May 21, 2012

Thoughts On Love

Love is the four-letter word, one we humans are not always very comfortable with--and I’d be quite dishonest here if I did not include myself in that “we.” Some of our agitation is societal. When we’re young, we feel love with a fierce intensity. It might be directed at a stuffed animal, but it’s most certainly there: undiluted, direct, and unapologetic. Love might flare up and be gone, but there was no question that--for a time, at least--it existed, blazing true and bright.

Soon, we take the necessary steps of growing older. We learn control. We learn how to fit in. That one stuffed animal you loved for years goes on a shelf. But something else can happen too: all too often, the person who loved that stuffed animal is relegated to the shelf as well. We slice off pieces of ourselves to live in this world. We take on other voices, absorb other opinions. And all this needs to happen to some degree. One can’t be a child forever, either physically or mentally.

We also learn that love and its expressions are conscribed. One may say “I love you” to a romantic partner one has known for only a month. Only, please don’t say those same three words to your friend whom you’ve for known for a decade. This is very odd when you think about it. We can, however, freely proclaim that we love coffee. Or the Italian countryside. The whole business is… confusing and contradictory.

No wonder we’re so uncomfortable with this four-letter word. It’s bad enough in its secular sense, but its myriad of uses in varying monotheistic religious contexts just adds to all our trouble. Indeed, some Heathens convey the impression that they wish we'd neither speak nor write of “love” in relation to our faith. My own opinion is that this is an impossibility. Pretty much everyone is a convert, perhaps with an exception or two somewhere or another. At some point, most of us stepped outside the familiar and listened to a yearning from deep within. Some instinct, some voice let us know that “the tried and the true” were not right for us. We recognized that we were finding beauty, meaning, and completion in a place very far removed from the societal presumptions of either Atheism or monotheism. In other words, we listened to love. And, yes, even if you are following a warrior path, some form of love drove your choice. Recall that Odin Himself is married to a Goddess whose very name means "love" or "beloved," and that another Goddess associated with love gets half His slain. Recall too that Valhalla is hardly the only hall in Asgard, popular misconceptions to the contrary.

Still, it’s not a very comfortable word, is it? The twist here is that our discomfort comes from our discomfort with ourselves. If we have lived on this planet, we’ve all given away pieces of ourselves. We’ve all told our hearts that its longings are not allowed--that whatever the heart is crying out for is “weak” or “selfish” or “too much trouble” or… the list goes on. When we tell the heart that it is flawed, we tell ourselves that we are flawed. We are weak or selfish or too much trouble or....

Abusive or constraining words are not conducive to love. Love requires knowledge: a deep and true knowledge, not a surface familiarity or an itemized list of attributes. It requires honesty about what is meaningful, the sort of honesty we had about the stuffed animal that was loved, back when we didn't care what anyone else had to say about its value. And then, love requires acceptance. This might be the hardest part of all, because acceptance means loosening our very natural desire for control. It means that we must give up our cherished illusion that we have ultimate mastery over who we are, deep within. This is why it can be so hard to love ourselves. From the raw and sometimes painful core, we must release our sense of who we want to be or who we wanted to become... of who we were told we should be or thought we should be. Love is accepting what actually is, as of now, and moving forward on that basis.

None of this is to say that we relinquish responsibility for our actions. Emotions can point toward the heart's path, but they are pieces of a larger picture; this is a topic I hope to explore in a subsequent post. Here, I will note that we do tend to choose a better course from a foundation of authenticity. The chronic alcoholic who denies what he is racks up multiple DUI convictions—that is, presuming he is very lucky and doesn't main or kill anyone first. It might tear him up inside, but for his own sake and everyone else's, he desperately needs to face his reality.

In truth, though, all these thoughts are glaringly incomplete. We can look to great poets and playwrights, to dreams, literature, and psychology texts, but there will always another surprise, another revelation, another mystery--another grief, another loss, another wound--another sunrise and another solace. No summary, axiom, contract, or end-point can describe, proscribe, or define love. Love is worthy and complex and irreducible. If we begin to learn something of it in the course of a lifetime, we have been blessed.

May 16, 2012

Photo Art Of Gerd And Frey

Gerd and Frey

The human subjects in this piece are from the excellent Tigg-stock gallery/Random Arts. They are used here with permission. The nature imagery is all from my own photography.

I only "see" Frey and Gerd on occasion, and almost always together. The sense of Their love for each other is profound. It includes--rather than excludes--those who come into Their presence. They have so much beauty, warmth, and joy about Them.

For further reading, here is a personal account of Frey that was written by a priest of His.

May 2, 2012

Fancy Titles

Titles are interesting beasts. The Gods have them (think of Odin’s many honorifics), and humans have them too. In spiritual circles, you’ll come across all sorts of titles. There are priests and priestesses and shamans and spirit-workers and… well, anything else you can think of. Some titles might be ordered for free (the Universal Life Church comes to mind here) or bought from a presumed authority or earned through training. Others might be given directly by a Deity or another entity. The ways of coming by a title are as myriad as the possible titles themselves.

In my day-to-day life, I have a fancy title. Technically, I am to be addressed as “Your Honor” or “The Honorable.” As a practical matter, the main time I ever encounter this appellation is when I'm receiving correspondence from the bar association. Since we don't wear black robes or carry around a gavel, "Your Honor" tends to get lost in all the bustle. Still, the title is mine. Acquiring it was a matter of being hired for a particular job and then swearing to an oath administered by a busy clerk in a windowless office. The entire process probably took less than 60 seconds. Nonetheless, at that moment I was suddenly was transformed into “The Honorable."

Receiving a title might be a quick affair. Living up to one's title is much more involved and can entail a lot of responsibility. For example, I have to accept certain restrictions on "everyday" freedoms, even when I'm off-duty. Likewise, practicing attorneys must navigate the complex world of legal ethics--a mere implication that they've accepted someone as a client potentially sets them up for a great deal of suffering.

All of this is to say that serious titles can involve serious burdens.

Back to spiritual matters: I do believe that the Gods and Goddesses might give us titles of various sorts. Committing to being a devotee would certainly be an example of this. However, a word of caution. It seems to me that our Norse Deities can be a practical lot with Their own peculiar sense of humor. Imagine, if you will, a God or Goddess handing you a sword or an ax, the most beautifully crafted and perfectly balanced weapon you have ever held. Imagine further that you have little to no training in using this particular weapon.

What do you do with that shining sword or resplendent ax? Do you immediately wave it around for everyone to see and perhaps lob off a few of your neighbors' fingers? Or do you accept the gift with respect and deliberation, and then take the time to receive advice and instruction on its use?

Titles--especially ones backed by oaths to the Gods--are a serious matter. This is not to say that all is necessarily lost if there has been some confusion. For example, in her book Fulltrui: Patrons in Asatru, Mist gives an excellent account of having a patronage commitment renegotiated from Odin to Frigg. Our Gods are truly good Gods, and They do not set us up for failure.

We do need to be sensible, though. Not every person who claims to have a spiritual title is reliable. Step back, and watch how they wield their presumed gift. Words are words. Keep an eye out for what follows after those words.