Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Spiritual teachers

I consider myself lucky to have had many spiritual teachers in my life so far. I joke that if it weren't for the Jews and the lesbians, I'd be nowhere, spiritually speaking. Most of my teachers have been Jewish, queer women, or both. Of course, there are the exceptions. The Lutheran pastors of my youth were straight, male, and, well, Lutheran midwesterners, of German or Scandinavian descent. Wonderful, compassionate men, they really were spiritual teachers. (Note to evangelical Christians: I'm not one of those alleged Pagans who was alienated from the church thanks to the failings of its people.) One of the finest teachers I've ever had was Lugh, who as far as I could ascertain was neither Jewish nor lesbian, those being human classifications, and he being a pit bull.

I live in a town with a sizable population of Tibetan Buddhists (both Tibetan and American, and many of the Americans are also, uh, Jewish). Thus Tibetan Buddhism has had a significant impact on my spiritual life. I began studying Buddhism, eclectically and largely on my own, around the time I turned 30 and was preparing for my Ph.D. qualifying exams, i.e., going through hell. I also began studying yoga, and the attendant Hinduism, while I was in graduate school, a few years before I commenced my study of Buddhism. Yoga renewed my spiritual alliance to my body, thus laying some of the groundwork for Wicca.

One of my current teachers is a white, Italian-American Buddhist who grew up working-class and Roman Catholic in the South, a very spiritual, feminist woman with a mouth on her like a sailor. Goddess bless America.

None of my "real life" spiritual teachers have been Wiccans or Pagans. I consider some Pagan writers also to be my teachers, Starhawk--yeah, Jewish--most notably among them, but those aren't people I have relationships with in my day-to-day life. I sometimes worry that as a young group of faiths, we lack spiritual depth or maturity--I'm not sure what the correct term is, and I'm not sure really how to express my point. I know Pagan writers whose thinking I admire, but where are our role models for spiritual maturity? I'm not saying they don't exist, just that I don't really know who they are. Some Pagan writers, a couple of decades older than I--people whose work, I stress, has been important to me--don't strike me as the kind of people I want to be. I'm not saying that a teacher has to be perfect at all. Indeed, I believe perfection is antithetical to any genuine spiritual path. But I want my teachers to have qualities that I admire and want to cultivate in myself. I want to see a journey that compels me to follow suit in my own way. I suspect that some of our finest spiritual role models aren't public figures, and that I just don't have the good fortune to know them.

I treasure my eclectic, syncretic, American spiritual upbringing, and I have a happy spiritual home in Wicca. I would like for some of my spiritual teachers or role models to have a room in that same home.

Who are your spiritual teachers and role models? Who are the people from your faith tradition whom you admire?


Lilly said...

I love how you can find different teachers everywhere.

Sia said...

Beautifully put! I really enjoyed this one.

I always tell people to look for someone who has what the kind of life, ethics and happiness they want and study them :-) It's something we tell people to do in recovery and it's very useful.

Who do I admire from my own faith? Very few, I'm afraid. So many of us are Lost Children. Modern Paganism is, in many ways, still very much an teenager emotionally: Good hearted, rebellious, angry, impulsive, creative, energetic and prone to making poor decisions, trusting the wrong people and often getting hurt. But that's changing, I think, and it's for the better, too.

I admire Anne Hill tremendously. I've known her for over a decade now, and I've never known her to do a mean or petty thing. She is wise, patient, kind and open to learning every day. She is also a great mom and a good friend. And, she is a grown-up, which is to say that she handles her life in a competent manner, and still finds time to play, sing, dance and walk her dog.

I also admire Snakemoon, and for the very same reasons. Go read her writing at The Witches' Voice and you'll see what I mean.

Both women are great writers and both are great readers, too, and this gives them a wider range of experience then the Pagans who simply read in a narrow and specialized realm of thought.

I also admire two Pagans you'll never hear about. Both are Green Witches and great Moms, and they quietly do good work in their own towns.

Like you, I come from a very eclectic background. There is wisdom in every corner of the world and I don't want to miss any of it because of labels. I've trained in a number of different traditions in order to get the skills and insights you can only get from a certain sort of dedication given over time, but I remain open to the wisdom I find everywhere, including the wisdom I find among my progressive Christan friends.

Your essay begs a question: What sort of person do you want to be, then? And who among the people you meet has those qualities?

Happy Spring,


Morninghawk Apollo said...

I agree with you in that modern Paganism and Wicca does lack the spiritual depth and maturity found in many places in older religions.

That is not to say that this makes it invalid as a religion, but that we need to seek out its depth. Much has been lost in 2000 years that needs to be rediscovered. And there are many ways that we will gain more spiritual depth than our ancestors had, due to the nature of spiritual progression.

There are many "children" and "teenagers" in our ranks due to this newness of the religion. We are still trying out the extremes of what we think can be done (as Icarus did). We are also still dealing with the rebellion against the establishment.

Over time, I'm sure that many of us will spiritually develop and mature enough to truly earn the title "Elder," which is what I consider as being a spiritual teacher and role model.

Also, keep in mind that we are all human, including our spiritual teachers. This means that they all have failings and should not be seen as perfect.

As far as my spiritual teachers go, they are few. My biggest human teacher is my church superior, Lord Moonraven. My wife is also a spiritual teacher, as she gives me insight into things I hadn't previously seen.

The biggest spiritual teachers for me are the Gods themselves, as I speak with Them daily and listen to Their wise counsel.

Thanks for the great post.

Inanna said...

Sia, I like the comparison of Paganism to an adolescent; that makes a lot of sense to me. Alice Walker says something in "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens" about having ourselves to be the elders we long for. I want to grow into the kind of elder I now long for, and I think it will take a whole post to respond to your question about what kind of person I want to be. I will answer your question; I've been mulling it over for several days.

Inanna said...

Morninghawk, thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. I like this especially: that is not to say that this makes it invalid as a religion, but that we need to seek out its depth.

I used to worry that Wicca (and other forms of Paganism) wasn't a "path with heart," that it couldn't speak either to the deepest or the most scared parts of us. My own experience, more than anything, has taught me otherwise. I trust that this path is sacred and speaks to the deepest parts of ourselves; that it can offer compassion, kindness, solace, and healing. But there are still many riches to bring into the light.

I have to remind myself that even though I'm a writer and someone enchanted with ideas, much of the richness in spiritual practice comes from just that, practice, and that intellect by itself can't get me, well, anywhere.