Posts Tagged vocation

24/7 Priest

I saw an interesting story this morning. A lovely depiction of women, armed raised to the sky, dresses and hair flowing, entitled ‘A Gathering of Priestesses’. It relates to online classes and talks being held soon.

Lovely, I thought. I wish I was as glamorous as them!

Then I stopped. I looked at the recent pictures of myself at work that folk have posted to my Facebook – as I officiate at weddings, namings and public ritual. Good grief… I am doing this! Aren’t I?

I often find myself pausing to consider the terminology we use to describe our ‘work’ – ie the tasks we do for others to support ourselves and our community. I call myself Priest, and have been both honoured and berated for it… despite the fact that I only took it on after enough people had referred to me as such, and I’d been working as one for long enough that I felt it to be an accurate title and descriptor. I don’t tend to use ‘Priestess’, not because I’m ‘denying my femininity’ (yes, really) but because I don’t see gender as part of the role, not really. I’ve often said that people can call me what they want, so long as it’s civil or polite!

But what does it really mean, to ‘Priest?’ Do we turn it on or off, like a 9-5 job? Is it reliant on certain clothing, place or attitude? Of course not. I’ve been reading a lot of work lately by priests of other faiths, and see the same thoughts again and again. A Priest is something you are, not something you do. It’s a role you take on, yes, but as a result of vocation, calling to service. Duty comes into it, but I find myself working almost anytime, anyplace. I have joked that my motto is the same as the 1970s British comedy show, ‘The Goodies’ – We Do Anything, Anytime, Anywhere!

Ultimately, I do what I’m called upon to do. Great. Priesting for others is identifiable. What about other times, then? In private, at home, out shopping, with family?

Nimue Brown wrote a thought-provoking piece that’s been in my head relating to this topic this week, on Gods. As with the title of Priest, being a Priest of [Insert Deity Here] can be used as a bludgeon almost, to give the title-wearer power, bolster their ego, increase their standing in the community… or it can mean what it truly means. 

If you take on the title – and subsequent responsibility – as a Priest of a Deity, then you are that all of the time. As a vicar might serve their community, a Priest of a God serves their Lord or Lady as needed, throughout their lives. Not just when it’s convenient. You don’t shut the door to the Powers that Be. So public Pagan Priests discover that they might be called upon all of the time, even when it might not be convenient to them.

And this includes all those in-between times as well. Which is what occurred to me today.

I made the decision to work from home today. I’ve dressed, sorted out the animal household residents, pinned my hair up and considered what needs doing. No makeup, no jewellery, no glamorous presentation! This idea popped into my head. It wanted out. I’m typing from my sofa, with a cup of tea at hand. That’s how writing works sometimes. So here I am.

Through the writing, I’m discovering thoughts, ideas, challenging myself. Am I a Priest when tapping away here? Or washing up, doing the laundry, walking the dogs? How about when I’m hidden under a blanket, crying my eyes out, having been overcome with emotion on those darkest days? 

Yes, I am. The truth seemed quite simple, as I pondered it. The stories tell us so, and from them – those myths that I return to for guidance – comes confirmation.

Demeter’s dark days are called ‘Winter’. Ereshkigal turned hers into determination. Odin suffered to find his truth. Athena (Wisdom) was born from Zeus’s headache!

Whether we see deity as literally existant or not, our ancestors went through the same life dilemmas as we do now, and retold the journeys in story. From peasant to King, they pondered, explored, screamed and wept. Others were there to help – public, accessible Priests – but part of the journey is questing inside, for that ‘Aha’ moment (yes, which Druids call Awen) of realization. Discernment, through piles of crap or huge social noise, to find your truth. 

Priests do this for others, but also for themselves. We all do, to some degree. While I suspect that the reason that Priests gained so much power is that others wanted to rely on someone else to sort their problems out for them, a good Priest will inspire, guide and encourage, not provide a quick fix (I never quite understood how absolution worked, but repenting a mistake instead of regretting it seemed clear). As spirituality is a life-choice, not just for convenient ‘holy’ days, so we live it. All of the time, good and bad, light and dark. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We take responsibility. We stand as Priests, guided by those we serve as much as we guide them. My Gods are patient, but give kicks when needed – as do I! Sometimes it is just a matter of allowing space for the realization. 

Priesting myself is no bad thing. Boundaries to allow for that are as necessary as in public ritual. Stories guide along the way. Moments of realization allow for internal ‘facepalms’, of ‘How did I not see that before?!’ – because only now am I ready, in a place to properly see.

I’ve been given many labels over the years, but ultimately, I regularly recommit to those that fit best – and so I move forward. This idea or identity is not finalised in this little blog post; it will evolve as I do, as I discover more on my journey. And so my own story unfolds.
Occasionally, I even dress to match.

