In my last entry, I stated that service was another theme for me during this year’s Pantheacon. At an event such as this, service is all around, of course, from the first moment you walk toward registration and see gorgeously dressed and bedazzling volunteers of all genders smiling from behind the long tables, ready to help. Major events are filled with volunteers: from programming, to safety, to tech, to operations, to folks just pitching in for a few hours to help keep things running. These are often the very ones that bear the brunt of displeasure when something goes awry, and who need to be reminded to eat lunch when the crush is on.
Why do we do service? We do service because it matters, and because we like it.
Years ago, when I worked full time at the soup kitchen I volunteer at now, living communally and receiving room and board for my time, a guest asked why I was there one day, when we were sharing a patch of container garden together before lunch began. I replied: “I’m here because I like it.” He was taken aback, and even slightly offended in his response, which was, “You should be here because you want to help the poor!” Well, that was also true, of course. Social injustice must always have forces such as you and me to counterbalance it’s corrosion. But if I did not get satisfaction out of scrubbing potatoes, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms and talking with the working poor, the schizophrenic, the drug addled, and the down on their luck, I would not have spent 4 years with that as my primary occupation. Service? Yes. Servitude? No.
I thought of this as Peter Dybing and I spent a bit of time talking one afternoon. Peter is current First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess, went to Haiti immediately after the quake, and the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater oil disaster. We talked about service without approaching the subject directly. We talked about all the projects COG and Solar Cross were engaged in and the projects that we want still to happen. There is one he is currently planning – to match up younger Pagans with Pagan Elders in order to record some of their history before it is lost. I chimed in that it would be great to ask them for stories and insights that would be of particular help to our communities in future, and make these available in themed volumes. By the time our conversation was through, we had a sketchy plan for Solar Cross and COG to work together on this project. I sent out emails to some of my students today, hoping to find people willing to spearhead some segments of this, for you see, all of my long-term students have a commitment to doing service every month as part of their curriculum.
Why? Karma Yoga – the discipline of action – keeps us strong. Service keeps us in connection with something outside our own psyche. It also helps to keep us clear in our dealings with others. There is nothing like cleaning an industrial oven after organizing a big event to help with perspective. It is part of why I still show up every week to scrub pots at the house of hospitality. I have a need, not only ideologically to help those whom society has allowed to fall through the cracks, but a need to not get too far from poverty myself. As much of a struggle as poverty is, middle class brings its own sort of death if we are not careful. As a woman with strong working class roots, I am ever aware of this. I travel the world and teach. People look to me all the time. To balance this, not only do I need to remain a student – and I do – I also need to do basic human labor in service of people whom most look upon with distaste. Otherwise, something in my spirit weakens. There are things about myself I simply would not be given the opportunity to see.
Service is also a great opportunity for interfaith and intercommunity work, and the primary way I have engaged in this for many years: I have been arrested with Catholics, sat in silent protest with Buddhists, marched with Muslims, washed dishes beside Atheists. Coalition building most often just takes showing up.
As Pagans, we have something to offer any group we are part of because we are clear that service is not about servitude. Therefore, we can practice balance instead of burn out, because we know that service is simply one facet of our spiritual expression. We can also model this: since we are co-creators with our Gods and Goddesses, and part of the unfolding of the cosmos, even when we stand in awe or adoration, we do not grovel. We are not martyrs. We are in service out of love and honor. It is part of the path toward mastery. Mastery without service becomes inbred and brittle, and soon will eat itself. Service not en route to mastery gets stuck on a path toward abnegation.
In certain Ceremonial lines, the Oath of the Master of the Temple acknowledges that the Master has received the full force of this truth: that we are all one with the cosmos, and it is our job to translate the work of the whole back into the particular, and that to do so is to be of service. A master of any tradition often realizes a magickal boddhisattva vow, and an acknowledgment that she or he who has crossed into oneness with the limitless flow comes back into forms of discrete expression, the better to serve alongside the Gods. Asatruar build this into practice from the very beginning: service to community, small or large, is paramount. Others of us have to lose some small ego baggage to get there on our way. The practice of service teaches us that every act is necessary to the building of our larger selves, and that our larger selves live and work within the context of yet a larger schema.
As Pagans who do service, we take our places firmly in the circle of humans, plants, animals, and the divine forces within and beyond Nature. I’m glad to stand among all of you who serve: Mara, currently building houses in Haiti, Cid, standing with the workers of Wisconsin, Flame, working with those who have HIV and Hep C, Robert, teaching Heathen women in California prisons, Adam, defending the great forests of Tasmania, Patrick, working for the rights of all Pagans, Brian, devoting time to the Red Cross, SHARANYA organizing to send school supplies to India, Chris, leading anti-racism workshops, Jim, working with the Shoshone people to stop nuclear testing in the Nevada Desert, The Red Tent taking on recycling at the Florida Pagan Gathering, Crystal counseling drug addicted youth… The list goes on, and these are just a few people I have met personally. You all know many others. Many of you belong on this list.
Service is part of our religion. It doesn’t have to be, but the more we include it, the stronger, healthier, and wiser we all become. Let service be our strength and our teacher. We can balance this with magick, meditation, and celebration. We can balance this service with the pride that comes from knowing our place in the world.
Let’s continue to put Pagan service on the map. What’s good for the cosmos is good for the soul. What’s good for the soul, strengthens community. What strengthens community, strengthens the self.
Blessed be – Thorn