Tag Archives: Prayer

Maybe (a prayer)

Maybe they danced,

Talked,

Caroused,

Flirted.

Maybe they couldn’t stand the crowd and longed for the trip home.

Maybe they felt the pulsing energy around them and couldn’t tear themselves away.

Maybe…,

I don’t know.

I didn’t know them.

But I know they were beautiful.

And I know that they found beauty in each other,

And in the love and freedom that surrounded them.

And they died for it.

They died,

Because some people…,

Maybe just a few,

But too many,

Can see only ugliness in that which they do not understand.

So their lives were cut short, their spirits released.

And I wonder which God will step forward to shelter them?

Which Savior?

Which Prophet or Saint will guide their way?

If none of theirs, then I offer mine.

Freely.

May the fair Goddess on black wings guide them swiftly to better shores then these.

As worthy as any soldiers, these spirits, slain in someone else’s war.

Let her keening rise up until the heavens crack.

Until all the priests,

And the politicians,

And all who trade in fear and hate,

Have fled at last beneath the shadow of their empty pulpits.

And then,

In the quiet that follows,

Those who have eyes to see beauty,

In all of its wonderful diversity,

Will be free to dance,

And to love,

And to live,

Finally without fear.

That, my friends, may be too much to hope for.

But is such a thing too much to pray for?

It may be.

But if enough of us raise our voices,

If we join our cry with her’s,

And all the gods hear us,

Maybe not.

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Filed under Death, Modern Life, Prayer, Religion, The Gods

Beg Not the Gods!

“Oh Jesus, give me strength to clean this floor,” she muttered, for what may well have been the millionth time in her seemingly miserable life.

The first job I ever held, when I was in my teens, was feeding cattle at the neighbors ranch.  The place was owned by two spinsters, a mother and daughter, and though the ranch had once thrived, by the time I was hired, the twenty odd head of cattle that lingered there had become more pets than livestock.

So, for a few dollars a day, I was more then happy to make the daily quarter-mile trek from our property to their feed barn.  There, I would climb up into the dark loft, break up bales of hay, and kick them down into the feed-trough below.  When the noise of impatient bellows was replaced by the steady crunch of contented chewing, I would slip down the ladder and past the distracted bovine throng.

For several years the routine was the same.  Come rain, snow, or blazing summer heat, I’d make my way across acres of tall grass, steer clear of the rocks where snakes sometimes liked to hide, up the steep hill, past the mob of oversized quadrupeds who would start to bellow and crowd the moment I came into sight, and then after maybe fifteen minutes in the barn, it was “home again home again jiggety-jig.”

Once every couple weeks I’d have to make the trip earlier in the day, while the herd was out roaming, away from the barn.  My task, on these occasions, was to scrape as much cow-shit out of the barn as possible.  Those were the days when I really earned my money.

Later, as the health of the elder of my two employers declined, they moved out of the old ranch house that sat next to the barn, and into a little apartment in town.  With a dollar bump to my weekly wage, I agreed to make a daily stop in their house, to feed and water the cats which had stayed there in their absence, and to make sure everything inside was in good order.

Thinking back on it now, I think maybe they just didn’t trust the house keeper they’d hired to keep the place tidy in their absence.

And I really couldn’t blame them.  She seemed a grousing old woman, always complaining and doing as little actual work as she could manage.

Actually, I don’t think she was really that old, not in actual years, but she seemed positively geriatric in spirit.  A dark cloud seemed to follow her, wherever she went, and on those days when our visits coincided, I sometimes thought I’d rather be outside shoveling crap, than inside listening to it.

She’d mutter, “Sweet Jesus, give me strength to dust these shelves!”

And on another day, “Help me wash these dishes, Jesus Lord.”

I wondered, sometimes, why she needed aid from Jesus for every little thing she did.

And on one occasion, I did my ‘wondering’ out loud.

“ ‘Cause mister, we ain’t nothing without Jesus.  Nothing!”

Her angry reply sounded so very wrong to my young ears, though I could not have told you exactly why.

Van Gogh Woman Sweeping

I knew little about this woman, aside from the few minutes a week during which our paths crossed.  I can’t know what hardships she may have suffered.  And I don’t know if she experienced any victories in her life, but if she did, I think they were precious few.

Yet even if she had accomplished something, what of it?  She was, by her own testimony, “nothing without Jesus”.  Anything good that came out of her life, anything at all, was only (in her eyes) due to the intervention of her God.

