Textual Arachne

A weaver of threads.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Perpetuum Mobile

I can't seem to hold still.

Some of that is the force of business and busywork overtaking me, the constant momentum of tasks. At its worst, it feels like a hamsterwheel. A series of Things To Do that swarms down the list and refuses to ever grow shorter, let alone clear away.

But more of that is a desire to move. Not always physically; mental motion, activity, the buzzing of my monkey-mind (no wonder meditation was such a struggle!) and its constant exploration.

Some time ago I swore myself to the half-moon. No, I don't know what that means; I didn't then, I don't really know now, either its theoretical or practical implications. I used to think that the half-moon meant the calm of a balance: six of one, half a dozen of the other. That it was the stasis and simplicity of the scales of Justice, or the soothing artistry of a yin-yang design. It seemed like a safe harbor and a position of stability, which my unstable emotional and rational highs and lows desperately craved.

As I'm getting a little older (if not wiser), I see things differently. The only way that the half-moon can be perceived as balance is if you freeze time, if you take a snapshot at that fragile moment of fifty-fifty divide. The only time we reach that stasis is when we stop moving, and maybe not even then. But a kind of stability can be achieved through oscillating--through being prepared for the oscillation, ready to adapt and shift as necessary. Like a structure built with some give in the beams. Not so much that it collapses, but enough so that it moves with the shifting earth and doesn't tumble when the tremor hits.

The half moon is no longer a sign to me of balance and calm, but a reminder that the urge to cobble a Middle Way between two paths is sometimes best achieved by moving back and forth between the two, a zigzag path that takes longer but sees more. I swing back and forth between certainty and doubt, neither one being a safe harbor; back and forth between eagerness and calm, neither one being a good attitude to take on permanently. Back and forth between self-doubt and pride, counting on one to balance the other; between hope and fear.

In these oscillations I have found a kind of meta-calm; made a jagged pattern of highs and lows into a sine wave, knowing that even when I'm despairing, I'll feel happy again, and vice versa.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

On being in a predominantly Abrahamic environment

Nio commented to my last post that she'd like to see me writing from my Pagan perspective on the BlogCon, and she's getting her request. Sort of.

The atmosphere at the Blog Con didn't strike me as unusual--and I have figured out why. Spending a lot of time around socially active, predominantly Christian people is not all that different from my daily atmosphere at the Divinity School. So I barely registered that I was reacting to it as a Pagan; I was just reacting to my normal state of affairs.

That state of affairs, though, is not a default state for Pagans, even if I'm immersed in it. And so, I need to puzzle out what that means, whether in the context of the Blog Con, the Pluralism Project, or the Divinity School, and how that's affecting my own faith. (So Nio, your response is a bit more general than you might have wished!)

There are the basic situations. The standard assumption that I'm a Christian ("Funny, you don't look Pagan...") is the first: Unless I bring it up, I am 'Christian by default.' My faith just doesn't register as one of the first options.

The awareness that any time I do mention my faith, I'll need to answer the followup of "what's that mean?" I've got the ten-second reply, the one-minute reply, and the "let's sit down over lunch and talk it over" response.

The expectation of shared context--that I'll know what's being talked about when someone quotes Scripture. Since we're in a culturally-established Christian nation, I do get a lot of these references--but not all, and it occasionally bugs me that I'm expected to know their faith as the default.

I sometimes feel that I have to prove, or defend, or guard my faith. Most of the people around me have centuries of tradition to draw on; Paganism has a lot of debate about whether and how far back our tradition goes. This leaves me feeling a little groundless at times, as if I have to make my arguments that much more secure because I can't refer to history.

One nice thing at both places, I don't experience a constant reference to God as He. Michelle Murrain's closing of the Sunday service, in particular, knocked me off my feet when she addressed God as Her.

Another good feeling that came from the con and HDS is the awareness that people around me take this seriously. I'd rather be engaged in an argument about why I believe something, than have it constantly brushed off as "ok, whatever" or "we don't really talk about that."

Discussions about interfaith collaboration, especially around social action, has another effect. I'm aware that, in some interfaith settings, Pagans and Paganism can become a deal-breaker for the collaborative work between faiths.

