What, I wonder, are the differences between a contemplative practice and a devotional practice?
I’ve read a lot about devotional polytheism this morning. I read Galina Krassova’s first installment of her Fundamentals of Polytheism series, “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Theories,” and Galina places a great deal of focus on the development of a devotional practice. Many hard-polytheists I know in ADF do a similar thing.
The first half of the SDF’s Morning Devotional reads like this:
I am one and we are many. Fellowship, in solitude.
Here I stand to greet the sun
And welcome in the morning light.
In my mind and in my body,
I hold space in solitude
For all of those who walk alone.
May they find comfort on this day.
And may the day unfold in peace,
And may this peace be born within,
And may my heart be set ablaze,
That I might shine into the world.
This is not language which supports a devotional practice with a specific deity, per se. This devotional is humanistic in nature. It centers around the human experience. When I wrote this devotional it seemed like the only way to create something that would be relevant and usable to solitaries of many different paths was to focus on what would be meaningful to the person, rather than focus on what one person (or tradition) thinks is meaningful to a god.
That said, ADF’s cosmology is present in the devotional:
I honor this fire.
The fire of the gods.
The gods of my heart.
The gods of this land.
May I come to know the mystery
Of the divine in all its forms.
I honor this water.
The water of the ancestors.
Ancestors of blood.
Ancestors of spirit.
May I understand the knowledge
Of the wise and ancient ones.
I honor this tree.
This living body.
This sacred plant,
With roots and leaves.
May I feel the spirits of nature,
And be one with all the earth.
This language is heavily symbolic, and open to interpretation. For some, “the gods of my heart” is too general. Or, perhaps it is inaccurate to their understanding of what the gods are or how they function. To me, this language makes space for the archetypalist and the hard polytheist, for either might use the idea of a “place in one’s heart” as a sign of deep connection and devotion. The rest of the language seeks to put one in a state of awareness and mindfulness of their ancestors and the living earth that surrounds them.
But again, it’s all about the awareness and interpretation of the individual.
The SDF’s use of devotionals seeks to ground people in their own conscious practice, not to place them in “right relationship” with the gods in any particular way. My intention was not to dictate to anyone what “right relationship to the gods” might even mean, but to instead trust that if they first sink into a deep and meaningful practice (even one that lacks a clear focus on any specific deity), that they will be led to the spiritual awareness that is most appropriate for them. They might come to know what value the concept of “right relationship” has in their own life and practice.
Perhaps, then, a contemplative practice can spring forth from a devotional practice if one makes the space for a certain degree of unknowing.
Galina emphasizes the importance of knowing in the context of her practice, and while she distinguishes that experience of knowing from “faith,” the two still look similar from where I sit.
To me, the statement “I have faith that the Gods are real” would be more compelling than “The Gods are real,” if for no other reason but that the former emphasizes the human element, while the latter does not.
I love the human element. I have to begin with the human element first, and from that place open up to something beyond my field of vision.
And that’s just where my temperament leads me. It isn’t to say that I’m correct, or that Galina is not. There is, I think we’d both agree, a distinct difference in what we do in our religious lives — and why we do it.
But regardless of our differences, there may be some common ground in emphasizing the value of a devotional practice. We may have different ideas that inform why we think a devotional practice is important — hers’ being that it beings the devotee in right relationship with the Gods, and mine being that it encourages contemplation — but we might be able to agree that one grows in their religious and spiritual life by doing things, just as much (if not more) than by simply thinking things.
And for me, contemplation is right action.