I’ve been reading through Dwelling on the Threshold, a book full of essays from A Forest Door, and a lot of what I’ve read so far rings true – on various levels – to my experience and life. I haven’t discussed it much on Patheos, or really anywhere, but I’ve been doing this religious and spiritual work and Work since I was around twelve. Which makes people uncomfortable – so young! I couldn’t really have started that little! (I started younger; I had an idea of what modern Paganism was around twelve and only learned of non-Wiccan-influenced paths much later.) And I did sacrifice a lot due to my pursuit of religious goals and work. I didn’t have much of a social life, if at all, and most of my teachers were aware that I was religious but not in a traditional Jewish-Christian-Muslim fashion. I didn’t have anyone to discuss religion with, at least not without being witnessed at, and I realized that friends that identified as Pagan actually had much different viewpoints than I did, to the point that discussion was once again rather useless. (I wanted to discuss gods and possession work and faeries and theology, while they wanted to discuss magic and Maiden/Mother/Crone archetypes and levitation. It was simply a difference of what we were practicing.)
My first two years in high school I spent a lot of time being witnessed to by an evangelist who took interest in saving my soul. I got cornered in bathrooms and passed notes in the halls and told that all my pain would go away if I just turned to Jesus. The worst time was after a friend of ours had died in a car accident and I was dragged off, alone, and told that I was full of sin and all my suffering would leave if I just turned to god.
I give thanks to the gods I do worship that I somehow found the strength not to punch that person in the face. No one considered it religious harassment, so I would have ended up in more trouble than it was worth.
It could be easy to say that was suffering or a part of the path I chose to walk, but I think those things were just a part of life. They certainly helped me be more suspicious of friendly people who drop the J-bomb all the time, for better or worse. And they helped strengthen my faith, in the end. In the hardest parts of my life – sobbing over death, being in the hospital, being sick for the rest of my time in school – it was my gods and spirits I turned to. That was never a question.
Nostalgia time over, though, I’ll return again to Dver’s book. What hit me again and again as I read was that spirit workers put the Work first. A point that especially stood out to me was:
Why must the spiritual vocation always be the “luxury that must be fitted around daily life”? Why not see the obligations and rewards of home, family, and career (not to mention the elaborate trappings of a modern Western lifestyle) as the luxury, that (if desired at all) must be fitted around the spiritual vocation? Surely there must be some pagans out there who value the latter above the former.
My path isn’t Dver’s, and it has room for my returning to school to pursue a practical degree so that I can hold down a hopefully stable job, but her point still stands for me – my Work has room for that mostly because the gods, spirits, and I know that having a stable job will allow me to do the Work. I am not planning on returning to school because it is a great dream that conflicts with my spiritual work. I’m returning to school so I can help further and support my spiritual work. And I’m also aware that if school or a stable job begins interfering with the Work, those things have to go. The Work comes first.
The Work has always come first, for me.