Friday, December 30, 2011

Resolutions: To cure a broken heart

The Pagan Blog Prompt suggested a discussion of New Year's Resolutions.  I don't, as a rule, make resolutions, but since I am currently engaged in making amendments to my life for other reasons unrelated to the changing calendar year, I thought it would be good to have a look at this.

I had finished the last class of the fall semester.  Coming home after six hours of lecturing in high heels, I ran up my parents' stairs to find my father waiting for me with his iphone which has this neat little pulse-taking device.  Mine was over 150 beats a minute.  Naturally, my father was concerned.  I've been having chest pains and anxiety attacks more frequently these days.  I wake in the middle of the night in a panic and must take care to calm myself.  My heart typically beats between 100 and 111 beats a minute even when I am most calm.  My family has always called this my "squirrel heart", but joking aside, it has always been a bit of a worry to all of us.

Because my father was concerned, I made an appointment with a physician.  I told her about my symptoms and brought her information from my last doctor's visits related to this problem.  Last year I had an EKG and wore a Holter monitor.  They found no problems, but thought I had costochondritis.  Many years before I had sharp chest pains that felt a good deal as though someone was kicking me in the sternum.  When my own doctor refused to see me saying I was just too young to have a heart attack, I ended up in the emergency room.  Twice.  The first time they gave me a sedative and the second time, in a better hospital, they did a bunch of fancy-schmancy tests and found that I have mitral valve prolapse, a mostly benign condition.  MVP can be asymptomatic, but it can also manifest itself in what some call mitral valve prolapse syndrome which includes such symptoms as tachycardia, fatigue, chest pain, anxiety, and depression.

I'd almost forgotten about my mvp.  I'd taken care to avoid stimulants such as caffeine, and was not much troubled by it until last year when I found myself revisiting my doctor for chest pains, tachycardia, and an elevated blood pressure.  She did not find anything overly worrying and I let it go again until recently when my elevated heart rate and chest pains made it increasingly difficult to ignore.  My new family doctor thinks it is my anxiety, but she wants to get more information before making further suggestions.  I now have an appointment scheduled with a cardiologist who can review my history, do his own testing, and tell us what he thinks. 

Meanwhile, I have realized that I must address what ails me.  I'm not sure what the MDs will tell me, but I've often thought of it as my broken heart.  My acupuncturist has been telling me that my heart is troubled.  I can't remember her exact words, but the spiritual message I heard from her was that we needed to find a way to make my spirit feel safe enough to return to my heart.  My heart is having difficulty feeding my life with energy.  I wonder why.

When I engage in tarot, or prayer, or meditation, or this kind of free writing, I am trying to find answers.  More accurately, I am trying to find the right questions?  Is the question What is missing?  or What is wrong?  or What am I supposed to do?  or Whom do I serve?  or What is my purpose?  or How can I heal?  I just don't know and it really bothers me.  I wonder how long my heart has been telling me that there was a problem.  A long time I think given my history of anxiety and depression, but I was so focused on getting my doctorate that I always thought the problem would resolve itself when that goal was achieved.  Now the goal has been achieved for several years now and I cannot escape the fact that my hearts still feels wounded. 

I do not know what is at the root of my heartache, but I cannot wait to find that answer before I address the pain.  I'll have to at least patch it up the best I can.  To that end, I'm drinking more water and (decaf) teas to increase my blood volume.  I'm using yoga and qi gong to relax and employing my old hypnobirthing methods and breathing practices to settle myself when my heartrate runs away.  I'm taking herbs and supplements said to help with heart health, tachycardia, and high blood pressure.

My family doctor, cardiologist, chiropractor, and acupuncturist will continue to diagnose and treat me for my anxiety, stress, chest pain, and speedy heart.  They can find out why my heart hurts, but it is up to me to find out why it is broken.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ghosts

Pagan Blog Prompt:  Ghosts 


I've never seen a ghost. 

At least, I've never seen anything spooky or spectral outside of my dreams.  I've had plenty of experience with synchronicity and overwhelming feeling related to those who have parted this life.  I've also spent my fair share of time in Lily Dale, NY and have visited the site where the Fox Sisters first heard the Rochester rappings that began the modern Spiritualist movement.*  At Lily Dale my mother, father, husband, and daughter have all received readings.  No one ever seems to select me for that sort of thing.  Too bad.  I think I'd like that.

I guess I don't think too much on this topic.  I do study the history of Spiritualism in the United States and can tell you quite a bit about how Spiritualism is connected to other spiritual and religious movements such as Theosophy, Neo-Paganism, and the New Age, not to mention its long relationship with free thought and secular humanism.  I can also tell you about how it was the Quakers who ensured that it would become a serious religious phenomenon rather than a backwoods flash in the pan.  I might even tell you in what ways I see connections between Spiritualism and Quaker worship, belief, and experience, and that's all well and good....But I've never heard or seen a ghost.

There were all the times when I used to speak to my great grandparents as a child long after they died.  For instance, throughout childhood I chatted to my deceased great-grandmother and worried about whether or not she would be proud of me, and I used to ask my grandfather's father, who died almost 60 years before my birth, to help me with the door.  You see, the door to my grandparents' front porch was sticky and I could not turn the knob on my own.  Great Grandpa's old-timey picture hung in an old oval frame high up on the wall by that door.  There's a kind of sepia sternness in that picture if you don't notice how the eyes smile over his prodigious moustache.  I look into those eyes and say, "Grandpa, would you help me with this door?" and the door would open nice as you please.  I didn't think there was anything so funny about that.  Of course he would help me.  I was a great-grandchild!

There have been the many conversations I've had with my Grandpa. He and I often have conversations about caring for the family and responding to folks with generosity. He died 13 years ago. Our conversations have not stopped.  Since his death, each time I see a hummingbird, I know he is near.  Sometimes I see him in my dreams.  He tells me to be gentle.  He reminds me to be kind.

Dreams are funny.  There are surreal dreams, and flying dreams, and running dreams.  There are house and baby dreams and oh-my-god-where-are-my-pants dreams.  There are profound religious dreams and dreamy dreams...and there are those dreams in which you know you are dreaming, and you know the person you are talking to is no longer part of the waking, living world.  After my father's best friend was killed seven years ago, I began to see him in these dreams.  In the waking world, his death continues to be a kind of nightmare for all of us who loved him.  It was a sudden and violent death, an insulting and unjust death for a man of such peaceful convictions. It is hard for me not to cry in anger when I think of the unfairness of it.  It is hard to see the shadow of sorrow cross my father's face when his best friend's name is mentioned.

My father has looked after his friend's wife and daughters, being present for them in memory of Ken.  And in his way, Ken has been present for my father too.   In my dreams, I watch my father working and see that Ken is with him, looking at Dad a bit sadly because Dad can't see him anymore and they miss each other so much.  What a pair they were!  Bad-assed pacifists and liberals the both of them.  It is does not seem right, or even real, that they can no longer play ball together or joke and laugh and cuss together, or talk politics or march in protest together.  But they are still together.  It seems to me that death does not end relationships, it merely changes the rules of conversation.  Ken died but did not go away.  Not really.  He stands with my father, as he did in life.  Death cannot unmake brothers.


No, I've never seen a ghost, but there have been plenty of times when my hands have written words, expressions, and entire concepts that I did not understand until after they were written.  I have fallen in love, again and again, with persons dead and gone as I, as an historian, have read their words, their stories, their lives.  (Historians are necromancers you know.  We bring the dead back to life.)  As a mother, I have schooled my children in the principles and passions of our ancestors and have taught them to call on their names.  I have leaned close to cemetery stones and cried over strangers' graves.  Most of my girlhood crushes were on men who died centuries ago.  I frequently ask for help from my mother-in-law who died before I met her.  My whole body feels the weight of memory whenever I enter a place that has known a fullness of souls and a wealth of time.  I am apt to shake or burst into tears when I touch objects that belonged to my much-loved dead.   Every day of my life I'm talking to the spirits of the dead, reading their words, listening to their wisdom, crying and laughing with them.  They are with me all the time.

But I've never seen a ghost.



*"Rochester rappings" is a misnomer since the whole thing begins in Hydesville on a rural road just outside of Newark, NY.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How I lost the joy of writing.


Writing has been difficult for me lately.  My inability to create blog posts is symptomatic of a larger condition.  Basically, I can't get out of my own way.  Lots of people say that writing is therapeutic, and I guess it is.  But writing is more than that for me.  It is integral to my understanding of myself as a human being.  When I was little, I could feel the words traveling down my arms and dripping out my fingertips into the pen and then onto the paper.  Words and ideas thrilled me, and I reveled in the ability to take the raw clay of thought and emotion and translate them into something that could be shared between people.  It made me feel so much less alone.