No wonder she seemed so broken to me, so very unhappy.  I don’t understand how people can live their lives believing that they will never accomplish anything except through the grace of some outside force.

What an unhappy, self-defeating philosophy – and I see it daily.

I come across so many people, who attribute every good thing that happens to them, every trivial task accomplished, and every moment that passes without personal calamity, to the intercession of their supreme being.  It has been my understanding that the term “personal savior” had less to do with helping the Christian faithful to avoid falling into open manholes while walking down the street, and more to do with redemption from the taint of ‘original sin’.  In retrospect, it would seem that I have been misinformed.

It is sometimes hard for me to believe that we have advanced so far, with such a large segment of our population embracing this idea, even in its less extreme manifestations.  And then, I look around at the chaos brewing just under the surface, and the underlying despair of an entire culture seems painfully clear.

“We ain’t nothing without Jesus.”

No ma’am, someone told you a lie.

We are great.

We are creatures of power and strength.

We do not achieve by the grace of God, but rather we strengthen our bonds with them through our own accomplishments, however small.

If, by way of example, the words I write and speak should move you to joy or anger or even curiosity, than I have borne my own small share of a gods great duty.  Oghma, who my ancestors called the Eloquent, the Honey-Mouthed, and the Shaper of Letters, will share his burden, his gift, with any who find pleasure in a carefully crafted turn of phrase.  I do not beg for his aid.  I need not cry out for his attention.  He will not come to me, yet I need only form my words with care and I will be in his presence, I will have entered into his house.

Our lives are filled with the presence of the gods.

When we work, when we join each other in games, when we open our doors to a neighbor, when we care for the sick, when we plant and harvest and teach and learn, when we love and make love, when we share news and tell stories, when we age, and finally, when we die – in everything that we do, the gods are there with us.  We wander among them constantly, and whether we carry a sword, pencil, hammer or broom, even without knowing their names, we are doing their work.

We are FAR from powerless.  We are not puppets through which another agency acts.

Those lies have been a burden and hinderance on our culture for far too long.

I see the shadow of this belief even among my fellow Pagans.  How often I have read in some online forum, words of despair and frustration because the gods have not shown themselves to some seeker.  “Other people say that they hear the gods or see them, but no matter how much I pray, or how many rituals I attend, nothing ever happens for me!”

And maybe that’s because you’re doing it wrong.

Do you make friends in the mortal world by sitting in a darkened room and muttering over a candle that you picked up in the clearance bin at Pier 1?  No, you do it by meeting people with common interests while taking part in activities related to those interests.  Why then, should it be any different with the divine?

Our gods, the real gods, exist, I think, as much in action as they do intent.

If we stop looking so hard for the gods and start doing their work, the great deeds and the small, we may just discover that they’ve been with us all along.

The effort, along with its success or failure, is ours to make.

Don’t squander it, and never beg.

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Prayer, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods, Uncategorized

You can’t please everyone.

Sometimes, it takes only a single, unexpected encounter, to lift one out of a funk, or even to let us know that we were in a funk to begin with.

It is easy, sometimes, to get lost in the fog of passing time.  We are creatures of both habit and monotony, shaping the world around us into one that is both comforting and often wearisome in its lack of variety.  We shuffle from work to home to bed and back again, and if, like mine, your workplace does not come with easily defined ‘weekends’, we may find that we have no clear frame of reference for ‘when’ we are, or what ‘progress’ we are making through the world.

So there I was, just zoning my way through another day, when out of the blue, a colleague of mine pulled me aside to ask what I assumed to be another work related question.

“So, I was reading your blog…,”

And suddenly I found myself in an open and friendly conversation with a devout Christian about the concept of prayer in polytheism.  It took a moment for my brain to shift into gear and for me to realize that he was approaching the topic with what I could only describe as a kind of excited curiosity.

“When I pray,” he continued, “it’s to one god, and it’s written out pretty clearly what he expects from me.  But I was thinking, that for you as a polytheist, there are so many options, and it blew my mind!  I mean, how can you possibly know who you should pray to?  And how do you keep from ticking off one god while pleasing another?”

“Well,” I laughed, “the first thing you learn as a polytheist is that you can’t please everyone!”

