We can’t authentically engage with others, unless we’re self-aware, and we can’t truly care for others, if we’re not also caring for ourselves. I occasionally relearn this lesson at work, when I attempt to care for patients for the duration of a twelve-hour shift without drinking enough water, taking a lunch break, or pausing to at least briefly reflect on the thoughts and feelings that have come up for me during the course of the shift. I may make it to clock-out time, but I’m not providing my best nursing care, and I’m trashed the next day.
John Halstead recently called for Paganism to “grow up,” to “shift our gaze from an inward focus, to an outward focus.” I agree with him, that we’re called to balance self reflection and personal practice with service to community, if we want to reach the most developed expression of our Pagan paths. But I think his piece sets up a false dilemma; we can’t do the outer work, if we’re not first firmly rooted in the inner work. And telling people to “grow up” is not actually supportive of their development.
Several years ago, Patheos challenged bloggers to explain their religious choices in 200 words or less. Pagans of all stripes responded, and I really enjoyed reading the variety of perspectives: Druid, Heathen, Polytheist, Wiccan, Witchy. In the spirit of doing inner work during the dark of the year, I propose that for the month of December Naturalistic Pagans take up the challenge, too. Here’s my contribution in 166 words:
I choose to be Pagan, because I’m happiest and healthiest when I’m outside. I choose to believe that the World is alive, because believing so colors my daily experience with beauty.
I respect my place in the web of ancestors and descendants. I owe my life to the ancestors; may I make them proud. I weave a web for the descendants; may they be well, and may they know love.
I practice magic, because it works. I understand magic to be the use of symbol with intention, the art of changing consciousness at will. I know from experience that when I change my inner, subjective experience, I have the power to change my outer, objective experience, too.
I believe in all the gods. I don’t pretend to know what they are, but “stories that are alive” rings pretty close. Stories have real virtue and power, but not unless they’re told and retold. Humans tell and retell stories; thus the gods are inextricably linked to us.
I’d love to read other Naturalistic Pagan responses. Please feel free to post in the comments. If enough people respond, I’ll make a round-up post at the end of the month.