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I am on the cusp of a new beginning.

New beginnings are terrifying. And liberating. And challenging. And not without a degree of nostalgia and loss. Things have to end in order for other things to begin.

Circle of life, and all that stuff.

My house is almost completely packed up. Our bed is on the floor, without a frame. We sold the bedroom set a few weeks back — in part because we’d grown tired of it, but also for the cash. Sleeping on the floor has been a strange, college-like experience. I feel like I’m in my early 20’s again. That is… until I see someone in their early 20’s. They all have so much hair.

My blog has been still and silent for over a month. It’s the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken from blogging since I started this project in December of 2010. (See the archives for proof.) I haven’t really known what to blog about, for one. But even more than that, I’ve been aware of the fact that what I needed most was not documentation of my life, but rather a fuller engagement with my life. Blogging, or any kind of self-reflective, memoir-esque style of writing, when done with extreme regularity, can begin to transform one’s perception of their life. Instead of it being the thing that you are doing it becomes the thing that you might be able to write about.

Life is more than just content.

So I stepped back. No need for a big announcement. The blog wasn’t expiring, nor did I have any real sense of when it would pick up again. I’m not even sure it’s picking up right now, to be honest. But the time away was necessary considering the transitions that were on the horizon.

In two days I will say goodbye to Denver, to all the people who I love, and I will drive across country with my husband, our three dogs, and our truckload of stuff. We’ll arrive in Portland on Monday and then something new will begin.

And I have no idea what that will look like.

natura_pagana - Le Mat

Image by Diego da Silva

When we first started talking about moving to Portland, I had this vision of finding other like-minded Druids and starting up an ADF grove. Oregon seems like a good breeding ground for Druids, and I romanticized the idea of fostering a small community once I arrived. This could still happen, although it won’t be with ADF. I couldn’t say which group it would be affiliated with, as I haven’t been inclined to pursue membership anywhere else just yet. I’m still very, very much a solitary.

A solitary without a regular practice, at that.

So it’s interesting to imagine what this blog could become in the coming months. How, without any religious structure or form, will I continue to reflect on or engage in a spiritual life? Have I been that dependent on belonging to a group in the past that I cannot write and reflect without one?

I don’t think so, but I don’t know.

That’s the thing about new beginnings. The are necessarily shrouded. They are not transparent. There is mystery inexorably woven into every aspect of them. We don’t know where we’ll get our food, walk our dogs, build community. We don’t know how the weather will feel, how the land will look as the seasons change, or how we will be embraced by the people of Portland. We have no clear sense of what the future will bring.

But I think that those are the conditions which make possible some real magic.

So maybe when we get to Portland I’ll start blogging with more regularity. Maybe I’ll write about what it feels like to live around so much lush greenery. Maybe I’ll write about what it’s like to live so close to a river, or in a place that’s not dry as a bone. Maybe I’ll stumble upon some little metaphysical shop and spark up a conversation that leads to a post, or I’ll meet a Witch or a Druid or a Unitarian that I’d only known on Facebook, and maybe that interaction will shed light on something that has, unbeknownst to me, been hidden. Maybe I’ll discover a spiritual practice again. Maybe I’ll find the room to try something new, or better yet, to try something old, something forgotten, underutilized, or neglected. Maybe there will be more new beginnings than I know what to do with, and I’ll have to write about all of them.

Or maybe I’ll do something altogether different.

I don’t know.

This time away from blogging has reminded me that you have to live a meaningful life first, and then write about it. You can’t write your way into happiness, or understanding, or peace, or even wisdom. You — or, more specifically, I — cannot just parse out life within the pixels. I have to get a little dirty. I need to spend some actual time being embodied.

Writing is not a substitute for living. Writing is simply a reaction to living.

 

A few added notes:

• Check out the upcoming edition of Witches & Pagans with Your’s truly on the cover and pre-order your copy here. T. Thorn Coyle asks some insightful questions, and the conversation that ensued went to places I hadn’t expected it to go.

