OHMYGODIAMSO FUNNNNY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Even if most of you aren't going to get that joke.
So, while stories of me bringing up Trance Prophecy Regression in the middle of a discussion about speaking in tongues at Seminary are yet to come, I pulled some things from an essay I submitted in class last week. One of my classes has me thinking quite a bit about service and what it means for the Pagan communities. I'll let you know what kind of feedback I get.
At our Spring Equinox Sabbat (a holiday to honor the beginning of Spring), I led my congregation through our normal pilgrimage of silence through Fort Tryon Park. Annually, we honor the return of the living Earth by silencing our chatty mouths for a bit, and community with nature—even if she’s still a little frosty at the end of March. Many of the members had brought along young children who, hands clasped, ran ahead of us through the paths to where the park is wild. Because of a then-recent storm, many of our sacred spaces had been demolished due to fallen trees. We would need to find a new space to honor the beginning of Springtime and the awakening of the Great Mother. We followed the kids.
They took us up to a space worn between the trees by foot, littered with human garbage—paper waste, condoms, soiled clothing, even human excrement. Worse than the sight and the smell was the feeling of the space. Something damaging had occurred on the spot. Whether it was an act of violence upon another human being or through the waste, an act of violence upon the Earth Herself, the presence of Spirit was weak, injured and disturbed. Several of our members asked if we could find another spot to welcome the Spring. I left it up to them to decide. One woman raised her hand and said, “I think this place needs healing.” In short order, the rest of the community agreed. We rolled up our sleeves and began collecting as much trash as we safely could. The presiding Priestess, wrinkling her nose against the foul environment said emphatically, “What we are experiencing here is the antithesis of the Goddess. This is all that She shouldn’t be. Let us make it right.” We continued with our ritual, dancing and singing on a space that had been injured in the name of peace, light and healing. When the ritual was over and we had gathered back in my apartment for a community meal, I said to the cramped crowd in my tiny living room, “Spirituality is not always pretty. This is not a vacation. If you want to follow this path, you are going to have to get your hands in the dirt, like you did today.”
The Craft shows great promise for contributing and shaping our personal communities, but we are not there yet. This is mostly due to its age. We cannot discern what we can do for others until our own needs are met—defining who we are, what we believe and where we can help. I was moved by the efforts of the preachers and organizations who noticed needs in New York City in the early 20th Century and moved in to help at a time when the city was little more than a collection of bars and brothels and slums--not to convert, but to provide medicine for the sick and food and clothing for the very poor. This answered many a question I have about my own faith community and where we can contribute.
In many organizations, the idea of how to help is framed in ‘how many resources do we have?’ or ‘will our infrastructure support that?’ For a few years now, I’ve cut the Pagan community a lot of slack for its comparative lack of contributions to community causes due to its lack of infrastructure. However, the lack of infrastructure is what gives us the freedom to explore our spirituality further than in most mainstream religions. Also, the missionaries and groups that went into the slums of New York may not have had exorbitant sums to assist, either. The core of their mission’s success lay in two areas: 1.) identifying the need and b.) recognizing and utilizing all possible resources.
While we may not have the organizational resources of larger faith groups, there are still many ways that we can help. I was encouraged by Pagan Pride Day on September 25, 2010 in Battery Park, New York, where 600 pounds of canned food was collected and an animal rescue mission found at least one home for a pet in need. Maybe it wasn’t a huge ripple compared to organizations who are starting hospitals and schools, but it is a start and maybe it’s all that we can collectively do right now. Since beginning this reflection, though, I have heard of other Pagan organizations who are coming together to set up counseling and/or healing centers. We are growing in our capabilities to help others—but we are growing slowly.
I think there is a danger in not wanting to act when you are not able to act “the whole way”, meaning finishing a broad-project. I believe the goal ought to be to do whatever is in your power at the moment—just like the woman in the Gospel story who only had two coins to give to charity, and so that is what she had. Maybe the only thing my community was able to do that early spring day was to clean up the park and infuse the land with healing. But maybe the even greater message was the one we left with the children and young adults of our community—spirituality is about service, at its core: healing of the land and healing of one another. We start with only the steps we have in front of us.