The Devotional Lifestyle: Us Versus Them

Since becoming involved with Clann Bhride I’ve been giving more thought to what it means to live a devotional lifestyle. There can be a general misunderstanding that to live a life of devotion only means a life of intense and isolated contemplation, or of regular ritual and prayer that is somehow removed from the mundane part of our lives. And to be fair, these elements can make up someone’s devotional life. (There are as many ways to be devoted to a deity as there are deities to be devoted to, I’m sure.) It reminds me of my undergraduate religious studies classes and studying theorists like Mircea Eliade who understood religion as a dichotomy between the sacred and the profane. That which is sacred is removed from profane (“normal”) times and profane spaces; religion exists as the profane (humans) attempting to understand the sacred (the divine, the ancestors, the great unknowable Something). And this would tie back into the etymological roots of the word religion which in Latin – according to my professors anyway – came from the same root word for “to tie back.” Religion, so we were told, is that which is tied back and made, or acknowledged to be already, holy. Or, as theologian Rudolf Otto put it, the holy is what which is “Wholly Other.”

If you’ve ever read any of my posts on this blog, Facebook, or eCauldron, you know I don’t always hold truck with this idea. I don’t entirely discredit it either; part of what I enjoyed so much in classes like Methods and Theories in the Study of Religion was learning the multiple ways we attempt to understand religion, which is really this crazy amazing confusing thing human beings do. From an academic and personal perspective, I find religious studies a fascinating field. But as our professors were keen to remind us, sometimes, many times, the theories fall flat if we allow them precedence over the actual lived experiences of religious adherents. For example, I struggled with Otto’s description of the sacred as the “Wholly Other” because it supported the viewpoint that there is a spiritual Us and a spiritual Them. For a Lutheran like Otto, this makes sense; for an undergraduate religion major who also moonlighted as the president-founder of my college’s Pagan Fellowship, it really got under my skin.

Also if you’ve ever read any of my writings or talked to me for more than five minutes, you know I’ve been on a kick recently with abolishing this spiritual/not spiritual dichotomy in my own life. Ritual and contemplation don’t work for me. My relationship with Deity is a relationship with the world around me and with myself. Devotion is self-care, is my volunteer work, is dedicating myself to my studies. For so long I despaired that I couldn’t feel Deity – first Jesus and His father, later the Goddess, then the individual deities – and that something must be “wrong” with me. But what it boils right down to is this: I don’t believe in something other than this. There is no Us versus Them binary because there only is Us. Brighid is the candle and the flame and the flametender and the light. When I take care of my family and my home, I take care of Brighid as well.

Which isn’t to say I believe we’re all secretly the same person at our core. Just because I don’t hold truck with an Us versus Them, sacred versus profane worldview doesn’t mean I’m tossing out the idea of distinction between identities all together. I am not Brighid. Brighid is not Loki is not Jesus. (Though that would be a hilarious sitcom.) Christians do not talk to the same gods I do. Difference and diversity are, if anything, even more important when there is only Us. After all, if We’re all We have to rely on then We’re going to need to bring all Our skills and passions to the table.

Instead of thinking about my devotion to Brighid as being Me versus Her, I want to think of it as Brighid and Me. We’re both in this relationship together and We both have things to offer each other. This world is our world and the people in it are our people. Acting in the world – with purpose, with reverence, with love – is the greatest act of devotion to either of us I can imagine.

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One thought on “The Devotional Lifestyle: Us Versus Them

  1. I think some devotional polytheists have presented this lifestyle as being something only people with no other obligations or commitments could possibly pursue. Yet Ramprasad Sen, the great devotee of Kali, was married with kids and once received a visitation from Kali in the form of his daughter. I’m certain Brighid wants me to be the most devoted father I can be, and I love the idea of seeing that work as part of my service to Her.

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