• The good people at Belham Apothecary (aka Horn of Hern Home Arts) sent me a delightful little gift basket of incenses, soaps, perfume blends and ritual items. The owners of the shop are a delightful young couple from Georgia, and I’d highly recommend paying their Etsy shop a visit.

• In case you missed it here is my writeup of the Sacred Harvest Festival on The Wild Hunt. I have a feeling I may do more reflecting on this experience once we get settled into our new home.

• Lastly, if you’re an Oregonian and we haven’t already met on Facebook or Twitter, please say “hello” in the comments. We don’t know many people in town, and it would be great to feel like we aren’t complete strangers when we arrive.

Juggler

Bishop In The Grove needs to go on a temporary hiatus.

These are the words that popped into my head yesterday. As soon as I heard them, I knew they were true.

Blame it on the New Moon.

I’ve had the feeling for a little while that something needed to give. I’m a decent juggler (3 oranges, no more), but the message was clear:

DO LESS.

My schedule has been quite full lately. Between my contributions to The Wild Hunt, my seasonal entries to HuffPost, my work for the Solitary Druid Fellowship, and the small pile of books that have come my way via Witches and Pagans to review (not to mention Thorn’s book that we’re tweeting about on a daily basis), I’ve been stretched pretty thin.

Then yesterday hits. I take a meeting, and during the meeting I realize that a dream project is staring me straight in the face. A quiet voice inside says,

This opportunity is yours, if you’re willing to do the work.

And I’m willing. I knew that instantly. I want to do this. I’m uniquely qualified for the work, and excited at the challenge.

So, the blog needs a break because I need to be less divided.

The Morrigan’s presence in my life continues to reveal itself.

(What will you fight for? When will you take up your sword? When will you lay it down?) 

I’m not giving up everything, though. That doesn’t feel right to do.

Here’s what I’m imagining:

  • I give myself as long a break as I need from writing on BITG. During this time, when I feel the impulse to write about my thoughts on practice, Paganism, or anything that might fit naturally in the archive, I’ll write about it in a document entitled, “Book.”
  • I keep writing liturgies and devotionals for the Solitary Druid Fellowship. The next will be up in a week or so. Doing service work is soul food, really.
  • I continue as a contributor to The Wild Hunt and HuffPost.
  • I read books when they move me, and not accept any more for review. It’s so hard to turn down a book, but I need to get better at it.
  • I love on my family, celebrate my soon-to-be 18 year old kid, and spend time doing things that make us feel strong and happy.
  • I make music happen.

As plans go, I think this is a good one.

While I’m away, make sure you’re following the Bishop In The Grove feed. If you choose to get your posts by email, you’ll receive my next post directly in your inbox. I highly recommend doing that.

And please know how much I appreciate you. This community of readers has helped me gain clarity in so many ways. I look forward to more conversations with you.

See you real soon.

Teo

P.S. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Sometimes I post pictures of me in kilts. You won’t want to miss that.

 

Photo by Markus Lütkemeyer

As many of you know, I have two names. There is the name you know me by, Teo Bishop; a name which I chose for myself several years back, and one that I took as my legal name last year. There is also the name which I’ve performed under for most of my life, Matt Morris.

I wrote the following post on my Matt Morris fan page a few days before New Year’s:

Matt Morris in Austin

This year, I got to write with Sarah McLachlanGreyson ChanceMichael Franti, Joe King, & a whole host of amazing producers. Mary J. Blige cut one of my songs, and so did Cher.

All in all, I’d say that makes for a pretty good year of songwriting.

But being in [Ryan] Tedder’s studio did something to me. There was a moment today when I could see myself writing and recording for *me* again. It was the first time that’s happened in while.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions in any strict sense. But I do think that music – my music – may end up playing a more central role in my life in 2013.

This was a revelation. I’m going to do music in 2013, I realized.

Honestly, just writing these words makes my stomach knot up a bit.

Making music was all I did for the longest time. All of my 20’s were devoted to it. Only in the past few years have I allowed myself to explore another creative avenue, blogging, and that has led to wonderful growth and exploration in my personal life.

