Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hither, thither, and yon

...and here, there, and everywhere. Emotionally, anyway.

I've had cause more than once in my ministry recently to remind myself that it's not my job to be "successful" as the world would consider it; but rather, that it's my job to be faithful.

This actually brings me a lot of comfort, and takes a big weight off. It's not up to me to "make sure" it all works out in a particular way -- it's up to me to make sure I'm open to the movement of the Spirit, that I discern and respond to what the Goddess asks of me, that I am a faithful Friend. It's not my job to make sure I sell a lot of books at a particular event so I don't take a financial loss, for example; it's my job to make sure I that I have books and outreach materials available, that I show up, that my heart is open, that I engage with people who come to my booth. It's not my job to make sure a lot of people show up an event I host or workshop I teach; it's my job to make sure the event happens, to show up with an open heart and mind, prepared as best I can be, and let Nature take Her course.

This is so different from what I grew up with that it's often all too easy to slip out of this perspective. Particularly when I am afraid for some reason: Will I have messed up my family's ability to pay bills this month if I don't sell enough books to cover what I paid for them? What if no one comes to my booth?

Lately, that fear has been making itself known in a fear of others' judgement: What if the Pagans who come to my booth decide I'm a Quaker proselytizer and blow me off, and nobody talks to me all day? What if Friends decide I'm too big for my britches because I'm putting event listings in the weekly announcements once or twice a month? What if a Friend comes to my blog or my website and decides I'm not a "real" Friend? Is it misleading that I wear a pentacle with a triple Goddess, when I'm not a Wiccan? I find that reminder about faithfulness rather than outward success -- in this case, approval or approbation -- helpful again.

And yet, this perspective of faithfulness rather than success -- of faith, rather than fear -- is so inherent in the Quaker foundation of what I do, that I can't possibly be successful at what I do without letting go of that notion of success.


Ministry is also, honestly, a lot more fun when all I'm worried about is being faithful. Really, all I have to do is show up and be present. I don't have to worry.

I've been reflecting in bits and pieces over the last few months on why I started this blog.

As a way to "show up and be present"? To myself and the Goddess, at least?

Judgement was part of it: what little there was about me on the web was weighted, in the ways that the calculus of searches are, by the book I co-wrote. If you wanted to know anything else about me, you had to wade through that, or subtract "solstice" from your search. And yet people were making judgements about me -- including my personal theology -- based not remotely on anything I'd actually said, but on what they found on the internet; and those judgements were having hard impacts on my real life: whether I could rent a hall for an event; how people treated me in person.

Several years ago, a well-known Friend and noted Bible scholar in a particular Meeting was called on as an expert about "people like me" (Pagan Friends). She had never met me, never spoken to me, never read anything I'd written, and never corresponded with me. She told the clerk of Ministry and Counsel of her Meeting that Pagan Quakers are not legitimate Quakers. (Since the only membership in the Religious Society of Friends is through membership in a Monthly Meeting, and several members of her Meeting are Pagan, I guess they're not legitimate Quakers. Or something...)

When we were eventually introduced, she said to me: "Oh, yes, I know all about you."

I hardly knew how to respond. I tried to find out what she meant.

"Oh, yes," she said, "my friend Mr. Google told me all about you. You wrote that book."

All about me?, I thought. But Mr. Google doesn't know everything about me.

And really, the book was all she knew about me. She hadn't even gone beyond the first page of her Google search -- didn't know about any of the peace and justice work I'd done, didn't know I'd gone to a war zone from my Quaker beliefs, didn't know I teach Scottish Country Dance, didn't know I appeared in a friend's wedding picture on the class of 1993's wedding pictures page, didn't know I'd helped edit a paper on the Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund... So she didn't even know everything Mr. Google knew.

[Note: I have since come to prefer, by far, Friend Peterson Toscano's term: "Google Superpowers." Thank you, Peterson.]

Much later, I found myself wondering: What would I actually say, in my own voice, where other people could read it?

Out of that wondering was born this blog. Out of an attempt at integrity -- what do I say when I stand up tall?

When I am afraid of others' judgement, it can definitely impede my faithfulness. I am reminded of something my F/friend Merry wrote recently: "I yearned so strongly to belong that I strove to be a 'good' Quaker, rather than an authentic one." I have found myself falling into that trap on more than one occasion.

Last night, I hosted Meeting for Worship for the Full Moon at my house. I didn't know who might actually show up -- I've been warned about this Seattle "thing" where people say they will come to things, then don't -- but it looked like there'd be at least two people besides me. (But, I reminded myself, it doesn't matter how many people show up; what matters is the quality of our worship. It's not my job to be successful; it's my job to be faithful.) Six of us met in worship in my living room last night, and our worship was deep and rich.

