Sometimes, faith seems almost like a dirty word in Paganism, steeped in too much Christo-centric history to be worthwhile. It’s paired, somehow, with notions of gods who chase – even abuse – their devotees, demanding worship. It’s associated with being anti-science, of convincing oneself of beliefs that aren’t upheld by experience.
Now, ironically, one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard to describe my sense of faith – in my spiritual experiences, in the Divine Mystery, in the Spirits I Serve, and in the other spirits who might work with or call us – was by Mark Hanson, the head of the Lutheran church in the United States. He said: “I am a passionate doubter who never loses his faith.” I think this is many of us in Paganism, as well.
We doubt our experiences. We are skeptical of the gods. We ponder whether the ancestors are truly at work in our lives. But we choose to have faith. Faith is choosing to pour out an offering, even when we’re not sure if a being receives it. Faith is blessing our ancestors, even when we can’t feel their presence. Faith is holding our minds and hearts and lives, outstretched, toward a Divine that we can’t fully know and are almost certainly not going to understand.
It’s hard to explain faith to someone who simply doesn’t operate that way. For those who feel faith is fool-hardy – at best a waste of time – it is nearly impossible to describe the call to persevere through doubt, through periods of divine silence, through internal resistance to return, again and again, to the meditation cushion, the altar, the work of being willing to listen even when there is no message given in return.
But it’s worthwhile to me, and perhaps to some of you. At the heart of what I would consider my magic, my effort to change myself and the world, are simple acts of faith – the belief that facing my inner resistance and doubt is life-changing.
Because, as a Druid, I live in a many-spirited world, my faith is directed toward many different beings whom I respect and love, and with whom I seek to work. Faith in my own sacred experience of spirits of place, tree spirits, animal spirits, and elementals leads me to love nature and protect it not only for my own sustainment, but because all these beings have rights, soul-callings, feelings, and desires of their own. Even when it is less apparent and harder to feel their personhood and presence, like when I first moved to Los Angeles and the hum of humans drowned out the quieter pulse of natural life, I can choose to sit in silence and offer my attention – again and again – toward the spirits of nature. Because it is good for my soul, no matter how distant or quiet they seem to be.
Faith is choosing to think there is a connection between my ancestors and I, a thread that enables me not only to honor those worthy of honor, but to lend healing to those who are still wandering in a dark night of the soul. This thread offers a deeper sense of my entwinement with the past, even the parts that are painful. It brings more abstract concepts like white privilege into a living connection with injustice and those ancestors who did not behave in ways that were kind, loving, or honorable – those who were abusive, who owned slaves, who discriminated against others. But it doesn’t mean they’re demons. It means they’re sick and in need of healing; they’re lost and in need of direction. And magic happens when I choose to believe I can stand in a liminal space between past and present, between underworld and this world, and do workings to lead them to wholeness and rightness.
Faith is offering my life to the Divine Mystery, even if I don’t understand it. It’s choosing to trust the liberation I’ve felt over the years that arises from a willingness to be more disciplined and devoted. It’s side-stepping the debates about the “realness” of the gods and the Spirits I Serve, and instead sitting before Them in silence – choosing to focus on the ways in which my life is changing as a result of this work, rather than the ways in which my intellect can pick apart my own lived experience.
As a Pagan, I don’t seek to convince or to convert others. The Spirits choose their own. There is no hell that any of my gods or Beloved Spirits will cast the unbelievers. At the same time, humans are hard-wired for community, and it can help when we commune with others who share valuing devotion, discipline, and faith. For those who don’t “work” that way: perhaps your soul’s work is different from mine. For those who do: may we be passionate doubters who never lose our faith.