Living Saraswati

Today begins the final three days of Navratri, in which Saraswati, goddess of language, knowledge and sound, is honored. I have an affinity with Her, as I have spent much of my life in pursuit of education and knowledge, as well as honing my singing skills.

Saraswati is comparable to the Greek goddess Athena in many ways. Both are independent; Saraswati, unlike most of the other Hindu goddesses, is not the consort of any male deity; her devotion to her studies means she has little time for domestic duties or love relationships. Like Athena who was born from the head of Zeus, Saraswati “emerged from Brahma’s mouth as the power of the creative word.” (Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti, p. 178) Like Athena she has a bird as a companion, though a swan, not an owl. Sraswati is invoked for creative inspiration, musical skill, depth of knowledge, learning of languages, communication, wisdom, and all forms of general study. I think modern inclusions might be computer coding, scientific research, problem solving, and all forms of discernment. In a world where women have only recently had widespread access to education, I find it fascinating that a female has long been the embodiment of all these things!

Saraswati

Saraswati

As I sat in meditation yesterday I was reminded of the blessings I’ve received thanks to my education, and in the course of my studies I never forgot the privilege it was to be a woman, much less studying theology. In the United States, until fairly recently, it was a rare event for women to study theology. Several of the women that I studied under (including the iconic Rosemary Radford Ruether) received their doctorates in the 1960s and ’70s. Most of them did not write their dissertations on the topics for which they are now known. For example, Judith Plaskow, renowned Jewish feminist theologian, wrote her dissertation on the theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, two Protestant theologians. I will wager a guess that the female professors I was able to study under at the graduate level had few, if any, female professors themselves when they were in school.

Looking at the broader history of Western religion and education, I can quickly name only three great female theologians before the mid-twentieth century, Saints Macrina, Hildegard von Bingen, and Julian of Norwich. Macrina the Younger was sister to two of the three great Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory wrote about her, praising her intellect and claiming that she had a prominent role in his education. It is not unlikely that she influenced his theology, yet she wrote nothing of her own. Hildegard von Bingen lived in the twelfth century and was nothing short of a polymath genius. She was a mystic, a theologian, an abbess, a composer, and a scientist. Julian of Norwich, born in the mid-fourteenth century, is most famous for her Revelations of Divine Love, a collection of her mystical visions.

There are other mystics and influential female theologians, but not many in the grand sweep of a Christian tradition of two thousand years. Given that most people did not receive a formal education, and women not even until the late 19th century, I see my own education as a recent privilege and do not take it for granted. Even today in many parts of the world women are still denied access to an education. Many boys may receive only a basic education or are given only a religious education, without an understanding of science, arts, and the world around them.

We can see the struggle for learning in the life of young Malala Yousafzai. She is a Pakistani Muslim, so I hope she will forgive the comparison, but I see her as an incarnation of Saraswati. This is the young girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban for doggedly pursuing her studies, even after she had been warned to quit. She survived, had reconstructive surgery, and now speaks – in excellent English – around the world on behalf of education for all. Her determination and insistence that education is important, valuable, and necessary is full of Saraswati energy. Not only must she contain some fierce passion in her heart, and have the love and support of those closest to her, but surely she must be blessed by Saraswati and Athena and all the gods who love learning! I imagine Athena and Saraswati proudly blessing their bold daughter, Malala. I cannot help but think the gods love her: she was shot in the face and did not die, but held fast to her dedication to learning. With that dedication she now, at the age of 16, campaigns for everyone’s right to learn.

I am in awe of her. I will ask Saraswati for blessings upon her, her family, and her work.

As a white, middle class American it can be far too easy to take education for granted. I harbor a deep love of learning. I crave complex ideas, beautiful words, and critical thinking. And as a woman I do not take the opportunity for education for granted. I expect my children, a boy and girl, to value learning. My husband and I can talk about why and how our education and ability to learn has benefited us. I can point toward the history of women being allowed to learn at all. I can point to Malala, reminding them that in some parts of the world, it’s not just females who aren’t allowed to learn, but boys’ learning is limited as well. There are plenty of examples of how limited education is bad for all people and all societies. The rise of militant religious fundamentalism is but one very strong example.

In honor of Saraswati, I praise education. Let us educate our sons and daughters, let us honor all incarnations and glimpses of Saraswati and Athena, and let us continue to educate ourselves!

