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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.

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.

SPIRALIt is one thing to have faith; it is another thing altogether to trust. That’s right, trust. I have told a lot of people over the years that all they need to do is trust.  Whether it is in themselves, in others, in a process or in the gods makes no difference.  The comment is always the same – trust, all will be as it should be and you will be fine, so just have some trust. The lesson that I have learned this week is to trust.

There are times when things just seem to go wrong, it happens to the best of us, and there is nothing we can do about it.  While that is true on occasion how we move through those times to get to the other side does matter.  What happened this week to me doesn’t matter, at least not the details; what does matter is that I had to sit back and think deep and hard what is it I truly believe and what guides my life.  I could state the obvious answer; the one that is expected and say that my deities, faith, and beliefs guide me and that would be a true statement.  However, there is more to it than that.

I know what I believe.  I know what I have faith in.  I know who my deities are.  These are things I know – this week I had to learn the hard lesson of trusting my deities, my faith and what I believe in.  I handed over a situation that I could not see the other side of.  I had to go against every instinct and accept that the messages I was receiving were correct rather than what I “knew” was the answer.  Was it easy? No. Trust was the real answer and trust is what I did.

So how do you get to the point of trusting?  I’m not sure, but it started out with listening and then accepting what was being said.  It doesn’t hurt to have an amazing partner in my life that trusts me completely.  It also doesn’t mean having blind trust.  Just like blind faith, that type of trust will lead a person into peril and possible hurt of all kinds.  But when you trust it is a matter of understanding that there are consequences to doing so.  Those consequences can be either good or bad or both and if you trust you need to be willing to accept whatever consequence comes along.  Once that is understood trusting becomes a more natural process.

So I ask, where have you placed your trust and have you given it wisely.  It may not feel like what you are trusting is the logical thing to do, but if in your heart you know it is the right thing then why not do so?  I could have stayed on a very safe path this week and I chose not to.  I don’t regret that one bit and the consequences that have come from that is simple:  1) I am stronger that I thought, 2) My faith is deeper than I ever thought it could be, and 3) my ancestors will always have my back.  A person can’t ask for more than that.

 

There are days when I have to laugh at how we all understand each other. For a very long time I was the newest Chaplain and with that designation came certain nervousness about finding my way and offending anyone. That is over. I’m no longer the newbie in the bunch. That is someone else and to be honest in one way it’s funny to watch. I mean heck, I’m the Pagan how could I make the new Christian feel nervous? Well…

I have always been the only one here on Mondays. Most of the other Chaplains take the day off because they work on Sunday. So it is a little odd to have other people in the office on Monday now. Nice but odd and I’m finding it to be amusing. This morning our newest Chaplain wanted to make sure that I had read the email regarding some “redecorating” that was going on. I hadn’t read it only because I hadn’t received it. She was confused, she had sent it to my email she thought and I should have had it last week. Unfortunately it was the wrong email so I never saw it. Once she found that out she began to explain what we are doing, nothing big, but she wanted to make sure I didn’t feel left out. I didn’t and I’m fine with what the changes are. After our conversation ended I was continuing on with my morning routine of reading and catching up on stuff. That’s right, just stuff.

oreosThere is a website I love called Thug Kitchen. If you haven’t read it you should. It is just fun, but it can be a little raw at times. So I had just finished reading the latest post of stories about meals that have gone terribly wrong. I mean terribly wrong. I was in shock at the last one it was so funny but at that very moment my colleague, the new Chaplain, walked in and offered me coffee and Oreos. Now I had just read this post, was offered food and couldn’t help myself. I said thank you and then told her that I didn’t think she was someone who offended easily and wondered if that was true. At that moment the conversation became humorous.

Her face was blank; she didn’t look like she knew how to respond. And she agreed that she didn’t really offend easily and I explained that I thought she would find the stories (yes some of them were about college students) hilarious. She relaxed and laughed. She had the horrible thought that an offer of coffee and Oreos was code to Pagans for some strange sex ritual and that she had offended me! All could do was laugh. Now I’ll be the first to say that I am huge on language and how we need to modify how it is used to be more inclusive. However, I have to say that I’m not aware of a bizarre coffee and Oreo ritual at this time. We did laugh about it but it made me chuckle about how much the rest of the world doesn’t know about what we do.

This did make me think though. Maybe I need to do another Ritual of Understanding so that people begin to familiarize themselves with our practices. Maybe I should invite them all to Pagan Pride Day festivals. After all they really are about educating non-Pagans. Or maybe I should give the newbie a break and bring her peanut butter cookies and cocoa instead with a note that this is what we use in those odd rituals late at night!

And no, there was no offense. Just good laughter and learning that we are both human.