Somewhere along the way, in the course of my perfectionism, I mixed up the need to write with others' assessment of my writing skill.  Finishing a doctorate was difficult for me, not so much intellectually as emotionally.  The work itself was fascinating and enjoyable, but the process of editing and revising was disheartening.  In contrast to many of my fellow students, my dissertation process was a cake walk.  I had a doctoral committee made of up nurturing and patient people.  They were gentle in their criticisms, and because they were generous educators, I began the dissertation process with a strong foundation of support which meant that my work was less in need of correction by the time I reached the final stages.  This facilitated the process significantly.  Even so, the process required that I submit my dissertation chapters first to my interdisciplinary committee of three professors (one with a PhD in history, one with a PhD in Religion Studies, and one with a PhD in English).  They each made their recommendations and I revised the work until the manuscript was complete.  At that point, I could submit the work to them in its complete although still imperfected form.  They made more (mostly minor) recommendations.  I revised again and, after receiving their go-ahead, submitted the manuscript to my second reader.  She accepted it with only minor recommendations.  After receiving her seal of approval, I then had to send the manuscript to the dean's office which then sent it ahead to an outside reader.  They don't tell you who the person is, but I believe in my case they chose a scholar working in Hawaii.  Following that person's comments to which I had to formally respond, my dissertation was then submitted for reading and criticism to the dean's office.  Working with my doctoral committee, I was then responsible for creating a response to the dean's comments.  When that process was over, I had a final meeting with my doctoral committee.  At this point they could bring up any final recommendations that had with the writing and/or with outside readers' recommendations.  Additionally, I was working with a professional editor who, though a sweet and wise woman, was not going to pull any punches in her editorial approach. 

  The entire process had its merits.  I was glad to know that the process promoted a high level of quality in my work.  I appreciated the attention and care I received from my readers who were consistently enthusiastic and caring in their approach.  My university encouraged a "nurturing" rather than a confrontational approach to scholarship.  I've adopted this style in my own classroom with good results.    On the other hand, I found myself exhausted by this process at the end of which I was thoroughly sick of all intellectual activities.  While my process was shorter than those endured by others at my university, it still took longer to receive approval of the dissertation than it did for me to write the darn thing. Added to that were bureaucratic snafus. At one point one when I sent my dissertation for review, a college office worker deleted the document and did not tell anyone until months later when I inquired about its status in the review process.  It was also an expensive process.  I could either have purchased three large furnished Victorian homes or this doctorate that has provided me with a job that barely covers the cost of my so-called "income adjusted" student loan payments.  Because I'm not able to make larger payments, my interest (and my related self-loathing and discouragement) keeps compounding and my debt, which will likely never be paid even if I lived to be 300 years old, is astronomical.

There are times when I feel pride in my accomplishment and take great pleasure in the knowledge and skills I gained in the process.  But most of the time I really wish I hadn't done it.  In fact, I'm ashamed of my motivation to be recognized as a thinker and almost feel that I deserve the low income, high debt, and diminished sense of self-worth that accompanies my doctorate.  I earned that humility as payment for my hubris.  What made me think that I needed or deserved recognition?  If I had learned how to be content as a homemaker and mother, I would not be in the fix I'm in now and my children would not be paying for my desire to "be someone."  I might even still enjoy writing.

I miss that feeling of exhilation and the rush of creativity I used to associate with writing.  One of the most uncomfortable results of my ten years of working on my M.A. and PhD are that my joy of writing was severed from the act of writing.  Ten years of criticism of one's thoughts and of one's expressions of those thoughts can be a bit discouraging.  Because I am a perfectionist, a page of glowing remarks about my work was always completely undone by any mention of even the smallest error.  After fourteen years of undergraduate and graduate discipline, writing stopped being fun.

But I'm trying to remedy that.  I'm trying to relearn how to write for the joy of writing.  This blog is often helpful to me in that capacity.  There is a reason why I don't spend much time editing this.  I submit these posts as raw offerings.  I don't want to concern myself with the fussy details of editing. That sucks for my readers, but is a gift to myself.  Sure, it embarrasses me when I find obvious errors in spelling or grammar.  I'm irritated with awkward phrasing or repetitious word use.  But learning how to write again without hearing the relentless voice of the critic in my mind is an important step for me in my recovery from university.

The next step is to be able to write without feeling that I must be solidly expert in the ideas I explore.  I don't mean that I'm just going to spout off about shit I don't know about.  (Look at that!  I ended a sentence with a preposition, and I am not going to edit it.  In your face, Perfectionism!) What it does mean is that I'm going to give myself permission to explore topics that I've not allowed myself to explore. I am going to challenge myself to use prompts in my writing to try to crack the ice that has formed over my thinking.  I'm becoming so conservative and cautious.  I need to nip that in the bud.  To that end, I've found a Pagan blog prompt site that suggests topics on which a Pagan blogger may write.  Sounds like fun to me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

To Gaze Upon the Beast

Part I:  The Problem

These past weeks, I've found it very challenging to write a blog post.  When I've tried, all the words that fell from my fingers were bitter, angry, and despairing.  Some days ago, I could not find anything to say that felt worthy of articulation.  Indeed, I could barely complete a sentence.  Most of my day was spent in this kind of caustic, emotionally abortive state.  Half-formed resentments kept knocking around my head so that I could not quite grasp what I thought or how I felt.  I just shriveled, hunkered, wilted, and crouched by my computer all day.  I read the news on the computer obsessively.  Finally, tearing myself away from Facebook and Truthout, I watched the news on the television.  I felt even worse.  The world seems damned and I feel helpless to save it.  The sky was dark and the cold in my basement apartment bored into my bones.  A hot, tearful bath thawed me a bit, but later I found myself on the couch beneath a blanket slipping in and out of one of the worst depressive states I've been in for a good long time.

I could not quite figure it out.  I'm prone to occasional bouts of depression, but they are usually mild and fleeting episodes.  Ironically, I suppose, depression does not get me down.  Generally speaking, anxiety is my mental illness of choice.  It is true that depression nearly drowned me almost a decade ago, but it rarely can hold me more than a few hours at a time since then.  That's why I was so surprised to find my anxiety swing over so decisively to that deeper darkness.

Whenever I have a feeling, I study it.  Why am I having this feeling?  Is it ephemeral and/or merely situational?  Does it have a more complex or spiritually grounded component?  How might my physical condition affect this manifestation of emotional sensation?  So I search my environment and body for irregularities.  (I can't stand irregularities.)  Perhaps it was that I had foolishly gone a couple days without my supplements.  As one who occasionally suffers from episodes of what my husband gently calls "not feeling well", I know that I have to eat well, take supplements that support good brain function and mental health, stay physically active, and get decent amounts of sleep.  When I neglect myself, I'm likely to become "off balance".    To my natural health regimen, I add aromatherapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture.  I'm kind of high maintenance that way.

Perhaps it was the dismal gray skies and the damp chill.  I'm not a real outdoorsie type, but I do find that I do tend to be solar-powered.  Bright days encourage me to be active.  Perhaps the dark and the damp compounded my morning doldrums and sent me slipping down into the gravel pit.  (I often think of depression as a gravel pit with steep sides.  Easy to find your way in.  Dull as hell once you're there, but damned difficult to climb out again unless you happen to know the way.)

As is my custom, I fussed and worried about my feelings until it suddenly hit me what had happened.

I looked directly at the Beast.

Part II:  The Reflection (always keep mirrors handy)

The Beast is a many-headed, malicious killer and it is everywhere.  Look now and you will see it out of the corner of your eye.  It is hunger, want, injustice, intolerance, hatred, war, bigotry, torture, pollution.  It is grasping, cutting, strangling.  It starves, cuts, twists, mocks, and brutalizes.  Cut one of its hideous heads loose from its body and it seems that two more grow back in its place.  Like the Medusa or the Basilisk, to look directly at it brings petrification and death.

And yet we must fight it.  But how?  How can we fight something so enormous and so frustratingly resilient?  How can we fight something that we cannot even bear to look in the eye? 

I think it was a conversation with my little girl that helped me with this question.  She came to me in deep frustration that as a child she could not change the world.  She was furious with herself that by the time she grew up and had power to stand up for the vulnerable, too much damage would already be done.  How many more children will die?  How many more species will become extinct?

I heard myself in her, but did not respond to her as "myself" but as "mother."  This is basically what I told her.  This is basically what I told the reflection of myself in her.

It is good that you want to fight that Beast.  But it cannot be conquered by one person.  Gather allies.  Remember that there are people already out there, working, studying, advocating, healing, teaching.  Generations of us have faced this danger and generations of us will face it again because we will not accept defeat as long as love exists. 

Do not attempt to look directly at the Beast.  The vastness and power of it will freeze you in your tracks.  Instead, like the valiant mice in Aslan's battle, focus on the toes and heels and tails of the Foe if that is all you can reach.  Even the mighiest adversary cannot keep fighting if we cut the legs out from beneath him.  Focus on what you can do rather than what you think you ought to do.  Your little efforts, grounded in faith and inspired by love, may be just the thing to turn the tide.   

Consider that even the pennies you set aside daily to help other children in the world add up quickly. You may wish to help a thousand children and regret your powerlessness to do so, but consider that the child who receives the gift of your pennies can make all the difference in the world.  If your pennies save just one child, that one child can join in the story of humanity.  Celebrate her voice.  Celebrate her life.  She may not be a multitude, but she is a beloved sister.

And always remember that however immediate and terrifying the problems that face us seem, we are creatures bound to the future.  You are not done growing. Your job is to keep growing and keep learning. Keep getting stronger. Remember that none of us can fight on our own. The world has not been waiting for you to stand alone. The world waits for us to stand together.



Friday, September 30, 2011

Gratitude this Fall Equinox

I recently responded to a post by a friend and sister Quaker Pagan blogger in which she expresses thanksgiving for the Fall Equinox.  I thought I'd share her post here along with my own response.  This is a good time of year.

http://aquakerwitch.blogspot.com/


I live in an agricultural region. Beginning in August, I notice the farm stands and their abundant produce. We see tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, corn and cabbage in our gardens, in the fields, and in the markets. In September, we add pumpkins, winter squash, grapes, and apples to the list. The nights grow more chilled, the air is not so heavy, and there are leaves dancing on the breeze even before the full autumn colors overtake us.