Advertisements

Harvest in the Pacific Northwest

At the beginning of August many of my Pagan friends celebrated the first harvest, commonly known as Lammas or Lughnasadh (from the Celtic calendar system). That observance has never meant much to me. I am not a farmer, and have spent precious little time in places where early August means first fruits of any kind. Now in Washington, it means the height of summer, and I spend my summer time waiting for the days to cool.

As August passed I began to have half-formed thoughts of salmon. Had my father said anything about his catch this year? A good catch means smoked salmon.

Lo and behold, a box arrived in the mail yesterday. 9 pounds of hard smoked, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, that my father caught, cleaned, filleted and smoked himself. I realized this to me is harvest. August is when the best fishing occurs in South East Alaskan waters; this is when the abundance arrives.

Vacuum packed for longevity.

Vacuum packed for longevity.

We’re not yet to the autumnal equinox for the spirit of the season to truly shift for me, but we’re now at the end of summer. In Washington the salmon are running, traveling upstream to spawn. The green chiles and tomatillos, strong bitter greens and garlic are appearing at the farmers’ markets. I stock up on these. I try to make as much salsa verde as possible to store through the winter. Something about tomatillos feels like edible sunshine to me.

But Salmon is the Life Giver to me.

Growing up my family was a subsistence fishing family. I don’t think I thought of this way until long after I’d moved out of Alaska. Many families fish all summer to fill their freezers. In a land where food costs are exorbitant (everything is shipped in from ‘Outside’), salmon was ‘free.’ I remember sitting at the dinner table thinking ‘UGH. Salmon? AGAIN?!’ Not until I moved away to college did I discover that fresh salmon was a meal of privilege. I imagine that Montana ranchers feel similarly about grass-fed beef.

Salmon, halibut, crab – these are gifts of the Alaskan waters. They nourish me, the salmon especially; they connect me to my roots; they remind me that the waters and livelihoods of Washington are intimately connected with those of my homeland. When Celtic legends speak of the Salmon of Wisdom, I understand that deep in my bones. When Northwest Coast peoples tell stories of the sacrifice that salmon make for the people and how important the salmon are to traditional ways of life, I understand that. In a Christian way of thinking, every bite is a Eucharist.

So I offer up first fruits to the gods, to the Spirits of this place, and to my family. I thank my father for sending me this annual gift. I thank the Salmon and the Waters. I work toward preserving those waters. I nourish my family with bounty of this Land. We are what we eat, and we are people of Salmon.

Hail to the Harvest! Thanks be to the Mighty Salmon!

Not of this world

On my way to the grocery store I pass two churches. The first is a Lutheran church, an open and affirming one. I visited it last year, and while I thought highly of it, I couldn’t sit through an entire service. These days I barely notice the large brick building with its stained glass and preschool playground. Until it hosts the farmers’ market in its parking lot. Then I am there weekly, even if I bypass its front doors and sanctuary.

The other church is much larger (churches here seem to be large compounds, in general). It’s got a huge Christian school attached. Lately this church has been getting a new roof put on, so I have been noticing it more than usual. What’s interesting to me is that I get…… flashes of memory as I pass it. Phantom feelings. Misplaced muscle memory.

When I pass this second church I remember being a Christian in college. There is no specific associated memory, just a remembrance of what it was like to be a Christian in Washington state in the 90s. I remember the way these churches view the world and interact with it. I remember the way everything is ordered, everyone has a place, both in the church and in the world. I remember the unspoken gender norms. I remember how ordered the world seemed and how everything had neat boxes and a rather simplistic theology to explain it. I remember the plaid shirts, the goatees, the bible studies and fellowship groups. Judging by the people I’ve seen enter the building and by the website, nothing seems to have changed. Well, now there are¬† wireless mics and power point, rather than an overhead projectors.

Sometimes I think it would be so easy to slip back into that way of being in the world. We’d have automatic community and make friends right away. The kids would have activity groups. Our Sundays would have focus. I’d easily find a musical outlet, what with praise bands and worships groups. More importantly, attending evangelical church would make sense of modern American living.

One of the things I’ve found is that modern American living (commuting, box stores, overconsumption, CAFOs, gas guzzlers, social conservatism, Calvinistic social ‘darwinism,’ heteronormative gender hoo ha, etc) is really difficult to reconcile with Pagan values. But mainstream American Christianity fits right into it. They are peas in a pod.