His momentary enthusiasm for the topic awakened my own, and I tried, in the few precious minutes we had, to faithfully answer interest with information.  I explained, in brief, how our relationships with the gods may range from simple ‘belief’ (simple acceptance in the existence of a deity, without expectations on either side beyond the basic respect afforded such a being), all the way to ‘dedication’ or ‘patronage’ (implying far more intimate and devotional interactions).  The specifics of prayer (to whom and for what) are, of course, dependent upon both which gods we actually have relationships with, and what their specific spheres of influence are believed to be.

Very Many Gods

What I did not get to say, because there just wasn’t time, is that we do not typically need to worry about pissing off some random god, any more than we do the great uncle who only shows up for the occasional family reunion.  It’s the ones we have deeper relationships with that we try to be mindful of, not out of fear, but because we value those relationships above any other.

In any case, it was a great conversation, and it totally made my day.

I got an extra charge out of that encounter, not because I’d won over a convert (I didn’t), but because my writing had touched someone in a way that opened their mind to other possibilities.  While my friend may not believe in my gods any more today than he did prior to reading my words, he has insights into my beliefs, my character, and my understanding of the world we share, that he did not have before.

I call that progress, and ‘funk’ be damned, it puts a spring in my step!

And yet, I am reminded once again, that you can’t please everyone.

I was accused, not long ago, of proselytizing.

Rather, it was suggested that the things which I have been calling for in this blog, things such as greater visibility and infrastructure for the polytheist/pagan community and individual polytheists being upfront about who they are and what they believe, amount to a form of proselytizing.  Advertising our presence and attempting to forge positions of leadership within the ever changing religious landscape, I have been told, are tantamount to the often intrusive attempts of certain monotheist sects to convert the masses.

Are they?

My goal, and the goal of this blog (although I did not quite understand this in the beginning) has always been to open minds, not to change them.

But is there a difference, or am I just splitting hairs?

Lincoln on Friends

Knowledge, I have always believed, is a gift to be welcomed and shared.  Am I wrong to hope that sharing who and what we are, will lead to better understanding and communication between disparate groups?  Is it wrong to let people know that they have options beyond those with which they may be more familiar?

Or is that goal, as some would have it, coercive in nature?

Well, you can’t please everyone.

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Filed under About this Blog, Interfaith, Modern Life, Prayer, Proselytizing, Religion, The Gods

Heads Down, Thumbs Up…,

Seven were drawn at random.  They made their way to the front of the room and the rest of us watched them, looking for sign or signal of their intent.  The teacher would then call out the magic words, “Heads down, thumbs up!” and for a moment there was the rustling sound of a class full of students crossing their arms across their desks and dipping their faces into the dark hollows thus created.

“No peeking!”

When the noise had died down you could hear them moving silently throughout the room.  Some of us held our thumbs as high as we could, hoping to be picked.  Others, not believing that any of those chosen would pick them, would hardly extend their thumbs at all.

Still others, despite the admonition against cheating would try to sneak a glance out of the corner of their eye, or through the space between their arms.  Maybe if they could glimpse a flash of color along with the sudden tweaking of their upraised thumb, they might have the advantage over the others.

“Thumbs down.  Heads up.  Seven up!”

And then there was a room full of children, blinking in the light, looking to see which seven of their classmates would stand.  Those seven would, by turn, try to guess who had selected them from among their fellows, and take their place at the head of the class.

ThumbsUp

A few weeks ago I found myself in a friendly debate with several people regarding the nature of prayer and meditation.  Specifically, one of my friends had posted a question asking folks to offer their opinions on the difference (if any) between the two things.

I watched the thread develop for a while before I weighed in myself and most of what I read there did not surprise me in the least.

Most of the responses were of the fortune cookie variety…,

“Prayer is reaching out, meditation is reaching in.”

Yet even among these pithy responses, it was easy to pick out certain biases on public display.

“Prayer implies a conversation. Meditation is completely internal.”

“Prayer is requesting. Meditation is listening.”

“One has expectations and the other has goals.”

Hmmmmm….,

Most of the longer responses fell along the same party lines.

On the one hand, there were the seemingly religious folks who felt that meditation was less valuable than prayer because you were talking to yourself instead of God.

On the other, there were the humanist thinkers (with a few “spiritual but not religious” mixed in) who felt that talking to yourself was just fine as long as you didn’t call it prayer.

Honestly, it did not seem to me that either group had a particularly strong understanding of the full history, utility and variety of meditation techniques.   And no great shock there.

Even less surprising to me, were the opinions regarding prayer.

