We are all devoted, says the title of this edition of Reflections. We are all devoted to something.
Some of us are clearly devoted to things we wish we weren’t. A cigarette after meals. Checking our phones compulsively. Having sex when we really don’t feel like it, even with committed partners, but we feel like we owe it to them.
But there are other kinds of devotion. Other ways of what T. Thorn Coyle calls, “Kissing the Limitless.” (By the gods, do I love that name!) There are other ways to express devotion. There are conscious, spiritual and religious, philosophical, and ethical ways to be devoted. To be and become a devotee of something or someone.
This week, I have spent some time with comrades from The Way of the River who identify as polytheists. They acknowledge the presence of many gods and spirits, and yet have particular devotion to one or several in a pantheon.
For example, Nora has this to say about her devotion to Vesta/Hestia, the Greco-Roman goddess of the hearth and home:
“…[F]or me the bigger elements include having an altar to Her (near my kitchen but not quite IN it, which would be preferable, but the floor plan of my apartment dictates otherwise), keeping a devotional journal, meditation/prayer, offerings at the altar.”
Other people I know are deeply rooted in their devotion to Brighid, a goddess of the Celts, whose holiday of Imbolc The Way of the River celebrated this past February. There is even a Roman Catholic religious order of sisters who acknowledge both St. Bridget, the abbess of Kildare, and the pre-Christian roots of the stories about Her. They tend Her sacred well and flame. They have devoted their lives to Her service entirely.
But devotion is not only about habits or deities. It is about worship–what we most privilege and hold closest to our hearts.
Another comrade, John, values both the study of classical texts and the pursuit of what the Greeks called, “the Good Life,” as well as the way that pursuit, in the Anthropocene Age, calls us to environmental consciousness. His devotion is to reducing his “footprint” on Earth, and to sharing texts, insights, concerns, and the possibilities for change with others. God–or the gods–need not even enter into this philosophical devotion, but devotion it is, nonetheless.
And another comrade, Peter, also finds himself an acolyte to Earth. Rooted in the landscape of his home and committed to the welfare of all Earth, he works tirelessly in his day job, in his role as a local elected official, and in his recreational life to remain connected to Earth and Her creatures. He writes poetry, rides through the central Pennsylvania hills on a single-speed mountain bike, and takes photographs of insects, birds, and the world around him.
Ultimately, I hope that any devotion I offer–whether it is to a deity, my ancestors, Earth, Stone, or Sky–helps me to become more of my Deepest, Wisest Self. You’ve heard those words from me before, and I use them here very intentionally. If my devotion to a god/dess, spirit, way of life, person, or planet does not encourage my authenticity, integrity, compassion, and wisdom, then what good is that devotion?
I find myself in mid-life, wondering to what I am devoted, and where I wish to be devoted. “In the middle of my life’s way, I found myself in a dark wood,” Dante writes. I am not afraid of this dark wood, but I am aware of the darkness. I am aware of the possibilities held in the “darkness and the sweet confinement of [my] own aloneness” (David Whyte).
To what do I give myself at this passage of life? Where do my loyalties lie? To Whom do I belong?
To Whom do you belong? To What? And Why? What is it that so captures your imagination that you have fallen in love “in a complete and final way,” as the Jesuit, Pedro Arrupe is said to have written about finding God?
I invite you to come to the Facebook Group and tell us about your devotion, and to read what your comrades have written there. There is a thread about devotion, and you will find many words of interest, I am sure.
Know of my love and care–
The Trees Will Turn before We Know It
“Look,” the poet Mary Oliver writes in her gorgeous poem, “In Blackwater Woods,” “The trees are turning / themselves / into pillars of light.”
Before we know it, as the sunlight wanes in many parts of North America, the deciduous trees will be turning themselves into brilliant paintings, gorgeous evidence that Whoever thought up this whacky, magical planet was some kind of mad genius. The winds will begin to blow colder. The snow will even begin to dust the ground in more northerly places.
And Samhain will come. The Days of the Mighty Dead will be upon us, and the comrades of The Way of the River are invited to come and observe those days together.
I have already heard from a couple of folks who want to be involved in putting together the ceremony for the evenings of October 28th, and I am looking for at least two or three more.
We will honor our Mighty Dead, and the complexity that doing so brings upon us. The Bright and Wise ones, the ones whose wisdom we need, we will ask to share time with us. And the ones who need our healing, the ones from whom we need healing…this work, too, will appear in our time together.
Will you step into the center of the Circle? Will you take the risk to try something new, or to go back to something you knew long ago? Reply to this email with queries, concerns, or an enthusiastic yes!
Discernment Waits for You
August past, ten of our comrades took a journey together. They shared their hearts and souls, frightened and brave parts of themselves with one another in the search for the Next Right Thing. Did you wish you could have taken that discernment class, but it just wasn’t the right time? You were visiting friends, having medical problems, welcoming a new baby?
Are you nonetheless asking, What is the Next Right Thing for you?
If you’re wondering about the process of discernment as I taught it–and really, as the group developed it together–please go to The Way of the River website and click on Making Hard Choices. There you will find a sign-up for the waiting list for the February 2019 class.
With all the respect in the world, I thank the first class of Making Hard Choices participants, learner-teachers. They are the ones who will have made February’s class even better than the one they created this August just past.
So if you think you might be interested in hearing about Making Hard Choices: The Art of Discernment this coming winter, go ahead and sign up to get the early-bird information as soon as it comes out! Again, that’s the Making Hard Choices page. Sign up and be welcome!