different from someone who is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion?  I don’t think so. I hope not.  No, I don’t believe religion plays into this one, just people being thankful for what they have.

I know there is no such thing as coincidence.  How do I know that?  Well, if there was such a thing, my life would be nothing more than a gigantic string of outrageous coincidences that started very early in my life.  Skeptical?  That’s okay, humor me a little, there is no such thing as coincidence.  Does that mean that fate takes over and we have only one destiny? No, not by a long shot, free will is never removed from our lives.  But what it means is that we are given opportunities at certain points.  What we do with those opportunities then determines how our future, and future opportunities, is shaped.

I just want to point out that I do say opportunity rather than challenge.  The opportunities in our life sometimes feel like challenges but that is only a matter of view-point.  Yes, we can see the challenge as an obstacle that is insurmountable, or we can see it as an opportunity to work magic and find new ways of being.  Either is a choice; each choice will lead to further opportunities, but not necessarily the same opportunities.  So, why am I rambling on about this?  Well that is simple.  This fall the Chaplains and Chapel staff came together with the Counseling Center on campus.  We wanted to talk to find out how each group can benefit from the work the other does.  More specifically the Chaplains wanted to understand what we could to help in grief counseling and suicide prevention.

This seems like a natural reaction to the recent rise in suicides in young adults.  The strange thing about this, however, is that the request by the Chaplains came long before these recent losses. That is right, a need had been defined a long time ago.  The increase of suicides on campuses across the country, and a feeling of inadequacy in dealing with the aftermath of grief that these deaths leave behind made us think that we needed to do something – to do more.  And so the work began; the challenge of coordinating schedules and to figure out what we needed to discuss and learn about each group and each other.  What did we each bring to the table as a skill or as a need?  We are continuing to work on our abilities to combine our efforts.  We are all here for the students.  For those feeling unable to deal with the grief as well as to help those who feel they can no longer cope with their lives.

Am I a counselor? No, and I would never say that I am nor try to do the work that they do.  But I am someone who individuals can come to if they need to talk or find solace in their lives.  I don’t have all the answers, none of us do.  But like all the Chaplains, I am here to help, to help in ways that I didn’t know that I could.  Working with the Counseling Center to see what we can do is the beginning.  The “It Gets Better” messages are also a beginning – a wonderful beginning.  I am happy to see so many respond to the need of people who are hurting, but the greater challenge is to take the next step, continue the work.  Or should I say that there is an opportunity here; an opportunity to get involved with a group to do more to stop the bullying, to stop the senseless deaths. 

By making the choice to get involved, by seeing that challenge as an opportunity maybe you will make a surprising discovery.  Maybe, just maybe, you find that the outsider that is being bullied is a warm and caring person with a great deal to offer.  Maybe they will be the one individual that will listen to you when you need someone to talk to. Maybe they will be the friend that you need because you became the friend that they needed.  You never know what you will discover when you decide to turn a challenge into an opportunity.  It could be the difference in someone’s life, maybe yours.  So don’t only say it will get better, actively work to help someone see that it does.

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