D is for Decision

[Part of the Pagan Blog Project]

I was going to go somewhere else with this, and then was talking elsewhere online yesterday about making decisions and choices – that our religious identity isn’t, shouldn’t be a “Well, I feel like I’m X”, but rather a “I choose to be X, I am making a deliberate decision to be X.”

And that reminded me of a conversation in college, when I was very actively Catholic. I went to a women’s college, one of the Seven Sisters, and we had both a priest (male, as per Catholic requirement) who was part-time, and a full-time female chaplain, who could and did everything other than directly consecrate communion. She was awesome. And from time to time, she’d say things that really stuck with me.

In this particular one, she was talking about being at a friend’s wedding (which I think she’d officiated at, but if not, she was actively one of the people making the thing happen) and she talked about the most important advice she’d ever heard or given at a wedding – she’d heard it from someone else, and she passed it on.

Each and every day, you should turn to your spouse, and say “I choose you.” Not “I love you.” Or “I want you.” Or even “I appreciate you.” (though those are also good things to say.)

But instead, something that reminds you that you make a choice to be together, to be part of each other’s lives, and that that is an ongoing thing, an active thing, a thing you choose not just on your wedding day, not just when you get engaged, not just when you decide you’ve got a romantic thing or a family thing, beyond friendship. But that you make a deliberate choice to be in each other’s lives, and you renew that choice all the time.

Clearly, this has broader applicability to life.

I think that religion is like that: that we need to make an active choice, on a regular basis about what we’re doing with that. It doesn’t need to be a big thing, or a formal thing (any more than that “I choose you.” is the same thing as a wedding.) But … we need to decide that we’re choosing to be a certain way when we act in the world, and we need to check in on how that’s affecting us, and we need to at least consider adjustments based on what we’re looking at.

The ways this is like research are fairly obvious to me.

We do not just learn stuff by sticking books under our pillows, and hoping that the information seeps into our brains by osmosis. Instead, we need to make some choices – some active, some more passive or at least habitual – that help us learn stuff. New stuff.

We can choose to listen to the news, or load a news website that gives us multiple perspectives. We can choose to read widely, about things we don’t know, as well as things we do. (I find reading Longform to be great for nudging me to read subjects I didn’t know about, and Ask Metafilter for getting me thinking about other ways people interact with the world.) We can choose to make time in our lives to read on a specific topic (or listen to a podcast about it from an informed source, or to go to a class on something, or many other options).

Or we can choose to use that time in ways that shut down our options, that dull the keeness of our minds, that make us less than we could be. There’s nothing wrong with a little escapism now and then – but there’s escapism that makes us more whole, and there’s escapism that weakens us, and learning to tell one from the other is a very useful skill. Likewise, learning to tell what’s manipulating us from what’s engaging us, what’s encouraging us from what’s depressing us, and what’s helping us learn from what’s shutting doors.

We can decide that even in our pleasure watching, our pleasure reading, our pleasure listening, that we’re going to pick things that encourage our curiousity, encourage our engagement, encourage our attention. (I’m currently watching The West Wing while I knit, and let me tell you, it has ethics and how-to-be-competent and how-to-be-a-good-friend and all sorts of stuff in it, in ways that inform my religious life and my professional life, both.)

It’s not that we need to learn all the time – not formally. Just like we don’t need to be doing formal religious ritual all the time. But the more that we choose a mindset of learning, the more that we choose a mindset that opens to the numinous and the liminal, the more that we let the light in – the more that’ll happen for us. And these are all things where practice, where regular attention, make them easier.

Let me leave you with a bit of the quote from the comments I made that got me started thinking about this: These things are complicated: none of us sees every star in the sky at every moment, nor even every planet. But we have to make a choice to look up in the night in the first place. And until you do that – well, you’re not looking at the sky, and saying you have been is going to confuse people who ask you about the constellations. And the planets. And the unexpected meteors.

What do you choose, today?

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  • Melissa

    Yes! Thank you. I’ve always been troubled by the idea of one salvific moment where someone “finds the way!” and then it’s okay to just coast because of that one moment. We are responsible for the work of choosing our path and then continuing to choose it, to do the work to learn as we go, to make mistakes and re-group and choose again. Lovely post! Thank you.

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