Three Devotional Polytheists and a Catholic Sanctuary

Our culture is one of forced dichotomies – hard lines in the sand, either/or, ones and zeros. But as any coder will tell you, ones and zeros weave together a magnificent tapestry of infinite variety. Things exist interdependent of one another, not independent.

The experience of a strong-hearted Pagan and devotional Polytheist going to a Catholic monastic sanctuary is evidence of exactly that. The Grotto is a “National Catholic Shrine dedicated to Mary, Our Sorrowful Mother, which is a ministry of The Servite Friars – Order of Friar Servants of Mary.” As a Goddess-centered Polytheist, I can groove with Mary… so I figured it was worth exploring this shrine.

The very location of The Grotto could be perceived as an impossible contradiction. You approach the gate from two of the busiest roads in Northeast Portland, hotels and apartment buildings looming over you from the hills. Surely this could not be a place of nature. But as you turn into the entrance, you are surrounded by the towering trees and lush greenness that the Pacific Northwest is known for. Here, at the crossroads of a busy intersection, is the gateway to a place of natural beauty.

Path through the gardens
Path through the gardens

When you enter the gate, you are first greeted by a statue of Christ on the Cross. Christian iconography still stirs some uncomfortable feelings in my Pagan heart, though I have never been Christian. I’ve done enough interfaith work in my time, and The Grotto says it welcomes peoples of all faiths for peace, serenity, and spiritual inspiration. I welcomed myself and my companions by saying “the Pagans are here!” As we turned into the parking area I felt that transitional veil of space as the sense of this being a sacred place, a place existing within yet outside of the city buzz intensified.

I felt myself wondering if I belonged there, if this space that was created by and for Christians was really for me. But as I looked up at the cliff rising 100 feet above me and watched the trees sway in the breeze, I remembered that no religion – not even ours – can hold dominion over the earth. The earth I was walking on was itself sovereign. I took a moment to tune in more deeply to this place, and felt a sense of curious welcoming, a familiar feeling as I explore my new home – mutually curious beings that we are (I later realized that the sanctuary is on the north side of the same Butte that I live at the western side of). Passing through the gate, I silently offered a blessing of respect and gratitude to this place and to the people that have offered it to the community.

DISCOVER_CaveSunset_OCT
the Grotto

The Plaza level contains the 14 Stations of the Cross, the Chapel of Mary, and one of the most impactful gardens, The Grotto. It is challenging to put into words the intensity here – a 30x30x50 foot manmade cave carved into the cliff. It is a shrine for a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta, a sculpture that has always moved me. But as I stood in front of the cave, I wasn’t seeing the sculpture. I was seeing rocks that were humming with the love and devotion that had been offered in that space, I was feeling land that had been appreciated and cared for with loving hands and feet, for more than 90 years. Later, walking above the cave, we could all again feel the intense hum of it. Here the contradiction of human’s interference with nature fell away into a beautiful harmony.

As we left the Grotto garden, we made our way to the elevator that brings you to the clifftop level. Here there is much that could be perceived as the dichotomy of “man vs nature” and things really start to get a bit surreal.

So, yes, there is an elevator … outdoors … leading to the top of the cliff. An elevator shaft was built, a freestanding tower of concrete and metal tucked into a curve of the rocks. On the 100 foot ride up to the top of the cliff, you are treated to a very short commentary about the sanctuary as a place to enjoy God’s creation. My companions and I looked at each other with an odd grin, and as we exited the elevator one of them made a comment about it being a little creepy. But the elevator set a mood for what we were about to behold.

