Now, I don't have the whole thing memorized. I don't know it well enough to brave a rite without my script (well, I probably do, but I'm a chickenshit here). But I know certain parts of it well enough to get by.
Today's recitation was the standard liturgical calling to the deities.
cascaded from my lips. . . And then I came to an uncharacteristic stop.
"Hear us," I repeated. I puzzled for a moment, completely stopped in my tracks.
Someone ran into my back, mumbled, "Excuse me" and wandered around to my left. "Hear us," I responded, still lost in thought.
"Hear us?" I suddenly asked. "Wait, who's 'us'?"
Yes, it seems that I have ceased to think about my relationship with deity on a purely solitary level. My own religion, I realized, is tied to my Grove, and also to the community around me.
This is certainly not a bad thing. I've put so much into the Grove (and, by extension, ADF) that I now fully identify my religion as community-based.
Part of this (actually, perhaps all of it) is a direct respose to ADF's commitment to open, public worship. ADF's purpose, and a large chunk of its vision, is to provide that kind of worship, regardless of the affiliation of various attendees to their rituals. If someone comes to any Grove rite, unless they've been disruptive to my rituals before, they're welcome to worship with us. We've never yet asked anyone not to come, and I don't forsee us doing that in the near future. If someone wants to worship the deities, they can come do that, regardless of any personal difference I might have with them. It's simply not about me.
This doesn't mean I've left personal religion and devotion by the wayside, though. In fact, my personal devotion is still very strong; it's just changed its form in the past few years.
In private worship, I have one-on-one conversations. I speak directly to the Gods, and they to me. The modes of worship are, perhaps, less flashy, the evocations less verbose; even here, though, my worship has a community aspect.
In my personal rites, I rarely ask things for myself beyond generic blessings and the strength to act correctly in this world/reality. Instead, I keep a list. Sometimes, this list is mental, sometimes it's physical, but it includes people I want to remember and request blessings for.
Often, I'm not running around telling people, "Oh, I'm praying for you, you know!" It's not quite what I'm doing, really, anyway. Rather, if someone seems like they need some blessings to flow their way, I add them to my list. Most of the time, I only tell people that I'm thinking about them during my devotions if they come out and ask me for prayers. I let them know then because really, that's half the reason people ask: they want to be told that someone cares. There's nothing wrong with that, and I try to oblige.
So even my personal rites deal directly with my community, family, and friends. It's not selfless -- indeed, remembering the community and our friends and family is very self-serving, as these connections make up our lives -- but it is a major part of my worship.
So this statement of "hear us" when I was the only person speaking drew me to thinking about these particular aspects of my worship.
Some of you might recall that about six months ago I was struggling with the idea of applying for clergy status within ADF. I'm still not sure I'm ready, and my journals (which will be available for reading around Lughnassadh; this is actually yesterday's entry) are helping, but sometimes they confuse me even more.
That statement, though, brought me up so short because it caused me to suddenly realise why I'm doing this. It's not because I want a title. It's not because I want to be respected or have people impressed by my learning. It's not even because I'd get to be on the Clergy Council email list (which is closed to me). It's because I have a real devotion to my community, and I care about it. I put it first.
To me, religion isn't about who can rack up titles, or who can get to the best destination the fastest. It's about getting there together, and just trying to help others along the way.
So, indeed, "hear us, O Eldest and Brightest!" We are your children, and we don't play games. We desire your blessings, and we will gladly set aside our differences for you. We worship as one, because that is what you truly want: a community that believes, gets along, and helps anyone who falls down get back on their feet.
The question of clergy is by no means resolved for me, but this step has certainly cleared up much.