In the summer months and into August, I notice the green smell of corn ripening. In September, the air is perfumed with the scent of grapes and apples. The light has a more golden quality to it too. Sometimes, even in the darkening sky, the leaves turn their silver underbellies to the sun so that the world becomes like a medieval illumination.

I am thankful for this light. I'm thankful for the gathering of crows that fill the fields after harvest. They remind me that we are not alone in the universe. I am thankful for my own family, for our gathering together each night, and for the children's play. I'm thankful for white sails on blue lakes, for bushels of honeycrisp apples, cheerful mums, milkweed, wooly bear caterpillars, pumpkins, grape pies, casseroles, and cardigan sweaters.


Photograph Credit: 
Amandolare, Sarah. "Summer Getaway: Ithaca and the Finger Lakes." FindingDulcinea. 29 May 2010. Web. 30 Sept. 2011. .

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Green Apron: On Avoiding Plastic in the Bathroom

http://hystery-thegreenapron.blogspot.com/

On my other blog (much neglected I fear) I explore my life as a green homemaker.  In this entry, I look at ways to avoid the use of plastics in the bathroom and ask for assistance with some remaining plast-icky problems.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Looking for Love

I am reviewing some of my unpublished posts looking for raw materials and ideas.  There doesn't seem to be much there I can use.  There are more unpublished than published posts because I have a tendency to write things that are inappropriate for sharing with others.  It is a shame, really, because I'd love to share some of my thoughts on various topics, but I find that my approach, as in the post "Let Me Tell You Where to Put That Talking Stick", might offend some readers.  Other posts, while more polite in tone, are a bit too heavy on the navel-gazing and the self-pity.  I find these posts really amusing, but I find that my sense of humor does not translate well into the blogosphere where people respond to me with what appears to be genuine concern.  I guess most folks don't find depression quite as hilarious as I find it. 

So what to write?  I've been hovering between despair and a kind of...what?  Sentimentality?  Nostalgia?  Moodiness?  No.  It is a more spiritual and vulnerable state for which I have no name.  In the midst of my anxieties, I find myself reaching out into the world of spirit.  I call upon God or ancestors, guides, energies, or angels.  I don't care much who answers me so long as I don't feel so alone.

And I have felt very alone.  I don't know how many times, in a fit of anger and disgust, I spit out the words, "I hate this culture!" by which I mean the greed, arrogance, cruelty, and thoughtlessness that seem to prevail everywhere I look.  I avoid television news but can't seem to stop myself from reading news and watching it on the internet.  It is appalling, and I am tired of that lump in my throat and the sting of tears as I read about yet another injustice, yet another cruelty, yet another abomination committed against the most vulnerable members of Creation.  It is as though we have made a game of trying to outdo ourselves in debasement.  What humiliations can we enforce?  What standards of grace and kindness can we ignore?  All decency and logic seem abandoned in the pursuit of power and wealth for a few while the rest of us scramble and cling to what little dignity we have left.

I have become cynical.  I sneer and laugh at the gross ignorance I see around me.  Wrapping myself in self-righteousness, in the protective gear of pride of education, status, and position, I protect my tender underbelly from the greater sadness that always threatens.  But every so often, I peak around the edge of my disdain and take a direct hit.  I never know just why, but sometimes a story of injustice, loss, or cruelty knocks the wind out of me and I just sit there and cry.  Sometimes the fears I have that I will not be able to preserve myself and my family overwhelm me.  They paralyze me.  My heart races and I tremble.  I distract myself with the blinking lights of computers and televisions, but sometimes I cannot deny that there is darkness everywhere.

Except it isn't everywhere.  The news is not an accurate reflection of the cultures that animate the United States.  Media feeds on the macabre, the sensational, and the absurd.  I won't deny that their diet is rich.  They certainly have their pick of horrors from which to choose, but I am also trying to remember (as a hedge against despair) that the world is also full of love, justice, kindness, and good sense. 

The other day, I saw a middle-aged woman with her elderly mother.  The elder woman was awake but unresponsive.  Her daughter talked cheerfully to the people around her.  She spoke kindly to her mother although there seemed no hope that her mother could respond in kind.  "It is bright outside, Mom.  Better wear these sunglasses," she said as she gently placed the glasses on the old woman's face.  The old woman, in her wheelchair, did not so much as turn her face toward the sound of her daughter's voice.  I could feel my own fear, for myself, for my kids, for my own parents, grow and twist in my gut.  "Please, God, protect me from this woman's fate."

In the parking lot, I again saw the two women.  The younger woman was preparing to lift her mother into her car.  Before she did so, she leaned forward and very gently stroked her mother's face and looked into her eyes, her own face warmed by a tenderness for her parent that the parent could no longer express to her child.

This gesture of love, so simple and so brief, was like a thousand sermons to me. I have been pondering over it for days.  Here was a moment that did not warrant my bitter laughter, nor my contempt, nor a well-written rant.  It brought me up short. Whatever can it mean?  In the moment of my witness, I thought to myself,  "How much we love each other!"  In the midst of our imperfections, our pain, and our weakness, how great is the Love that sustains us.  I have been so long in practicing my anger with the horror stories of life that I had quite forgotten just how majestic (though very quiet) the love stories of families, friends, neighbors, and perfect strangers providing care and attention for each other can be.  I'd quite forgotten too just how common they are. 

Why?  Because we are human and that's what we do.  Humans beings are called to love and we have obeyed that call.  We are imperfect and inconsistent, it is true, but I will not believe the lie that we are wholly corrupt.  I will not give up hope that, however often we fall and fail, the core of us is incorruptible, spun as it is of the very heartstring of the Universe.

As we drove away from the parking lot and to the grocery store, I began to wonder.  Is the Dark really winning or is that just more spin?  I don't deny the existence of inhuman evil, but maybe we just don't see how full of Love the world is.  Perhaps the world is full of a power we cannot grasp and cannot see because our fists are clenched and our eyes are squeezed shut in fear.  I had let my defenses down while I watched the woman and her mother, and this time I found the wind knocked out of me not by darkness but by Light.  In the moment the woman stopped in the midst of her busy-ness and responsibility to caress her mother's face and smile into eyes that could not smile back, I felt my world shift.  In that moment, she embodied Christ, and I was witness to the Presence.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I don't mean this to be an "everything is going to be okay" post.  I don't mean to suggest that a positive attitude will stop wickedness in its tracks or heal all wrongs. I'm aware that the woman in the parking lot probably finds herself unsmiling, bitter, and exhausted more times than she would care to admit.  Having cared for very young, very old, and very ill people in my own family, I know that love does not always manifest itself beautifully.   I also can't pretend that the world is not full of anger, pain, humiliations, and monstrous cruelty.  It is. 

The world is full of pain.  I'd be an idiot not to acknowledge it.  But it is also full of Love.  I just haven't been paying attention.  Love is not grand or sneering.  It is not violent and does not force itself into our consciousness.  We often miss it because unlike Fear, it does not loom over us.  Unlike Rage, it does not cut into us.  We miss it because it is usually not a grand thing.  So used to looking for danger, we often do not register the presence of Love.

" Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  (I Corinthians 13: 4-7)   

So I've been thinking about that if "thinking" is the right word.  Perhaps a better word is "feeling".  I'm experimenting with a possibility that maybe "my calling" is not quite so complicated as I have been making it.  Perhaps it really doesn't matter whether or not I publish or whether or not I "make a difference" by being smart, or brave, or even very well-organized.  I'm trying to minister to the world as the woman in the parking lot did for me.  I am trying to be gentle, trying to be kind, trying to see each soul as a soul rather than as a competitor, an obstacle, an irritant.  I am remembering that in this world, we are imperfect and therefore we love each other imperfectly, but also that within us, beyond us, and through us exists a more perfect Love. This is the Love that is our Source.  It is the pattern and fabric from which we are made and, if we are willing, it is the template of our destiny. 

I'm embarrassed to say it because it is such a trivial thing, but I've begun looking people in the eyes and smiling at them as gently and as genuinely as I can.  I figure all of us, whether or not we are capable of response, is as deserving of such care as the woman in the parking lot gave to her mom.  I guess my experiment isn't much really.  In many ways, smiling at folks is merely practicing the good manners my own mother taught me as a child, but, oh!  the reward!   Sometimes, when I smile at someone, the worry or the anger or the boredom slips away from their face and they look back at me with the same kindness.   In those moments, I realize that I was never alone.  In the grocery store, on the street, in the college, at the park, in long lines, ladies' rooms, waiting rooms, and traffic jams, I am surrounded by souls illuminated by Love.   Knowing this makes the darkness seem a bit less scary.  Seeing Love and acknowledging its presence is just the beginning of the service I owe, but it seems, perhaps, like a good place to start.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Nothing so plain about my Paganism

It becomes increasingly clear to me that there is nothing clear (or plain) at all about my Paganism.  I am, according to my own definition, a pagan person.  I'm just really, desperately, depressingly tired of explaining what my definition is. 

I had been operating under the belief that in order to communicate most clearly and honestly, I needed to be open about my paganism.  I thought it would be dishonest to remain "in the broom closet."  I am now entertaining the idea that by using the term Pagan (or pagan), I merely muddy the waters of communication making it far more difficult for me to assert my views in a productive way. 