I’m a Big Umbrella Pagan. By that I mean, I want as many disparate groups to identify as Pagan. I want that term to include Heathens, witches, Wiccans, Ceremonial Magicians, reconstructionists of various stripes, Druids, neo-Pagans, polytheists, Voudousaints, and others. Not all Pagan faiths are based on earth reverence. Not all of the values espoused in one group are endorsed by others. But I find that I have more in common at heart with most Pagan groups than I do with mainstream Christianity, even though my family superficially appears more similar to the latter than the former.

Christianity has at its core an idea that humanity/our souls/ Christians (take your pick based on your theology) are ‘not of this world,’ that we belong in Heaven. Not all Christianity thinks this world is evil or tainted. Some say it’s just humanity, but some say that everything is. This idea creates a world where you’re either a Christian or you’re not. You’re either with them or against them. The world is fine in the here and now, but in the Last Days it will be destroyed anyway (so don’t go getting all worked up about environmentalism) and Yahweh will create a new world. Plenty of other traditions also view the world/matter/humanity as a problematic and something from which to detach.

Yet Christianity is at home in this world. In the US Christianity is the norm. Its values pervade government and morality. Christian culture is everywhere. When I was in college pastors talked a lot about how the Pacific North West was the most ‘unchurched’ region in the US. I am pretty sure it still is. But if this is unchurched, well, I’d hate to see how many churches are in a ‘normal’ town. But for some one raised without religion at all, I feel like churches are everywhere here!

Most of Paganism embraces the world, but is at odds with the overculture. Most Pagans have a different set of values – or the same things are valued but for different reasons. While family, worship, devotion, and service (things Christians hold dear too!) may be honored, they may be expressed in entirely different ways or for different reasons. I find that most of the values of Paganism don’t sit well with mainstream, overculture values. At least, my values don’t.

I think how much easier it could be to sink into a ‘normal’ mainstream way of being if I’d go back to Christian life. I’d have more in common with my extended family. I could get involved, have leadership positions, a social network, a more obviously ‘god-driven’ life. But I know full well how miserable I’d be. I remember chaffing at the expectations. The tedious ‘god language’ and Father God prayers (“Father God…. I just…. I just want to thank you for just raining down your blessings…”). The bad theology. The confusion of culture with religion and vice versa.

I can’t do it. The same muscle memory that remembers what those churches feel like – in all their goodness, and there was good – also remembers just how unhappy my soul was. I remember how hard it was to find God there. I remember the cognitive dissonance. I remember I didn’t fit in.

[There is actually an entire Christian brand called NOTW, not of this world. I tried to upload an image of its logo and it kept displaying ERROR. I’ll take that as a sign.]

Maxim Monday: Be (religiously) silent

I love this one.

Spring is in full swing here in Olympia. New colors from fresh blooms appear each morning. The sun’s heat is gaining in intensity, despite the bitter the breezes. The lilacs are blooming, although I can’t smell them because my sinuses are blocked up. That makes me sad, since lilac is my favorite scent. The birds are raucous in the twilight periods twice a day. Everything is a cacophony of scent, sound, texture and color.

But I’ve been feeling a little quiet lately. Not withdrawn so much as wanting to be in my body. I want to be outside listening. I don’t want to be on my computer, on the phone, or in the car. I don’t want to talk as much, nor overthink things. In some ways this feels akin to being religiously silent.

There’s a place for silence. Last week I wrote about the importance of listening to everybody. Good listen requires silence. Today’s Maxim builds on the encouragement to remain silent in order to listen and encourages us to remain silent for silence’s own sake, for the mystery of the void.

I think of being religiously silent in many ways. There is the wisdom of not speaking of things we don’t understand, or not speaking of treasured things to people who would mock, exploit or treat casually what we hold dear. There is the wisdom in remaining silent lest we break oaths or reveal secrets and mysteries. On a shallower note, we could view this Maxim as a way to appear more ‘advanced’ and wise than we are. There is a saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” But more to the heart of things is the quote from Proverbs (17:28): Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Silence creates a void, a pause. As a singer I learned the importance of the pause, the rest in between notes. It creates a dramatic effect, but also it is in the space between notes where music might be made and felt. The same goes for meditation: the pause between thoughts and/or breaths is where peace and enlightenment might be touched. That void is important in the “passive” acts of reception, but it is necessary too in the “active” acts of creation. We must create space for something new to form, emerge, take root, or be gifted. Silence is often that space.

