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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.

 

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.

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

It has been quite a while since I have paid attention to my writing.  Not because I did not want to write, but because there are times in life when there just is not enough time to do everything.  This last year has been one of those times.  Taking a short sabbatical from the blog was essential in order to give proper attention to everything else that was going on. Most specifically, I needed to pay attention to the business that funds me sufficiently so that I can continue with the chaplaincy at the University: I opened up a small store.  I can, and will, talk about it for hours and will relate a great deal of what has gone on there here in this blog as it directly relates; but first I want to discuss the conference that I am at – the 2012 Global Conference of Chaplains in Higher Education.

I drove to New Haven yesterday and had about five hours to myself to contemplate the time I would be spending here.  How many people would be here, what different religions, what countries, who would my roommate be, and most importantly how well would we all get along.  As I asked the questions I did what I always do – I looked to the clouds.  They have always told me what would be lying ahead and sure enough they did.  Despite the thunderstorm and the torrential rains the sun broke through and the drive was a pleasant one.  It was a matter of “arriving” at the other side of the storm.  When I did I saw two clouds, two people really, looking at each other.  They were slowly coming together and melding into one unified being.  I could feel the laughter coming off of them and so that is how I viewed this conference.  There would be controversy, disagreement on some issues, a torrent of emotions for many and in the end a coming together in understanding that all of this is really not about any of the individuals but rather trying to make a better place to live.

The drive finally came to an end and I was able to check into my room on campus.  The conference itself is at Yale University and that is where I’m staying.  In room, car parked for the week, and registered for the conference.  I was done with it all just in time for the welcoming reception to begin.  As I sat down with my non-alcoholic mojito (they made a very specific point there was no alcohol at the conference) I began to thumb through the program for the week when all of a sudden a gentleman bent down near me and said “Hello Mary.”  I was so surprised; it was Fritz Lampe, a Lutheran minister from Flagstaff, Arizona.  What was so significant about this is that Fritz was key to the Pagan students being recognized at Syracuse University.  He was the original person asked to be their adviser.  He would have loved to but unfortunately didn’t feel it was a good idea for his position as the Lutheran Chaplain on campus at the time.  It was because of that decision that the students found me and I became their adviser.  Fritz was always a friend and advocate for the recognition of the Pagans on campus and it was a joy to be able to reconnect with him.

I soon found all my other SU colleagues and off to dinner we went.  Dinner was nice, but the bonus prize was being able to connect with one of the US Air Force Academy Chaplains that is here.  I’ll talk more about that later, but it was a good start to the conference; a start that brought old friends together and reminded me of the very fragile beginnings of the Pagan presence on campus at SU.

The most amazing place in all of London is where we visited yesterday: the Hindu temple. Unlike anything that you would expect it is a wonder to behold.

We took a coach to get there and out of the busy commute traffic we began to see it – the bright white domes of the temple, flags on each point. A wall separated us from see all of it, but there was no mistaking that we were about to move into a world of awe. As we turned the corner the wall was still separating us from a full view; but that didn’t matter, there was still excitement. It was drizzling, so the world around us was gray yet the moment we crossed the street and walked through the gate we were impressed even more. What we hadn’t seen before was even more magnificent.

Carved wood, limestone, and marble surrounded by beautiful gardens. We had literally stepped out of London and into a place of peace and beauty. I wish that I had pictures, but we had been instructed that is was necessary to leave our bags on the coach – no photography allowed in the temple, and only a designated location outside was available for photography. It is okay, this will never leave my memory.

The smell of incense as subtle and soft, this was a place sacred in so many ways I can’t describe it, but the students all felt the same. There was a hush that fell on all of us and it stayed the entire time we were there. Our guides led us upstairs, and as they did we all marvelled at the carved stone and wood. We were being allowed to view the statues of the deities in the prayer area. We could touch nothing, not the stone or wood of the walls, the deities were protected behind fine gates, so taking in their presence was all that we were allowed.

