Completing the Dedicant Path study was a true milestone. I performed the Dedicant Oath ritual that I had written, taking nearly an hour, with Lynda helping out on the meditation and the omen. I had written a good part of the essay ahead of time, because it concerned the preparation I'd done and didn't need to wait. After I was done, I revised it and added the material about how the actual ritual had gone. Then I gave the whole document one more quick read-through and final tweaking, and submitted it.
(You can read the full submission here.)
Religion and I have always been uneasy companions. On the one hand, I am fascinated by it and strongly drawn to it; on the other hand, I have a sharp skeptical streak and a resistance to being expected to conform.
Like most Americans, my religious upbringing was Christian. I drifted out of it in my late teens and 20s – the time when my parents decided they had done all they could to instill it in me and that it was time for me to make my own choices – and into an agnostic humanism. I was still curious about religion though, just thinking I had not found the right one for me. At some point in my teens, the claims of Christianity to hold the exclusive truth started to be troubling – mainly because it seemed inexplicable that God would trust the one true faith to a single tribe of nomads and let it develop and evolve over more than 2,000 years within that tribe before going global. (And hell. Hell is hard to swallow.)
So I visited a group of Baha'i, took advantage of my job as a newspaper reporter intern to interview Reform Jews and Mennonites. I read about Buddhism and other Eastern traditions. All of it was interesting, none of it felt right for me.
In my late 20s, following my father's death by a year or so, I went back to the Methodist Church. I stayed back in for a few years, but for a variety of reasons, bounced out again. Then came years of having no particular religion again. Then I found ADF in 2008, then let my membership lapse while I tried the Episcopal Church and then … ADF again in 2011. But even then, working on the DP, I had moments of wondering whether I was on the right path.
During that time, after the Episcopals and before my return to ADF, I became involved with the Unitarian Universalists, becoming a member of a nearby congregation. UU provides a really supportive environment for practicing religious principles while remaining uncommitted to particular religious beliefs. It's good for seekers, in its own right as its own religious tradition, and also as a component of a larger search for truth and meaning. I am still in that as well.
I'm not sure I can explain all the fluctuation, except that the faith of my youth has had a surprisingly strong hold on me. It is surprising because I grew up in a fairly liberal United Methodist congregation, and had my doubts about it from an early point. The stereotype is that some strands of Christianity, the Roman Catholics in particular, indoctrinate their youth so fully and completely that they will never shake Catholicism as long as they live, no matter how hard they rebel or how far they run. The UMC does not do that – church for me was an hour a week, and for some of my youth another two hours at youth group on Wednesday nights, but the youth group was more social than religious.
Yet even with that comparatively minor amount of indoctrination, Christianity has always had a hold. So you can imagine that making an oath pledging loyalty to the gods and goddesses was no minor thing.
And that is where the Dedicant Program shows its strength. When I started it, more than a year and a half ago, I assumed it would be mostly rote. Read a book, write a report, check. Think about a virtue or a high day, write a couple hundred words on it, check.
It turned out to so not be like that.
Maybe it is for some people, I don't know. Certainly it would be possible to go through the motions, apart from the mental discipline requirement, and create a submission that will pass muster. But it was not like that for me. The DP, and my awareness that the endpoint would be either this oath or leaving it unfinished if I could not make that oath in good conscience, compelled me to put serious thought into what my religious path should be. I read well beyond the requirements, and tried to be diligent about seeking the gods to find whether they were there and beneficent.
I did not try to rush through to finish in a year, the minimum time possible. Instead, I worked on it a bit at a time, trying to really think through the issues being raised. I considered the virtues from various points of view. I tried to research the high days across multiple cultures. I wrote my essay on the kindred closer to the end of the process than the beginning so that I could speak from some experience.
At the end, I found that I was completely comfortable taking the oath and meaning it. I am hopeful that my submission will pass, but if it does get kicked back with a request to take another try at one or more of the requirements, I will do that without complaint. My one piece of advice to anyone else on the dedicant path is: take it seriously.
I think it is one of those things where what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. If you respect it and approach it as a growth opportunity rather than a chore, you will be rewarded.