The honor of service

19402378_10154787676463284_1454419114_o
Your humble blogger as a teenager, hard at work

The first time I wrote a story, I was in kindergarten. With red and purple crayons, on that landscape-oriented coarse off-white paper with the blue guide lines, I wrote a story about a fight, a physical fight, between my best friend and me. It was extremely fictional; my bestie and I, who shared a birthday, never so much as quarreled. But from that moment on, I was A Writer.

I was already a churchgoer by that age, too. My mother always sent to me to church, although no one else in my family went after my sister got married and moved out. So it was probably a foregone conclusion that, with being both a writer and a believer, a religious person, I was going to see my writing as a vocation, as something I would do for God.

The god I worship has changed, but my sense of writing as a vocation never has. It’s just that happily, I found a god whose prime concerns include the very things I wanted to write about–sex, gender, creativity, religion, different kinds of erotic love and romance. Offering stories about m/m romance to Jesus felt a little odd, to be honest; offering stories about m/m romance, or about m/f/m, or alien genders, or whatever, just seems like the sort of thing Antinous would want to read.

My writing is my service to my god and to his people. And by the people of Antinous, I mean gays, lesbians, trans folk, bisexuals, queers, intersex people, and yes, asexual and aromantic people, too–anyone who doesn’t fit into the binary boxes of heteronormative sex, two genders only, biology (out of date and badly understood) is destiny. My goal in writing is to offer alternatives to those binary boxes, to stimulate the imagination (and sometimes the genitals), to get the reader hot but also to make them think. Frankly, I find writing a sex scene an excellent way to get to know a character and encourage them to tell me more about their lives, so I can write all the non-sex scenes. That goes for my own so-called original characters and for already fictional ones like Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. It goes for m/f, “heterosexual” pairings as well as same-sex or multiple ones.

Worshipping Antinous and the other gods of my devotion means making offerings of material things, like wine and water and incense and candles, and of my writing, such as poetry and hymns and prayers. Serving Antinous means getting back to work and writing my fiction, poems, blog posts, so I have something to offer in that way. Neither service nor worship mean giving up my autonomy, my dignity, my freedom to choose what movies to watch or clothes to wear. Maybe some people’s paths require that much dedication, to wear a certain habit or forgo popular culture in certain ways, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, I bow to my gods; then I straighten up and get back to work.

Worship, service, and agency

I’ve been, at various times in my life, an Episcopalian, a Druid, a Tibetan Buddhist, and now a pagan polytheist. My regular spiritual practices have changed a lot in accordance with various paths. Yet there’s always been a thread of continuity in my spirituality, no matter what I called myself or what I did. That thread was worship.

I have always been a worshipper. As a child, I went to a little Episcopal church that was firmly set in the High Church tradition: Eucharist every week, before that was the norm; colored vestments; lots of sung liturgy and incense; even the reserved Sacrament on the altar, to which we genuflected every time we crossed in front of it. (This may be why my knees are so bad today.) We had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, borrowed from Roman Catholic tradition, and bowed before the consecrated Bread, exposed in a monstrance, a cross-shaped shrine of gold and jewels.

I started to drift away from the Church as a teenager. I looked in other traditions, witchcraft, neopaganism, but always drifted back to the Church. The Church had structure–liturgy, scripture, prayer book, hymns; the Church had worship, even if I often felt I was not really connecting with Jesus, God, whatever.

I didn’t know for a long time that worship was what I missed. As a druid I flailed about trying to find my patron deity or deities, which was what all the cool kids were doing at the time. As a Tibetan Buddhist I was more attracted to practicing deities like Green Tara and Medicine Buddha than to meditation. It wasn’t until I found or was found by Antinous and introduced to concepts like making simple offerings that I realized worship, devotion, maybe even surrender were the things that had always been missing from my spiritual practice.

I see a lot of witches and occultists say things like, “I don’t worship deities, I work with them. I’m not religious or devotion-oriented, I make pacts with spirits as an equal. A witch bows to no one.” Well, okay. But my theory is that everybody worships something. The U.S.A. is full of nominal Christians who actually worship Donald Trump. I’ve seen plenty of people who look to me like they’re worshipping a quarterback, or a radio personality, or an actor. Some people with an excess of power and money are quite obviously worshipping themselves.

You see, whatever you most deeply value, that’s what you worship. It may or may not be embodied in a deity or spirit, but that value is your god. The very root of the word “worship” is about value: “worth-ship”. Not about subservience, groveling, fear, or dependence, but value. Do you offer time, money, effort to a spirit, deity, or cause? Do you ask them for help? Do you give thanks for receiving it? That’s worship.

It doesn’t matter what your motivation is–whether it’s fear, or not fear, whether it’s devotion and love for a deity, or just a need of a spirit’s power and expertise. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big cosmic or celestial deity or a humble ancestor or a wee nature spirit. The exchange of offering and blessing, petition and response and thanksgiving, that is worship. The act of acknowledging worth in a being is worship.

antinous_pio-clementino_inv256_n2On the other hand, worship is not necessarily service. I worship Antinous and a mixed pantheon of mostly but not exclusively Roman deities associated with him. The major Roman deities, those called the Dii Consentes, get regular offerings from me, though I don’t practice in a strictly Roman way. But I don’t serve all of them.  I worship many gods–which is, after all, the definition of being a polytheist; however, I don’t serve them all. I am not at every passing spirit’s disposal. I serve only Antinous and the goddess Melinoe, daughter of Hades and Persephone, and most of that service looks like doing what I ought to do, or want to do, anyway (such as writing, or practicing good self-care), but with them in mind. I think of myself not as a servant or a slave, but more as an agent, carrying out their agenda under their authority, but with a good deal of freedom, like an agent of SHIELD. *g*

Everyone worships something. Perhaps not everyone has the urge toward service, toward devotion, toward a deeply passionate, committed relationship with a deity. Some of us do, and it can be a joyful and fulfilling relationship that in no way violates human dignity. My love for gods only enhances my life, because it’s reciprocated by their love for me.