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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.

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.

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.

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.

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

I have to start today by saying this: I don’t belong here and I don’t know that I, or any other minority religious person, will ever belong at this conference any time in the near future.  I make this statement because it is evident after a full day of workshops, a few discussions, and the overall reactions of the majority of participants that anyone who is not Christian is considered less than.

Yesterday morning I began with breakfast, still gauging where I fit in and decided that fitting in wasn’t the key; rather jumping in with both feet would be best and to finally decide which workshop/seminars to attend.  The first was on women’s spirituality.  It intrigued me because the description cited discussions on goddesses.  Presented by the Chaplain at a small, all-women’s college, the information was on wellness and the role of spirituality within that and how they teach interfaith understanding.   She had us introduce ourselves, including faith tradition, at the beginning of the seminar.  I suddenly became the pink elephant in the room.  When I stated I was the Pagan Chaplain she was happy and explained that there was “lots of Neo-Pagan things” in her presentation.  A picture of a May Pole dance and Goddess Discussions as a quick bullet point were as close to “lots” as it got – but it was “exciting that I was there”.  I spoke with her afterwards and she explained that the neo-pagan group was the largest religious group on campus, but they floundered because they had no guidance.  You would think that an effort would be made to find someone to help out the largest spiritual group but apparently that isn’t the case.  She mentioned maybe I could come and talk at their college – am I now the educator of the world? No, I just don’t belong here.

The second seminar was about mentoring students build their own faith tradition – sounded interesting.  It was, but the discussion soon devolved about students coming from traditions that put them in a place of being told what to believe rather than allowing them to explore.  What do we do for those students, they live their traditions as they are dictated and would never go for such a program.  The presenters for the workshop were Christian, which was not a surprise to me.  What happened though, was that I began to understand that the language used with and the education guiding most of the conference participants is by Christians for Christians and unless you accept their perspective there is no common ground for discussion.  In fact you are looked at (literally) as if you are stupid.  I have to say that no one was asked to identify their faith tradition in this seminar – the gentleman sitting next to me, just assumed that I was Christian and so the discussion we had was based in his belief that I agree with his philosophies. Trust me it was interesting, it was the second time in less than four hours that someone thought I was a Christian. I don’t belong here.

It was the third seminar that sent me over the edge.  It was on the ability to craft a common language around spirituality – the presenter’s take was no, spirituality is a word that should be done away with.  Faith, religion had to be based in long standing tradition and practices and that is what was needed to be built on in the schools so that students “have a foundation of belief.”  If that wasn’t bad enough it was the reaction of the room when she discussed the demographics of students religious identification.  Snickers were loud when she mentioned in a sarcastic tone the “other religious” designation.  It was even louder in its mocking tone when she mentioned a Jewish Wiccan Quaker student.  Three religions the student had been raised in. I was seething and so was my friend, a Protestant Chaplain, seated next to me.  I don’t belong here.

The ingrained dogma and blind self serving attitudes of many are infuriating.  This conference has been a slap to the face reminding me of the prejudice of Christians which includes the attitude of assimilating other religions so that “we can all be the same.” We aren’t all the same.  I don’t belong here. Or maybe I do, maybe I belong to be a thorn in the side of the monster, you know to kick the hornets’ nest and all that to let them know that they are not alone nor will they ever be. I may go home early, I will not out myself to anyone else here, talking is not effective, but maybe my presence is.  I know this has made an impact on those I work the closest with at the University.  They have heard my anger and how I feel at the moment about their religion.  It will make for good discussion later.

Or maybe I need to stay just a little longer so that I can explain the rest of the story of the US Air Force Academy.

 

Its been a while since I posted.  Life has been busy and sometimes those things that are near and dear to your heart drop to the wayside.  Well, life truly has been full, but with the new year coming it is time to start writing again.  So much has happened, so much to talk about… but first I thought that I would begin the year by sharing a poem that was posted by a friend.  I wish I could say that I wrote it, but I didn’t.  Please enjoy and share.

A Pagans “Halloween” Poem
Author Cather Steincamp

‘Twas the evening of Samhain, and all through the place
Were pagans preparing the ritual space.
The candles were set in the corners with care,
In hopes that the Watchtowers soon would be there.

We all had our robes on (as is habitual)
And had just settled down and were starting our ritual
When out on the porch there arose such a chorus
That we went to the door, and waiting there for us
Were children in costumes of various kinds
With visions of chocolate bright in their minds.

In all of our workings, we’d almost forgot,
But we had purchased candy (we’d purchased a LOT),
And so, as they flocked from all over the street,
They all got some chocolate or something else sweet.
We didn’t think twice of delaying our rite,
Kids just don’t have this much fun every night.

For hours they came, with the time-honored schtick
Of giving a choice: a treat or a trick.
As is proper, the parents were there for the games,
Watching the children and calling their names.

“On Vader, On Leia, On Dexter and DeeDee,
On Xena, on Buffy, Casper and Tweety!
To the block of apartments on the neighboring road;
You’ll get so much candy, you’ll have to be TOWED!”

The volume of children eventually dropped,
And as it grew darker, it finally stopped.
But as we prepared to return to our rite,
One child more stepped out of the night.

She couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen.
Her hair was deep red, and her robe, forest green
With a simple gold cord tying off at the waist.
She’d a staff in her hand and a smile on her face.
No make-up, nor mask, or accompanying kitsch,
So we asked who she was; she replied “I’m a witch.

And no, I don’t fly through the sky on my broom;
I only use that thing for cleaning my room.
My magical powers aren’t really that neat,
But I won’t threaten tricks; I’ll just ask for a treat.”

We found it refreshing, so we gave incense cones,
A candle, a crystal, a few other stones,
And the rest of the candy (which might fill a van).
She turned to her father (a man dressed as Pan)
And laughed, “Yes, I know, Dad, it’s past time for bed,”
And started to leave, but she first turned and said

“I’m sorry for further delaying your rite.
Blessed Samhain to all, and a magical night.”

It has been a week since we arrived back from our adventure in England and it seems like we should be going back to see all that we weren’t able to. But I suppose that journey is yet to be. It also seems as if we have never left and are still there. I know at least it is that way for me, I know that I both left and took away something from my time on the Tor, my time in the stones.

I’ve seen all the students that went during this past week, some in passing and others for hours of deep conversations. I would say that we were all changed in deep and profound ways that have yet to be revealed. When we finally do find the moment to look back and see the changes that occurred it may be 5 or 10 years down the road. That is okay. As a very brilliant man said, the truest, deepest teaching is that which comes back far down the road as a revelation and a memory all at once. It isn’t the quick assessment at the end of the term. No, we are all still transitioning from who we were, to what we gained, and then on to what we are to become because of our experience.

I just want to thank everyone who helped both with energy or funding, in making this extraordinary experience a reality. Home is not what it used to be, it is something greater. It is the web of connection between all of us who participated including the sponsors. It is finding that there is something greater than the self, greater than the differences, greater than the inadequate words that we use to express ourselves. So, home that is where I am at. I am at a placer greater than I can imagine and I am there with all of you and then some.

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