Though I’ve always been community service minded, my relationship to service has changed over the years. The biggest changes have happened when my relationship to my gods changed. I first started volunteering with Sexual Assault Support Services, which came out of my psychological studies and coincided with my personal values. It had little to nothing to do with my spiritual beliefs, however, which were fairly undefined at that point.
My relationship to community service began to change almost as soon as I was pulled toward the Norse pantheon. Because of work and school I moved away from doing regular community service, but with the arrival of Loki in my life that began to change. I dreamed about serving food to the hungry and about serving water to the thirsty. Since I still didn’t have time to serve, I did my best to donate regularly to organizations that provided services to those most in need. When Sigyn came into the forefront of my practice, my approach shifted once again, this time toward serving needy children.
Whether it’s because of the way Sigyn acts in service of her beloved husband, easing his pain in the cave or because she has always, to me, emanated unwavering kindness and a fierce, steadfast empathy, I’m unsure. What I know is that when I go to work with children (which I have been doing since I returned from Sweden, where Sigyn took primacy in my worship and spiritual development) I cannot help but go with her in mind.
Why have children become the focus of my work since Sigyn took the forefront of my spiritual practice? The answer is simple: she lost two children, violently and tragically. I may be off base here, but I’ve always gotten the distinct impression that Sigyn cares for children, especially those in need or who have experienced trauma. It’s my impression that this caring is as deep and abiding as her grief her own sons. I’ve sought to work primarily with children with backgrounds of trauma and poverty. These are the children most in need of care, love, and healing.
Aside from the emotional connection I draw between child-oriented community service and Sigyn, I strongly believe in a connection between community service and the virtue of hospitality. If hospitality is to provide for those who come to us in need, be it in need of a place to sleep, a bite to eat, or a warm drink to drive out the chill, then going out into the world to provide these same services to those in need is an active form of hospitality. To care for the needy or tend to the weak is service by a multitude of definitions: you are literally serving a community, and with the right mind-set and intention that community service might be done in service of the gods, a form of energetic offering.
Not everyone can afford to spend so much time doing community service. The only reason I have been able to is because, through AmeriCorps, I received a living stipend for doing so. But if at all possible, even in small doses, it can have an incredible effect in myriad of ways. In my perspective, this kind of work is not only supports the health and well-being of our communities, it is a dignified and productive way to serve our gods.
For heathens specifically, doing community service might represent working to improve the practice of heathen virtues, especially the virtue of hospitality. It can lend a new perspective as well, giving a practitioner a glimpse into the worlds of others which we may often be unaware of, forget, or overlook. This new perspective, I believe, can go a long way to building an individual’s wisdom by developing understanding of the world and its people outside of our own experiences—something any heathen with an affinity for Odin might be appreciate. Certainly service provided selflessly and sincerely leaves a positive mark on the community and the people around you, and regardless of religious or spiritual practices, that is no small thing.
Community service, if one is to spend the time and energy, is a worthy deed. The values it represents, especially as an active form of hospitality, and as a way to give back to and build community, are worthy things for anyone to strive for.