I believe what I believe.  Based on my understanding of the history and theory of earth-centered and mystical spiritual traditions, I have called my beliefs pagan, and I continue to believe they are.  Unfortunately, I have found that very few people, whether Abrahamic, Pagan, or non-theist, seem to resonate with my personal experience or definition of the term.  It seems it would be better to simply communicate my beliefs and the context of those beliefs without attaching a label to them.  In this way, I need no longer argue with those who actually believe very similar things as I do, but have bad associations with the term "Pagan".  In this way too, I may communicate my spirituality without having to endlessly negotiate terms with or differentiate myself from folks who share my label, but who believe wildly dissimilar things and practice in a radically different manner than I do.  It does me very little good to keep saying, "But I'm not that kind of Pagan."  First off, it is such a waste of time.  Secondly, it sets me up as an antagonist of people who would normally be my natural spiritual allies.

So that leaves me with a blog title that doesn't quite fit.  I need to change it.  Any ideas?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

17th Century Quaker and Puritan Women

Shifting gears from the 19th century where I spend most of my time to the 17th century, I have begun reviewing literature related to European women's religious experience in the British colonies.  I am interested in exploring tensions between female believers in various time periods to see if I can tease out the contours of patterns that give rise to the strong conflicts between radical and liberal suffragists in the late nineteenth-century and which reemerged in contemporary America between Christian feminists and Goddess feminists.  More specifically, I'm curious about the role motherhood plays in the development of these expressions of feminine/feminist spirituality both as lived experience and as symbol.

Honestly, I'm not sure how I'm going to do it.  I have an idea that I might take the views of two (perhaps more) notable women in various time periods and compare and contrast their views.  I had been working on a similar effort with Frances Willard and Matilda Joslyn Gage before I realized that I desperately wanted to go further back in time to provide myself with sturdier footing in this exploration.  One could go back all the way to the mists of time, but I think, being an Americanist, I'll have to start with the colonial period.  Limited, as historians tend to be, by the written record, my study will likely spend far more time on European American women than other groups whose lives are less well documented, but I foresee the need to consider indigenous American women's influence on the development of a feminist spiritual tradition fairly early on and to continue revisiting it as the history develops.  I know, for instance,  from my study of Matilda Joslyn Gage's spiritual writing that Haudenosaunee women play a critical role in the development of matriarchal theory.  I am also curious to learn more about how African and African American women influence this history.  I really have no idea at this point beyond the tantalizing bits of information I've gathered through the course of preparing lectures for my African American history classes.  There are at least a few black female theological and spiritual thinkers to whom I can turn.  Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, and Jarena Lee spring to mind.  Will I find their work tends to challenge or uphold the traditional evangelical Christian perspective?  Will I find dissenting voices that aid in the development of a more radical gynocentric vision?  I can't wait to find out.

There is a great deal to learn, and I hardly know where to begin.  One has to start the research somewhere.  My first stop was a short series of articles in Mathisen's Critical Issues in American Religious History, a satisfyingly fat text that I will be assigning to my (un?)fortunate students.  Primary sources and articles on Roman Catholic and African experience were fascinating, but my focus remains on the Puritans and the Quakers in Mary Maples Dunn's article, "Saints and Sisters". 

I'm pretty sure I've read this particular article before although I can't recall where.  That's annoying, but it happens to me quite a bit.  This is an older article so nothing too earth-shattering in its analysis of the differences between Quaker and Puritan women.  Quakers and Puritans shared with the first century Christians a sense of living in the end of times.  Living on a frontier in both geographical and spiritual terms meant that women found themselves caught up in the heady excitement and hard work of a beloved community fully cognizant of and engaged in their relationship to God and in the duties that relationship entails. There was work enough for all hands and therefore less fuss about whether or not those hands were attached to male or female bodies.

Puritans and Friends both acknowledge the spiritual equality of men and women despite the enormous social, economic, educational, and political inequalities of their respective societies.  Because Puritans base their holy experiment on the Book, they are limited in their ability to develop this concept of spiritual equality.  Biblical references to female sinfulness and inferiority, particularly as found in the Pauline epistles, did not give Puritans wiggle room.  Despite this, Puritan women did test the boundaries of these limitations.  Unfortunately, most of their efforts can be read in the records of heresy trials.  What we know of their rebellion comes to us through the lens of their male accusers and judges.  Anne Hutchinson's trial is most famous of these, but there were several.  Dunn makes the sad observation that such brave women were "...more apt to perish than to publish."

Friends, on the other hand, did not take the Bible as their primary source of authority.  Seeking more direct communication with their Source, they tended to either ignore or reinterpret texts in light of the Light.   Friends were far less concerned with Paul's admonitions to female Christians believing they applied only to those who remained separated from the regenerating power of unity with Christ.  In their assessment, the condition of inferiority and obedience to men required of women after the Fall no longer applied to those who were redeemed in Christ.  Friends were more likely to refer to Hannah, Mary Magdalene, and Miriam to justify women's active roles in the ministry than to focus on Paul's advice that women maintain silence in the church.

Both Quaker and Puritan religious communities relied upon women's participation and highly valued female piety.  After 1660, the Puritan congregational churches' membership shows greater female than male participation.  Their numeric superiority did not translate to greater power.  In fact, as the number of women relative to men increased, the power of women decreased.  This is partially a result of the clergy's increased efforts to dominate all laypeople regardless of gender and partly a  result of what Dunn describes as a tendency for women's activities to have less prestige than male activities.  In the latter half of the 17th century decreasing piety in men leads to their absence from the churches which they abandon to the women who are expected to continue to guard the community's virtue even as the men turn their faces away from God and toward Mammon. 

Quaker women not only attend church, they are among its most important ministers.  Friends emphasis on indwelling Divine Light, spiritual rebirth, and the ministry of all believers leads Quakers toward acceptance of female public ministry.  With their meetings' full support, women engaged in traveling ministry for prolonged periods of time under dangerous circumstances.  Often such women left behind husbands and children to serve in this capacity.  One is struck by the the contrast between a traveling female Friend risking death as a Publisher of the Truth with that of the housebound Puritan wife known in her church records only by her husband's name.

I am very curious, but not very hopeful that I will find more specific information about early Friends' attitudes regarding motherhood.  The kind of literature that becomes more popular in the 19th century, a kind of maternal sentimental reflection, will come later.  I'll have to work with the materials I have which, for early Friends, are much more God-focused than mama-focused.  My own sensibilities, formed as they were by generations of Protestant piety, are shocked at the idea of a woman leaving her children on an errand to the wilderness, or even worse--to the scaffold.  As I have not even allowed my children to be surrendered to the care of a babysitter for just one night, it is difficult for me to imagine leaving them for a year or forever...on purpose!  My own sense of spirituality is firmly centered around my understanding of myself as mother.  It is very exciting to see how definitions of motherhood emerge, assert themselves, and transform over time.  My own family history partakes of multiple threads of this story.  They are like strands of DNA.  Physical traits seem to arise and disappear in cool and crazy ways.  Likewise the traits of feminine spirituality in the British North American colonies and in the United States seem to appear, disappear, combine, and recombine over time in ways both expected and unexpected.  It will be fun to trace this genealogy and fun to take a guess at what the next generation will look like.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Performance and Perfectionism

I write this post hours after my participation in the 163rd anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention.  Last night I dressed up in a late nineteenth-century suffragist suit and played the role of Anna Howard Shaw.   This morning, dressed as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, I delivered a speech on the front porch of her old house in Seneca Falls then led a parade of women 88 miles to the Women's Rights National Historical Park where I later delivered the Declaration of Sentiments for the rededication of the Wesleyan Chapel.

For two days, cameras have seemed to me to be like a swarm of insects around me.  (And everyone who knows me well knows I am about the least photogenic human being who ever lived!).  I've been pulled into conversations and photo ops with congresspeople, mayors, historians, bureaucrats, business people and tourists.  When I'm in costume, people ask me all kinds of philosophical, political, religious, and historical questions.  They disclose details about their experience and even of their suffering to me or they swoop in and put their arms around me, touch the fabric of my costume, or peer under my bonnet.  Of course, I let them.  It is part of the deal. They want to touch history, and when I'm in costume, I become a tangible link to another time.

I'm strongly introverted with an aversion to being touched, so there is a certain degree of psychic pain that goes along with every public engagement.  On the other hand, I have made it my job to teach and perform.  Therefore, the task itself comes easily to me even if it leaves me emotionally depleted.   In fact, I'm pretty good at it.  My parents are both public speakers so I had the luxury ("luxury"?) of growing up in the wake of their charisma.  I learned their techniques and found plenty of opportunities to practice as I was expected to converse appropriately with their coworkers, clients, parishioners, and students.

But I'm not constitutionally well-calibrated for public life.  I can't eat on days when I'm teaching or performing.  I often do not sleep well the night before so I function on adrenaline.  When I come home, I chatter and gush to my family as a means of casting off the energy.  This is generally followed by a sense of exhaustion, depression, and headaches.  I need to be alone to recharge, and as I'm doing right now while writing this post, I often isolate myself for a period until I begin to feel more like myself and less like the character who possesses me when I'm in public.

Just a short time ago I was in a  hoops, petticoats, boots, and bonnet.  Now I sit here in my loose-fitting, ratty t-shirt and capris.  My glasses, which I never wear in performance, are back on the end of my nose.  I'm barefoot and curled up in my office chair.  I feel much more comfortable, but also just this side of tears.  It feels very much like I am just waking up from a kind of delirium.  I have vague memories of hundreds of faces, dozens of hand shakes, and what felt like a hundred thousand cameras.  Each person who spoke to me told me I did "an excellent job" that "it was really well done" and "just beautiful!"