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Spring – Madness and Stillness

The sun is rising on the Spring Equinox. The Supermoon is high above, to become visible soon as we witness an Eclipse. We stand at a time of balance, between the winter past and the warmer days that are almost here…

Some say that it’s been a hard winter. I hear that every year, but it’s at this time that we take stock, consider those dark months receding and what lessons we learned.

I’m very aware that for a good part of 2015 thus far, I’ve been pretty ill. In one way or another, it’s been hard to function, to get things done, and I feel that my work has suffered as a result. My own little internal Jiminy Cricket seems to delight in pointing this out to me, which doesn’t exactly help.

And there’s the external voices too, of course. Why haven’t you done this particular task? From the impossible – are you planning to run a marathon (after a tough run, where I struggled to reach a mile) – to the possible but difficult: when’s your next book out? And of course, the everyday: You haven’t answered my email, did you get it, is everything ok? (it was sent two hours ago). 

We all get this, I’m sure. Everyone sees only their connection, not realizing how much is going on as well. I don’t mind, actually (well, most of the time), as it’s nice to be wanted and have folk who care to reach out. But it can be difficult, especially when they only add to my own interior monologue of worry about What I Haven’t Done Yet. That cosmic To Do list might reach to the Supermoon by now.

But a few things this week have brought ideas together, creating this blog post to put my conclusions into words on the new Spring day.

Yesterday, a friendly journalist called to ask if I would speak this morning on radio about the events of today. She couldn’t reach me at home or on mobile, so asked my partner if she could call me at work. I’m utterly incommunicado while undertaking my Chaplaincy commitments, but she didn’t understand this: ‘Oh, its ok, I’ll call her at work to chat.’ No, no you won’t. This caused confusion. When I eventually spoke to her, she didn’t seem to quite understand that the Spring Equinox isn’t about High Festival, but smaller celebration, personal time to reconnect with our surroundings – or at least, it is for me. I got the impression that I wasn’t saying what she wanted, or expected.

This brought home to me how easy it is to get stuck in our own little worlds, our personal universe of expectations, and how easy it is to be brought up short when others don’t (or won’t) fit into them. I remember being like this, by the way – I worked in media, and in fast-paced London environments where things have to be done now or the world will end! Everything else is unimportant, except that immediate demand that you must fulfil. I do get it, and I do try to help her fulfil her requirement. Albeit with a small smile, as expectations meet reality.

Potentially, this is where my worrying voice comes from. Like a Microsoft ‘helpful’ application, why haven’t I done this, that and the other? Because things happen. External priorities come up. Personal ability makes it impossible. And it is really so important, or can it legitimately wait until later, when a proper job can be done? But we get caught up in ourselves, forgetting what’s outside the bubble of worry.

Everything is so fast-paced these days, I’m sure you all have versions of these thoughts and experiences. I’m sure you know the frustration too – ‘Why doesn’t this person understand how urgent it is?’ Impossible to even entertain the idea that the person understands… and doesn’t acknowledge that urgency. Because it’s not as important to them; if it’s even actually real. Tomorrow, it’ll be equally urgent, but something entirely different. 

Of course, there’s priorities; I’ve written of this before. But sometimes the pause is needed, to assess and consider. I love how the Pagan festivals allow this. I don’t really care if they’re a recent invention – we now have a day to celebrate Spring itself. How wonderful! The constant cycle, the movement, the time to look both back and forward. It’s not about Getting Stuff Done, or How We Celebrate. It’s about where we are, right now. Here.

I’ve been asked to present a talk later in the year, and am considering a look at Vocation, in a Pagan sense. That’s what’s on my mind at the moment. And it seems to be a good idea, because everything is coming together to add to it, to make it grow and develop. What am I doing as a Pagan Priest? How do I balance my duty to my Gods, my ‘flock’ (I have no idea what the collective term is for a Pagan Community, but I’m sure there’s many comedy options)… and to myself? What use am I if I don’t honour myself? How can I function for others if I don’t have the time, strength or energy to even walk down the road – as is required by my doggie family members every day? 

We feel the sap rising with Spring, the longer days, the joyful birdsong, the bright flowers… and we want to be Doing. But rather than zooming off and running into the floor – or causing inadvertent chaos for others in the process with our demands – perhaps today is a good time to pause. To celebrate, yes, to feel that warmth in our hearts as well as on our skin. But also to take stock, at this time of balance. 

Once we know which direction is best, we can step forward. Honouring ourselves and those around.