I think that our presence--Pagans in particular, but also minority faiths in general--forces a reevaluation of what faithfulness and religion have to mean. An interfaith group can't just keep widening the circle from "ecumenical" to "Judeo-Christian" to "Abrahamic" in the face of a culture full of Sikhs, Asatruar, Buddhists, Swaminarayan Hindus. They have to do something bigger than basing criteria on scripture or history--they have to entirely rethink what constitutes faith. What counts as religion. And that is a scary discussion to have, but a sorely needed one.

Perhaps what most struck me is this: Several times, both at the Divinity School and at the con, people have referred to the "brokenness" of the world. And I don't believe in that concept.

"Brokenness" isn't the same as being finite, or being riddled with hate and fear. Brokenness, to me, implies that the world is just wrong in some fundamental fashion. I look at the world--even with all the terror, the pain, the suffering--and I don't think it's perfect, all sweet and nice, but I don't think it's broken. It is, what it is. Our task isn't to fix it, which seems to imply some final perfected state, but to make it better, which is an ongoing process. Social action, social justice, peace work, in this context is not an attempt to correct our sins or fix our flaws, but to counter our tendency towards harm with increased kindness, and make the world a better place for the next round.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Summary of the ProgFaithBlogCon

The summary of the convention which I wrote for the Pluralism Project is available!

As you can see here, I left it fairly simple: a summary of the workshops, pulled from my notes and others, with a brief 'what are blogs?' and a short 'where do we go now?' section. Lots and lots of links, though I barely scratched the surface in many ways.

Some other reports that might interest you:
Minority faith involvement in the 2006 debates
Chicago's diversity training for police
Women in US Buddhism
And a collection of articles on the VA Pentacle debate.

(Also, if I've gotten something wrong in the article, please let me know and I'll fix it right away!)

On uncertainty

Met with my advisor today. Among other things, we talked about his skepticism and my belief. He seemed to think that because I am 'religious', I'm assured that what I think is the truth and can't, as a result, really reckon with the contingency and uncertainty that my truth rests on.

Is that really true for people who have faith? Many, I'm sure. Perhaps I'm just more wishy-washy than others, but I don't have the feeling that I've reached the Truth; I'm assured that it's there, but I'm also aware that everything I know about it is prone to error.

See, I'm finite. This is a good thing; it lets me be surprised, be forgetful, be many things. But She's infinite, and any attempt to understand Her gets filtered through my finite perceptions. I'm bound to miss something. Even in the moments when I most feel part of Her, or connected to the infinite, I have to eventually process that through language and memory. And we all know how reliable those are. Now, I don't believe that there's an unbridgeable absolute separation between humanity and Divinity...but humans still have limitations, even when we are most Divine.

Somewhere among the things I think are true about Her, I'm probably wrong. I can't tell where I'm wrong, though; all I can do is try and test them against experience. And, because my Paganism finds Her in all things--and especially in all people--testing them means acting in the world, not holing up in a cave.

I wonder if it's possible to walk this middle ground, part certainty and part doubt, for long. It does make pluralism and acceptance of other faiths easier: She's bigger than I can possibly understand; have you seen a part of Her that I've never been able to encounter?

This reminds me of Bruce Prescott's qualities of progressive faith--namely, humility. "While some interpreters of religious traditions may be considered authoritative, infallibility is an attribute that is best reserved for the Divine."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I looked up and I was surrounded by giants.

When I attended the ProgFaithBlog Con, I wasn't really a blogger. Two weeks worth of posting does not make one. So when I was supposed to give a talk about the Pagan blogosphere, I didn't really know what to say. I named a few that I'd encountered, pointed people toward Witchvox and Circle Sanctuary. The discussion ended up being about Paganism in general anyway, so I didn't feel too bad.

Now that I've gotten a little time to start browsing the blogworld, I've encountered some amazing, articulate, thoughtful Pagan blogs that I wanted to share.

First is Niobium, who was the first Pagan to comment here and whose blog inspires me with its creativity and honesty.

Next is Chas Clifton's Letter from Hardscrabble Creek.

