Do you have a few moments? I have an issue I need to talk about with someone. Why did I pick you? Because I trust your opinion.
I’ve never relished the role of being father confessor for others. I’m not a counselor. I’m not the kind of person I would seek out for advice. Maybe that’s because I know the conflicts that reside within myself that I never let out into the sunshine. Or even into the moon’s glow. Those inner demons that I constantly hold at bay with my staff and whatever courage I can muster at that moment. Those demons, my deepest concerns over my own thoughts, are things I have shared with a total of six people. That’s the reason that no one else factors that information into choosing me to be the individual that they pour their soul out on the ground by the campfire in the middle of the night. Not that I can be sure that anyone would disqualify me over those inner demons. But in my own mind, they certainly would if they knew.
The first time I ever served in the capacity of being that individual that would receive the trust and distinction of knowing the “dirty” secrets or be asked for how I would handle things, I was a Non-Commissioned Officer in the United States Air Force. I was expected to serve in this role by the individuals appointed over me in my chain-of-command. The junior airmen that I worked shift with were away from their parents for the first time in their lives. They were overseas in a foreign country. My position of authority that was bestowed upon me meant that I was the first line of assistance that they had. As my NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) once told me, “…it’s a shitty job but its expected as part of the territory.” It was in this role that I learned the value of just listening.
I still get folks that came to me for advice. The assumption is that my thirty-plus years in Paganism has distilled some arcane knowledge of how to solve their issues and problems. How should they deal with a difficult High Priestess or High Priest in their coven? How do they connect with a God or Goddess? Can I help them find a way to tell their family that they are Pagan? Is Druidry or Wicca the better option for them? How can they stop thinking about suicide? Yeah. That question was a real shot to the gut.
I have learned to steel myself against whatever was about to come out of their mouths after the questions I started this post with. How did I answer the folks in the questions in the paragraph before this one? Well, I started each one off by noting that the answer was different for everyone, which the answer should be. Some of the answers – particularly on how to deal with a High Priestess, High Priest or their own families – I offered some generic, non-specific statements. Dealing with issues with others will always be dependent on the relationship between the individuals involved. I’m always reluctant to offer a suggestion as a “you should do this” kind of solution. As for connecting with Gods or Goddesses, I usually refer them to John Beckett’s blog Under the Ancient Oaks. John has a lot of good advice, as well as a stronger perspective on such points than I really do. Then there’s the suicide question.
I’ve been asked this question just once. I started the conversation off by asking why they felt that way. And then I just listened. The way I saw it, I needed to know a bit more before I started saying a single word. I always never took my attention away from them. No cell phone. No looking away into the distance. I sat there and listened to her talk. I held my hand out for her to hold. My eyes never left hers. I never let out a sigh during the time she talked. I offered no judgment. I also offered no solution until she had finished saying what she needed to say. At the end of the evening, I asked if she wanted me to stay the night. I would sleep on the sofa or the floor, whichever was more comfortable. She declined and I went home, promising to be back the next morning. I showed up with bagels and coffee. We talked more. This time, I added comments or questions for clarification. In the end, she decided that she needed to see a counselor. I offered to go with her to the first appointment and did once she accepted. At her appointment, I gave a very short explanation of why I was there to her counselor, and then stayed silent through that entire session. I never attended another session with her. Instead, I checked in with her from time to time, just to let her know I was still there, still concerned, and always available. That’s about the best I could do for her.
I reiterate, I am not a counselor. I’m not a father confessor. I am a friend. Concerned, worried, available when I am needed. I can’t solve a single issue that anyone goes through. That’s not my role. I am unqualified to be that individual. But I am qualified to be there when I am needed. That’s what being a friend is about.
I bring all this up because it was pointed out to me that the role of a Priest is to be a counselor. I’m not going to refute that point. Some Priests that I know fit that role very well. But not all of them. Definitely not me. A Priest doesn’t fulfill every role and concept that we have about them. But every single Priest that I have met does fulfill the role of being a human being.