Yesterday was a day of disbelief – it will remain that for quite some time.

As I read the headline for the first time I didn’t understand it. I had to read it again and again and again; but it sank in and I got it.  A most horrific event had occurred and the innocents of the world had paid the ultimate price for the anger and mental state of another.  They were dead. I was numb. The conversation in my shop was continuing. I was the only one who had read the headline and I couldn’t bring myself to repeat it.  Not at that moment, not until everyone left and it was just I and my friend across the room.  It was then that I said the words, whatever words they were, that told her of the tragic events unfolding in Newton, Connecticut.

Moments later a Facebook post from one of my students; this was only 15 minutes from where she lives.  Then another post, and another, and another; they continued to one after the other.  Disbelief, grief, sadness, shock; there are no words to describe how everyone felt, how we feel.  Words of comfort and consolation sent out from one person to the next. Virtual hugs and messages of mourning and love were little to console the madness of the day.  I lit a candle.

emma

It seems such a small gesture but for me it was the only thing I could do at the moment.  A candle lit so that the ancestors could lead the nation’s babies to their place among them.  This way they would not be struggling in the dark trying to find their way alone.  The light would help them; it would help me. I always tell everyone to take care of yourself first then you are able to take care of others.  This I needed to do for me.

I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a sister, a friend and many more things than these few definitions.  I am flesh and blood and the sea of emotion inside me is deep.  It is the same with everyone I know.  There are times when the care givers need to take care as well, and so the candle was lit.  It was a single act and now I move forward to try to make sense of an event that is beyond the darkest recesses of the mind.  Now I take on that other role, the one that I wrap the title Chaplain around.  It is time for the Priestess to come forward and to help walk the bright souls through the veil as they need to and to hold the individuals left behind in universal arms to console their grief.

It makes no difference if you knew the victims of yesterday’s tragedy the grief and loss of so many is overwhelming.  It is the grief for lost innocence, for babies who will no longer be able to look at the world in wonder, wondering when senseless violence will end, for the lost respect for life and for so much more.  We as the human race lost so much yesterday I believe it is time to rethink what we value and what we want to leave our children as a legacy to be proud of.

These are my grandbabies: Emma, Logan and Isla.  They are beautiful and full of life. I cannot imagine loganwhat life would be like without them around and I grieve for what the parents of the children in Newtown are going through.  But I make a promise to my three grandbabies to make this world better.  I promise to work so that no other parents or children have to endure this type of pain and that when they are old and have grandbabies of their own they can be proud of the changes that came about because a few people decided that the world needed to be safe.

islaDo I know what that means? No, but I do know that if we do not begin to value life more than a trip to the mall on Black Friday then as a caring people we are doomed.  If we do not care enough for our children to disengage from a culture which glorifies violence more babies will die.  If we decide to not change then we decide that money and guns are our gods and that life in all its forms means nothing. Only the powerful and the feared will walk this land but never feeling quite safe.

I challenge all of you to make the same promise to someone you love.  Maybe, just maybe, if we all make such a promise the world can become a better place.

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.

Yesterday was unusual; I was up and on the road before 6 am. That is unheard of! But for good reason, I needed to be on campus early in order to attend the Common Ground for Peace Conference’s morning panel discussion entitled “The Rise of Democracy in the Middle East.” The panel had as its central speaker His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. For me this conference was a joy to attend and an amazing opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds available.

The discussion was profound, the messages deep and I learned. I learned that the former head of the CIA, James Woolsey, is adamant that as a world we need to eliminate our need for oil. Not just foreign oil by the USA; but our dependence on ALL oil as a world. We must stop using it altogether. It was also enlightening to know that he reads bumper stickers – especially ones that state “if you want peace fight for justice.” I have a new-found respect for Mr. Woolsey; he truly is an advocate for peace and the human race as a whole. Then there was Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist. Democracy and social justice were the battle cries that she carried quietly with her. She was correct when she stated that the true measure of democracy and social justice with in a society can be seen in how it treats its women. In my opinion we are failing in this respect, some countries and states worse than others but on a whole we are failing. I took pause when Irshad Manji spoke of everyone’s basic right to question the world around them. I had always considered free thought a right, but for some reason today it became highlighted even more. Not only should we be able to think freely but also question freely without fear of condemnation or imprisonment. All of the speakers were amazing, but it truly was his Holiness that I came to see.