But I know better.  Though I managed not to make it obvious, I can tell you in great detail every error I made.  My pages were out of order and a section of the speech was therefore neglected.  I was horrified when I realized what I had done.  Thankfully, after a couple beats as I realized that the next page before me did not follow the one I had completed, I simply moved ahead to the next section and concluded the presentation as if all was well.  I could not afford to do otherwise as I was speaking without microphone before a large group of folks including several dignitaries.  My voice could not falter.  I could not shrink into myself or run away from the podium no matter how much I wanted to.  I could not will the good earth to swallow me whole.  So I carried on knowing that I would just have to cry about it later.

I"m trying to comfort myself with the knowledge that I won't be the first or the last public speaker to make a mistake, mess up a speech, or fall on my face.  The autobiographies and biographies of the historical women I so admire make them look like giants of virtue, valor, and skill.  But having read their private correspondence as well as their public record, I also know quite a bit about their insecurities and embarrassments.  They were only human.  It seems that I am too.

I don't like to make mistakes.  Since childhood when I kept getting out of bed to recheck the homework I'd already spent several hours perfecting, I have feared failure.  In school I worked into the night to get everything just right.  Because my grades were so high,  my teachers thought to challenge me by separating me from the other students and giving me more advanced and difficult assignments.  It did not occur to me that getting a lower grade would ever be acceptable regardless of the complexity of the assignment.  If I missed even one question, mispronounced one word, misunderstood one concept, I did not forgive myself.  I just kept working harder and harder to perfect my performance so my teachers would not do that most horrible thing I could imagine which was to ask me why I made a mistake.  Any grade lower than a 95 indicated failure.  "What went wrong?" they would ask me and my entire little body just felt shriveled in shame.   Not surprisingly, with these standards coupled with the loneliness I felt in school, I woke up with knots in my stomach every morning and I was prone to tearfulness and anxiety.

That pattern did not let up when I went away to college.  It did not let up in graduate school.  I'm afraid it has not let up even today although it is certainly modified by the humbling realities of mothering.  Although I'm well aware of how damaging my attitude has been to my health and happiness, I find I have a difficult time letting go of my perfectionism.  It is just unacceptable, just inexcusable for me to screw up like I did today.  Granted, no one mentioned it.  In fact, people were full of praise.  My parents who watched me speak assured me that that error wasn't noticeable and that no one would care anyhow, but I was just beside myself.  As we sat discussing the event in a restaurant, I reflected upon my error, began analyzing how I had gone wrong, and found myself so close to tears that I could not swallow my root beer.

After I give a speech or teach a class, I like to come home and forget that I ever have to go out there again.  Just for a little while, I can relax into the comfort of being "just a housewife" with people who call me "Mommy" and "sweetie" and who don't care if I can give speeches or not.  What blessed relief that is!  I am sorely tempted to hide away for good this time.  On days like this, I feel as though I'd like to toss the boots and the bonnet right in the trash and be done with it.  I'm disappointed in my performance and I'm beating myself up about it.  In fact, I'm feeling pretty sorry for myself.

I cried through writing this post, mostly just because I'm really tired and really overwhelmed and like a little kid whose had too much stimulus and not enough sleep, I'm just not in control of my emotions.  I wasn't even sure why I felt such a need to write at all.  Certainly, I'm not being logical so goodness knows what errors I have made in this post!  I suppose I wrote just to exorcise my demons.  That's as good a reason as any to write, I suppose.  But perhaps my demons are being exercised rather than exorcised with this obsessive compulsive rumination.  Enough is enough.


I'll end with just one thing that came into my head unbidden as I was busily thinking what a failure I am.  You see, there's this young woman who comes to Convention Days with her mother every year.  She's a woman with an intellectual disability who uses a walker to get around.  Most people seem to just ignore her and that's too bad because she knows pretty much all there is to know about the Convention, suffrage, and the fight for the ERA.  On top of that, she has a great sense of humor and a joyful gratitude about being there in that historical place that is contagious.  There were an awful lot of fancy-schmancy people who made an awful lot of fancy-schmancy speeches during Convention Days but I don't think any of them "get it" like she does.  Her whole heart is in it, and she is just alive with it.

Each year when I see her, I make it a point to stop my march to greet her and tell her how glad I am to see her.  After the march, I like to spend a few moments talking to her.  This time, I found her sitting in the back of the Wesleyan Chapel with her mother.  I was already beating myself up for being less then I thought I could be, but I walked back to where she sat with her mom and gave her the best smile I could muster.  Despite the oppressive heat and the jostling crowd, she was just radiant with enthusiasm.  She threw her hands up in celebration.  "Congratulations on the 163rd anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention!" she exclaimed with utter delight. 

I wish I knew that young woman's name.  I wish I could let her know how she ministered to me today in the midst of my self-loathing and perfectionism.    She was just happy to be there and I'm awfully glad she was there too.   Out of all the flashing cameras, the compliments, the hugs and handshakes, hers is the face I most want to remember.  I appreciate, I really do, all the other people who went out of their way to compliment my performance and thank me for my work.  But there seemed to be a lot of that going around today, you know?  We're all so political and polished in those kinds of situations ( you know, the ones with sound systems and hor d'oeuvres.)  I was doing my dance too, moving from person to person reaching into my bag of smiles and charming comments, but she was just herself.   She was on pilgrimage and fully appreciating the great good fortune of being there to celebrate one of the pivotal moments of human rights history.

I wish she could have marched with us under the suffrage banner.  I wish the organizers seated her up in front with the dignitaries.  It was for her and for all people who for a thousand reasons of birth, culture, or circumstance find themselves excluded from this nation's promises, that this long historic battle for human rights has been fought.  As the people milled about us rubbing elbows with the who's who of the community, dropping names, exchanging emails, fussing with their cameras, and ignoring her completely, she just beamed at me in glad appreciation of a wonderful day.   She was beautiful.

While writing this long, self-pitying post, it came to me quite suddenly that I was happy, really happy to be with her.  I hope I made her happier too.  I hope I enriched her experience.  That was why I started wearing the costume in the first place.  It wasn't to impress people, but to share my joy of history with them.  I hope I made her feel just a little bit more like she has a unique connection to Mrs. Stanton and the Convention.  I'm not sure what other people really thought about my contribution today.  Maybe they were being honest with me when they told me they were happy with my work,,, and maybe they were just being polite.   I  do know that my friend in the back of the building was happy with me.  She was happy with me.  She was happy about suffrage, and women's rights, and my costume, and the people, and the excitement.  She was just glad that she could be there to see it.

"Congratulations on the 163 anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention!"  You know what?  She's right.  We did it!  We started a movement for human equality in Seneca Falls 163 years ago and made the outrageous demand for female suffrage.  We stood up for equality and for each other.  We did it together.  We made lots of mistakes, and screwed up lots of speeches, and made lots of people disappointed and unhappy, by by God, we did it and we're doing it still.  Perhaps that's all that really matters.  So my speech wasn't perfect.  So I spilled a plate of fruit all over the floor while speaking to someone I greatly admire.  So I never can look anything but wooden and a bit frumpy in a photograph.  So what?  I can vote.  I can teach.  I can send my daughter to college, keep my own wages, and make my own legal decisions.  And why?  Because a whole lot of people decided it was better to look foolish and make mistakes than to sit home and feel sorry for themselves.

Maybe all that other stuff where we show off how important and clever we are is just bells and whistles.  My friend in the back knew what it was all about.  This woman who cannot live on her own, and who is more likely than any of us there to suffer the indignities visited upon women also can tell you just how much she is thankful for all that has been accomplished by people of good will, just how jubilantly she cheers for all of our continued efforts.  She is a natural born teacher who doesn't let her disabling conditions stop her from using her voice to tell the story of our long journey toward human rights.   I'm a bit ashamed that I allowed myself to brood about my imperfections and considered hanging it all up.  She would never do that.   So now, time to dry my tears and get back to work.  I'm still not thrilled with my performance, but I did my part, if not flawlessly, then at least enthusiastically.  I embarrassed myself a couple times, but it was worth it just to see her again and feel buoyed by her hopefulness.  I saw an awful lot of fine people today, but she was the most perfect.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pagan Values: Toward a Peaceable Kingdom

As this is Pagan Values Month, I thought I should comment on my own pagan values.  I often comment on thea/ology and non-theism and ruminate endlessly on philosophical matters, but rarely do I write about how all of that affects me at a practical level.  That omission is peculiar since in many ways Paganism is a very practical thing for me, a kind of every day thing that operates at seemingly mundane levels.  My paganism affects me far more when I am sweeping the floor than when I am philosophizing about divinity and immortality.  In this post, I'll explore one way in which I live out my values.

(Special note:  I am not saying that all people, or all Pagans, or all Quakers, or all pacifists, or all vegans need to share these views.  What I describe here is very specific to my own feelings.) 

I'm a vegan and a pacifist.  I see both these things as not merely directly related to my paganism, but as requirements of my paganism.  There are, of course, high and lofty interconnected secular ethical arguments for these decisions, but the ethical arguments are secondary.  In fact, they were an afterthought.  I don't eat animals because I love them and I love them because they have souls and I know they have souls because I am a pagan.  And I'm a pagan because I know that every living thing has a soul.  Simple as that.  Ask me to eat a cow or a pig and you might as well be asking me to eat a dog.  In fact, I have a pet pig.  She smells oddly like maple syrup and still I'm never tempted to eat her.

