Reciprocity, The Will of the Gods, and Theodicy

Reciprocity, The Will of the Gods, and Theodicy September 13, 2012

[Sometimes I have ideas for blog posts that I know will get me a lot of flack, and so I hold onto them until my loins are properly girded to deflect flack. Or I just save them up, mix them together and get them out of my system all at once. This post is of the latter type, and my loins aren’t really girded at all.]

There are a lot of thoughts about our relationship to the gods. The one that makes sense to me is reciprocity. Not tit-for-tat, but a commitment to help one another and work towards the same goals. There can be no sense of equality, because we are working with vastly different skill-sets and limitations.

In many ways this idea of reciprocity wears harder on the soul than the idea that we are given everything freely from an altruistic, unconditional love, or the idea that we receive no help from the gods but gain only that which we build with our own two hands. Because if you are giving without receiving anything in return, when all your synchronicity is the bad kind, when every time you say “At least things can’t get much worse…” and then they do, it damages your faith. Job is no shining example in Pagan traditions. We may die for our faith, but we see no virtue in suffering.

So what to make of things when you are giving your all and your life is increasingly turning to crap? When the gods are silent? I asked a friend about this, and their response surprised me: they said if you are striving to be a good Pagan and your life is going to crap, then you are doing Paganism wrong.

That’s a foreign thought to most of us. Sit with it for a minute. Think about it. If you are doing Paganism right, your life should be improving and stabilizing. You should be in harmony with the rhythms of life. This is not to say that nothing bad will ever happen to you, but in general your life should have a strong supportive foundation built on your faith and faith community. If you are struggling to stay steady on constantly shifting sands, something is fundamentally wrong.

Humans are particularly adept at ignoring the obvious. The warning signals. The bare facts that spell disaster. We are good at making bad decisions thinking that we are the exception to the rule. Just because he hit his ex doesn’t mean he will hit me. Just because she cheated on her ex-husband doesn’t mean she will cheat on me. Just because this guy has never delivered on a promise doesn’t mean his current project will fail. Just because this coven is known for excessive secrecy and drama doesn’t mean I will find it too demanding and intrusive.

I’ve spent the quiet moments of the past week reflecting on the past year of my life. Of all the signs and signals I ignored. Of all the hardships and heartbreak I walked into willingly. Of all the bad fortune I encountered. Suddenly, there I was, with few belongings and no car facing the scary prospect that I had no place to live. But many of those awful things that happened aided my move. I had moved from full-time to part-time work (which was good for my stress level but bad for my financial well-being), and my car had died a horrible death. Even though I gave a lot away, and left a lot behind, it was easier for me to pack a few bags and fly to new city because of these awful thing things. Looking back I can see all the signs and bare facts I had ignored that said I was not supposed to remain in Georgia.

From the moment I realized my best option was to move to Minnesota, blessings began to shower on me. Community rallied to support me, things fell into place and I found myself caught up in a current of good events. While it was still scary and heartbreaking, it was so easy compared to the last year. And that was a revelation: when you do what the gods want of you it is surprisingly easy.

Theodicy and divine providence are strange things in polytheism, because there is no single ultimate authority. There are many holy powers with sometimes conflicting agendas out there. It’s why we align ourselves with certain gods, certain theologies, certain philosophies and certain practices, to the exclusion of others. We commit to certain visions of how things should be. When we move closer to those visions, life becomes more reliable and stable and good things come our way. When we cling to things that harm us, we get dragged kicking and screaming, and we can get injured along the way.

I think my gods want me here in the Twin Cities area. They certainly seem to have drug me kicking and screaming here. But now that I am here, my perception has opened up and I am seeing the big picture. I resonate with the Midwest Pagan vibe, and have thoroughly enjoyed having some of the most amazing conversations with Pagans here. I feel at home. I know I still have things to take care of before my life is back on track, but I don’t feel abandoned by my gods here. I did back in Georgia.

I wrote about my crisis of faith over the past year. Suddenly it seems like a distant memory. I am back in harmony with the vision that I share with my gods. I’ve gotten with the program, and blessings flow once more. What I’m doing now feels more right, and my prayers flow more easily. My gratitude is more ready, even in times of hardship. The yokes that felt so heavy before now feel light. My faith fills me with grateful joy.

And people will think I am wrong in this. My experience will be considered stupid and wrong by some. Worth mocking to others. A product of an uneducated and unlettered person. (A friend recently pointed out that you never hear Pagans saying that people who believe in science are uneducated idiots.) I don’t give a crap. This is my journey and my soul.

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