Entrance to the Meditation Chapel
Entrance to the Meditation Chapel

The meditation chapel is a feat of design and architecture, perched on the edge of the cliff. It feels a bit like a scene from a 1970’s science fiction film. As you pass through a circular garden, surrounded by trees and plants, you rise a couple of steps and then come upon a long walkway, leading to the edge of the cliff and the uniquely shaped, glass fronted building. On either side of you are pools of water which seem to float in the air around the chapel. Never have I been in a place which so expertly designed a physical and energetic transition. These Christians, they “get it” a little more than we give them credit for. And while the building is a stark contrast to the nature that surrounds it, that contrast only aided a quick energetic shift. Stepping into the chapel was a bit overwhelming, as it feels as if you are suspended in the air and looking out for miles and miles. Some people were sitting, messing with their phones or writing notes, and I wondered if they could sense the same thing I was feeling. My inner voice started rattling again, picking at the slight feeling of uneasiness I was experiencing – forced dichotomies tugging at my brain. One of my companions got up and left the space soon after entering, and I knew that at least with the three of us we were not alone in our experience. Truth be told, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed myself, but sat with it for a while longer.

Cliff-side glass face of the Meditation Chapel
Cliff-side glass face of the Meditation Chapel

We wandered the grounds for a while, statues and reliefs of Christian iconography interspersed in expertly designed gardens. Here too, the influence of humanity on nature was obvious, but with respect and harmony. We would stop and look curiously and somewhat awkwardly at the shrines and devotional installations, assessing them from a “how could we do this as polytheists” angle. By the time we reached the labyrinth, I was simultaneously impressed by the place and reflecting on how Christians could do something that felt so Pagan so well, my mind teetering on the rabbit hole of history.

The labyrinth was the common Chartres design, which is not my favorite. But as we approached there was a man standing in the center of it, very obviously enjoying the space and his moment of devotion and prayer. I thought about the commonalities of devotional practice, and how I have sometimes felt I have more in common with radical devotional Catholics than I have with Pagans. We enjoyed the light of the setting sun, and giggled with the trees that seemed so happy and cared for, and ultimately decided not to walk the labyrinth this time.

Our final visit was to the statue of St. Francis, whom we all agreed was one of the saints we could really appreciate. Our intensity lifted as we smiled at the animals that surrounded him and the gentle look on his face.

Thus we made our way back to the circular sitting area near the meditation chapel and elevator, and we all seemed to sink into contemplation. I looked around me at the stunning display of nature, the metal of the elevator shaft, and the polished granite of the meditation chapel. I too felt a bit like an outsider that had harmonized well with this place – someone who did not naturally belong here, but through love and respect had come to find a welcoming place to visit, even if it is not my natural home. There was no either/or, right/wrong here… human influence had not devastated this sanctuary, and my visit as a pagan Polytheist did not have a negative impact either. We could have our moment of harmony, respect the place in which we found ourselves, and then move back into our own spaces, perhaps a little more inspired by what we share.

*all images from The Grotto website, thegrotto.org

Interviews with Syren and Support-a-Priestess

I’ve participated in two interviews over the last month, and realized I should share them on my blogs. That’s a thing people do, right? Here you go.

Voices of the Sacred Feminine

I was on Voices of the Sacred Feminine with Rev. Dr. Karen Tate on September 23, 2015.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/voicesofthesacredfeminine/2015/09/24/tribute-to-shekhinah-mountainwater-with-syren

If clicking on the image above does not work, you can listen on the Blogtalk website here. This interview was audio only.

In this interview, I gave tribute to Shekhinah Mountainwater, discussing her life and work and what she meant to me as a woman and priestess. I shared about the creation of the Shekhinah Mountainwater Memorial Fund. We also delved into the political realm and discussed politics within Paganism, capitalism, and patriarchy. I shared about the other projects I am involved with, Gods&Radicals: A Beautiful Resistance and Many Gods West.

The interview was great fun and very interesting! Be sure to check out the vast library of archived interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine.

A Gathering of Priestesses

On October 21st I appeared on A Gathering of Priestesses with co-hosts Gloria Taylor Brown and Kathryn Ravenwood.

cd8e79291533620c10087ba75f759b83If the link in the image does not work, the interview is on YouTube.

This discussion was a bit more personal – we talked about what led me to the path of a priestess, what being a priestess means to me, and some of the work that I do. (Who can discuss all of the work that makes up their life in one interview?!) 🙂 We talked about the goals of the Shekhinah Mountainwater Memorial Fund, founding the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and how my role as a priestess intersects with my other projects.