Perhaps vegetarianism was always in the cards for me.  From infancy, there were always animals I would not eat because my parents had already decided that many animals were off the menu either because to consume them seemed unnecessary and absurd or because to consume them seemed unusually cruel.  As a twelve year old, I decided to stop eating all red meat.  I certainly could have given you a number of sound environmental, ethical, and health-related reasons for this decision, but whenever asked about it, I have always had to say that honestly, it was because I looked into a cow's eyes one day and realized that I could not seek that animal's death.  So cows and pigs and all other mammals were off my menu.  When I was a bit older, I also removed birds and fish, and when I was eighteen, I became a vegan.

That decision followed a trip to the Farm Sanctuary near my home.  While the guides there provided me with compelling information calculated to encourage veganism, it was the experience of being close to animals that changed my practice.  I had been able to ignore the agricultural practices that gave me my vegetarian luxuries of eggs, milk, and cheese.  Since I was not eating the flesh, I could ignore that death is required for the mass production of these luxuries of animal products.  The information about agribusiness was revolting, but it wasn't really what pushed me into veganism.  Blame it on a beakless chicken and her similarly mutilated, but very much alive and engaging barnyard companions.  In that moment, I was in relationship with her with the power to touch her, to look at her and allow her to touch and look at me.  How then could I walk away from her and have an egg salad sandwich?  I knew too much.  More importantly, I knew that "chicken" could no longer be a generalized term.  There is no more "chicken" for me.  There is this particular chicken and that specific chicken.  They are not interchangeable.  They are individuals in my thinking.

This belief that I am in relationship to the world and that I meet other species as individuals to be honored rather than as collective species to be exploited has always been at the heart of my paganism.  It has informed my daily choices and my politics, my lifestyle and my parenting.  There is perhaps no convincing rational reason why I should view animals in this way, but neither is there any convincing rational reason why I should not.  Many have tried to convince me that I am flawed, misguided, delusional, or even selfish in my refusal to harm other creatures.  As I don't see how the deaths of soldiers and civilians can be justified even for such goals as "Victory" or "Lasting Peace" or "Our Way of Life", I also can't see killing this cow or that pig or this chicken even for goals of "environmentalism".  My morality always starts with the integrity of a relationship between individuals and with the belief that I do not have more right than s/he who gazes at back at me to decide that her/his suffering or death is required.

In contemplating the tendency in many historical books to explain away the deaths of individuals, communities, or entire civilizations as necessary for "progress" or "peace" or "prosperity", Howard Zinn wrote:

"If there are necessary sacrifices to be made for human progress, is it not essential to hold to the principle that those to be sacrificed must make the decision themselves? We can all decide to give up something of ours, but do we have the right to throw into the pyre the children of others, or even our own children, for a progress which is not nearly as clear or present as sickness or health, life or death?"

But do I really need to apply this kind of ethical thinking to the lives of non-human creatures?  I feel that I do.  If I feel the presence- the intense and spiritual reality of another being, whether or not they are human, then I can't ignore my responsibility to care for them and seek their preservation.  When it comes right down to it, I find that I am always focused on the individual, and I can't bring myself to stomach the idea that I have ordered the death of another being.  Other environmentalists have tried to reason with me that my veganism is somehow less virtuous than whatever choices and practices they utilize.  Perhaps, in some cases, they may be right, but it boils down to this:  I know my own heart.

I come by my tender-heart honestly.  I was raised by people who did not squash bugs.  I, therefore, became a person who does not squash bugs.  We catch mosquitoes and flies and release them outside.  We help spiders if we find them in dangerous areas in the home (such as in a sink).  I'm careful when cleaning not to disturb active spiders' webs. We talk to bugs in our house.  I even recall on one occasion hearing my grandmother comment that she had grown concerned about an ant who failed to appear on her counter as had been its custom.  I am mindful when sweeping, or shoveling, or raking.  I watch where I step.  My students have seen me making my way slowly across the quad stopping to pick up worms on the sidewalk so that others do not tread on them.

In considering this attitude toward bugs, I realized that I believe that I see them as individuals with souls deserving of compassion and respect.  This is not surprising in a family in which children are reminded to be gentle with insects with expressions like "She's more afraid of you than you are of her," or "He has as much right to be here as we do," or simply, "Spiders are our friends." 

When I tell you that I feel the same way about plants and have difficulty gardening or enjoying cut flowers or Christmas trees and that I have friends of the branched persuasion, you will see the obvious difficulties in this position.  Human beings, of necessity, must bring death to other living things or we cannot survive.  I may not eat animals or kill bugs, but plants die to sustain me along with insects killed by the agricultural process.  I am not unaware of the necessity of a certain degree of hypocrisy in my life.  Despite my efforts at living a green and peaceful life, my very existence as a citizen of the western world with all its pollution, abuses, and imbalances is a killing influence in the natural world.  Of course it bothers me, but my goal has been, if not perfection, at least that I could feel that I have tried as hard as ever I could to live gently.  When I screw up (and I do this often either out of laziness or ignorance or even lazy ignorance), I ask for forgiveness and try again.

I do not argue therefore, that one should attempt to kill nothing nor do I think it my place to condemn those who live differently than I choose to live.  I tell you that my beliefs are pagan not because I believe they are universal or even common to Pagans, but because I feel, and have always felt, that it was evidence of my paganism, of my emotional and spiritual connection to the world of natural spirits, that I find that I cannot willingly take life.  I feel that I have been asked not to, and I have been blessed with a personality and a situation in life that makes this a relatively easy goal for me to pursue.  Gosh, I'd be a real jackass if I ignored both the calling and the gift and went ahead and had a cheeseburger!

In the time since I began writing this blog post, I have escorted an ant out over my threshold.  I have been talking to flies trying to convince them to cooperate with my efforts to guide them out of my office in my net (the net my similarly tender-hearted husband bought for just this purpose).  I have welcomed a spider walking into my house.  I still feel sadness about individual bugs that I have accidentally harmed two or three decades ago.  Why am I like this?  Do I really like bugs all that much?  I like some of them very much.  Spiders for instance are quite fascinating and butterflies, dragonflies, and certain kinds of beetles are very pretty.   I know that some, like honeybees, are useful, but others, like houseflies and mosquitoes are clearly nuisances and disease carriers. I do not think of them as intelligent or emotional in any human or even mammalian sense.  I'd really rather not touch worms and centipedes if it can be helped and even the thought of maggots makes me want to gag.  It turns out that whether or not they are repulsive to me doesn't matter.  I still have just as strong an inclination to avoid damaging them.  It is my practice, as a Pagan, to let them live.

The pagan value behind my pagan practice of non-violence to insects and all other animals is also a Quaker value.  As far as possible I will be at peace with those around me and those around me include not just people like me.  They include people unlike me.  They also include other species, and not just those species most like ourselves in terms of behavior or intelligence.  They include not just species (and persons) that we have found or trained to be useful, appealing, or entertaining.  I must work toward peace with each individual I encounter.  The little fly now on my windowsill and the tiny spider in pursuit are also individuals. Though the spider may kill the fly, according to its nature, I will not kill either of them. I act according to my own nature.  I do not desire their death neither for fun nor human convenience.  I am not called to harm them.  I am called to listen and to observe.  I am called to hear the song and see the Light that shines in all creatures great and small, adorable, beautiful, fearsome, irksome, and even revolting.

Maybe it comes from my family's Christian Progressive background.  Perhaps I am trying to be "the mother heart" of God.  Perhaps if my eye is also on the sparrow (and the worm, the slug, the chicken, and the housefly) I might hasten the advent of the Peaceable Kingdom.  Or maybe I'm just a softie when it comes to critters.  In any case, I guess its worth it to me, and I guess I'll keep on doing this whatever others say.  Tonight, perhaps, I'll take a walk out toward the woods to talk to the fireflies.  You'd be amazed at how illuminating they can be.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Paganism as Spiritual Strategy

In this post, I aim to explore why I think I am a Pagan.  This post will not define Paganism or Neo-Paganism more generally.  These terms are very broad, and it is beyond my ability to express what is or is not a Pagan or Neo-Pagan experience.

1.  I am Pagan because I believe that the natural world is ensouled.  I can't define the soul or its capacity or limitations, but I experience it all around me.

2.  I believe that the Abrahamic religions do not have a corner on truth and that their most valuable messages evolved from far more ancient insights which continue to be available to all human beings whose minds and hearts are open.

3.   I believe that all thea/ological discourse about the sacred is just folks talking about something they'll never understand.  I can tell you what I think God/ess is all day and night.  I can be as clever and convincing as hell, but it still doesn't amount to a hill of beans.  The Ineffable will be what it will be regardless of my cheek.  We aren't going to expand or limit Divinity whatever we say, think, or believe.  However, when we limit our conceptualization of the Sacred to that which most closely resembles the powerful, the conventional, and the abusive in our society, then we limit who we are and what we might become, and that's a shame.

4.  So-- I believe that we should be mindful and creative with our theo/alogical language and musings to encourage ourselves to grow toward our potential.  I believe that when we speak of "God/dess" we are reflecting our best hopes for ourselves into the Cosmos.  When we dream of divinity, we can either sanctify all the meanness and injustice humanity has already mastered or we can sing out our human potential for brilliance, warmth, diversity, and love.

