May 2nd, 2010


Reviewing the CTP, Discipline, and Other Thoughts

As of May 1, I was officially charged with reviewing the current ADF Clergy Training Program. This coincides nicely with my submission of the final course in the current program (still pending review/approval).

There are a couple of specific problems that I've been asked to make recommendations regarding the following particular issues:
  • Priests do not have a "complete" set of skills until the end of the Third Circle, leading to the consecration of Priests who may or may not be ready for the full range of services required of them.
  • Appearance of the CTP as a "logical next step" in training beyond the ADF Dedicant Path
  • The CTP may lack the balance of other priestly training programs
  • Ethics and law training occur too late in the current system
  • If a "complete Priest" can be developed by the end of First Circle, we no longer need to push people through all three Circles at the expense of other commitments within ADF (or outside of ADF).
And a few other issues.

One particular area I am currently focusing on is the division of courses. Most priestly training involves three basic "types" of training:
  1. Practical – what is said and done during ritual
  2. Theoretical – the reasoning behind these things said and things done
  3. Discipline – those regimes of physical or spiritual self-cultivation that increase the effectiveness of the practice.¹
ADF has both practicum and theoretics (though more theoretics couldn't hurt), but no discipline requirements. To be more specific, a spiritual discipline needs to serve an unselfish goal, such as the control of the self and dedication of the Priest's personal identity to a power or cause beyond him- or herself. While all will gain benefit from engaging in discipline, be they Priest or layperson, the Priest engages in it because his or her work in this benefits others in some way.

Part of what we will need to answer is what this last piece means to us. Common types of "discipline" in other religions that priests are expected to engage in are "remaining pure" (which can mean many different things to different religions, from having hands without deformity to bathing before ritual to observing certain periods of abstention from ritual after sexual intercourse), celibacy (mostly among Manichaean-influenced religions), and regular prayer and/or meditation. These are, of course, just examples from other religions: I doubt that our membership would even want celibate priests. Still, it's worth mentioning as an example.

As I think about what it means to be an ADF Priest, I know that it involves discipline: there is the keeping of the 8 High Days, the Clergy Order Work, the devotionals we do daily or weekly, and other things that set us apart as a result of our piety. . . and all of them are things that people outside the Priesthood are already likely to engage in, but they are also things that (even though we've never said, "All our Priests do X, Y, and Z") our membership pretty explicitly expects of us. The creation of basic disciplinary requirements for Priests of each grade would go a long way toward consolidating our experience and providing us with a more coherent notion of Priesthood. Additionally, as a student advances within the training, the discipline level can increase, giving an advantage of time to those who do not advance in the Circle system and an advantage of deeper spiritual training to those who do.

It would also give us a chance to be specific about the skillset that we require: the DP, for example, requires only "grounding and centering," and we can require our Priests to have strong experience with the Two Powers by requiring disciplinary practice in that. We might require our Priests to have a "Fire, Well, Tree" altar or keep their altar in a specific configuration. These are just random, pulled-from-the-hat examples.

One thing that I expect to seriously consider is some way to improve overall health of our Priests, such as regular physical exercise of some sort. In the words of Jimmy Buffett, "I treat my body like a temple, you treat yours like a tent." If we recognize that the divine is, in any way, indwelling, then we should treat our bodies well. Because someone may ask, I wouldn't make this suggestion to "slim down" our clergy (again, the primary benefit should not be for the Priest him- or herself), but just because there's some theological reasoning behind providing a healthy temple for the seat of the self, and requiring some sort of physical exercise (within limits of what's medically appropriate, of course) can help contribute to that. A taboo against red meat or standing too close to nuclear reactors might accomplish the same sort of thing, though.

Anyway, "discipline" is about placing the needs of the Folk above the needs of the Priest engaging in disciplinary practices. The Priest meditates regularly so that he can lead others in meditation, not because he derives tranquility from it. The Priest kindles a fire each morning so that she may kindle the fire correctly at her Grove's rite, not to keep herself warm. The Priest reads the Rgveda or Havamal daily not to gain knowledge of the contents, but to speak those verses when there are no words for other things. A lot of this is still percolating, and I suspect that I will only offer some minor recommendations regarding discipline that don't put too much of a burden on our membership, but I know that I will recommend some form of discipline that will be a "baseline" for our Dedicant Priests and all students within the CTP.

Keep an eye here: I have begun my own disciplinary practices (since I can't prescribe any without trying them out), and will have more information about things I've tried soon. So far, it's a shift in my devotional schedule, an addition of regular exercise, and a couple of other things. It's a bit painful to try and jump-start practice like this, but it hurts in a good way. :)

¹ - Oxtoby, Willard G. "Priesthood: An Overview." Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 11. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 7394-7399. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 May 2010.