Next is A Pagan Sojourn. I especially like the "Pagan Misconception" posts, 1-5 so far.

Finally is the Wild Hunt.

And this is just a tiny bit of what I've encountered.

Part of me is just going OoooOOOOooo over all this fascinating, intelligent writing; a tiny bit is intimidated to be writing alongside them, but I say a profound humbug to that tiny bit.

Given that I started this blog roughly six weeks ago, I don't feel too bad about being clumsy with my interface. I hope to have the bars customized enough to show links to these blogs (as well as start using a blog aggregator, put RDN headlines from my workplace on the site, and generally make the site more useful to me and any passers-by) in the next few weeks.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Generational silver

Yesterday I lost a silver bangle. This doesn't upset me the way that it might if I had lost it on the street or at a friend's home, because of who made it and where I lost it.

My grandmother was an art teacher in a Midwestern high school. She drew Christmas cards for the family for over thirty years; she painted in oils and watercolor. She sculpted; there is a bronze bust of my grandfather that I remember seeing the clay maquette for. She also was a jewelry maker. One of my best memories from visiting her is sitting at the kitchen table next to her with a tiny blowtorch and bits of copper, enameling them with tiny bits of colored glass. She made us rings and pendants, and she made a silver bangle for me.

Originally, it was circular. I bent it to an oval so it wouldn't slip off easily, and it got banged and bent in the years I've worn it since. I stopped wearing a watch so I could wear both my old silver bracelet and this one. It's a gift she made out of love for her granddaughters.

This is one of the keys I have to remember her with, one of the signifiers that shows her hand on my life. It is either in the cabin or at the bottom of the lake. Had I lost it anywhere else, I would still be sniffling.

My grandmother's great-aunt Alta built this cabin. This woman, who introduced her art-student niece to one of her own students (upon returning from meeting my grandfather for the first time, she said "He has a nice laugh."), came to the lake in the early years of last century and decided she wanted a cottage in this spot. She had the cabin built and spent summers there; then, my grandmother brought her family here almost every summer after Papa returned from the war. And my mother and her sister have continued it; and their daughters as well.

This is a place built by women, handed down through women, even as men come with us and feast and chop firewood and play with the children and read. This is Tante's cabin, where my grandmother's jewelry-making tools are kept--the same ones she used for the bangle. This is a place of great safety and sanctuary, where I come to recharge every year.

I hope to find it again, but it is in the place where it was made. If it rests at the bottom of the lake, then it is offered from all the line of women as thank you to the spirit of this place. If it rests in the cabin, it is home.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Second Planting

The letters are sent and the donation given, and a project begun. I may, if things work out, be starting a large collaborative quilt intended to both illustrate desire for peace and, possibly, serve as a point for discussion here in the States. I need to check on a few things first, but I think I can do this.

My idea for the design right now is a tree, where anyone can add a leaf, and a border of hands, where anyone can add a hand.

I never remember to celebrate Lughnasa. It's here; it's already crept up on me, and I find I am celebrating it unawares. One of my writerly friends called August 1 the day when everything starts over, halfway through the year--when we can begin again. And today, I ran into a mention that Lughnasa has survived as a date in the almanac for Second Planting.

In the current heat wave, everything feels overripe--we're at the opposite of February chill, and the burned-brown grass seems as infertile as the frost. But this is a restarting point: new endeavors, undertaken while we're in the flush of growth from summer.

On one hand, it's a nudge not to rest on our laurels, but to keep planting and keep working. On the other, it's a new beginning, hyper-aware as opposed to the sleepiness of Imbolc. So this must be a twofold celebration: praising the brillant ripeness of the summer and hoping for the new endeavors we begin today.

New endeavors; like a quilt that will likely take a year, like applying to graduate schools, like planning a wedding. Today's heat and heavy air can't prevent us from the second planting.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A small paradox

When it comes to matters of the existence of God, I rarely think of the word faith. Instead I think know, or feel, or love; I don't have to provide proofs of Her to myself.

But believing that any action I can take will have an effect upon so great a crisis? That requires a great act of faith, of stretching my hope against despair and confusion and counterevidence.

Lady, I believe; help thou my unbelief.