Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Being in community when our Gods are different

This autumn, I had the privilege to attend Rhiannon Grant's workshop "Or Whatever You Call It" with F/friends from South East Scotland Area Meeting (Quakers).  It was an interesting and fun workshop, and I'm glad we brought it to SESAM.

Much of Grant's work with Quakers centres on how modern Friends use language to talk about That-Which-Is-Sacred, and is particularly informed by philosophy.  My work amongst Friends starts from experience, and then comes to language pretty quickly: we need language to reflect our experience, to be able to talk to each other about it, one way to be in spiritual community with each other.  And Quakers are very wordy, very language-oriented people.  So her approach was really interesting for me.  

After spending the day in different kinds of exercises, thinking and talking about different words, and what they mean, and why, and different names for Whatever You Call It, we settled into large-group worship-sharing with this query:

Does telling your truth require you to use any particular words? 

Quite a lot came bubbling up for me during this worship.

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In order to be a faithful Friend, {my truth requires me to / Goddess requires me to / I must} use words some Friends often react to with hostility.  Goddess.  Witch.  Pagan.  Priestess.  Gods.  But other minority Friends, especially other Pagan and non-Christian Friends, are often very relieved to hear those words.

If I am speaking my own truth, in my own words, not translating into other people's words / language, then yes, it does require particular words.

To what extent are we obligated to translate as we speak?  As we listen?  Why am I so often, as a minority, the person expected to do both?

I, as a non-Christian Friend, am expected to be conversant about Jesus.  Why aren't other Friends expected to be conversant with other Gods?

Yes, well, Quakerism is also historically white and straight as well.

Gods, plural.  If you want me to take your relationship with Jesus, Spirit, God, Whatever You Call It, seriously, and I want you to take my relationship with the Goddess / the Gods seriously, we both have to allow as how they both might exist -- and are not the same.

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Among Friends, I no longer have to pretend my wife is a man and I'm in a mixed-gender relationship.  I no longer have to translate into heterosexual marriage terms for other Friends.

I should not have to pretend I'm in relationship with a different Deity than the One(s) I am in relationship with, either.

If you want me to take your relationship with Jesus, Spirit, God, Whatever You Call It, seriously, then you need to take my relationship with the Goddess / the Gods seriously.  

Brigid is not Jesus in a skirt.  And the Cailleach is neither.

I am talking about radical equality.

Jesus is a privileged god in Quakerism.

Jesus cannot be a privileged god if we are all Friends and all Friends are equal.

What does radical equality ask of each of us when it comes to being present with, bearing witness to, each others' spiritual lives?  When it comes to being in spiritual community with one another?  

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You speak my mind, F/friend. Solidarity from across the atlantic.

-- Blue

staśa said...

Thank you, dear F/friend. Looking forward to a chewy conversation with you in-person about this one of these days!

elainegrey said...

Thanks for the pointer to this work. It may help me learn if i am being avoidant or true in my sense that all naming is a translation for me.

brigidfoxandbuddha said...

Thank you for posting this. It's useful for me to read it and I'm very pleased that you found my workshop and approach interesting.

I'm very much in sympathy with your points and would add that some terms which get added to the 'God/Jesus/Spirit/whatever you call it' list do seem to me to be different, or at least arguably different: Krishna is not 'Jesus but Indian', the Tao is not necessarily the same as Spirit, and there are some theological reasons for thinking that, at least from the point of view of some Christian traditions, Father, Son, and Spirit are not the 'same' (even if they are also 'one'). In my thesis, I mostly ended up accepting that the majority of British Quakers have an assumption of monowhateverism (that's not exactly, but a bit like, monotheism), and leaving it at that, but I think there's room for a much more detailed exploration of this issue.

Hollis Easter said...

Hear, hear.

And I can't help thinking, based on my own upbringing in the Episcopal faith and my subsequent study of Hebrew and Greek bibles, that Jesus would not have wanted to be a privileged deity. That wasn't his deal in pretty much any of the books I read.

- Hollis

staśa said...

Thank you, dear friends. I really appreciate your comments!