I recently came across something I’d written awhile back, after a discussion about Odin. At the time, I was surprised at the response. It’s always interesting to see your relationship and your primary Deity through someone else’s eyes! A friend of mine, who has known me for over a decade, made what i think is a particularly powerful comment, one that moved me deeply, and I think it might also allow me to segue into some important things about my work with Odin that I’d like to discuss. For that reason, I want to quote the whole comment here. My friend F.B. said during the course of the discussion:
“I have felt, over more than a decade as your friend and colleague (albeit on a very different religious path) that your way (Odin’s way, to which you are obligated) was just so hard and painful. Most often, my thought has been, “Better you than me!” (Which, of course, makes it obvious why Odin chose you and not me.) I have felt sorry for you. You claim joy but I must take it on faith (and on my respect for you as an honest person) because, from the outside looking in (and from a drastically different faith tradition) your way seems all pain and no joy. But I know you don’t feel that way about it, so I simply accept that this is one of those things I’ll never understand. Thanks for trying to translate!”
I was really given pause by this comment. Certainly my life has been hard, brutally so at some points, but not because of Odin or my service to my Gods. They bring (sometimes vexation yes, but more often) joy. They have poured blessings into my hands. Sometimes life is just *hard* for reasons that have nothing to do with the Gods. So, I was really pondering upon reading this comment how it could possibly seem so grim. Has the work Odin has set me to do caused me pain? Yes, sometimes but that is an expected consequence of this work, both the internal work that I must do to keep my devotional relationships fit, the external ordeal that is sometimes asked, and the public work, which can be very irritating at times. The pain or difficulties are largely irrelevant. They don’t matter. They’re the terrain one must cross to get anything done.
I suppose I look at it much as I looked at the physical pain I endured when I was a ballet dancer (and a ballet career involves a brutal level of physical pain as an ongoing norm): it’s irrelevant. I loved to dance. it was my goal in life to do so professionally (which I did for a brief time), and to do it well. I knew going in that in order to reach that goal, I’d have to endure a certain level of discomfort and pain as a daily thing. It was the ground I would have to walk across for what I wanted to achieve and that end goal was one of beauty and joy. I kept that goal always in mind through the daily grind. The discipline of honing and shaping and sometimes wrenching myself into the proper shape and form necessary to achieve that goal was often grim, but it was not the point and in view of reaching that ultimate goal it faded largely away. It simply was a necessary byproduct. I think on some level I approach the challenges inherent in my relationship with Odin (and the other Gods I venerate) in much the same way.
Odin is a God that will challenge (as I think all Gods do in some way). He favors hard work and discipline and doing those things involves courage. C.S. Lewis wrote once that courage was the most necessary virtue–it was necessary to do all the others (my paraphrase)! He could have had Odin in mind when he wrote that. Because discipline and duty are not bad things for me — in fact, i find them very positive things and find that I tend to thrive under such strictures–I often write about them. I suppose were my personality different I could focus on other aspects of my devotional relationships but I don’t like to discuss the very personal things (they’re *personal* and I have very old-school notions of privacy), and I don’t like to discuss the blessings I’ve been given (that seems too much like bragging). What I like to talk about is the work. It defines me, not only in my relationship to Him but as a person and a human being. It is what makes me a full adult to my mind. This is a corollary to the utilitarian outlook Odin tends to hone in some of His people: we tend to define ourselves by our work. If i am not useful, I have no reason to *be.* Of course i’ve learned over the years that even the word ‘duty’ can be triggering to some.
When I was still dean of an Interfaith Seminary, all of the instructors were required to assist with an end of the year retreat for the students. Lasting for three days, it was an intensive weekend of workshops, seminars, and ritual work designed to help the students prepare for their eventual ordination. It was quite enjoyable for the most part. During one of the workshops – this one student-led—the participants/audience were asked to call out words that defined their spirituality, and what was important therein. I said “duty.” When I uttered that word you could feel the pall descend over the sweet little new agers. They were so intensely disturbed by the word that no one wanted to write it down (it carries all those nasty connotations don’t you know, like responsibility, maturity, focus, and discipline). Finally the student leading the workshop said ‘Joyful duty.’ It was my turn to be perplexed: what does emotion have to do with it? That is completely and utterly irrelevant. It does not matter if one’s duty is joyful or not, what matters is doing it. If we only did those things that brought us joy, what an insipid world this would be. It really highlighted for me the gulf between me and so many people that I meet. This is also why I dislike definitions of a Deity as “love” or of piety as ‘love.’ What happens when you’re not feeling the joy, does your practice go out the window? One would hope not. Duty is the torch that can guide one through those periods of darkness. To prioritize our emotions in the course of doing what is right is to make the process all about us and not what is right. I find little merit in doing this.
That being said, I experience great joy and satisfaction in serving Odin. I would serve Him even were that not the case. Like pain, the joy is a byproduct, this time one of His presence. The public side of my work involves many challenges, but that is to be expected when we are restoring a broken tradition. First we must restore ourselves so that we can take up those threads and neither of those things is a painless process. Sometimes I write about that aspect of the work because others need to see that one can get through such a process; sometimes because like many others, I am still finding my way in this thing called devotion. Challenge, hard work, discipline, duty, and the expected level of courage that Odin demands are good things to me. They help immeasurably with that process and in fact, I believe are crucial. Odin is a war-god, something that I try never to forget and it is through the gifts of a warrior’s mindset that one can thrive in His service. There are other ways too, but this is the way to which He has called me.
So what is the joy? I’ll lay it out in brief, broad strokes, just this once. There is having a purpose, being of use, furthering His agenda. Those things in themselves are tremendously satisfying and joyful. I don’t think I can explain how much so to someone for whom that is not a motivating factor! Then over and above everything else, there is Him, His presence, His wod (auto correct kept correcting this to ‘wood.’ No, auto-correct, not ‘wood’…that would go into that privacy place I was talking about earlier! lol). His presence is one of overwhelming terror-joy, true awe in the ancient sense, and at times pure ecstatic bliss. It drives, it hones, it motivates. Then there is the knowledge that He brings. He certainly knew what carrot to use to lure me in: teach me things, show me things, grant me knowledge. There is what He allows me to know and what He allows me to see but over and above it all, there is Him and that would in itself be blessing enough. We’re well matched, and regardless of how hard aspects of my service to Him may be, in the power of His presence, those difficulties are forgotten.