Posted Under Paganism & Witchcraft

Daily Devotions (or, What We Would Do Well to Learn from Others)

Pagan prayer

Take a moment and think about the last time you honored the Divine. When was it? A week ago? A month ago? A year ago? I'e always thought, and I'm sure I'm not alone here, that to be a magical or spiritual person in the truest sense is to be tapped into the Divine energies of the universe at all times, and not just now and then when you bother to set up a circle or go to a ritual. When you are in touch with these energies constantly, you begin to see patterns emerging—synchronicities occur around every corner, and the way in which everything is connected to everything else becomes apparent. In this state you don't have to "work" magic, you are magic.

I don't know about you, but I can't say that I've achieved that state in my daily life quite yet. I've had glimpses of it, I know it's something I aspire to, but I'm not quite there. Like all things in life worth doing, reaching that state of divine connection is something that requires a certain investment of time, work, and discipline, but once you've gotten there, the rest will seem effortless. Perhaps the very best way to go about this is to develop a daily devotional practice. Dianne Sylvan, in her remarkable book The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition, beautifully touches upon the importance of this. And, in doing so, she also touches upon the fact that sometimes we need to look outside our tradition in order to better live it.

It isn't enough to be a Wiccan on full moons or Sabbats. No one ever became fluent in a new language by using it once a month. The best way is to surround yourself with the lesson; to speak Wiccan from dawn to dusk until it becomes your nature.

One oft-overlooked remedy for our modern dilemma is the ancient tradition of a daily personal practice. In every religion the world over there are people who take the devotional path, giving over large parts of their day to ritual, prayer, and communion with whatever face God wears for them. The dictionary definition of the word devotion is to give wholeheartedly to something. Given the Wiccan view of the universe as a place of cause and effect, it would follow that the more you devote to your sense of the Divine, the more the Divine will devote to you. If our goal as Wiccans is to turn our belief in the God and Goddess into reality, immersing ourselves in our relationship with Them is the surest way to turn our belief into knowledge.

How do I know this? My life is every bit as hectic and the city I live in every bit as toxic as most people's. I haven't reached some blissful state of spiritual perfection, but I have seen its nearest neighbor in people I have encountered over the years, and I have begun to learn from their success.

The first group I noticed whose religion and life were as one were Catholic nuns who worked in the hospital where I was a secretary at the age of twenty-two. There were several elderly Sisters who tended to the patients' spiritual needs, and in a building full of trauma and pain they were always calm, gracious, and quick to smile. They moved with quiet surety through the halls, their voices gentle and almost musical. Speaking to any of the Sisters gave my spirits a lift, which was vital given how much I hated the job.

I had to wonder, though, what got them through? They saw the worst of humanity in an endless parade of communicable diseases and gunshot wounds, yet maintained their sense of grace. I had to know if they could still smile when they got home at night, or if it took all their strength just to stay human in such a place.

Finally I asked one of the nuns how she dealt with such a stressful workplace. She smiled at me rather beatifically and told me that when she got up in the morning she prayed. At breakfast, lunch, and dinner she prayed. At bedtime she prayed, and a dozen other moments in between, keeping in constant, loving dialogue with God. The nuns didn't just believe the tenets of their faith, they lived them from morning until night.

I couldn't help but be impressed, as well as feel a little sheepish. I had tried for a long time to tell myself that there was nothing that I could learn from Christians; that their narrow-mindedness was the reason the world was going to their hell in a handbasket. In other words, I'd been as narrow as I thought they were. It was what some of my Pagan contemporaries call a "cosmic two-by-four"—a whop in the head from the gods when you've been an idiot.

The idea of daily practice, however, stuck with me long after I had taken the lesson of tolerance to heart. I started to ask around among my Pagan friends, finding out to my chagrin that, for the most part, they were bereft of any sort of personal daily rituals beyond a few minutes of meditation. Life was simply too busy, they said, to do half the things they wanted to stay in touch with the God and Goddess.

That led me to wonder whether a life too busy for our deepest beliefs is really much of a life at all.

After hunting down a number of books on the monastic life, I discovered that in the arena of personal practice, the humble monks and nuns had us beat. Naturally it's easier to devote your entire life to God if you live in an abbey, where the environment exists to support your religious quest. Yet despite the inherent differences between monastic and lay lives, there are valuable lessons to be found from these little communities, regardless of creed or location.

Buddhist monks—and, indeed, a great number of Buddhists in the larger world—have similar practices to the Catholics. They move in a rhythm of mindfulness and meditation throughout the day, even using housework as an opportunity to meditate on the wonder of the present moment. To a Buddhist, every action is a chance to learn and grow spiritually. As a result, the Buddhist reaches a state of emotional equilibrium where stress and angst have only a fleeting place in the course of the day.

The Sufi dervishes, who practice a form of Islamic mysticism, integrate their prayer and liturgy with dance, music and the well-known "whirling" that helps the practitioner reach Allah. The poet Rumi, credited with founding Sufism as a sect, frequently referred to God as "the Beloved."

Meanwhile, Westerners run around with cellular phones plastered to their heads shrieking at each other in traffic and having heart attacks on an alarmingly regular basis.


Even among laypeople, Christians and Jews appear to have an easier time integrating their spiritual lives with their daily ones, perhaps because so many people have given it so much thought. Those who want to become more spiritually attuned in mainstream religions have dozens of resources at their fingertips.

Take, for example, the recent "What Would Jesus Do?" phenomenon. It may seem like more of a marketing ploy than a religious precept, but if you look past the merchandise and into a less cynical view, it is an excellent way to integrate faith and the mundane world. Taken at face value it is a profound question. How would a deity act in this situation? What would he say? Are my own actions following my religious ideal?

Books abound on Christian and Jewish daily prayer; there are plenty of devotionals, calendars, and classes on living a prayerful life. In this way, Pagans are at a decided disadvantage. Perhaps we simply haven't given it enough thought. We learn from the outset that we are not separate from Deity, that the whole world is God and Goddess, but what do we do with that belief? How does that belief translate into direct experience in day-to-day life?

I have known a handful of Wiccans who managed to develop an integrated magical/mundane existence, and the effect is amazing. These are the truly powerful Wiccans, the ones whose every word resonates with Divinity. Their lives run more smoothly, more peacefully, and when disaster strikes, it seems to flow through them like water. The source? Daily practice, a devotional life.

Like Sylvan, I find much of my inspiration in people who practice traditions other than my own. The two individuals I take most of my spiritual notes from are my Catholic parents. They find as much spiritual communion in their backyard as in any church, and they are often found ministering amongst the lost and lonely of the community, although they wouldn't call it "ministering," it's simply what they do. They live their faith. They are tapped into the current.

Who around you is tapped in? What can you learn from them? Chances are they may not be the same faith as you. That's okay—we would all do well to learn a bit from one another, and when we learn from each other, we talk to each other, and when we talk to each other … well, who knows what might happen then?

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