The quote above is taken from Meggan Watterson’s “Mary Magdalene Revealed”, a book I may do a book review on soon. But the quote hit me to the core this morning about 4am as I read it. (Yes, I had one of my sleepless nights, so I finished off my last Benedict Jacka novel and started on Mary Magdalene).
The quote is obviously a play on Flavia Dzodan’s “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit.” (Please see her original post here: http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/ )
But the quote on spirituality is also important. Layla F. Saad (here: http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/) addressed her remarks on the topic directly to white women claiming to be spiritual. A small group of friends I have ongoingly comment on the “light and love” crowd in modern spiritual circles – you know the ones, all is light and love, you get what you attract, raising your vibrations will help you escape anything. Which is decent good advice… as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough.
And this is where I come back to Watterson’s quote above. Spirituality and social justice have been taking an increased portion of my life in recent years. As readers of this blog and any of my other work around the place will know (I say that as if I’m published all over the place, but here, if you have listened to any of my talks over at the Irish Pagan School, or seen what I write about on Facebook, you will be familiar with the following): I’m an Irish Catholic. I mostly call myself a Pagan Catholic these days to acknowledge I also reach back to pre-Christianity for my spiritual life. I work primarily with/for Brigid out of the Irish pantheon, but I also have relationships with the Virgin Mary and St Therese of Lisieux. It seems I’m going to be developing something with Mary Magdalene as well, but that’s another story.
Social justice is an important part of my spirituality. My mother calls it a “social conscience”, and claims it’s an essential part of Christianity, and Catholicism in particular. (all practical evidence to the contrary, Catholics are called on in both the Bible and in the Church teachings to help those less well off, or who are in need of help). And part of that social justice is recognising that we’re not all starting on a level playing field. There is a large part of the spiritual community that seems focused on the energy you attract, the vibrations you resonate to, the people and actions you attract through your own thoughts, feelings, prayers etc. This ignores some of the more basic issues at hand.
If you and your family don’t have enough to eat, no amount of meditation or vision boarding is going to solve that. If you and your family have no place to live and no money to buy or rent someplace to live, no amount of visualisation is going to actually get you that roof over your head. If you and your family have no clothes, no transport, no work, praying is useful, but more practical steps are probably going to help more.
As a Catholic, of whatever flavour, and a follower of Brigid, and an Irish person, helping those who need it is bred into my bones. Generations of oppression, abuse, rape and pillage are bred into my DNA. My ancestors knew oppression (although they were NOT slaves, feck off with that bullshit now!) and that memory has been passed on to me. How can I, as a modern, mostly unoppressed, independent person not help those in need then? As satisfying as it can be to give money to help someone directly, do I not also have a duty to work to eliminate the systems of oppression keeping people poor, cold and hungry?
Recognising that we’re not on a level playing field is step one. Then comes seeing how uneven that playing field is, and what forces are maintaining that unevenness. Then, we look to dismantle those forces and systems and replace them with better. For example, technically in Ireland, we have free education up to age 18, or the Leaving Cert. (Technically, the primary degree in 3rd level is free as well, but since registration fees are now up to 3k euro, I don’t think that can realistically count as “free”) And the vast majority of kids stay in school til they’re 18 these days as well. (>80% people take the Leaving Cert these days). However, any parent will tell you between uniforms, books, outings, exam fees…. education is not free. And that assumes that the child can get to school as well. While our schools are much smaller in general than in the UK for example, outside of urban areas, there can be a long travel time each way for a child to get to school at all. And that’s before we consider those children currently under direct provision and the extra stress and strain this puts on education.
So already, we have travel times, availability of transport, availability of subjects in schools, teacher/ student ratio… and all of this before we consider if the child in question has a safe home environment, enough food to satisfy them and be pleasant to eat, heating, facilities for clothes washing… there are so many ways our “free education” still doesn’t ensure a level playing field.
And that’s just one area to look at. For a child stuck in poverty, telling them to raise their vibrations to improve their lot is cruel. But working to improve the systems that led to their family’s poverty and making sure the path out of poverty is available to each individual and the family as a whole? That’s important spiritual work.
It’s also dirty work. It’s political, campaigning, developing new systems and structures, working within and without the frameworks we already have. It doesn’t allow us to take a step back, maintain our separateness, our detachment. It’s having arguments and disagreements with people, it’s saying outright “This is wrong and we must change!” It’s being emotional and using that emotion to good purpose. It’s not necessarily serenity, it’s not yoga in inspirational places, it’s not yoni eggs, or mandalas, or white clothing. All the prayer in the world must be backed up with action to make changes. It’s that simple.
There’s nothing wrong with being serene, with practicing yoga in gorgeous locations, using yoni eggs or whatever. These are all pretty cool things and have a role to play in life. But they don’t help the kid shuffling to school in ill fitting clothing, with no breakfast, no books, yet another day of being berated for things outside their control… and it doesn’t stop the next generation going down the same path.
If our spirituality is intersectional, it means we’re looking out for one another, even and especially those that don’t have the same background and outlook on life as we do. What is the point of being spiritual if we don’t leave this world a better place than it was before we came into it?