Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Gifts of Unity

by Star Foster


Occasionally, I wander into a spiritual funk, and it was more often when I was a solitary. Running across this video a few days ago I found an expression  for that funk. It was a lack of unity and community. I’ve been thinking about this video for some time now and rolling it’s themes around in my heart and mind.
Capetreasures.com via Flickr CC
This past Sunday I was worn-down, run-down and spiritually low. Yet I decided to go sit in on the meditation class for my coven’s current set of students, bringing my old notes and sitting quietly in the back. Despite allergies and my general feeling-ickiness, I felt a sea-change within me as I listened to my elders speak. My tradition is full of very diverse people. Every ethnicity, sexual orientation, professional, religious and educational background is present. I am certain each of us views the tradition’s teachings slightly different. Yet, hearing them speak, from all their different perspectives and backgrounds, there was a strong undercurrent of unity. In that unity I found healing.
Being Pagan does not make us immune to spiritual crisis. We all have points in our lives where we feel confused and lost and in the dark. When I walked into that class last Sunday I felt spiritually hollow. I felt alone. I felt like I had nothing left to give anyone and no capacity to receive anything. Walking in I hear one elder speaking of the tenets, using the common language of our tradition and, while speaking to other students, addressing the issues in my very heart. Another elder emphasized we are a place filled with love, a community built on love and that we are each other’s safe haven. The class itself gave multiple examples and encouragement for personalization and creativity while still remaining within the bounds of our tradition’s structure.
What Illizeulette was expressing, and what I have felt in the past, is the lack of connection, the lack of unity in Paganism. Not some broad ambitious pan-Pagan unity, although that sort of unity does exist in certain environments, such as festivals. A basic unity within your faith community. It is astounding how often this is lacking. So many Pagans can’t even agree on the same definitions for basic words, or the same basic virtues, for community’s sake. Unity is often conflated with dogma, and resisted. Diversity is raised as a wall or a weapon, rather than being a simple acknowledgement and celebration of those things which make our unity stronger.
As a Wiccan, polarity is something I think about a lot, and I’ve noticed that diversity and unity are considered by some to be polar opposites. This isn’t true. Diversity is the opposite of homogeneity. Unity is the opposite of separateness and aloneness. Unity implies diversity. If you combine two piles of dirt it seems strange to say they are united when they are exactly alike. Yet, if you take a pile of dirt and pile of sand and combine them, the unity is plain to see in the change of texture and color. Cob is a good example of how diversity and unity can create strength to last generations.
When you have a spiritual crisis, being told “whatever works for you” in the broadest sense isn’t helpful but infuriating. Having to explain your experiences and beliefs from scratch can be exhausting and maddening. Going to someone for advice and counsel or a friendly ear, to whom you have to explain your spiritual life to and then receive a “whatever works for you”, can be a soul-wounding experience as much as strict dogmatism can be. Just as strict dogmatism, particularly when it makes no good sense, is harmful to the soul which needs healing, so is diffidence and disconnect.
Just as there is comfort, rhyme, reason and sacred purpose in the sun rising and setting, in the seasons turning, so should there be that same sort of harmony in our spiritual communities. It is comforting that we share the same values, a common language and a desire for unity. Our diversity and unity are strengthened by each other. None of us are required to deny our own soul and none of us are alone. Balance and connectivity are our goals.
Perhaps the most unexpected thing that comes of this unity is how strong it makes our magic. Yes, I know at this point Recons are groaning, but as a Wiccan I am fascinated on how this emphasis on community affects magic. Our individual Wills are not made less by being part of a cohesive, unified value and praxis based-tradition, but made stronger.
When I am working with people from various faiths, Evangelicals, Buddhists, Druids, Catholics, Scientologists, Hindus and Atheists, and deal with the day in and day out grind of trying to struggle to find common ground, my own Will and soul can feel very alone and isolated in the world.
Yet touching the living body of my tradition, which grows like a secret garden full of diverse and harmonious plants, places me in an embrace between the Witches who came before me, and those who come after, and I am not alone. I am refreshed, renewed and revived. I am gently shifted back into balance with a word or phrase full of meaning for generations before me, and Gods willing, for generations after me. My Will, which may feel parched from tasks that give it no nourishment, grows green and blossoms. Standing in Circle with Witches whose Wills are strong as oak trees and as harmonious as a sacred grove, is a magical thing.
I’ve been in the same place as Illiezeulette found herself when she made that video, and I feel for the dilemma she found herself in. I think there are a lot of Pagans in that place, that feeling of aloneness or seperateness, that all the talk of diversity, freedom and anti-dogmatism cannot still. It’s my hope that all those who feel like that find a living tradition, full of support, acceptance, love and values, to see them through the tough times. May the Gods bless you, and may you find deep magic to sustain you in the lonely places you may walk!

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