For one, I managed to get the Solitary Druid Fellowship up and running, and that project is moving forward wonderfully. I’m writing liturgies, crafting prayers and devotionals (which will be up on the site very soon), and I’m living out the kind of ministry that I wrote about so long ago:

Fire, in my imagination, resides primarily in the heart.

Ministry, as I understand it, is the act of nurturing that fire, both in yourself and in others. One who ministers is one who keeps the fire burning, or who teaches others the skills needed for this internal fire tending.

This blog has also been a commitment to my spiritual growth. Bishop In The Grove started out in 2010 as the blog of a student, and it continues to be that on a much bigger scale. Now my religious tradition, my life experience, and my readership are my teachers.

These spiritual projects mean so much to me, and I see them continuing to grow and evolve throughout 2013.

But music? How will making music – my music – fit into that picture? Should it be a “spiritual project” as well?

I’m not totally sure how to answer that question.

The Path, by Cornelia Kopp

The Path, by Cornelia Kopp

Someone suggested I make “Pagan music.” I tried that last year, and I’m not sure it’s the right way for me to go. I never felt right about making “Christian music” when I was a Christian, after all. I think it’s because I think of music, when it’s done well, as a vehicle for uniting people. It’s bigger than any one tradition, any one religion. And (pointing to my own proclivity for Universalism), I respond to music that approches something true about the human condition.

The music I make, or perhaps the music I’d like to make, is music that can be listened to by people of many different backgrounds. I’d like to write – to sing – beyond the boundaries of my current identity, my chosen tradition. I’d like to be bigger than I think I’m capable, and by doing so expand the reach of the sound into new, unexpected corners of the world.

(I haven’t thought these kinds of thoughts in a long time.)

I’m also thinking that I’d like to have my music be simpler than it’s been in the past. I’d like to make it accessible, and beautiful. I’d like it to be singable, and memorable. I’d like to write songs that I enjoy singing, that are comfortable and also challenging.

And, I should probably find a way to incorporate this music making into my daily practice. (Hmm… *twirls mustache*)

I’ve learned a lot about my readership over the past few years, but we haven’t talked much about music. Perhaps that should change.

As I look at being Matt Morris again, I wonder:

What does music mean to you? How is it a part of your life? Are you a connoisseur, or an occasional listener? Do you create music yourself, or have you always wanted to?

Is music a part of your spiritual practice? If so, how?

Tell me —

How do you do music?

Writing is a bitch sometimes.

This is one angry bitch.

I’ve given myself a number of writing projects, some religious in nature and some more scholastic. Some are a blending of the both. I’ve also begun to explore what it would be like to take my writing to print.

All of these things are squeezed into my calendar and shuffled onto my desk throughout the week, and on some days — like the last four — it feels as thought the weight of these papers, ideas, self-directed critiques, and a few outside-constructive criticisms are simply too much to bear.

Well, HE’s not too much to bear.

Yesterday, I tried to write about the return of my dreams, something which has begun since the start of October, after abandoning a post about how grumpy I was. When that post didn’t work, I tried to write about Samhain, but started to sound very Pagan 101 textbook-y, so I tossed it.

I don’t do textbook on this blog, and I’m not sure I really subscribe to the textbook approach to religion in general. I’m more a Socratic method kind of guy.

But some people want simple, effective recipes for how to make their spirituality come to life, how to become creative again, how to do the perfect spell to take their blues away. They want a spirituality instruction manual. And if that works for them, cool.

For me, though, nothing ever seems that paint-by-the-numbers. A spiritual practice, just like a good education, is always much messier and achier than that.

When you write a blog (and I know that many of my readers do, and some are considering starting up their own), you have to make some decisions about your audience. Do you want to engage with them? Do you want to preach to them? Do you want to show them how much you know?

What are you presuming about them? Are they less informed than you about your given topic (i.e. Druidry, Paganism, needlework — whatever you’re writing about), or are you going to treat them like peers?

Peer down this peir, peer.