Time seemed to slip by unnoticed and yet it was time to move forward, a video and then a discussion regarding the temple where we could ask any questions we wished. It was an interesting education – this temple took only three years to build. An amazing feat since the stone and wood had to be shipped to India to be carved and then shipped back for the actual building of the site. People of the community volunteered their time and finances to build this sacred place, no outside funds were used. The reason for the wall, to allow you to only see the top and forget the outside world, then once you see the gardens, you forget the domes, once you see the inside you forget the gardens, and once you see the deities your total focus is on them. But I had a question to ask, something that bothered me from the moment we arrived.

The only disturbance to the peace that I felt was at the moment we passed through the gates into the courtyard and when we physically entered the building. At each point there were guards with bullet proof vests. I didn’t notice any guns, so I don’t know if they were armed. And as we entered the temple we had to pass through the same metal detectors as you would in a government building. I asked why? If this sacred place is open to all and a place to welcome everyone why the security? Scotland Yard has required the security; the temple has no choice in the matter. How sad is that. But the temple is safe and anyone is welcome to this sacred place. I only hope that someday we will live in a world where such security is not necessary.

Time for an update on the progress made so far in fundraising for the Interfaith trip this Spring.

First, I want to thank everyone and the generosity that they have shown during the past few months.  The energy and effort have worked hand in hand to create the prosperity necessary to see that this trip become a reality. The manifestation of funding has been incredible but we are not yet finished.

We are close, between now and March 1st we need to raise our last $2900.  So how are we going to do that?  Well, a couple of ways and this is where, once again, you can help.  We will be doing the following:

  1. Everyone is encouraged to contribute directly if you haven’t already.  We never turn down funding.
  2.  “Day of Divination” on campus where students can come and enjoy the divining skills of the campus pagans. 
  3. A psychic fair held for the community at large.

Anyone can send their contribution through PayPal.  Just log in at www.paypal.com 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. 

The “Day of Divination” is the result of students wanting to hold a psychic fair of their own on campus.  I mean just imagine – going to class and then off to get a bite to eat, in the process you stop in the lounge and have a tarot reading or some other sort of reading along the way.  The cost will be a donation of any size.  The students will be doing the readings, I will as well, and in the process we will be talking and educating about divination versus fortune-telling. This will be held January 28th in the Nobel Room for you students that are reading.

Our psychic fair will be held February 5th, 5-8 pm, at the May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society (3800 E Genesee Street, Syracuse, NY).  I’m very excited about this particular event.  There will be several readers available during the entire evening.  You can choose from runes to tarot and a few other methods of divination.  Along with the readers we will be holding an auction for several different items.  One of the main contributors is Dryad Design of Vermont.  Through their generosity we will be auctioning several pieces of statuary and jewelry.  You can see the photos of the items below.  If you aren’t able to come to the evenings events (like you live in Kansas) but want to bid, send me an email and I’ll make sure that you are in the running for the piece.  We also have handcrafted offering bowls (small) from our friend Raven, tie dye pieces generously donated by Luna Moonflower, and a tarot party for six to just name a few.  Dessert will be on hand for purchase.  That’s right.  Cookies, cake, and other goodies to feast on while you wait to have a reading!  At 7 pm we will be entertained by a troop of belly dancers to round out the evening. 

So one way or another we will get there.  I ask that if you can contribute.  This really is an important event, one that should not be passed by.  The students have worked so hard to get this far it’s time to just get this done.  We are close; $2900 is just a step away.  The full amount is due March 1st so please help if you can.

Several of you have suggested that we use PayPal to accept funds from people for the students.  We took all of your advice, had been working on the account for a while, and we can now accept monies through PayPal.  So if you would like to help out the students in their fund-raising efforts but prefer to use PayPal you can now do so.  Just log into PayPal at www.paypal.com and hit the “send money” button.  Use the email address COTGCampusPagans@gmail.com as the person to send funds to.  This will put the funds directly into the account setup for the student’s fundraising. (It stands for Church of the Greenwood Campus Pagans.)

I appreciate all of the help that has been given so far and all that I know that will be coming in the future. Once again, please pass this along to those you know and those beyond that and may the gods and goddesses bless all of you and your generosity.

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

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

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

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

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

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