I used to struggle with this. Oh, how I struggled with rest, space, silence. In the last few months I have seen, felt and understood the beauty, necessity, and wisdom in these things.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The Body

What a complex site of confusion is the body. As spiritual persons we have a host of understandings about it to unpack. As a female in the Western world there are even more complications and understandings to unpack. I’m not going to get too theoretical about either of these points, but instead, as this blog is designed to do, I will talk about my own experience and understanding of the body.

Many religious traditions proclaim that the body is a negative thing. That it is a hindrance on our path to enlightenment or salvation. It is a hive of warring passions, a host of unclean fluids and matter, an obstacle and nothing more. This is primarily a dualistic understanding of the world. The body and all matter are separate from spirit. If we transcend our bodies, usually through renunciation or asceticism, we will be free from the enslavement of the physical world.

Some traditions embrace this world and all the various physical manifestations, seeing the physical as a site of pleasure and joy. If one sees the divine in all, then my toe and that tree and your cat are all embodiments of the divine. This can lead to a couple of different ideas, one being that anything pleasurable goes, and some ideas involving all things in moderation.

Some spiritual traditions don’t talk much about the body either way. But if you dig deeper almost all traditions come down somewhere into the two camps. And most of them into the first, body-negating one.

As a female in the Western world there are numerous other layers of body issues on top of the bedrock of philosophical and religious tradition. Most of it is dualist in nature. Almost all of it says that the female body is dangerous. Even with the comparatively hedonistic sexual flaunting and use of female bodies for selling things and entertaining in movies and pornography, the female body is an object to used by patriarchal forces for their benefit, never for the female’s benefit or enjoyment. The body is definitely used as a snare, but we are also supposed to have heroic spiritual self-control. It’s all very confusing.

In my chosen traditions the body and spirit are neither dualistic entities at war with each other, nor are they one and the same. I see the body as a gift. Embodiment is full of beauty. Some say that the spirits envy us our physical existence. We get to smell, touch, taste, feel. My body is my vehicle, my tool, but not some mechanistic flesh that does my mind’s bidding – again, a dualistic perspective. Ideally, my body and my souls work in concert for good of all my parts, to further connection among those parts, and with other creatures and spirits.

The extremes of pregnancy and childbirth once again drive home to me the joy and mystery that is embodiment. Watching dandelions and weeds force themselves through cracks in concrete is a testament to the spirit of life that thrums in us. Life is determined to live. While austerities have their place and use (mostly for purification purposes or gaining discipline), in my mind, any tradition that demands you renounce your senses and joy in this body is misguided.

Of course, our bodies and our senses can also mislead us. Too much of a good thing becomes no longer a good thing. Too much wine dulls our pleasures, too much food makes our stomachs hurt, too much sleep can leave us groggy, etc. And our bodies often ‘betray’ us. I am lucky that I have no overriding health issues. I do have whiplash in my neck and a jerky movement can leave me in mild pain for days. That sucks. It is hard, not just because I hurt, but because it keeps me from feeling at ease, hindering my ability to be present, keeping me from picking up my children, from connecting with my partner (I can’t tilt my head up to kiss him, sometimes not even on a pain-free day!). Pain hinders us from connecting; connection is, in my view, the core aim of the spiritual life. I have a greater amount of compassion for my friends and others who experience pain and discomfort, chronically or acutely.

And then we die. Sometimes we die suddenly, sometimes the body gets sick and slowly falls apart.

Christian theology views this as proof of sin. Adam and Eve would have lived for ever, but were cursed with toil, suffering and death. ‘For the wages of sin is death.’ That is no metaphor. Classical Christianity sees that as a physical truth. I think it is nonsense. At best, it is a metaphor. Pain and suffering of any kind are indeed a form of sin. Most of us suffer thanks to systemic sin. The Bible isn’t joking when it says we suffer the sins of our fathers for seven generations. Cycles of abuse, poverty, environmental degradation – all of those things lead to webs sin, and they lead to disconnection and death.

But we live in a world governed by physics, biology, chemistry. There is no life without death. We must eat, and whether that’s a carrot or a cow, something must die for something else to live. One animal’s defecation is a dung beetle’s joy. One rotting apple is another organism’s home or lunch. To think that the earth and humans could exist without death is baffling.

