Do not stop your devotions
Over and over again, I see the same pattern being described on the blogs of various pagans – something bad (or even something good!) happens in their lives, and they let go of most or all of their spiritual practices. They lose a job, get married, fall sick, or just get busy, and the first things to suffer are their devotional relationships and religious obligations. They even see this happening, but often as not they excuse it (rather than trying to fight it) – after all, who could blame them if these big life changes kept them distracted?
Now, the first problem with this is that it is evidence of a certain internal prioritization that I find sadly common amongst even supposedly super-committed pagans – religion is separated from “life” and not valued as highly as “life stuff” like relationships, career, etc. Of course, when “life stuff” gets in the way, religion is going to take a backseat, right? But it doesn’t have to be like that. One can choose to make religion a priority, just as important or more so than any of life’s ups and downs.
But the more practical problem with this is the direct consequences of shelving one’s spiritual practice. Because in almost every single case, after the statement about how their practices slipped or ceased, there is a follow-up complaint that they no longer feel very connected to their gods, their faith is suffering, etc. Do you think there might be a connection?
Sure, it might seem understandable that when feeling overwhelmed or in crisis, one might let go of a part of one’s life that doesn’t seem immediately urgent – the gods are always there, after all, and will be when the crisis is over. But not only is it extremely rude to neglect Them when it becomes difficult to do your practices (and less likely that They’ll come through with assistance if you’re not maintaining reciprocity), it is almost guaranteed to dig you even deeper into the pit you’re already in, emotionally and spiritually speaking. Because having that kind of powerful connection to the divine requires consistent work. Like muscles that atrophy without exercise, your sense of closeness with the gods will weaken the longer you starve it. And then it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle – you feel bad or guilty or empty so you shy away from approaching Them, and that absence (you from Them, not Them from you) only serves to make the bad feelings worse as time goes on.
This pattern can be amazingly insidious, too, even if you think you are on guard against it. Let me share an example from my own life. Recently, I have experienced some fairly major transitions in my life, including at least one of the categories of common “life stuff” as I put it. I have struggled throughout to not let this distract me from my purpose – not to ignore the changes, not to compartmentalize them as outside of my spiritual life (because nothing is outside of my spiritual life), but to integrate them fully and keep taking all the powerful emotions they engender and turning those over to my gods and spirits, again and again. This is a long and difficult process, and I’m certainly not perfect at it, but I’m trying. I thought I was doing pretty well.
But, something else happened at the same time. I had initially put a hold on a few specific practices because, as things were transitioning for me spiritually, I was unsure if those practices were still relevant. I was getting some messages that I needed to shift my focus, and I always try to heed those. But I went too far, because I didn’t pay enough attention to the process of evaluating and possibly altering or even replacing those practices – I just put them on hold and let myself get a bit distracted. And I felt it. I’ve spent the past couple weeks pretty depressed. Now, there were a lot of factors involved in this, including the fact that I usually suffer in some way for much of January – for myriad reasons it is a difficult month for me. But one of the contributing factors was most definitely that I had given myself too many easy excuses to just drop these things and not try at all. Not surprisingly, as I sunk deeper, I felt more disconnected, less interested in even trying, certain I would just fail, etc.
Yesterday, I got my ass to the woods finally to experiment a little. There weren’t any fireworks, it wasn’t some deep intense ritual. I just took the very first steps in trying to figure out the new direction a certain practice would be taking. But it made a huge difference. I immediately felt not only more connected and overall emotionally in better spirits, but I felt more capable of taking the next step, and the next. And this is how one climbs out of the pit.
We’re a pretty new (in a way) set of religions here, and we haven’t had centuries to talk about things like the “dark night of the soul” that most Christians know about. So here’s my little contribution. When crisis – or even celebration – hits your life, DO NOT STOP YOUR DEVOTIONS. In fact, if possible, double up on them, because it will help you more than anything, and because the gods deserve our attention and love all the time, not just when we have nothing else occupying our minds.