I used to be "one of those Pagans". You know the ones: Any mention of the "G word", and they bristle, get on their soapbox, or withdraw. "It's not a monotheistic world," they cry out! "There's more than one religion! Why does one religion get to dominate everything!" ...And so on. Yes. That used to be me, too. Then, I got a little older and a lot wiser, and I decided to work on deepening my relationship with the Creator.
As I have walked my Path, the words have become less and less important to me. Now, I look at intent. Instead of stiffening up or bristling or hurrying my pace when someone says, "God bless you" or "May I pray for you" or anything of that nature, I drop into my Heart center, and I open to the message behind the words, and you know what? It feels good! I have learned, in letting down my defenses, that most people are good and have only good intentions. Most people simply yearn to connect, even if they believe differently and don't understand my own way of believing. Most people just want everything to be OK and to feel safe and not alone.
You see, no one owns "god". No one gets to own that word, but more importantly, no one gets to own that essence. We may all embody it, and we may all seek to find and connect with it ("we all", of course, applies to those who believe in deity. I am not trying to speak for atheists or imply that "even an atheist will find god", because I respect the beliefs of atheists, too.) "God" doesn't belong to just one person or just one group of people. The limitless, dark vastness that underlies all belongs to all of us who seek it. We all have different beliefs, and I believe that we are all correct. We are all simply speaking to "god" in different ways.
I don't believe that anyone needs to be "saved", because I don't believe that anyone is lost. We are all here, in this time, in this place, for different reasons. We have different lessons to learn, and we learn them in different ways and in our own time. Some people will cause harm, which sucks, and many people will do good. Some people will do nothing, by which I mean that for some people, the job this time around is to observe and to learn. The good or not-good will come later. It's all OK. I truly believe the Universe, the Creator, knows what It is doing, and I trust It. I trust It.
It is once you trust in the Creator, truly and deeply, that your defenses drop and other people's beliefs stop feeling oppressive or offensive or threatening. Once you trust (Trust), you just know that you are OK. You also know when someone truly means you ill, and you find that, as awful as it feels when someone seeks to actively harm you, you have the inner resources to take care of and protect yourself.
I don't generally acknowledge American Thanksgiving. I actually find it kind of offensive; however, I do get together with my family, because it's what we do here in the US, and that day is about family. This year at one of our parties, my family members chose to say two Christian prayers (different denominations). I did not bow out. I chose to be a part of the group, even though I believe differently. I did not feel in any way unsafe, spiritually. I simply opened myself to the intent behind the prayers. I bonded with my family. I did not burst into flames.
Do I wish that the larger culture was more open to and accepting of my own way of believing? Absolutely; however, we can't get there if we block out that culture or withdraw from it. Some of the deepest healing happens in the spaces between the world of the Craft and the greater culture. Some of the most painful things can happen there, too, but that is why we shield. Would I have liked to offer my own prayer at the family dinner? Sure, I would have, but I know that people are not ready for that. All I can do is be open and accepting and hope that other people will learn to be, as well. I will admit, too, that it still annoys me that I don't feel safe being openly Wiccan, but I know that our time will come.
If you are someone who finds yourself bristling in the way I described at the opening of this post, try stepping away to a quiet spot. Breathe. Ground. Make a connection with your own Deity. Once you feel calmer, try just opening yourself to what's behind the words that have been said to you. If it truly does not feel sincere, then simply move on. I'll bet you, though, that more times than not, you will find a little bit of love and connection there.
Photo credit: Jennifer L. Moore. Date unknown, taken with a cell phone in Maryland.