Sacred Community

I love groups. I am often a joiner. I think that despite the hue and cry that the world is fragmented into a billion people sitting at their computers, acting like electronic hermits by facebooking, google chatting, and what have you by themselves, I think the flesh and blood group is just as vibrant as ever.

I just had a major transition in my life-I moved from being a full-time database and development person to a M.DIV candidate. People keep asking me what I want to do with that degree. I have a few ideas, but mostly they might seem abstract right now. One thing I know for certain: it is the inspiration that I get from being around groups of people dedicated to a cause and willing to lay aside their individual needs that has guided me so far.

I sometimes wonder what has kept me being a priestess of my small tribe of 10 for so long- it will be 10 years in October. It is surely not the benefits…because they don’t exist. Nope, no health card, and no pay, back-braking ritual tool carrying, and sometimes even fights and recriminations and questions that make me want to shake my head. No, it is the energy that I get. Being a priestess of the Old Religion is, for me, about developing yourself a witness to the divine. That means that everything from thunder waking you up, to watching a child play with his mom’s hair, to being in dedicated, moon-lit space is a moment for you to experience the sacred. As a pantheist, I believe we are all emanations of the divine. And because those experiences move me and are as essential as food and water, I want to make sure others feel that nurturing feeling as well.  All groups have something to teach me- and all individuals I have worked with, especially my students, are my teachers.

So this past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on trance-prophecy by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. I am fascinated by all the techniques that are developing around this growing aspect of neo-pagan theology. More and more, the old Gods are coming back, and they want to speak with us. More and more their distinct personalities are shining through. It remains to be seen what sort of messages our faith will receive and whether we are ready to act on what we receive. One thing is clear, however, joy abides in the community. For as fascinating and insightful as the workshop leaders were, what struck me the most was the spirit and community in the after-ritual. Perhaps I have been starved for company for those outside my little tribe, but getting to know the folks up in Orange  County, New York was arguably the best part of the whole experience. I learn so much from the spirit of togetherness. I can be myself and at the same time lose my self in the beauty of nature and the Divine when I am with these folks, because they understand me. Not to say there are no differences between traditions, because there are. But, to coin a cliché, what unites us is far stronger than what divides us theologically or practically. I see the divine reflected in them as I share the joy of dancing and drumming until we lose our sense of selves. What we lose is nothing compared to what we gain, under the full moon, awash in the beauty of the stars, with only the grapes of the vineyard to witness us.

Another, much more intimate moment of the sacred occurred recently in an inter-faith community I am part of. Here I the lesson comes from people not of my faith, but in the sharing of their scripture, their practices, and their lives I also see the divine. I am a believer in the many mansions philosophy, a direct reference to the gospel of John but which is perhaps best described for me in the chapter of the same name in Janet and Stewart Farrar’s The Witches Bible. God/dess is so vast, it stands to reason that there are as many paths to peace and God/dess as there are people. So when a group of people from different faiths experience eachother’s fellowship, I see reflected in their thoughts, scriptures, and practices a little of my own. We cannot be isolated, because isolated we are blind to divinity, and blind to hope. The community ritual focused on water, water as a cleansing force, water as a metaphor for submission and flow with the Will of God, and water as an instrument of peace (quite literally, for in this case we used water bowls to make an improvised symphony). We all need to be fed in different ways by those around us; we need to found sacred communities wherever we are. In a way, through knowing this community, and the different people in it, I have found myself, or at least, a little part of what my future path will be.

That, for me, is the gift of the group- to lose your sense of self in the sameness of humanity, and then, by encountering diversity, to find yourself again. Right now, I feel truly blessed.

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About Valerie Freseman

Valerie Freseman is a Unitarian Universalist minister and a 2014 graduate of Union Theological Seminary. She completed a chaplain residency at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, CT, and served as the first year-long Killam Ministerial intern at the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland. She is passionate about spinning the inter-dependent web, creating a more just world, and applying the arts to faith.  She is also becoming increasingly well-known for her sock collection.
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