Striding rapidly to the outdoor pool--to minimize the bite of the November
chill on my unclad body--I stopped suddenly, momentarily forgetting the
cold, mesmerized as I was by the well-tattooed body of the lifeguard. My
question, "Do you mind telling me about the tattoos," received a ready reply.
She proudly pointed to her massive upper-chest shoulder-to-shoulder Wicca
tattoo, to the sentimental tattoo which matched her daughter's (the family
that tattoos together...), and to a couple of smaller tattoos added when
she was in a more playful mood. She said my questions were a relief from
the usual non-verbal and often disapproving oblique look she gets from others.
Wicca? My last real contact with Wicca was three short paragraphs, and an accompanying picture of Stonehenge, in a book on world religions. Intrigued, I decided to fill in gaps in my sketchy knowledge.
She spoke of the rich tradition of witchcraft that traces itself back, in an 'unbroken line,' from the pre-Christian times of the Druids. It was a "Give me that old time religion," but spoken in a way alien to its use by Christian preachers. Quickly, she cleared out some underbrush by denying Wicca's belief in black magic. Finally, she gave a personal testimony about the way that Wicca helped her pull her life together, gave her a community and friends, and was a dependable source of renewal. More than anything, though, it was obvious that she treasured the community that gave her a sense of 'place' in life.
My shivering body brought that quick course in Wicca to a quick end. Then, swimming the repetitive laps gave me time to reflect on that brief, but informative conversation.
I realized that seldom do I hear such a succinct and clear statement on why a person is a member of a church. Probably, I thought, such clarity is the mark of making a choice, in contrast to moving unthinkingly along a well-trod spiritual path. With choice, a person consciously moves away from something as well as moving toward something, thus giving clarity and purpose.
I again realized how important, truly important, is the community that a religious group provides. American life, with its strong emphasis on individualism, makes finding a community, a place where one belongs, critical. A community provides humans who wish you well, healing from life's assaults, and security from which to venture into the unknown days.
I was pleased that the lifeguard found a community for the coldness she had found in life. My coldness at that moment required a hot tub.
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