One of my Parliament goals was to get a selfie with a nun. I took a lot of selfies with a lot of cool people (Selena Fox, Oberon Zell, Don Lewis, Vandana Shiva…) but I did not acquire the holy of holies. In fact, I don’t know if I saw a (Catholic) nun at all. But, at the Hindu puja I did sit beside a woman from Kentucky who was a monk who only wore saffron-coloured clothes, so that has to count for something.
We did the “Parliament introduction” – name, city, religion – and went right into asking each other questions about our faiths. She was dressed in various shades of orange, and I asked her if she did so out of devotion, and she explained that she could wear any colour of the sunset. She told me that her pants were specially made for her when she took her vows, and she described some of the other articles of clothing that she had in her wardrobe. I joked with her that Druid priests don’t have to wear all grey, but I often do. (“You and everyone else in Toronto!” she said.)
In truth, I’ve been searching for an outward sign of inward devotion for a long time. Readers of this ten-year-old blog will know that I’ve struggled with this on and off. What to wear? How to act? What to eat? How to govern my every day? What kind of religious life do I want to live?
At Parliament, I saw a lot of people living their good religious lives, whether expressed in their clothing, or their prayers, or how they ate. These are all outward signs of inward devotion. They are marks of a communal worship. They tell you (a little bit) about a person.
I came home from Parliament with that feeling, and with the weight of climate change and capitalism, and with loneliness, and with thoughts of my ancestors, and of the Land. I grappled with all of these feelings for many days, knowing that my Parliament reflections would culminate in this post. It took longer than I had planned. I tried to sit with the feelings for as long as could, worried that they would fade.
(I can’t describe it to you, what it felt like, but I’ll try: it’s like a weight in my stomach I feel every Spring, a good anxiety of things to come, changes that will be, cautious potential. Standing on the edge, but in a good way. A choice, full of hope but of fear. Immersed in this can be overwhelming, but a slow rumble can push you forward. Does that help?)
The feelings faded. I waited too long. I stumbled through all the other blog posts before I could get to this one, because I had to process. But these feelings, which I’ve felt before, always fade. They recede into the background, the mundane everyday taking over. My husband wanted to watch Netflix, Bean and I had fitness class, chores needed doing. And I still didn’t have the words that I need to describe it.
Two affirming experiences framed my Parliament, both when I served in ritual and had professionals praise my work. I carried that inside me too. I know where I am meant to be, but I shy away from living how I’d like: a religious life, an outward expression of inward devotion.
I have yet to put into practice everything I believe, and everything I want to do. Now, it is time. It must be. I turned 33 at Parliament, the day I met the saffron-wearing monk and served in the puja as sacrificer. My thoughts and feelings rumbled, slowly, towards this end. I have spent too much time in my life worrying, led by anxiety, and I have missed out on possibilities. There is no sense in playing the ‘what if?’ game. The wheel turns forward.
This is my Parliament experience. Seven days of immersion into faith, into social justice, into whatever imperfect communities we have. Seven days of seeing what could possibly be. I must reconcile myself with the Land, with my Ancestors, with the Earth, with Time and Seasons, with the Holy Fire, with Hospitality.
Ten years ago, a woman wrote a blog in which she described her monastic experience as a godspouse. She detailed her clothing and food restrictions, her virtues, her devotions. It’s gone now, but it was an inspiration for me; I started this blog because of hers. One quote in particular stands out, even now: The monastic life is simply the ordinary pagan life, lived with extraordinary fidelity.
Let us live, and live brightly.