These are questions that one doesn’t ask just once, either. Recently, as I’ve dipped my toes into the drafting of columns for print, I’ve come face to face with a different audience, one which may not engage with my writing in the same way that you do here on the blog. Print is not as immediately interactive as digital writing; your audience doesn’t post a response to what you’ve written, and you have to operate with this understanding that your writing is going to sit somewhere on a shelf, bound within the covers, static.

It’s weird.

So I feel now, after having considered this new kind of writing and this new audience, that I’ve forgotten how to write here. I’ve forgotten what we talk about, or what you want to read about. I’ve been asking this question, what do they want to read about?, and the question has solidified around the mushiness of my writing muscles, like some calcified shell.

It’s like a cast, except I can’t write my well-wishes on it with a Sharpie, because I left all my pens at home.

(Or something like that.)

Writing about Pagan religiosity, in all of its divergent and differently-named forms, to an audience of Pagans can be tricky. You can write to explain some archaic history that might be relevant to a fraction of your readership, if that’s your thing. Or you can write directly from your tradition’s perspective, but that can become kind of insular and inside joke-ish. If you pass on those two approaches, you seem left with the Pagan 101/Recipe/Textbook/How-to pieces.

I try to write about what I know, or at least what I’m questioning. I find that writing about my experiences is much easier than answering the question, what do they want to read?

But I still have to ask…

What do you want to read?

When you visit this blog — any blog — what are you looking for? Do you want testimonials about lived experiences? Accounts of ritual, whether they be successful or fall-on-your-face-like? Do you want to read about the nuts and bolts of someone’s practice?

Now, take a second and consider what you want to read when you pick up a Pagan magazine or book. Does it differ from what you look for in a blog? If so, how? Do you read words differently off the page, and do you have different standards for inky writers?

Please, enlighten me. Shine a little light on the inside of your reader’s brain. Throw this writer a digital bone.

I’ve been in the throws of a creative trip for the past two weeks, one that took me away from my home, my husband, and my regular routine. I’ve been up into the wee hours of the morning, surrounded by creative people and business people, technicians and office workers, trying my best to tap into the source of my creativity — the Awen — and to discover how to give my voice a place to live in the world.

In addition to the late night work, I’ve been using NaNoWriMo to speed up the process of writing my book. Currently, I’m about 5,000 words behind.

Oh – I’m taking a correspondence class though Cherry Hill Seminary.

I’m strapped. A little crazy, perhaps, for taking on so much in one month. Do I feel worn out? Yes – it feels that way sometimes. More than once in the past week I’ve sat in front of my blank computer screen, juggling in my mind the perspectives of a blogger, an author, a lyricist and a businessman, and I’ve wondered —

Why do I do this? Why do I write?

Star Foster posted a moving essay on the Patheos Pagan Portal today which asks the same question. From her perspective, as a staff writer and editor for Patheos.com, and as a respected voice in the Pagan community, writing has become somewhat of a burden, and she’s having a hard time remembering the way it feels to write from the heart; to write without fear of judgment.

For a blogger, writing is not simply expressing your ideas and opinions; it’s engaging the entire world in a conversation. And if you’ve spent any time reading through the comments of blogs across the web, you know that people can be pretty insensitive in comment threads. They engage with the text as though there isn’t a person standing behind it, and their criticisms can hurt. Sometimes they miss the text altogether and go straight for the writer, which hurts even more.

I’ve been fortunate on my blog, and have been spared much of the vitriol that exists out there in hyperspace. The comments from my readership have been, by and large, enriching and not destructive.

But the bigger issue at hand is not the way a blogger engages with their audience; it is how the writer engages with her heart, her mind and her life.

More Than The Sum Of Her Words

“I write because I have a religious impulse to do so. Everyone has their own gift, and unfortunately this is the only one I have. Writing is all I’ve got to give. I am not a brilliant teacher, nor a gifted ritualist. I’m not an inspiring and dedicated activist. I’m not a wise elder, nor even a good student. I’m no enchanting musician, talented visual artist or helpful mentor. I’m not even a supportive lover, or raising up the next generation of Pagans. I’m someone who chews through words and ideas, who worries a concept until it makes sense to her and whose tool is the written word. In the larger picture, it’s not a very useful gift.