He was the last one to be introduced and as the Dali Lama entered the room I could feel a wave of energy spread throughout the crowd. What he brought with him was the feeling of peace; the feeling of pure spirituality. When he spoke his meaning was clear: children have figured it out; they find the common amongst each other. They find what is common and good and that is what they hold on to when they play. Children get along because it is the right and fun thing to do; they find the oneness of humanity that as adults we so often lose. As he continued to speak it was the lesson of inner peace despite what else is happening. To create peace in this world we need to find it within ourselves first. He talked directly to the students in the audience because they are the next generation, the generation of this century as he put it. They are the ones to create peace in this century. Do I believe they will? I think they can if they remember to do so. As he stated to us all, it starts first with the individual finding peace within themselves and then carrying that peace to those around them. As a reminder he reiterated peace is not the absence of violence but something else, an acceptance of peace within and then finding that peace in others. In that way we can place value on the individual, more emphasis as a society on peace than on war, and more value on each other as humans rather than on possessions or monetary gain.

In the end his message was simple: find the oneness of humanity, find the peace within.

Community is an amazing thing. It is a word that means something different to many people and over the next few days/weeks I fully intend to discuss as much as I can about it. But to begin with why I find community amazing, I must go back to the beginning of summer and the conference at Yale that I had such high hopes for and was sorely disappointed in. What has transpired since then has been nothing less than amazing.

I have been included in many discussions, panels, interfaith initiatives and much that physically prove that things are changing. But a more important thing is occurring on a much smaller scale. It is the interaction between individuals that say “I see you and I find value in you.” What a wonderful place the world would be if we all could look at a stranger (or a relative for that matter) and realize that one thing – we all have value.

I find that this is the single most important thing that each person I run into values. They have been recognized and appreciated by another for who they are. At the same time as I was dealing with the conference I was having conversation with my daughter who now lives in Southern Alabama. It was a great move for her and her little family. Work opportunities were better there as well as her husband’s family. Needless to say her health benefited from a warmer climate as well. Unfortunately Southern Alabama is not the easiest place to find other Pagans.

As we talked about being alone it hadn’t dawned on me, nor had it her prior to her move, that there are places in this country where crickets are louder than the local Pagan community and, therefore, almost impossible to find. She told me that she had always practiced solitary as an adult, and she has, but there was always a shop, family, friends, drum circles and festivals to be found where “community” could be found. In her new home there is virtually nothing. No Pagan Pride Day in the state, only two shops that she can find in all of Alabama that she “thinks” are Pagan and a silence that says don’t tell anyone your religious views. New challenges with new surroundings shouldn’t have to include feeling that you have to hide a part of yourself.

So, where does this bring me in my rambling? Last night’s debates contained a statement by Mitt Romney that went as follows:

“…I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country… We’re a nation that believes that we’re all children of the same god…”

Unfortunately these two statements rip at the fabric of community and the diversity that it represents. I do not believe in this statement. No, I do not believe that we are “all children of the same god” nor do I believe that there is any religious tolerance in the statements made by Mr. Romney. His statements contradict themselves, you cannot have tolerance and state that we all believe the same thing; it doesn’t work that way. Sadly my daughter is living in a place she loves but must practice her faith in secret because to do otherwise would subject her entire family religious discrimination.

Community is a beautiful thing, treasure it wherever it is and however it is, but when you do so understand that not everyone experiences it the same. Do your words hurt or harm and more important if you are Pagan and very much out of the closet don’t judge those that haven’t taken that step yet. Support them in their decision on who to tell or not because you don’t know what it is they experience when they are alone.

It has been a rough week, an enlightening week.  I thank everyone that has listened because this was not an easy journey that I walked but I did it knowing that all of you are here.  I know that what I do is worth it because we are worth it and parts of the world need to know that there are others who have voices that will never be silenced.  Every last one of you inspires me to move forward, you are why I do what I do.

So, what next; in all fairness what comes next is sharing the perspectives that I received from this experience and what the few positives were.  So here goes:

  1. Janice Jones – my roommate from Wales.  She allowed me a voice when I felt I had none.  She listened, was compassionate and understood my frustrations.  She is from Prifysgol Glyndwr University, Wrexham.  Send her a note if you think of it and acknowledge the kindness she showed me.
  2. There is something I need to do, or at least needs to be done, with the young women of Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC.  I’m not sure what it is, but I am sure that it will manifest itself eventually.
  3. The Air Force – believe it or not even though their language was embedded in Christianity they were the most open-minded group that I encountered.  I can’t fault them for the language, it is all they know and they are willing to be educated.  I spoke with them the first evening and expressed a desire to talk to them about their stone circle.  The end result was an agreement to an ongoing discussion after the conference and a possible trip to the Academy to visit the circle and see what they have done.  In all honesty, the military was not what I expected to be the highlight and they turned out to be. Oh and I am getting a copy of their Religious Respect curriculum in order to understand what they teach their cadets.
  4. What to do in the future – this is the question that faces me now and this is what I think…

I just ran the gauntlet; I hadn’t intended to, but I did.  The wounds to my mind are fresh and the bruises on my soul have barely started turning color but my  soul and the beliefs I hold in my heart are intact.  It’s time to breathe deep and move forward and forward will take me to many places; I just have to start by taking one step.  I’ve done that by looking for positive from this experience.  With that, I think that a symposium centered on minority religions, religious tolerance, and listening to the marginalized on how best to respect them is in my future.  Leaving the dogma behind it is time we remember that we were all born with two ears and one mouth. People in the majority need to quit telling others how to be “integrated” and start listening to what people in the minority are saying.  They would be amazed at what they hear.

