It’s the second month of the Animist Blog Carnival and this month its the turn of Post Pagan Blog to host it. The theme for this month is Ceremony and Community and so I have chosen to write a post about the importance of community to our spiritual, emotional and economic lives as animists and as humans.
Humans are social creatures, of that there is no doubt. Some of us, like myself, may be introverts and may need times of solitude to help us “recharge our batteries,” but ultimately I don’t think we can live our entire lives alone and without contact with other people….or at least not without losing some part of ourselves. The South Africans have a word for this – “Ubuntu” which means “I am what I am because of who we all are.” We only become who we fully can be, we only become fully human, because of others. We cannot do it alone. We are not atomistic individuals, existing independently and in isolation from all others, we are part of an interconnected web of life. When others are diminished or oppressed, we are part of that whole and so we are diminished too. We are connected and need to start seeing ourselves in this way.
As Naturalistic Pantheists and Pagans, as Animists, we take this philosophy one step further and remember that every life form is a person with dignity, everything experiences, and everything is part of our community. Every tree in our street, every rat in our sewers, every bird in our parks, every insect on our flowers, every micro-organism in the soil, every living thing, and perhaps things that aren’t living, are part of the community we call the web of life. We are part of this community too. So when we talk about helping and serving our communities, as the ancient Druids did, we mean not just other human persons, but the non human people too.
Consider our bodies – they are communities – of organs, cells, bacteria, blood, bones e.t.c. We are living things made of of a whole universe of living things within us. And every cell within us is made up of countless parts working in community. Community is all around us and within us. I love the words of the Christian Saint Paul who says –
“As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body…the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?…If they were all one part, where would the body be?…The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honourable we surround with greater honour, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety….If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy.” (1 Corinthians 12)
We all have a role to play and we all have a duty to look after every part – of our bodies and of our communities. If one part of community doesn’t contribute then it all falls, if one part of our body is unhealthy then all parts become ill and it can infect other parts. We are part of communities and we have responsibilities towards those communities, whether that’s standing up for those oppressed and fighting injustice, giving to those who have less than us through taxes and charity, or making sure that we treat every person, both human and non human, with the respect they deserve.
I have already created a section on how Naturalistic Pantheists can create community gatherings and how they might work here. One of the biggest things I miss since I left Christianity is that sense of being part of a spiritual community. We may like to think we are better off on our own but in my personal experience, individualistic spirituality tends to be shallow and cold. I believe we need community, even if we are not 100% in agreement with everything that community stands for.
Community brings us accountability and standards so we are less likely to “slack off” in our spiritual pursuits. It gives us structure and a tried and tested way for connecting with the wonder and awe, the divinity, in life. It gives us fresh new perspectives, teaches us tolerance, humility and compromise as we realise that others have different views on issues and we have to get along. It gives us chances to express, and test, whether we are living up to the virtues we set for ourselves. It allows us to develop new friendships and relationships with those who share similar interests. Finally, it gives us a place to share our needs and our difficulties, and to receive help and guidance as we walk our path.
I recently decided to join the Druid group ADF and to take their Dedicant Path course. I may not believe in supernatural gods and spirits and may interpret things differently to them, but I am finding the structure, community and knowledge I gain from it to be helping significantly in my own path. I am also going to start going along to the local monthly pagan group meet up in my area for more personal contact with others who share the same interests in spirituality from a nature-respecting perspective.
How about you? Is community important to your spiritual life? How do you engage in spiritual community?