I was feeling a bit under the weather, but the discussion was still full of laughs. Gloria refers to the YouTube channel as “Priestess On Demand“! She has featured some amazing women.

A Poignant Question

At the end of the interview, Gloria asked me how the community could support me – I do so much supporting others, how can I be supported?

Isn’t that the question! I didn’t have a response, though it is something that is continually on my mind. Much of the work I do is behind the scenes: birthing and nurturing projects and helping others address questions of structure and dynamics, or local community-based service to people and place. My work is quiet, radical, and essential. It is not flashy. It is not even that eloquent. It doesn’t earn me any name recognition (such as it is, within our communities). And it is still very hard and consumes untold hours of my time.

I’m currently taking a risk by choosing to be unemployed to continue pursuing my work. I’m dedicating more time to my writing and to supporting others. But as things stand right now, I’m not going to be able to do that for very long. I’ve considered the idea of crowdfunding and patronage, but there’s the catch. I currently have little to “offer” to patrons, no “collateral” to point to as evidence of my personal work and ambition, and am far too busy to begin amassing a portfolio.

I’m still wrestling with the question of how to support the work that I do. I am going to take one step forward, however. I’ve placed a PayPal button on this blog. If you feel called to drop in a tip in support of the work that I do, in and outside of this blog, I would be eternally grateful. I’ll contact you personally and offer a little something as a gift.

Until we can create a world that is out from other the thumb of capitalism, and in which all people receive an Unconditional Basic Income, we have to find ways to continue supporting one another and the work that we do. That is what I dedicate much of my time to. I hope you’ll consider supporting me in return.

Guidelines for Effective Meeting Facilitation

I’ve been attending many community meetings again recently, and it has reminded me that meeting facilitation is a skill to be learned, practiced, and perfected, like any other. Here are some guidelines for how to facilitate an effective meeting, gleaned from my own experiences and training during 10+ years in community organizing, spiritual service, and non-profit work.

Connecting_hands

You need a facilitator. No really.Many community based groups are non-hierarchal and function with shared power, and rightly so. Unfortunately I have seen meetings devolve into counter-productive chaos in an effort to avoid appearances of any one person being in charge. The purpose of skilled facilitator(s) is to help create and hold the space for the work of the group, so that the group can achieve its goal. It is a position of care, not authority.

Select a facilitator. This may be the person who organized the meeting, or the group could agree on a facilitator. You could also share the role – for example, having one person as a time keeper, one as a discussion guide, one who is responsible for keeping the group focused.

These are the essential responsibilities of the facilitator. A facilitator should have an understanding of group dynamics and feel comfortable pulling quieter individuals into conversation while also keeping the more talkative people in check so that they do not overrun the meeting. (How many meetings have you been to where one person took up the majority of the meeting and never really said anything of relevant importance? Yeah. We’ve all been there. That is an example of poor meeting facilitation.)

Set the goal of the meeting. Even if the purpose of the meeting is to socialize with the goal of networking, setting an intention is essential to a successful meeting. Not everyone will have the same goal in mind when coming to a meeting; even if it has been discussed prior, perspectives will differ. Establishing the goal at the beginning of the meeting will help make sure everyone is focused on the same thing. You can state the goal verbally or write it on a piece of paper and display it. Displaying the goal also gives the facilitator something to bring the group back to when the group begins to lose focus.

Create the framework. Once the goal is set, you want to establish how that goal will be accomplished within the context of the meeting. This includes setting an end time, discussing the activities that will occur, and reviewing the points of discussion. This process will help alleviate any lingering confusion. Depending upon your group, this may also be written down and displayed, or it can be a verbal process.