I spent several of my teen years and early adulthood using my body as a site of control. I felt I had so little control over other aspects in my life, but I could control what I ate and how fit I was. That obsession was a form of superiority (countering fears of inadequacy) and self-punishment (because I could not conquer my anxiety). I look back and while I was very healthy, I was also very, very hungry. An apt metaphor, as well as a physical reality.

I will admit that these days I tend to struggle with fasting and austerities. I sometimes look back at my past and wonder why I can’t be as disciplined as I once was. But I see that I love myself so much more now. Not in a self-righteous way, but in a fuller, more complete way. The strength of my discipline as a young adult was not coming from a place of love or health, but one of grief and fear.

I also see that I have given up many things in my life already. I can’t eat gluten and so as an act of love for my body I do not eat wheat in any form; there are many things I miss, homemade bread, French pastries, and fresh pasta among them. I have gestated, birthed, and nursed two children – that is austerity and sacrifice indeed. I am getting older and that combined with recovering from birthing drives home the fact that my body is not in my complete control. I am blessed with a healthy body that responds well and quickly to exercise. I am fit and healthy, but there is a humility in letting go of looking like my 25-year-old me. Even as every image in the Western world tells me that I should look 25 for as long as possible. That my worth is a youthful, slender body.

My body is a site of connection. I am my own world tree, the axis of my universe. I am both my body and not my body. If I gain 100 lbs or lose my legs or get burned in a fire, I will still be me. And not me. But this embodiment is all I know at this point.

I know that if I need to I can withstand and benefit from austerities. But why impose them if I do not need to? The world has sufferings enough as it is. I was hungry for several years for no good reason. Why not wait for a good reason? From this bodily axis in the universe I connect to that very same universe, and to you. I cannot transcend my form. Even if I gain enlightenment tomorrow I am still tethered in this body. And what a joy and a privilege that is.

 

Maxim Monday: Shun evil

This Maxim requires a lot of defining. I looked up the definition of ‘shun,’ and I’m glad I did. In my head it means ‘reject,’ and it does. But it also means to avoid or ignore. Of greater importance is the definition of evil.

I’ve avoided talking about evil on my blog. I’ve thought several times about writing a post on what I consider evil, but I’ve chosen not to every time. I guess I can’t avoid it any longer!

In the Christian world many people write entire books about ‘the problem of evil’ or ‘theodicy,’ the attempt to reconcile an omnipotent, omniscient, loving god with grave evil in the world. It’s a real conundrum. I don’t think there is a good answer in a Christian context. Embracing a polytheistic, Pagan mindset has mostly obliterated this problem for me.

I do think evil exists. I do not think it is a single, spiritual source, such as Satan. I think evil can be horrifically malicious and it can be quietly banal. Evil can be a single deliberate act or the ignorant repetition of lesser choices over a period of time. Evil can be done with the best of intentions. Evil can be personal or systemic. Sometimes it’s spiritual, but mostly evil is just human.

In my world, evil is not worshipping a different god than me or even sacrificing a chicken in honor of one’s god. I grew up in the 80s, with Satanic abuse panic and kids whispering that D&D games would lead you to the devil. None of that was real, let alone evil.

There are large issues of evil in this world. I believe corporations like Monsanto are part of that evil – because they threaten safe food sources, bully small farmers, wield their economic and corporate heft in a way that dominates agriculture around the world, and causes damage to ecosystems. (Does this mean that every person who works at Monsanto is evil? No.)

I believe that profiteering from wide scale war, like many organizations in the military-industrial complex did in the wake of the Iraqi invasion, is an act of evil.

I believe that if we see some one being bullied and we say nothing and walk away, that is an act of evil.

I believe that any and all acts of rape and physical coercion are acts of evil.

I believe that any and all forms of child abuse and neglect are acts of evil.

I believe that all us engage in forms of evil, mostly unknowingly, at some points in our lives. Sometimes we just do not know better. Sometimes we must choose between the lesser of the evils. There are shades of evil. We are all complicit.

My hope is that as we grow and mature – which ideally we are doing throughout our lives – that we start shunning evil more and more. Perhaps as children it starts by standing up to bullies. Perhaps it’s learning how to hold compassionate space for those suffering around us. As young adults maybe we begin shunning activities and influences that we see perpetuating evil on a grander scale.

As mature spiritual people we cannot ignore evil, for that only allows it to flourish. We can avoid it whenever possible. We can reject it to the best of our abilities. Some of us have more opportunities, resources and privileges to make louder, bolder stands than others. Hopefully we can reject what we believe is evil to the fullest our of capabilities.

