Many people talk about Paganism in terms of calling and service. There is a tension between the desire to be served by people who do that freely, and the need of those who work to also be able to afford to eat. To avoid getting bogged down in the money debate, I’ll just say that teachers, doctors, nurses, priests and politicians get paid, and that’s supposedly a calling and a service too.
What does it mean to serve? It suggests something a bit worthy and po-faced, if you aren’t careful. Paganism is not, and has never been about martyrdom. A situation where we are all supposed to nobly sacrifice ourselves for each other clearly isn’t sustainable. You can only have that kind of service where there are people whose job it is to be ‘fallen’ and in need of rescue and reform. A ‘goodness’ that depends on other people being in a mess is not something to aspire to, because to have that as the normal or desirable state of things is just… wrong.
What does that leave us? Sometimes for me, Druid service is painful and challenging. If people are suffering I tend to move towards rather than away, and there are days when that breaks my heart and makes me cry, and that’s fine. That’s life. I won’t do it if I think all I’m doing is wallowing in the misery; that does not serve. It’s easy to fall into that trap, too. Pain is not a measurement of service. Often, life throws up things that cannot be fixed, at least, not by me. Rescuing people is simply not an option most of the time, and therefore cannot be a measure of service either.
I’m reflecting a lot on a recent conversation with someone who said she felt she ought to serve, but she wanted to be paddling her feet in the water. What struck me then and stayed with me, is that this is no less important. There is a huge value in play, in laughter and lightness, in joy and unwinding a bit. The people who bring the happy things, sing the songs and lure you into the stream for a gentler few hours, also serve. Perhaps happiness is a better measure of service.
Not the happiness we have at other people’s expense, the pleasure taken in dominating and consuming but the happiness of that which is shared between people. The warmth and the giggles. Real things done. To put good things into the world, to add beauty and colour, to challenge the domination of the ordinary; that is good service. Healing is not just about stitching the wounds together, it is about getting to be more than scar tissue and stories about what went wrong. Service is about the good stuff, the things that enrich and enable. None of that walking on your knees, repenting stuff, just putting what you love into the world, so that other people have that too.
Serve with your songs and your dreams, with the brightest, craziest things you can be wilfully naïve about, with the deliberate triumph of hope over experience. Serve with laughter and in play, with warmth and a determination to focus on the bits that are worth having. You will break your heart sometimes, that’s inevitable, but it is your joy that makes service sustainable and meaningful, not your willingness to suffer for a cause.