5.  Language may only be a construct, but what a construct!  What we build with our language is our choice.  I am Pagan because I am playful with spiritual language.  We need to remember that God is not male.  Nor is God white or European or human for that matter.  God is not even "God".  That word too is merely a construct, a symbol, a signifier. Learning to imagine the Divine in many forms, genders, cultures, species, relationships, and concepts reminds me that the Sacred is not one objective thing or person but is manifest in all life and in all times.  It helps me remember that I can find divinity in unexpected people and unexpected places.  It helps me look for the Sacred everywhere and in everybody.

That's about it, I guess.  My Paganism doesn't define whether I believe in God or Goddess or a singular or plural deity.  It doesn't tell me how I should worship or with whom.  Paganism is not what I believe.  It is what I do.  It is a strategy and a discipline.  It is not an answer to my questions about life and death or the nature of the Divine.  It is a pattern of thought and intent that encourages me to continue asking unanswerable questions.  It encourages me to play and think and wonder and to try as hard as ever I can to understand not the Cosmic Mystery, but maybe just the little bit that resides in me and which is mine to share.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

More Questions and Thoughts Regarding Paganism. Is it a single religion or many?

I often find it convenient (though sadly not always very accurate) in conversation to define myself negatively by systematically excluding myself from categories and terms I perceive to be common to the understanding of other people.  For instance, though I am a Pagan, I am not Wiccan or polytheistic.  As a Quaker, I am not evangelical or (perhaps) Christian.  The problem with this is that I have to first establish the meanings of words I exclude from my identity both within their contemporary and historical contexts and within the experience and understanding of those with whom I am conversing.  Also, it becomes an exercise in drawing a circle to leave others out.  Dramatic misunderstanding is often the result.  Likewise, if I simply call myself Pagan or Quaker and leave it at that, similarly dramatic misunderstanding results as I then struggle with what my listeners or readers already assume about the meanings of those terms. 

We Pagans have a problem because we can't really say what Pagan is.  It is so much easier to begin our definition by what Paganism isn't.  We aren't Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.  Except, when you get right down to it, even that isn't always true.  My own study of Paganism finds quite a bit of commonalities and shared inherited tradition and belief between Pagans and Abrahamic folks.  Sometimes, as in my case, it may be easier to find commonality with certain Christians that with other Pagans.   Without a doubt, I find much more spiritual commonality with many Quaker Christians than I do with many Wiccans.   Much of that has to do with a shared approach to spiritual practice which makes differences in theology less urgent.  I also belong to a group of spiritual feminist authors who identify on a spectrum of religious label which include Paganism and Christianity.  What we share is a focus on environmentalism, feminism, and social justice concern.  We share an approach to the discussion of the Sacred that utilizes feminine metaphors whether that is the Christian Mary or Sophia or the Pagan Diana or Isis although we often don't share similarities of practice.  I share practice with Quaker Christians and find them familiar.  I share thealogy with Goddess feminists and find them familiar as well.  On the other hand, when meeting some Pagans, people who are supposedly members of my own religion, I'm blown away by how radically different their understanding is from my own.  In some cases, I can't find any belief or practice that seems even familiar to me.  Even so, I concede that clearly, if mysteriously, we are both Pagans.

But why?  Why are we both Pagan if we share no obviously common beliefs, traditions, or practices?  Is it just because neither of us are Christian (or Jewish or Muslim)?  Clearly not because there are several other categories of belief and unbelief that are non-Abrahamic but also non-Pagan.  Additionally, the definition of Paganism as "not Christian" or "not Abrahamic" is not only negative, it is stereotypical and inaccurate.  It excludes lots of us who are, if only nominally or culturally, quite Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) indeed.

This is an important question for me as an historian of religion.  In studying the evolution of Paganism in the United States, I am often struck by the historical influences of folks who did not use the term Pagan.  Transcendentalists, Spiritualists, and Theosophists all contributed significantly to the tradition that is today Paganism.  But were they Pagan?  Or proto-Pagan?  Or what?  What was the distillation process that filtered out some (but not all!) Christian assumptions from these ancestors'  thinking?  What was the process whereby some (but not all) Eastern, indigenous, and Romantic traditions were modified and incorporated into the contemporary practice of "Paganism"?  Whose beliefs became critical and whose beliefs became marginal?   Who and/or what process was behind this historical evolution and how is that evolution continuing today? Can we discern the patterns at work among us that contribute to the future of what we now call (with much confusion, rancor, and bewilderment) "Paganism"?

Similar questions can be asked about first generation "Christians" who also came from a wide variety of religious perspectives.  Why is it that the Jewish Christian perspective of the Jesus Movement in Palestine and the Gnostic perspective lost out while the Hellenistic perspective gained strength?  Of course, these questions lie outside this particular blog entry, but I think that the history of early Christianity may very well serve as a cautionary tale for Pagans in our own natal period.

So what is it, apart from a collective use of the label, that binds us together as Pagans?

I don't have a definitive answer to this only more and more questions.  Is Paganism "a religion"?  I focus on the "a" in this.  Paganism is obviously religious, but is it singular?  Historical Paganism before the advent of the Abrahamic religions was plural.  One would hardly expect one practicing a Hellenist religion to readily concede that they were co-religionists with the Celts or with the Haudenosaunee or the Magyars, Gauls, or Hopi.  We say "Paganism" as if we speak of one world religion today, but much of that is the result of the learned habit of contrasting all religious perspectives against that Abrahamic perspective.  Are we therefore, in accepting a need to define ourselves as "a religion" large enough to stand up against the Big Three Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism merely copying the hegemonic impulses of the monotheistic/imperialist traditions most familiar to us?  Is the desire for a definition of Paganism in the singular a holdover from Abrahamic western approaches to religion?  Is God one? or plural? or a combination of oneness and plurality that defies our language?  Is this conversation growing more heated with the influence of the internet which draws together Pagans of widely different stripes who might not otherwise have communicated with each other?  Is it growing out of an emerging felt need for institutions of higher learning to produce practitioners and theorists who can take their place in the wider community of religious scholars and community leaders?  And who is losing and who is winning in this?  Why and to what purpose?  Can we modify this to become more inclusive without sacrificing academic rigor and historical accuracy?

I see evidence that this discussion is growing  and that the questions continue to multiply. (Cat's post over at Quaker Pagan Reflections was the immediate inspiration for that which I have written here today.  See http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/)  It frustrates me to be sure to not have a definite answer to any of these questions, but I also find it fascinating.  I'm curious to find what the next several years bring to this debate, but I'm also fairly certain that the conversation is only just beginning and that it will not be my generation or even the next that comes to terms with it.  Therefore, onward we struggle with this, round and round in infuriating conversations that seem to lead nowhere.  It is enough to wear a thinker out.  On the other hand, perhaps this tension is promising.   Given the damage done by orthodoxy, we should not despair that we Pagans, whoever we are, will likely fail to achieve it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lessons from Home Schooling: An Approach to Quaker Education?

 In considering the positions I have read regarding the issue of Quaker schools, I have found myself writing a bit here and there in response.  Inevitably, my responses grow too long for comment and must become their own blog post.  Here is one.  More will likely follow.


Can Home Schooling models be utilized to extend the benefits of Quaker education to kids in public schools?

In the discussion about private Quaker schools, I am annoyed when all of us who can't use this option gripe at each other.  Pretty senseless.  The reality is that most of us can't afford private schools and/or are faced with the reality that there just aren't enough private Quaker schools available for Friends in the United States.  Unless we plan to start building Quaker schools in every village, the discussion quickly become irrelevant for the lion's share of Friends.  So where does that leave us?  Home school and public school.

Sometimes I think the home school/public school/private school debate becomes a bit black and white.  When we frame these choices as either/or, we miss out on all kinds of possibilities.  Home schoolers don't do all their education at home.  We often use our public schools' resources.  We make use of community centers, libraries, museums, family, and friends.  We buy, borrow, rent, or swap private lessons, curricula, lesson plans, and courses.  Likewise, kids who go to public school do not receive all their education on campus. Their parents, like me, are teaching them at home too.

I like the idea of part-time home schooling for those kids whose folks cannot or do not wish to home school full time.  What I've learned as a home schooling mom is that there is no real "school day."  Learning can take place at any time.  It can take place outside of the context of brick and mortar classrooms, and it doesn't have to fit within the rules of institutionalized educational formats.  I believe we can extend home schooling principles to all Quaker kids as a means of ensuring that our children receive the best Friends can offer young people whether or not an affordable Quaker school is nearby.

Although I'm interested in the question of whether or not Friends' private schools are too expensive for ordinary folks, my primary interest lies in exploring alternatives to institutional mindsets regarding educational theory.  My interest lies in the question of whether or not we are willing to meet people where they are.  Do we have the will to provide a strong Quaker foundation for our kids whether they go to a Friends' school, a public school, or are schooled at home?  Do our communities ( local, regional, national, and online) provide accessible materials and enthusiastic support to Quaker parents and Quaker kids?  Are we responsive to the diversity of needs in our community?  Are we creative?  Approachable?  Curious?  Do young Friends feel welcome in our meetings?  Do grown-up Friends give time and attention to the children of their meeting or do they segregate them, silence them, and ignore them?  Although I'm not yet sure how we should proceed in light of the answers to these questions, I still feel that we can make it possible for every young person who grows up among Friends, whether a graduate of a Friends' school, a public school, or their parents' kitchen table school, to confidently say, "I had a Quaker education."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Most Sexist Thing I've Ever Done to Myself

I was always good at math.  Algebra, trigonometry, and logic were my favorites.  I worked on equations just for fun enjoying the way the numbers revealed themselves in such tidy order.  I loved to think about the endless possibilities of intersections.  It made me feel more connected to infinity to gaze at a line segment and think, "But it doesn't end there.  That's just where the ink ends.  The line goes on forever without end."  The reality of a line as something more than anything that could be represented...the idea that the signifier is never as profound as the signified, tickled me as a child.  I realize now that this pleasure was the same I feel when I play with language, but I developed my love of language and set aside my love of mathematics because I was a girl and "Girls are not good at math".

