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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!

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.

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.

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.

A day of possibilities is here.  It’s the first day of the academic year and students are attending the first classes of the semester.  Tonight is also the first meeting of the Pagan students for the year as well.  I look forward to this time because it is a time full of wonder, excitement and the knowledge that anything is possible. It is the last that I love more than anything.

So what do I have in mind for this year?  I’m not sure about the definitive but I do know the possibilities:

  1. Finish my bulletin board (it may not seem like a lot but trust me it is)!
  2. Participate in at least two interfaith events on campus.  This will be fun and I’m already working on it.
  3. Figure out fundraising – This one is actually very important.  Every other religious organization or church has on going funding from their larger denomination or sponsoring church.  I would like to see that happen here in order to better serve the students.
  4. Finish a few writing projects.  Some are about the Chaplaincy and some are not.
  5. Write my blog more!  This is actually the number two priority – write here at least once a week.  The number one priority is actually:
  6. Teach what I can to the students and find others qualified to teach them what I cannot.  I only know what I know and that is all.  There is so much in this to offer and give to the students that I am continuously looking for new and different people to introduce them to and in the process new and differing views on faith, belief and themselves.

So let’s take this journey of possibility together.  Keep me on track where you can and in the end we will end up in a much better place than we started because we worked together.

And if you want to help out with getting the fundraising part started right away you can always go to our Contribute page.

Once again Hendricks Chapel is taking students to London to explore the dynamics of interfaith understanding and cooperation. It is an amazing opportunity for the students who will be forming the future policies on social issues that are intertwined with religious acceptance. We have students that are working hard to earn the funds to be able to go on this trip and I’m asking that you help them in any way that you can. First, we have put together an online Avon fund-raiser. As my husband said “this isn’t your grandma’s Avon.” Lots of things from stocking stuffers, makeup, and fragrances to clothes, cookware and jewelry.

This particular event will last for about two weeks, ending on December 14th and in plenty of time for anything purchased for the holidays to arrive at your door. You can access the online event at http://www.youravon.com/mkhudson, then use the special promotion code “SPIRAL” during checkout. When you do this 20% of all sales will go toward the students on this trip.

If you prefer to just donate directly you can do so through PayPal. Just log into PayPal and hit the “send money” button. Use the email address COTGCampusPagans@gmail.com as the email to send funds to. This will put the funds directly into the account setup for the student’s fundraising. Remember to forward this on to all of those you know regardless of whether or not you think they will be interested. You might be surprised!

Both the students and I thank you deeply for your contributions both the trip but also for the interfaith understanding that such an event creates.

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.

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