To the bolded text I say — hooey.

Star’s gift is a tremendous gift. To write is no small thing. To write is to help facilitate others to think. It is to draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas, and to show the ways in which the world, with all of its tragedies and sorrows, is undeniably magical. Writing can be, as I feel it is for me at times, a form of ministry (and you read here about what that word means to me).

To write about a spiritual life is especially valuable, and this is where Star’s work is connected to something truly great. Star, and all those blogging on matters of the heart, the spirit, the powerful invisible force that connects me to you, you to me, us to the dirt and the sky and the water, we’re preparing each other for moments of transformation. We’re preparing each other for living with deep presence, deep awareness, and a willingness to be authentic. This is big work. This is meaningful.

This is what Star does. This is what I seek to do. This is why I write. I write because I am alive, and because I believe that life is a mystery, and an explosion, and a song. I understand Star’s “religious impulse,” because I share it. It is scary and overwhelming at times, but it serves a real purpose.

To All The Stars Out There

Writers write about what they know — the good ones, at least — and if you’re a writer who has discovered that her well is running dry, then you need to dig another well! You need to get out there and live some.

Cultivate the parts of yourself that are less than brilliant. Polish them. Sit with them. Then, write about that experience. Be flawed, and write about it. Be funny, and write about it. Be willing to take risk of living a full, bold, bright pink life, and write about it.

Let your religious impulse to write be transformed into a religious impulse to live.

I strongly encourage you to read Star’s post in full. Then, feel free to share it, as well as this post, with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Then, do some writing of your own.

For thirty days in a row I shall wake up every morning, brew a batch of French press coffee, sit down at my solid, cluttered desk (or a reasonable substitute) and write at least one thousand, six hundred and sixty-seven words until, on November 30th, I reach the final 50,000 word mark.

You see, I, along with thousands of other professional and amateur writers, am participating in the 2011 NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. If you have any chutzpah at all you’ll join me. As of the publication of this post you’re only 1 day behind. You could totally catch up.

Is it lunacy? Yes. Undoubtably. But is it pointless? Absolutely not.

Yesterday evening, in response to my first online proclamation of my writing progress (a proud 1712 words), a friend of mine responded by saying,

It’s a trivial matter to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The challenge is to make them worth reading.

This statement is only partly true, and I told him as much. It is a challenge to write words that are worth reading, no matter how many you’re putting down on the page. I won’t deny that. Blogging at Patheos for the past few months has given me a great many opportunity to reflect on the economy and efficacy of my writing, and to seek to do good work in every post. These posts average between 800 and 1000 words, a manageable amount for both writer and reader, but not so many that I lose sight of myself.

But, in longer form work — say, in the writing of a book — the Inner Editor has many more opportunities to barge in and halt the process. The Inner Editor becomes the Inner Critic, picking apart the lines, finding reasons why none of it makes sense. The Inner Critic, left unchecked, can easily become the Inner Hater. Once that happens, you might as well close your laptop and go do the dishes.

There is nothing trivial about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. In thirty days there are dozens upon dozens of moments where one must resist the inclination to doubt one’s self, where one must move forward in spite of her uncertainty, and trust that there will be a time and place to make sense of all the details, and that that time isn’t in between every single line.

I’d liked to suggest that NaNoWriMo is more than just a writing exercise. As a Druid, I will be bold and say that writing 50,000 words in 30 days can and should be understood as a sacred, spiritual rite; a holy ritual deserving much respect and great honor.

(And I ain’t just saying that to get the kudos.)

Respect the Awen. Tame the Hater.

Modern Druids, particularly those of us who trace some part of our spiritual lineage back to the Revivalist moment of the 17th and 18th centuries, place a great value on creativity and the inner creative spirit. We have a word for it, in fact: Awen.