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Vocation

I may be the last of a generation who remembers the local village vicar. As familiar a sight as the local Bobby (policeman) walking his beat, the vicar was often about, visiting parishioners, helping in schools, generally being part of the community.

Now this is a sight only for fiction – Agatha Christie dramas, ‘The Vicar of Dibley‘ and suchlike.

And yet I’ve discovered that the roaming priest is still very much needed.

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This image is not a place where I have personally walked. But it is cookie-cutter similar to those I, and many others, do.

As I lock the heavy gate-door behind me and enter the prison wing, I always feel a little nervous. But it’s similar to the feeling before a public ritual, a Handfasting or even visiting a private house for a supportive chat.

Because you are ‘on’ – you are Priest, Minister, Chaplain, Celebrant… whatever you want to call me (as I often say, you can call me anything provided it’s nice!).

I minister to those who identify as Pagan – but I am often approached by others too. In the prison environment it’s first of all because I’m female, but then out of curiosity. Again, it’s similar at public events when I’m in robes. I’ve spoken of it before and I’m still glad that people are curious rather than fearful, able to approach and ask questions rather than cower or even be abusive.

I’ve discovered, too, that despite my nerves, I rather love it.

I got back to the Chaplaincy at the prison a few weeks ago, after spending quite a while on the wings, and commented on how good it was to do, how worthwhile. The Church of England Chaplain looked around and smiled. “It is, isn’t it?” he remarked. He’s often out and about, Bible in hand, huddled against the cold but always busy, out there with those who need him. The prisoners have told me of the friendly Imam as well, often there for a chat.

The Priest serves their community as they are needed and called upon. This is regardless of faith path, religious doctrine or even personal preference. We help because that is our role and our job, but also our calling as people. We want to make friends, to find that common ground, to share and connect with others.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about Ministry, biographical accounts of women fighting to become priests in the Christian Church over recent decades, but also those taking vows to join monasteries or convents. The latter may seem to be removing themselves from their communities in order to better understand and work with their spirituality, but in fact they are often the busiest, getting out into the roughest areas to help those who the ‘regular’ world believes beyond help: the sick, dying, homeless… those in need.

I read of the ‘call’, vocational summons to live life for God. This is an interesting idea from a Pagan perspective, and one that I’m not sure has really been explored yet (not that I’ve seen, at least). Many of us live our lives with honour to our Gods, but giving everything up for Him/Her…?

And yet, I realize, perhaps I am doing this already. I mediate between the spiritual and the everyday, in my writing and my ‘walking the talk’. I represent deity (as named individuals and the wider Natural world) in public ritual. I end my day exhausted but glad, having worked as a Pagan for those who ask – and those who don’t, but who welcome me anyway.

I may not even mention ‘Gods’ to those who approach me as I walk the prison paths. But I do explain what my Paganism means, find common ground (often surprisingly easily!) and simply chat, as a visitor and potential friend. I’m not out to convert anyone, but respect those who step up to ask. The other day, as I locked those same barred gates behind me, I heard a (non-Pagan) prisoner commenting to a mate of how pleasant I was. The Pagan prisoner I’d come to see was beaming – proud at last that his spirituality was recognised and valued, rather than mocked. Just by my turning up and engaging.

So the Priest is still walking the streets, still needed. In traditional ways, but also exploring new ground – online, via social media and Skype – but where there are people who need companionship, help, just someone to hear them and be there. I suspect many ‘quiet’ or solitary Pagans do the same, in their small but meaningful way.

It might not be a job for all of us. I’m still often surprised that I’ve fallen onto such a path! Or perhaps… just perhaps… I answered that call.

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Walking Your Own Path

This week, I have mostly been exhausted. It’s a busy time of year, my diary is crammed, I knew it would be happening. But that doesn’t stop me about worrying – about the work I’m not doing (while I’m resting), how tired I am, the ever-present To Do list…

I suppose this is symptomatic of the modern age. We’re encouraged to always be Getting On, doing something worthwhile, answering our emails within 24 hours (at most!), always being on-call.

I’ve never liked such a demanding life – I doubt many do. From having to answer questions via mobile from my boss while on holiday in the middle of a field, to explaining that no, I’m not ignoring someone because I haven’t answered their message, I’m just not getting a telephone or internet signal while away. We’ve all become very needy, with this constant (time-saving?) connection to each other.

While the positive is that we’re living as an ever-widening community, the negative clearly is that your own self can get lost, subsumed in the noise. I hear parents say this all the time. They’d love to do certain things but can’t, because of the demands of the children. I understand that to some extent (not being a parent myself), and certainly honour their choice to give up their life for the rugrats. But I can’t help thinking that we then grow up with those expectations, of someone being there for us as soon as we need them to be. A child, tugging on its parents’ cuff, whining ‘Mum, Mum, Mum’ – like the incessant ring of a mobile phone.

