No Conversion Necessary

I work at a two-year community college, so I am used to people handing me things to read. I also live in an area of north Texas that is fervently Southern Baptist. On the other side of the little town I live in, there’s a huge Catholic Church. So I am used to people sharing their beliefs with me in normal, everyday conversation as well. I am openly Pagan, but its not something I wear on my sleeve in neon, blinking lights either. The other day, I was handed a small book titled “Keep Calm and Trust God”. The intent was not malicious, in fact I doubt that the person even realizes that I am not a Christian. But, most likely, its noted that I am not *their kind* of Christian, which may have prompted the handover of the book.

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Sunrise from my backyard

I understand the desire to share things of your faith with others. Particularly in a religious culture where you are taught that unbelievers will suffer eternal damnation and suffering. You don’t want to see people go through that, so you want to share with them why they are on the wrong Path in life. Totally understandable. Except that I find it similar to selling encyclopedias door-to-door. You knock on the door, and explain to the person opening it why they need these encyclopedias. You point out that this information will be at their fingertips. Their family will be smarter because of it. And only for the low price of twenty dollars per month over the next twelve months.

For some folks, the encyclopedias are definite “must-have” and they purchase them straight away. For others, they have access to the internet, which provides them the same access to the encyclopedias and far more. And for others, they have no desire to have the encyclopedias, nor do they have access to the internet. They are happy to not have either. And all are valid answers and responses. But enough of encyclopedias…

Personal belief systems can be quite the same, though. There are folks who knock door-to-door, offering to share their testimonies with complete strangers – all in the hope of converting a soul. There’s a biblical passage that essentially commands Christians to convert the masses. I’m not going to look it up or quote it. I’m not a Christian, nor am I going to prove the contextual aspect of what they believe. But I find this to be very similar to selling encyclopedias door-to-door. This was also something that was very key to me leaving Christianity as well.

See, I am a firm believer that if this (whatever belief system) is the Path for you to walk, you will find your feet upon it. Its how I found myself within Paganism. Its also how I found myself on the Path of Druidry that I currently am walking. Its how Crow, Coyote, and Fliodhas have all become a part of my daily Path. I followed what I believed – the sacred aspect of Nature; the ability to find seriousness in folly, and folly in seriousness; that there is balance throughout; there is sacred in every moment of the day and night – and I find myself where I am now. I also see the intersection between what I believe and the Path I walk with others. And while my Path brings me joy, and my Path provides context between myself and quite a few of my friends – I have no desire to bring other people to walk my Path.

I came to Paganism on my own. No one told me I was going to suffer some eternal punishment if I didn’t become a Pagan. Nobody threatened me with anything if I chose to walk away from Paganism. I came here freely, on my own, driven by my own curiosity and desire to discover the Spiritual and Sacred within myself and around me. I didn’t convert to Paganism. I discovered it within myself. My belief grows and changes with me. There are constant values associated with it – the Gods and Goddesses are real, singular entities, the Spirits of Place are many, the Spirits of Ancestor can and do communicate with me, and everything around me is alive (some moving at a pace much faster or much slower than I can perceive). I have experienced all of these revelations as I have walked my Path, why would I want to deny that experience to others by telling them what to believe? This is why I don’t convert people to my Path. If they want to experience, they will – on their own, as it should be.

Not everyone SHOULD believe as I do. Not every Pagan WILL believe as I do. But there’s a major difference between most Pagans, and most Christians — Pagans tend to respect that others’ spiritual Paths are unique to each individual. Many Christians do not. Most Pagans do not want the world to be completely Pagan – there’s no desire to convert. But many Christians are compelled to make the entire world Christian. Just as are a few other adherents of other faiths.

No, I have no desire to convert anyone to my Path. Nor do I desire to convert to anyone else’s faith. I am quite happy walking on my Path, learning what I need to at that moment, and experiencing the sacred of the moment in every day, every step, and every breath. My Path is for my footfalls. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with others. No matter which way, it is still a sacred moment to be experienced. Just as I watch sunrises and sunsets for the beauty…and to remind myself of where I truly fit into the environment around me. Just one part. Just one piece. Being.

My Cloak of Spirituality

A few weeks ago, I ran across someone I had not heard from in well over ten-plus years. She and I conversed over Email a few times, reminiscing over some of the escapades we had as a pair of wide-eyed Pagans in the world. We compared notes on the directions we have taken since that time – she stayed within Wicca for a few more years, became disenchanted with the entire concept, and eventually moved back to her previous Christian roots. I also moved on from Wicca, but never went back to my Catholic roots. Instead i embraced the parts of Paganism that appealed to me – and shed the ones that did not seem beneficial to what I was looking for within myself. Two people who had very similar ideas about what Paganism was, how to embrace it, and how it worked within our lives. Two very different conclusions nearly a decade later. Over the past few days, its lead me to a point of thought about the way we each faced choices in our lives.