Let us shun evil.

Being a householder

In my last post I talked about the possibility that if reincarnation was a real thing then my previous lives most likely included several rounds of being a monk and/or a nun. Those past lives would explain my fascination with, inexplicable love for, and extreme weariness with Christianity; my intense longing for the contemplative life and for a spiritual tradition; my obsession with books and learning; my inner conflict with discipline; and my vehement chaffing at rules and orders of any kind.

I also struggle with a more modern conflict: that of being a mother. As a feminist, a mother, a spiritual and religious practitioner, and a white person of middle class standing in the 21st century, I feel a keen unease with my current status of Homemaker.

I’ve recently decided to step away from calling myself a stay-at-home-mom. It has connotations of being an upper middle class kept woman. The language heightens the isolation of stay-at-home-parents, and we are certainly isolated enough. Its passive language implies that we don’t do much, that perhaps we sit around, sequestered, eating bon bons. But homemaker, householder, implies to me craft, creation, effort, the holistic life of a Home.

As a householder I keep house; as a homemaker I make a home. I keep it tidy, clean and organized. I plan and cook three hot meals a day for at least four people. I make sure we are clothed in items that are clean and that fit reasonably well. I change diapers. I sort our things and make donations to organizations. I protect my home. I make it welcoming to those who would join us in good faith. I find ways to observe the seasons, the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and various other holidays in a way that we can all engage. I keep track of playdates and preschool plays and doctor’s appointments. I teach boundaries, numbers, and letters. I read to and tickle and kiss. I make a home.

Home

Home

These things are really unsexy. Most days they are terribly dull. Some days involve too much snot and too many tears. It’s not complicated, though it is complex. It’s not intellectually stimulating. I never need to dress up. It’s really pretty boring.. Though this doesn’t diminish the value of the work.

As a modern feminist, I sometimes wonder if this is the wisest use of my ‘best’ years. I’m over-educated for the job. I don’t get paid, and with my resum√© I could make a nice yearly income elsewhere. Aren’t I holding up some mid-20th century patriarchal fantasy? I have many, many thoughts on these things, thoughts that tip into my radical political leanings, thoughts that aren’t quite appropriate for the blog post at hand.

What is important is that while my temperament isn’t ideal for this job and my many of my professional skills are languishing, I see this job as one of my most important – and that’s not just lip-service to ‘oh, aren’t you so noble for raising the next generation’ platitudes that often get thrown around when this topic is broached.

My job as a homemaker forces me to make my spirituality a priority. I don’t have the luxury of uninterrupted time. I have to choose when and if I’ll sit in front of my altar. I have to practice in the midst of chaos. There is no quiet. I have to bring my gods with me into the kitchen, the grocery store, the bathroom, the car. There is no separation between holy space and family space. I have to explain to tiny people what it is I’m doing, and why. I have to apply my magical skills to my kids – for healing, for nightmares, for self-possession (four-year olds have none, just saying).

This job is harder than being a priest. I’m not saying that being a priest is easy! Being a quality anything takes effort and time and skill. But being a householder involves being a priest AND a homemaker. I have to be priest of this temple I create and keep AND I have to be in the world. I make all things sound in the midst of the noise of life. I hold space for the holy while my kids are having tantrums (or while I am throwing an internal tantrum, sadly all too common these days).

Most of the time I forget that I’m a priest. Most days I’m just cooking and cleaning and wiping noses and butts and I don’t think about holding space or blessing the meal or making anything holy. I forget. Many days I’m not much more self-possessed than my son. But sometimes I see the magic. The curl of the incense reminds me. I see my two-year old bowing in front of Ganesh. She takes deep breaths and smiles. Sometimes a meal is particularly joyful and nourishing and I feel the magic that is made at the table.

Stirring the pot

Stirring the pot

If as a monk or nun in past lives I’ve learned how to have one kind of community in my practice and worship, to take orders from an abbot, to have vows of silence, or to lead a flock, to be separated from the world in the seeking of the Holy, I am learning now about a different sort of community and isolation, to take orders from my Self, to take different sorts of vows, how to lead a different kind of flock, to be in the world and seek the Holy.

Sometimes I sit in my altar room after the kids are asleep and I make Formal Magic. These muscles don’t get flexed very often, and when they do they feel creaky, but enthusiastic. But mostly my home is my temple and my daily life my practice and sweat, blood and tears my offerings.