I found the following on YouTube today.  Let’s just say it’s how I feel, it speaks to what is in my heart and hopefully it will help you understand what keeps me moving forward. Thank you Bill, Kate, Kurt and everyone else; this is for you.

http://youtu.be/13dsYEOi5TY

There was only one session yesterday, I wasn’t sure I was going to stick around to even have breakfast let alone attend any workshops, but I gave it a go.  I had wanted to talk to the Dean of Hendricks Chapel to let her know my opinion of the conference, I figured these guys could feed me breakfast, and besides I needed to talk to the Air Force again.

Breakfast was quiet, I ate alone but I suppose that might have been due in part to the energy of “leave me alone” that I was exuding.  I wanted no one here to talk to me.  Almost every time someone had spoken to me the day before I had become more and more horrified and I just did not want to deal with that again.  That’s right, it wasn’t just the workshops/seminars but it was everything; especially when I was assumed one thing based on looks rather than actual discussion.  This is where privilege of the majority comes into play and assumptions are made about those by that majority.  You see, I don’t dress in all black long flowing skirts, I don’t drip pentacles that could be used as weapons and hinder me from walking forward due to their weight, I don’t do goth makeup, nor do I drag a broom and cauldron around behind me with a black cat continuously rubbing up against my legs.  In other words I don’t look like a stereotype; I look like a normal member of society.  Here the norm is Christian, therefore I look like a Christian.  Sure, that’s what I look like.  So I shouldn’t have been confused when I was asked if I would like to attend the WSCF meeting.  I had no idea what that was, I smiled and said maybe.

The invitation was extended by a woman who I had talked to the night before for over an hour, in the conversation stating that I was the Pagan Chaplain at the University.  The questions were interesting, like “so what issues do you get to deal with being a Pagan Chaplain”? My answer, the same issues that all Chaplains deal with if they are working with students.  I am not different from any one else.  So it was interesting that after that hour-long discussion she extended this offer for me to attend and get involved in WSCF.  Then I found out what that is: World Student Christian Federation.  I’m not sure on what planet this woman was from.  Either she completely did not listen to the hour-long conversation we had, OR she thought it would be good for me and my kind if I promoted Christianity around the world.  I’m still confused and a little horrified.  It was about then that I really decided not to talk to anyone about my faith tradition or who I represent.

So, the session I decided to attend was regarding Liturgical Hospitality.  It was all about food, setting a table literally that would be welcoming to all without offending any so that different groups could share a meal and get to know each other better.  It was an interesting topic, one that was “safe” to attend because it was about food more than it was about religion or trying to accommodate the other.  Unfortunately the speaker asked that we break into small groups to discuss experiences when we might have seen this go right and also horribly wrong.  The wrong was easy, the assumptions made in a Western cultural context did not pan out for most when working with other cultures or societies.  The comments were interesting in our group.  The “what went right” was also simple.  Accommodation can be an easy task when thought about.  But it was the last comment made by the gentleman in our group that took me back.  He simply stated: “This is good and I don’t mind accommodating, but when is my turn.  I feel like a victim because not accommodates me.”

No one accommodates me?  The voice of privilege has spoken and it asked: as a white, Christian, male when will someone accommodate my needs and serve me.  I was floored.  He had to be kidding, but he wasn’t.  I kept silent; this was not a right conversation.  He was serious.

I left there and had a silent lunch.  I was still debating whether or not to pack my bags and just leave but sometimes we get a nudge in a direction that we didn’t expect.  My friend Patty had sent me a note and then a text.  The pub I had mentioned was the best in New Haven, she would be there in about 20 minutes to see me.  We had a wonderful afternoon which included great Irish food and Smithwick’s by the pint.  We caught up on a lot of things and she gave me some great advice – regardless of the experience if there is one thing, anything, that I can take away that will help me or the students or anyone I needed to stay and find it.  So, about 6 hours and several pints later I walked back to my room, cracked open a book and settled in for the night.

Today I go home and it is an ending that I welcome.  I stayed for the entire conference; trust me that wasn’t easy.  I wanted to leave and just go home but I’ll find that beautiful thing today.  One can only hope.

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