These steps are a part of building the container for the work, of establishing the focus and boundaries for the meeting so that participants are able to comfortably explore during discussion, feel valued, and leave with a sense of accomplishment. This does not have to take more than the first few minutes of the meeting. Think of the beginning of many wedding ceremonies “we are gathered here today to…” Gather everyone together, state the intended goal, go over what will happen, remind everyone what time the meeting should wrap, and then (if appropriate) ask if anyone has any brief points or questions to add. Then move into the meat of the meeting.

Check in/Introductions.Depending upon the size of the group and the familiarity of the individuals with each other, it is often helpful to do a brief check in and round of introductions. If the group is new, or if there are new people in attendance, doing brief introductions will lift comfort levels and give everyone a better idea of who is present and what perspectives they bring. The facilitator should give an example of what should be shared during the introduction, such as their name, what brought them to the meeting, what experience they have with the subject, and what they hope to accomplish, and reinforce that this is a brief introduction and should not take more than a minute per person.

If the group is familiar with one another, a brief check in will help everyone get settled, enhance group cohesion, and improve flow. Allow each person no more than a minute to say how they are feeling, what they want to accomplish during the meeting, and any questions they may have.

This period of the meeting does have the potential to go off-track rather quickly, so it takes a skilled facilitator to manage. Setting the guidelines and sticking to them, by reminding people to stay on track and within time limits will help. It is up to you whether to do this before the goal and framework is set or after, and will depend on your group. I have found it is more helpful for the flow of the meeting if it is done afterwards.

Some groups will pass around a stick, rock, or even a small hourglass (the minute kind from board games, for example) to facilitate the process. Whoever holds the item has the floor to speak and cannot be interrupted except to bring them on track and remind them of time limits.

Facilitate discussion.Now that the container has been created and everyone has been brought into the meeting during check in, the hard part of facilitation starts. In any group there will be a variety of personalities, experience, and comfort levels; managing that so that the meeting is effective and everyone feels like their time was well spent can be a challenge.
The role of the facilitator is to guide and encourage discussion, help people stay focused, and reign in tangents. A variety of skills will help you as a facilitator. A basic understanding of group dynamics, power dynamics, and individual psychology particularly as it relates to intro- and extra-version will go a long way. This will help you pick up on subtle energy shifts and notice when someone is on their way to dominating the discussion. Introverts are not necessarily shy, but they do take more time to process information, and thus are slower to respond. Extraverts are not always domineering, but they do like to process information out loud, and thus are often the big talkers.

A solid grounding in active listening is a great benefit to a meeting facilitator and will help to balance the needs of introverts and extraverts, who will both benefit from the practice. The facilitator can also help the talkative individual get to their point quickly, and then summarize their main point succinctly, thus giving the less talkative people an opportunity to process the main point and respond. It may be necessary to actively engage the quieter individuals. Putting people on the spot doesn’t always work, and I have had success with saying “I would like to give us a minute or two of quiet to reflect on what has been said. Then let’s hear from some people who haven’t spoken as much.” This brings some air into the conversation, puts the breaks on the overly talkative and allows space for the quiet individuals to be heard. (I am an introvert myself, can you tell?)

Some groups will pass around a stick, rock, or even a small hourglass (the minute kind from board games, for example) to facilitate the discussion. Whoever holds the item has the floor to speak and cannot be interrupted except to bring them on track and remind them of time limits. This can help balance out power dynamics, and give everyone an opportunity to speak, but it can also be a bit cumbersome. Try it out in your group and see if it works.

It may also be helpful to have someone who is not the facilitator take notes of key points brought up in discussion, so that they do not get lost. To wrap up the meeting, review the key points, give a few more minutes for discussion, and then decide on next steps. You should always end the meeting with a synthesis and “what’s next” so that people don’t leave wondering what was accomplished and what happens next. And of course, a big dose of appreciation all around for getting through the meeting, which hopefully was much more enjoyable for everyone with proper facilitation!

If you have any questions or would like some individualized help with developing your facilitation skills, or would like to discuss a group dynamic you are trying to manage, please do contact me!

Resources

Here is a great tip sheet from AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance)

Some thoughts on evaluation and roles from Training for Change