Her embrace with her Spirituality is far more community focused than my own. When we were discussing the appeal of our own choices for our Paths of Spirituality, she mentioned how much she really appreciated having others around that she could talk to, be with, and receive support from. That’s a very distinct difference from my own approach of being a single individual within a belief system structured for one. While we are both open about our beliefs, her tendency is to wear her beliefs on her sleeve – almost as if she wraps herself in her beliefs like a bright, neon shawl. While I have no need to hide who I am or what I believe – I have no need to wear it openly, brandishing my faith like a descriptive beacon. And yet, as I sit and think about it, this may actually be more a difference of our personal mannerisms than anything else. Perhaps. She made a comment about how she enjoyed witnessing her faith to others, to show them the joy that she received in walking her chosen Path of Spirituality, of being an example of how her Christian faith works for her, and how that same faith could work for others.

It did not take me long to realize, that this was definitely not true of me. And as I sounded out my reasoning in my head, I realized how self-centric it sounded to my own ears. I follow the Path that works for me. I have never claimed that the Path that I follow will have similar effects for others. My daily Spiritual practice is not focused on being example of why anyone should follow Coyote or Crow (the current Gods that manifest themselves in my Life on a regular basis). And as I realized this, I started thinking about how I should do this.

I could spend time blogging more on my personal interactions with Crow and Coyote – and how each manifest themselves into my life. I could spend time talking about how these two Gods are extremely beneficial to me and my own activities within my Spiritual Life…and the manners in which I approach them and vice versa. I could even contrast and compare them against the other Gods that many others seem to uphold.  …and it suddenly dawned me:

Even if I were a Christian, even in the manner that my friend is, my personal practice would still be my own. Each Christian builds a personal connection with God and his son Jesus Christ – and that bond is different for each person. They discuss that bond, as they are elated over the joy they get from such a bond – and make the assumption that everyone else will get the same elation through their own personal bond. But, that bond would be a unique connection – an experience that can be described in terminology that is then processed and equated by the receiver in the conversation and compared to their own experiences as related to those descriptives. Experiences that will be unique and different for each individual person. No offense to any Christian who might be reading this, but this concept that everyone will receive a very similar experience through their unique personal connection with God/Jesus Christ sounds an awful lot like purchasing fast food. The food is made the same way for everyone and the assumption is that everyone will like the food for the same reasons. In other words, the customers’ experiences will all be nearly the same – therefore the service, the food, everything needs to be the same for everyone. There is no accounting for individual differences.

Now, I realize – quite acutely – that I am painting with an overly broad-brush here. What I am describing above is not necessarily true of every single Christian, nor will every Pagan see Spirituality the same way that I am about to describe. But it is what I perceive, and something that I believe to be of merit for discussion – and thus the reason I am writing this blog post.

My personal beliefs – my Pagan Spirituality – is essentially pieces of personal philosophy that I have picked up from various belief systems. Or if you prefer, pieces of gnosis that I have transplanted into my own understanding of my own environment. I know, I hear the spiritual purists saying that this means that I do not have claim to any aspect of those various gnoses (I think this is the correct spelling of the plural) – and I will be honest, I agree. I am no Zen expert, but parts of my Personal Beliefs are pulled from that. I am not Native American Shaman, and yet I have pulled aspects of those beliefs into my own. I am studying on a path of Druidry – but I do not assimilate every single aspect of it into my own practices. I use those things that work for me. Essentially, my Spirituality is a patchwork of things that work for me – perspectives I can comprehend, understand and utilize for my own personal and spiritual growth. In the end, my own spirituality is more closely resembling a patchwork cape of many colors, rather than a pretty, deep purple velvet cloak with pretty gold fringe. The key is that it works for me, allows me to better understand my environment, and realize my position WITHIN that environment. My role is not to dominate my environment, but to become a complementary part of it. And every day, I understand my role just a little better, and sometimes even discover new facets of my role that I did not comprehend before.

My Cold-weather Coat
My Cold-weather Coat

Looking back, my own personal spirituality may not look as pretty as my friend’s. Its a little worn on the edges, and is not a complete, single color. But its a definite part of me, and who I am. Its not always a comfortable fit. Sometimes its too warm for the weather, sometimes its not warm enough. Its not going to get a second glance from a lot of people around me. But I am not wearing my Spirituality for them. If I were, I would have donned my cloak of Spirituality for all the wrong reasons – in my eyes.