My grandma says in Spanish, “¡Jesus!” whenever someone sneezes. Its the cutest thing. The “-soos” part of the word is always pitched just a little bit higher than the “heh-”.
I love it.
My husband and I were over for dinner recently, and after a sneeze and a ‘soos, I said jokingly, and in English:
She laughed a little, and then got a scolding expression on her face.
It was funny, though. Saying “Jesus” after a sneeze is funny. Who does that? I don’t think my grandma ever realized that she was saying the first name of the deity she’d been praying to all her life after each sneeze. Not until, that is, I said the word in English.
The irreverence was titillating, even for my 80 year old, Catholic grandmother.
What Are The Rules Of Reverence?
In exploring the idea of using Gods for our own purposes, I wrote that we need to respect the Gods we worship. We need be weary of commodifying them; turning them into an essential oil, or a hair product. They aren’t designed to meet our needs. That isn’t how it works. They, like us, may have areas of expertise. But who wants to be treated like they’re just a resource, and little more? I know I don’t, and I wouldn’t imagine a Divine Being would either.
I received a number of insightful comments to this post which reminded me of the importance of humor and mirth in ritual. Stodgy religion? Bo-ring. Its important for a community of people (i.e. Pagans) who actively engage with the world as thought it is a magical place, populated by unseen, mythical, fanciful creatures, to keep it light. Don’t take yourself so seriously, prancing around in your serape or cloak. Its a little laugh-worthy, what we do, remember.
[An admission: I'm a kilt-wearing, cloak owning, Renaissance festival attending Pagan, myself. I'm all about the dress-up, and I know the difference between a role-play game and religion. I'm just sayin' - we've got to keep things in context.]
But how, then, are we to find an acceptable standard of reverence? What does it mean to be a reverent, devout, polytheist Pagan?
Sometimes I Miss My Dogma
Beware the oncoming Pagan blasphemy: There’s something to be said for dogmatic structures. They’re kind of useful in holding a group of people to a standard. Dogma ain’t always a bad thing.
Unless it is, or course. The universe is expansive in ways we can’t even fathom, and our little attempts at packaging it up and labeling it always fall short. Our dogma, right as we may think it, is always, from another perspective, wrong. Its also used to subjugate, alienate, judge, and suppress countless forms of natural, healthy, human expression.
But even when its wrong, it has a purpose.
Rules Are Made To Be Broken
What I loved about being surrounded by dogma was that I had the option – the inner freedom – to resist it. If I decided, on my own accord, that the dogma was bunk, I could make that known. Sure, that might alienate me from those who accepted it blindly. But at least it was something for me to engage with. I could argue with it, one way or the other.
Now, as I float down this amorphous Pagan river, I have nothing concrete to argue with. No dogma? No dogma to resist. This is, for many Pagans, a point of pride. We’re proud that we aren’t subject to an oppressive, dogmatic monolith. We’re free, right?
But rules will eventually form. They do so organically. Even in an open Wiccan circle there are a whole set of unspoken rules of how to act, how not to act, and those rules are enforced explicitly or implicitly. Either way, they’re there. And its natural for them to be there. That’s what happens when people form community. They form rules of engagement; standards of practice, and systems of shared belief.
Rules matter for something. I don’t accept that in order to be Pagan, to walk a Druid path (for myself), or to take part in any other tradition that we must throw all sense of structure to the wind.
The question is, how do we find a balance between our desire for personal freedom and the legitimate need to have a standard measurement in our community?
Say It In Spanish
“Jesus”, for my adorable grandma, means something different in Spanish, post-sneeze, than it does when she’s saying the word in her rosary. The context and the usage determine what is appropriate and what isn’t. While she has a sneaky sense of humor, and she did appreciate my irreverent act, she was also made a little uncomfortable by it. It came a bit too close to what is, for her, a very sacred idea. I respect that, and after the joke had been made a few times, I dropped it.
Her example, though, is useful for the modern Pagan, seeking to find balance between reverence and irreverence. What does it mean to be a devout Pagan? Know yourself. Know what those lines are for you. Understand the topography of your own inner spiritual world, and hold true to that. Then, when an irreverent joke is lobbed your way, you can see where it lands and you’ll have perspective as to how much damage it could actually do.
Mirth, humor, playfulness – these things all work to counter-balance our sense of reverence and serious religious expression. They give light to another side of that expression; a crucial side. They’re the bird call and the puppy bark. They are the millions of ways that the Sacred intersects with the Ordinary, imbuing it with magic. Reverence is remembering that both sides serve a purpose; they serve one another. The Ordinary and the Sacred are kin.
Call A God, Then Grab A Tissue
So next time you sneeze, say “¡Heh-soos!,” or, “Ganesha!” Then, laugh a little and remind yourself that even the most devout, sincere religious person looks a little silly in their garb and getup. The silliness is a sacred part of the process. Be silly. Be reverent. Then…
If you found this silly post to be entertaining or insightful, please tweet it or Facebook share it with your friends. As always, your comments are welcome here. I’d love to know how you balance the sacred and the silly!