One side appeared to see prayer as a wasteful exercise, either because there is no one there to hear, or because the One-God already has a plan and begging for favors isn’t going to do any good.

Others asserted that prayer is purely about worshipping God (their god, the one, the only) and that anything else is an affront to God, and also wasteful, because, you know, there is no one there to hear you.

I have often felt that watching monotheists and humanists debate is like watching one guy arguing with himself in a mirror.  The talking points are the same but each side seems oblivious to the fact that there is a vast plurality of thought extending beyond their philosophically narrow tug-of-war.

Prayer is not about talking to an imaginary friend.

It’s not about sending God a wish list…,

…or a laundry list of complaints…,

…or seeking forgiveness…,

…or appreciation…,

…or worship.

Not exactly, anyway.

When I was a child, I almost never got picked in “Seven Up”.  I wasn’t particularly popular among my classmates and I really didn’t want the attention, so I just went through the motions.  I’d cross my arms and lower my head, but my thumb barely extended above my closed fist.  I did not make it a tempting target.

When I was a child, prayer felt empty and hollow.  I was told how to pray and when and to whom, but I put no real effort into it.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit just didn’t do it for me.  I understand now that I had already been touched by other gods, but back then all I knew was that I didn’t want the attention.

Later, I told myself that prayer was foolish, that there was no one there to hear.

After that, I joined the “spiritual but not religious” crowd and while I happily sent ‘positive energy’ where it was needed, I would not pray.  I had accepted the lie: prayer was a Christian thing, another way of humbling ourselves before their Lord and Savior.

And I could not have been more wrong.

Prayer is not about humility or submissiveness.

Prayer is about believing ourselves worthy of attention.

Prayer is about folding our arms across the desk, dipping our faces into the darkness, and pointing a thumb at the ceiling.  When we pray, we put ourselves out there, blindly, waiting to see if this time we will feel the tug which means that the divine has come to us.

It doesn’t happen every time, or even most of the time.

For some it may never happen at all.

Because prayer is not about being picked.

It’s about wanting it enough to risk being passed over.

“Prayer is reaching out, meditation is reaching in.”

Huh, sometimes the fortune cookie answer gets it right.

Now then…,

“Heads down, thumbs up!”

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Filed under Interfaith, Philosophy, Prayer, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Benediction and Curse

Last week in this blog I wrote about the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth which forms the wheel upon which the universe turns.  The week before that, I touched briefly on the importance of storytelling in the evolution of our society and the role of movies in the modern storytelling experience.  This last Friday during the premier of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ those two topics came together in a gruesome act of violence of which I need not describe here.

Instead, I offer these words to the Gods; the Spirits of the land, sea and sky; and the honored Ancestors of both heart and bone…,

Benediction:

My prayer for the families of the departed in their grieving and for the health of those still fighting to recover from the violence done against them.  These are the true victims and I ask that you lend them your strength and courage in the days ahead though they may not ask for it themselves.   As their hurts are mended, let them grow stronger than they were before.   May they go forward from this day as strangers to misfortune, until they too, pass beyond the veil.

My prayer for the dead who have passed with honor into the realm beyond our reach or knowing.  Taken too soon from this life, may they rest easily now in the Otherworld where those who have gone before may guide them to peace and a forgetfulness of the concerns of the living world.  May a place be set for them at the table of the Gods where heroes dine.  When they are done with their rest we shall welcome their return to face new joys and challenges in the world of the living.

Curse:

Of the one who committed this crime I will not speak his name.  I pray that no living man or woman will speak it from this day forward.  I ask not for his death but for his continued thankless life.  Let him live out the full span of his days in the knowledge that he is forgotten and cast aside as a coward and a murderer.    May he endure long in this world before he knows the release of death which he forced upon so many innocents.

When he does pass beyond the veil, may those who reside there turn away from him.  May the Gods shun him from their company.  May he wander that timeless place as a forsaken shadow, broken and nameless until the lives of all those he has harmed have passed away.  When his crimes have faded at last from the memory of his spirit, let him return then to a new life of humble service to the community of man.

The gods are not always able to answer our prayers.  We live in a society of wagging tongues and shortsighted vision where the name of a mass-murderer may easily attain a celebrity beyond that of his victims.  I ask you all to honor the dead and lend your support to those touched by this tragedy.  Ignore the killer.  Put him aside where he can harm no one else and then deny him the attention he so obviously craves.

My prayer to you all.

 

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Filed under Culture, Death, Modern Life, Prayer