The Awen, which can be translated from Welsh to mean, “inspiration,” is a mysterious force. Any creative person — a writer, a musician, a poet — understands that the true nature of their own creativity is always somewhat illusive to them. One is never solely responsible for their own creations, and we are all subject to “getting in the way of the flow,” if you will.

Awen is the flow. Awen is also the source of the flow. Awen is the experience of being in perfect harmony with your own creative voice. And, Awen is located in between the words and breaths of that creative voice.

Awen is not the correct usage of words. Awen is the expressive, creative, perhaps even chaotic use of words. Change out “words” for “sounds,” “images,” “movements” — it all fits. It all makes sense. Any of those statements will ring true.

Freestyle rappers connect to the Awen. Beat poets, and improvisational comedians connect to the Awen. Every time you’ve ever been caught up in a melody, and it took you to a place that you hadn’t expected, and you find yourself singing a song that no one has ever sung before — that’s you being embraced, enriched, enlivened by the Awen.

Every one of us is given a voice at birth, and every one of us – at some point – forgets how to use it. We are all given messages that we are not worthy to share our opinion, our perspective, our view on the world. We are told that we are stupid, or that we aren’t as good as our siblings, our parents, the celebrities on the television. There are entire factions of culture which exist for the sole purpose of subjugating your voice in order to replace it with the voice of someone else. There is always a wall being built somewhere to damn up the Awen, to block the creative flow from our heart to our head to our mouth to the world.

But for the next 29 days I’ll be breaking down that wall. There will be no room in my body for it. There will be no room on my desk, or on my computer screen, or even in the column of this blog.

No Walls in November.

This month, while I open myself to the creative flow of the Awen, writing will become, for me, a religious act. I will seek the source of my creativity, and through opening myself to it I will redefine worship to mean writing without ceasing. Writing without ceasing, in some ways, is not unlike praying without ceasing. It’s accessible to anyone with the time, commitment and patience, and the rewards are many.

So, join me if you will. Write without ceasing. Connect to the source of your own creativity and challenge yourself in new and unexpected ways. Let the connecting to your own creativity become an extension of your spiritual practice.

Write reverently. Write irreverently.

Write!!!

[And, if you want to spread the word about NaNoWriMo, my writing challenge, or this exploration of how creativity is a sacred aspect of any spiritual tradition, please share this post with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or your social network of choice!]

April was a month of great change and upheaval. Perhaps I’ve been holding on to Winter, and all that it represents, and the Gods would have no more of it. Or, it could be the result of cosmic forces; a planet gone retrograde, or some other unseen spirit. I cannot say. All I know is that in the past few days I’ve felt a shift back into a familiar rhythm, and the world I walk through has not come apart completely. Not just yet.

My daily meditation and devotion throughout April was consistent, and at times quite affected by the circumstances of my life. Then, there were moments when I realized just how grounding and important my daily practice has become.

I wrote on April 11th:

For some time now I have felt a weight upon me. The uncertainties of my life, specifically in my work, leave me confused about what choice to make. Often, the result is a static state; a refusal to choose anything at all. The creative flow becomes blocked, and depression sets in. I ask not with a sincere heart how I might move past this sense of bewilderment, but rather I counter every offer of help with a negative, pessimistic response. It wears me out.

My time in devotion is different. While there are some days that start smoother than others, and my devotionals may be more or less affected by the other circumstances of my life, this is a sacred time. It is made sacred, and the weight is lifted. If only I could continue this feeling and carry this space out into the rest of my life.

Several inspired works came during devotional this month. In time, I’ll post them here on the blog. I’m also considering, with great sincerity, how I might take my writing and shape it into a publishable book. I feel that there is a great need for new myths in our community – new stories we tell to explain our experience of this modern, crumbling, beautiful world – and I feel that there may be a calling for me to write such myths, as well as songs of praise (a book, perhaps, to accompany the great works of Ceisiwr Serith).

I wonder what my readers might think of new myths being written… Would you find use in reading and telling stories of a totally modern, but utterly re-enchanted world? Could the creation of such works become a vibrant, relevant component of our modern Pagan and Druid path?