My parents gave things up for myself and my brother. But then when they needed to do something, go somewhere, we were taken along as well. We learned from an early age to be polite in public, sit quietly (I still always carry at least one book with me wherever I go), or amuse ourselves without being naughty. Yes, of course we got bored – but we made up games to keep ourselves amused. I vaguely remember some sort of ‘hide and seek’ in the furniture department of a large store, and discovering early video games with an original Atari display in a shop (yes, I’m dating myself – it was the early ’80s, if you must know).

Now, as an adult, I see children running almost out of control in shops and restaurants, with parents uncertain how to deal with them, how to set boundaries. This isn’t the norm, though, despite what some tabloid newspapers may have us believe – it’s simply that the louder children are more annoying and incessant, so more visible in their obvious demands. I see smarter, abler, more responsible youngsters regularly in the streets near me, but fortunately, the parents here are more inclined to the old ‘good telling off’ method of discipline than wrapping the little darlings in cotton wool.

But then we see it with adults as well: demanding, shouting, raging in public when something hasn’t worked out to their liking. That expectation, the sense of control being lost and subsequent crying like a child – I find it rather scary. I’ve felt it too, the frustration of being treated like a number by those apparently trying to help – but these are systems that we have agreed to live within, as they rise around us. Anger isn’t going to change that. Acting like a mature adult dealing with another, however…

One of the most common excuses I hear for not following a spiritual path is ‘I don’t have time.’ I understand, but it still frustrates me (when I do it too, by the way – I’m not immune!). But as I’ve often said, Druidry is a lived spirituality. We are living it, all the time.

In this mad connection of busy-ness, calling to and being called on by others, we are speaking, listening, thinking, seeing… or are we? How often do we find ourselves lapsing into the easy laziness of absolved responsibility? Like a child, allowing others to take over, and then complaining when things don’t work out as we’d like? It’s far easier to laugh at mistakes when they’re your own, that you should have realized but didn’t – because you know your own thought processes. Did you cock up because of enthusiasm, ignorance, distraction, or all three? That’s ok. Now you know, you can fix it.

Or if we’re working as part of a team, are we doing our bit well, or spending all our time worrying about others? Are you frustrated by those workmates’ own laziness, allowing you to pick up the slack while they hang back? How far are you letting them do so? How much easier is it to blame others, bitching from a remote moral high ground where nothing will ever change? Or are you really seeing the whole story?

We all need time for ourselves. All of us. Whether it’s to recharge, or just to simply breath out and take stock, that ‘Me Time’ is crucial to our sanity. From the classic sit-com image of a husband relaxing in his greenhouse, to a busy mum closing her eyes as she lies back in her bubble bath. We all know it – the difficulty is ‘fitting in’ that time amidst everything else.

But the truth is, like our spirituality, we are always in our Me time. How could we not be? We are each ourselves, an individual, walking our path in a larger world but ultimately ME. So what are you doing with that time?

We aren’t encouraged to stop, to rest. Try it now. Pause. Take a breath. Look around, really look. Smile at what you see (I hope). This is your life. You chose to be there, doing that, reading this. I chose to type these words.

I chose this path. I avoided it for a long time, before listening to that Universal voice telling me to get on with it. I can’t complain about my busy-ness, because ultimately I’m doing something that I love, which brings happiness to others, or at least helps them out a little. I’m not just doing this to massage my own ego or to be ‘needed’ – I’m here because people keep calling on me. I’m fulfilling a role, one which is flexible based on each individual and their circumstances. Connection, but each time entirely unique.

I’m truly not trying to be some sort of ‘guru’ or ‘leader’. At best, I’m a guide – noter of the possibilities, kicker-up-the-bum to action, deflater of complacency and provider of tea in times of crisis. But I need that too, from time to time. Of course I do.

This is where we learn to stop, to stand, to take stock and breath. To take responsibility. Even if that means saying ‘no, I’m sorry, I can’t do that’. To see, listen, investigate, understand; or if not understand, then either walk away or find an alternate route. To be part of the flow, which helps you to ride it more effectively rather than push against the tide.

We need to find what recharges us, fuels us. To maintain our personal practice. Yes, I do firmly believe that you can find time to set aside for this, but if you absolutely feel you can’t no matter what, do so when waiting for other things – a bus or train, a kettle to boil, while running a bath or washing up. Those are good times to think, to consider, to connect. After all, each one is a ritual act in itself…

Try it. Live your life, your responsibility, your spirituality. And, as always (both actively and passively): What are you doing?

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