Thursday, November 18, 2010

Finding 'god' on an Airplane (Part 1)

A Word About Semantics
If I were hungering for a deeper meaning to my life or dissatisfied with my religion, this might have been a post about how I found God on an airplane.

But I don't and it's not.

This will be a lengthy post.

First a word about semantics--I use capitalizations consciously. You will see that within this post I used the term 'god' and it is not capitalized. I do this because in my reality, the god I encountered on the plane was not "THE" God, if such a thing even exists. Granted, the god I encountered on the plane had powers. One of these is the ability to save people from the most destructive aspects of themselves. He provides hope. But he is so very wrong about so many things--or perhaps it is his followers, speaking in his name, who are the misguided ones.

God, Goddess, Spirit...and Airplanes
I was travelling back home to Massachusetts from a business trip in Orlando. Trudging down the narrow airplane aisle with my bulky carryon, I scanned the rows, counting up to my seat. I reached the assigned place, next to two women who may have been at least partly latina. The younger of the two had the window. I smiled and settled myself. Within minutes, we all engaged in some small talk--I am always talking to strangers when I'm out and about. The middle-aged woman next to me "warned" me that if we hit turbulence, she might grab my hand for comfort. "So don't be offended if I do." She joked. "Don't be offended if I grab yours right back," I said and we all laughed.

Whenever I fly I say my own version of a prayer. It is perhaps more of a projection of my will to deliver me safely to my intended location and ultimately, back home intact to my family. I extend that prayer and intent to everyone on the plane, surrounding the plane itself in a protective bubble. When I do this I also invoke and ask the protection of the Divine Feminine. She is my Deity--my God is Goddess.

Heathen and Pagans and Witches--Oh My! (Or, Stepping off the Plane for a Moment...)
I am not alone in conceiving of The Divine--God, if you will--as "Goddess." Scholars of Religion, Anthropology, History, Archaeology and related disciplines generally recognize that one of humanity's earliest attempts (some form of animism probably came first) to personify "god" was to view It as female.[1] Logically, this makes sense. Female animals give birth. They "bring forth life." Before the connection between sex and procreation was made, giving birth would have seemed magical. Thus, projections of "magic"/Deity would have been female.

I am skipping a lot of history here, but fast forward to historical times. While in prehistory animism and often female-dominated polytheism was the norm, the historic era marked many changes in human society.[2] One of these was the advent of monotheism and concept of a male god. There is certainly not just one factor that was responsible for this change. Rather, it was a myriad of factors including changes in how people lived (nomadic to agricultural), population density, and changes in the global environment. As differing cultural groups came into contact with one another for the first time, it would have stirred up "in-group" vs. "out-group" tendencies inherent in our species. The 'other' and their ways and beliefs would have been considered inferior. There would have been clashes over territory, resources, and ideals.

In any conflict, there are winners and losers. As we all know, throughout the globe monotheism won out.

The losers--those who still worshipped a Goddess or many Deities--lived on secretively. Over centuries, others carried on many of these traditions without really knowing it. Saints in Catholicism and Mother Mary veneration are two examples. Over the last century or so, people have begun to reclaim the lost Feminine Divine. Neo-Paganism is an umbrella term that encompases most of the modern Goddess-centered/polytheistic religions. Wicca--now an officially recognized religion by the U.S. Army--is one of these. It has its roots in 19th century Europe but is only about 60 years old.

Back to the Plane
Protection invoked, I settled in for the ride. I began to read my Kindle, but it was election night, I was flying JetBlue, and I couldn't resist the lure of the cable news networks.

When the snack service began, my neighbor in the seat next to me was peering at the election stats being shown at the bottom of the CNN broadcast. She had several minutes before switched from Fox News to CNN. I was watching CNN also.

"I'm sorry to bother you," she nudged me. I plucked my earbuds out. "I'm sorry..." she apologized again, "but I was wondering if you could tell me what this means?" She indicated one of the stats at the bottom of her CNN display. It was a countdown of how many Democratic seats were being lost to Republicans. I explained it to her. She thanked me.

Several minutes later, my two seatmates realized they'd missed the beverage service that came before the snack. Indeed, they had been napping when the drinks had come by. Now awake, they were talking to each other and pointing up to where the seat lights and air vents were. My seat mate once again nudged me. "I'm sorry to ask, but if I press that red button will someone come so that we can get a drink?" I assured her that's what it was for. The younger woman hesitated. "Are you sure?" she asked. The woman next to me quickly answered that she was sure I was correct, and that I wouldn't say so if I wasn't sure. She smiled at me apologetically. I smiled back, hoping to relay that I was not offended.

The Flight Attendant came, the women ordered drinks. We resumed casual chatting. The woman next to me had recently moved to the suburbs, which she was really enjoying. She'd lived in the city all of her life. She mentioned something about a church she had found in her new community. "Finding a faith community is a really good way to integrate into a new area." I commented. The woman smiled brightly and began telling me about her church. Jesus was mentioned. She then volunteered that she had "found Jesus" several years ago. "It changed my life," she said. "He" changed my life. Before Him I had nothing--my life was a mess and I was into drugs and alcohol. I didn't care about life that much, and I didn't care about religion. But one night I was so lost, so broken, that I called out to Him: 'If you are real, and I don't know if you are, please help me. I don't know what else to do...' And He came to me. He answered my prayers. And my life changed, in that instant."

As I recall, at that point she apologized, "I'm sorry, I don't want to bore you."

People fascinate me. They infuriate me. They are endlessly surprising, disappointing, and wonderfully knowable and unknowable, all at once. I also saw this as an opportunity to try and truly understand how believers of this type have come to believe as they do.

I preach tolerance. I must practice it also.

So I looked into her eyes, smiled, and told her, "I'd love to hear your story, if you want to tell it. I'm truly interested."

So she began. And what she said (coming in part 2) and what I've learned (also in part 2) comforts me and scares me, in equal measure. It strikes at the very heart of what--and why--I write.

I will try to get part 2 up soon.

[1] For example, see the work of Maria Gimbutas and . Ronald Hutton's work includes Goddess culture into historic times, and tying it to Wicca and other neo-pagan traditions. Also interesting and something I enjoyed immensely is Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet versus the Goddess.

[2] For example, see Pandora's Seed.


  1. I'm really looking forward to Part 2. You really have me curious about your perspective on this experience, including what comforted and scared you. Have a Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks for your interest, Luc. It has been sitting in draft (it's too wordy right now) and I may get a chance to post it tonight--depends on how needy the family is...