In the 9th grade, I aced my Regents math class.  I either got a 100 in the class and a 99 on the state test or the other way around.  I was assigned the seat in the front of the room and enjoyed my math teacher's enthusiasm and energy.  The next year, by chance, I was assigned to a seat in the back of the room.  I didn't know it yet, but my eyesight was getting weaker, a condition that would follow me into adulthood as I continued to engage in "close work" of study and writing.  As a fifteen year old, I didn't figure out that my eyes were bad until I complained to my friend about the writing on the board and learned that she could see it just fine.  My folks took me to get glasses, but the damage was done.  I had fallen behind in my comprehension and enthusiasm for the material, had decided that I was a failure in math, received only a B+ (a shameful grade for me), and refused to take any more math in high school. 

I'm amazed now that no one argued with my perspective.  My parents knew that I preferred English and history just as they did.  They probably also thought that pushing me in a subject I said I despised was unwise given the fact that I was already making myself sick and hysterical with stress.  My father actually directed me to try to get only "C"s in my classes for fear that I would have some kind of break-down if I kept up my perfectionist ambitions.  The guidance counselor advised me to take more math as it would be required in every subject, but did not suggest that I do so because I had any skill in the subject.  I joked that if I were to become a wet nurse, I'd only need to count to two.  I ignored the fact that my grandmother was always quick in mathematics.  I ignored the fun I'd had with my father as he taught me algebra.  I ignored everything my parents taught me about feminism, and my value as a person.  I didn't want to ever risk getting another grade that might jeopardize my GPA.

Why didn't my educators encourage me by telling me that I had a gift in math? Why didn't they explain that mistakes and rough spots are part of a learning process that transcends the petty grading system?  Although I had always had one of the highest mathematics grades in my class throughout school, I did not receive praise for my efforts.  Boys who had lower scores than I did were "gifted."  I was merely proficient.  I was told that boys truly understand math even though in their boyish enthusiasm, they sometimes make more technical errors.  Girls, being obedient and good at following rules, can master the technical manipulation of math facts, but are unable to truly comprehend numbers at the fundamental level.  And I bought that bullshit.  I swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.  I convinced myself that "math is hard for me."  When I took the required math classes in college, I aced the courses.  One of my math professors even told me that it was OK if I left the class early since he knew I already understood the concepts and was often bored with the lessons.  Even then, it still did not occur to me to consider myself  "good at math."!   I gave up on math because I was a girl and girls don't like math.  We've haven't the heads for it.

But that wasn't the most sexist thing I ever did to myself.
 

I discovered the most sexist thing I ever did to myself just this month.  Without realizing it, I've been recording the execution of this self-imposed injustice in this blog over the past three years.  I'm so entangled in it that I think I will have difficulty extricating myself from it.  I will have trouble even articulating it, but I think I have to confront it.  I have denied my own experiences as a spiritual person because I convinced myself that my spirituality was a mark of my inferiority as a woman.

My life has been strongly directed by my embodied sense of that Presence.  I've had visions and dreams, callings, and inspirations.  These feelings have run the range of intellectual inspirations to visions that have pushed me onto my knees. The exchange may be as gentle as the feeling of expansive love to the almost nauseating, trembling, sweating rush of feeling I get before I find myself speaking in meeting for worship.  In dreams, visions, and divination, I find that I am able to follow a silver thread through my life that continues to wind its way back to my sense of the Source and of a mission I feel I must fulfill.  Like it or not, I have a calling.  I've heard it, over and over and over again my entire life. 

It is embarrassing to say such things in a society such as ours.  I don't wish to seem insane.  And I don't wish to seem as though I'm somehow unique and specially blessed.  On the contrary, I feel, very strongly, that there are a great many people who, each in their own way, feel the same as I do.  My evidence is that when I write or speak of these things, I watch people closely and very often I see that it is as though a veil falls from their faces.  They turn to me with some relief an tell me about their own experiences.  All my life people have told me their stories-- wonderful stories, poignant and holy, about spirits, dreams, prayers, sensations, and communion with the Divine.  I am not alone in this.  I suspect that there are far more of us with stories to tell than will ever be heard.

But I convinced myself that it was all delusion.  You see, at the end of a doctoral program spent studying the heterodox, embodied, and mystical relationships women have had with the Divine over many centuries, I went to one...just one!...conference about the history of secular humanism.  I was invited to deliver a talk about nineteenth-century Spiritualism and its relationship to women's rights and the American freethought tradition.  I had a great time.  These folks are my allies since both they and I have great concern about the damaging effects of religious fundamentalism on the development and maintenance of human rights.  My contribution was well-received, and it was a thrill to finally feel like I was playing ball with the big boys.

It was indeed a boys' club.  Of the speakers, I was the only woman.  In fact, I was one of the only women at the entire event.  I saw very few other women in the audience.  This struck me as curious.  I began to wonder if there was a relationship between secular humanism (at least the variety honored at that conference) and gender that deserved exploration.  Following our presentations, I got to hang out with some pretty notable people at a dinner.  It was thrilling to participate in their conversations and to soak in all the brilliance and wit they cast about so easily.  But so much of their brilliance and wit was directed toward castigating spiritual people.  They did not discriminate.  Fundamentalists, spiritualists, New Agers, Pagans, Buddhists, liberal Christians were all deluded and misguided.  I had reminded them of their shared history with Spiritualist feminists, and they were willing to concede the fact, but I knew they considered people like the dissident Quaker Spiritualists, the Theosophists, Goddess women, and radical women's rights activists I discussed a footnote in a more important history of Rationalism.

As I sat there, and for months thereafter, I dissected and deconstructed their celebration of Rationalism and their confidence in the non-existence of the spiritual.  I analyzed their attitudes within the context of my own research and experience and found error, inelegance, and even blatant sexism in their approach.  But I let it begin to hollow me out.  I let it begin to change me.  My confidence began to slip.

They had not experienced anything mystical or spiritual as I had so they said that my experience and those of people like me was delusional.  It was "wishful thinking."  It was socially conditioned.  It was emotional.  It was a product of misinterpreted physical sensations.  There it was.  Women (and foreigners, and people of color, and children, and poor people) are deluded by our inability to fully partake in the pure, enlightened intellectual rationalism characteristic of well-educated, white men.  We are too physical.  Too emotional.  Too raw.  Too religious.  Of course, some of us, adept at following the rules, are able to become proficient.  But are we ever truly as gifted?  Was I not, I thought, just a fraud in their presence?  When would they realize that I was a country parson's daughter and laugh me right out of the building?

They accepted me in their midst as an intellectual woman only so far as I was willing to submit my intellect to their rules of engagement.  But I never belonged there and they treated me as I have grown used to being treated by so many of my male colleagues.  They praised me, flirted with me, and talked right over me.  And afraid of being considered "shrill" and "angry", I let them.  I didn't want to throw myself out of Eden so soon after gaining admittance.  "Boys are gifted.  Girls are good at following the rules."

My intellect, armed with ten years of graduate education in the study of the history of gynocentric and feminist spirituality sounded an alarm and encouraged me to continue researching, continue fighting.  But a part of me believed them...and I could feel parts of me dying.  Bit by bit, I felt my measure of my connection to That Which is Holy slipping away.  Before long, I found myself rejecting any position that struck me as "emotional", or "irrational", or "religious".  Whether the holder of the belief was a man or a woman, I found myself dispatching their arguments with a kind of distorted, internalized sexist demand for "proof." 

 I raged about it here on this blog and in other forums.  I used my arsenal of research and education to protect at least the facade of my feminist spirituality.  But I spent so much energy defending the facade of my structure that I failed to protect my own heart from the deadliest attack.  In the end, no one else was to blame for these years I've spent edging toward spiritual despair.  I attacked my own faith again and again mercilessly and even cruelly.  I belittled and discounted my own experiences, and angrily deconstructed all my hopes.  Why?  Because some clever men made me feel inferior.  And I let them.

It was my own self-loathing and contempt for myself as a woman that led me to believe it was reasonable to hold my own knowledge and lived experience in contempt.  It was my own internalized sexism that told me that my experience was less valid than their lack of it.

It has made me sad to realize that I'm the one who has inflicted this wound.  All the depression and anxiety, all my sense of spiritual loss and futility, all my feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in these past two or three years were my own doing.  But it also makes me feel a bit relieved to finally see that the source of this pain was my own dishonesty about what I feel, what I think, and what I believe.  It took just a nudge to push me away from who I am and to whom I belong.  It now seems ludicrous that I should have made this terrible mistake.   For the past twenty years of my academic life, I've studied how sexism affects women's intellectual, social, religious and spiritual lives   How could I let the very backbone of my feminism and of my spirituality be broken?  How could I be the one who delivered the most devastating blows? "Never apologize for what you know!" said my beloved feminist theory professor.  I'm sorry that I did not heed her advice.