I realized in worship, when I was not physically relaxed -- I would let my shoulders go as I breathed, but clench my hands; I'd unclench my hands, but tighten my legs, or my shoulders again -- just how scary living my life in ministry is. There's a line from a Peter Gabriel song that repeated itself over and over in my head:

To keep in silence, I resigned; my friends would think I was a nut.

And, well, yeah. You can only steel yourself so much against others' judgement.

I am also reminded of a song by Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow of emma's revolution, which they wrote for my F/friend Rebecca's graduating class from the Woolman Semester:

I will stand in myself when I'm not feeling strong
I will stand, I will stand...
I will stand in the circle with the circle in me
I will stand, I will stand...

I found myself fearing judgement last night, particularly from the two people I barely knew -- even more so since one's a weighty local Friend. But you know, that's not remotely where Friends were. They weren't here to check my credentials, or to judge me; they were here to worship.

And it became clear, again, that this opportunity answered a need: that Friends' worship with a focus on what's traditionally considered Pagan -- Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit, nature, the Moon's cycle, the Sun's cycle, the Goddess -- is a need among Friends.


Peterson Toscano said...

You are welcome! Use with pleasure.

GREAT post! You write it with such honestly and vulnerability. I like that.

(still singing your praises...)

staśa said...

Aw *blush*.

Thank you, sweetie.

*Big hugs*

Cat C-B said...

I am really, really grateful for ministry as Quakers define it; it is such a blessed relief to me after years of internalizing Pagan expectations of me as a Priestess. (I know that, to you, there is less of a clean dividing line between those roles; but my most active practice as a Priestess was before I was a Friend, and so I did not have access to Quaker ways of knowing yet when I was in that role.)

I love centering into worship and knowing: At least for now, at least while I am here, gathered with Spirit and with my Friends... I don't have to be wise. I don't have to be smart. I don't have to predict the future or second-guess other people or impress the world or fix ANYTHING.

All I have to do is listen and be faithful.

All I have to do is trust God to lead us, and the people to follow.

All I have to do is trust.

It's such a gift. I'm glad you have it, too, in such a difficult time. Blessed be.

staśa said...


Thank you. Perhaps you honor me too much: the extent to which I have this gift -- or am in touch with having it, perhaps -- varies from day to day, depending. :) "My mileage may vary." Fear can make it hard to stay grounded and centered. Community helps me re-gain my center, and my root in the Earth, in the Spirit that unites us all as Friends. I thank Goddess for my Friends and my friends.

No, I definitely know what you mean about those Pagan expectations of a Priestess. I was very much a frustration to people who came to me or my Coven looking for answers, or to be told what to do, or for someone to be that Wise Example. :) Happily, my Coven never functioned that way, but that didn't keep those expectations from creeping onto us -- from outside, or inside.

That's a divide I often feel between myself and other Pagans when I visit among Pagan communities... Even in traditions that value the Priest/esshood of all.

Even when Roses, Too! Coven was active, I didn't do much intervisitation for just that reason. I tried. I, and we, felt too much like space aliens among other Pagans. The Delaware Valley Pagan Network has helped to do a lot of bridge-building among Pagans in that geographical area, which I think is a Good Thing.

For most of the last three years, I haven't done any real visiting in Pagan communities; I only started again recently. And I have sometimes been overwhelmed by that feeling of being a space alien.

I find it ironic, sometimes, that among Pagans, who tend to value thealogical diversity, I feel like such a stranger; and yet among Friends, who sometimes struggle a lot on that issues, I am at home.

"At least for now, at least while I am here, gathered with Spirit and with my Friends... I don't have to be wise. I don't have to be smart. I don't have to predict the future or second-guess other people or impress the world or fix ANYTHING."

Oh, yes, and blessed be.

At the beginning of the workshop I facilitated at Summer Gathering in River Falls in '07, I felt so much pressure to Get It Right. This was really contrary to the whole point of the workshop, which was to set up the framework and let the participants run with it. It was much harder for me to do that when I felt pressure to be wise, smart, and the fix-it lady for my little group of folks. When I was able to remember that it was really my job to be present and faithful, it worked better. Plus, I had a lot more fun, and I learned more. (I rather hope to be able to facilitate the workshop I've proposed for the '09 SG in part for that reason: I think I'll be much better at it, and the experience will be better for everyone involved, because I'll be better able to let go of that pressure, and better able to be in the Spirit and in the moment. We shall see.)

Thanks again, Cat. I appreciate your support and your own faithfulness.

- Stasa