Learning in Adversity
How many of us have wished for a life that flowed smoothly, with no adversity? At one time, I said a daily affirmation that asked for a life, “safe, secure and perfectly smooth.” When I look back at my life, it is clear that I learned more during the rough times than the smooth ones.
While it is certainly less stressful when our lives are running smoothly, we also tend to become complacent, taking things for granted, and may even get lazy. How many know Christians who attend church, read the Bible, or pray only when they or someone close to them are facing some crisis? I’ve been as guilty as some other Pagans in being far more likely to work ritual and magick when faced with stress or an urgent need. It is my opinion that this is just human nature, but we can use it to our advantage to focus on our spirituality.
If you become more spiritual in trying times, think about why this happens. Does your faith sustain you at this time? Do you feel that the gods are helping and protecting you? Is the experience teaching you a spiritual lesson? Does it cause you to turn to others who share your beliefs for comfort and/or requests for magickal assistance? There is no reason for any of these to be restricted to times of trial; they can benefit all of us in good times as well as bad.
The loss of someone close to you is one of the most tragic experiences that a person can endure. Some people lose their faith to their grief while others find that it sustains them when they feel that they just can’t go on. I lost my 17 year old son in a drowning accident in 2005. He was a spiritual seeker and we discussed Wicca/Paganism along with many other topics. After such a loss, you can give up and die inside or find the strength to keep living. Less than a year later, his mother and I filed for divorce. She gave up and died three years after him, while I met a lady who brought love and joy for living to my daughter and I. While his mother and I were driving to the spot on the Sandusky River where he was last seen, I had a vision. In my mind’s eye, I saw a brilliant white light that would have blinded me on the physical plane. Out of the light, I felt a sense of great wisdom, perfect love and compassion. I heard a woman’s voice speaking firmly but with compassion, saying, “It’s OK, he’s with Me now.” Then, it faded away and I knew that the Goddess had spoken to me, letting me know that my son had crossed over. I had a similar experience in December 1984 when my grandmother was taken to the hospital following a heart attack, except the voice was male. When my grief attacked my faith and I asked, “How could a just and loving god(dess) allow this to happen?” I recalled the visions and remembered how the Lady and Lord spoke to me when I lost two people so close to me.
A common obstacle among Pagans, especially youth, is having to hide their beliefs and practice in secret. Some parents of young Pagans are understanding, accommodating and may even take the time to learn something about it themselves. However, others forbid their children from following this path out of fear or misunderstanding. I have read stories of youth who even in the face of parental opposition, found a way to learn and practice. While I’m not advocating children defying their parents, this is an example of how adversity can make someone stronger in their faith and more determined to follow it.
I became Wiccan 15 years ago at age 33, but did not tell my first wife about it for ten years, which was a mistake. Even though she thought it was “superstitious hooey”, she was upset that I hid something so important to me. I was creative in finding ways to study and practice and once I was “out” to her, I slackened in my studies. My second wife knew up front about my beliefs and found it was something that intrigued her. She encourages me to learn, practice and seek out like minded people. After a period where I was hit or miss, I took my path seriously again and attended two Pagan picnics in Indianapolis, one of them with her. I wonder if it is just something in human nature that makes us more determined to do something when we are forbidden to do it, or at least think we are, than when we are given the green light to do it?
Pagans in prison definitely face obstacles, but are usually quite determined to learn and practice. While by law they have the same freedom of religion as any other prisoner, getting that freedom is quite another matter. I have read and heard news reports criticizing efforts to accommodate Pagan prisoners and know that Pagan clergy have faced obstacles and outright opposition in efforts to be prison chaplains. There are safety concerns which cause items we take for granted such as an athame, wand, or candles to be prohibited to inmates. It is difficult for them to obtain Pagan books and magazines and a lot of people are reluctant to donate items to prisoners or correspond with them. About nine years ago, I had the opportunity to be a pen pal to a Pagan prisoner in California and found it to be an educational and rewarding exchange. He was appreciative that someone on the “outside” took an interest in him and explained to me the difficulties in being allowed to participate in ritual with other prisoners as well as the way they improvised replacements for banned items. He told me how they were petitioning the Board of Prisons to allow Patrick McCollum to visit as a chaplain and later told me what a enthusiastic reception McCollum received once this request was granted. We intelligently discussed topics related to our spirituality as well as his plans for a productive life once he was released. The last letter I received from him came from a halfway house where he was out of prison but not yet released to freedom. I certainly hope that freedom was the new life he so looked forward to. Besides wanting a second chance at life, he always struck me as someone who was serious about his spirituality and determined not to let anything keep him from it. He certainly found a way in the face of adversity that most of us can only imagine.
If spirituality was something that occurred only during the good times, anyone could do it. It is in the face of challenges that we show our true determination and in most of us they inspire us to take our faith more seriously and be more dedicated to it. Adversity is a powerful teacher and motivator and in my opinion we should try just as hard in the easy times as the hard ones to get the most out of our spiritual path.