Spiritual leader preaches ‘many paths to God’ | ParkRecord.com

Spiritual leader preaches ‘many paths to God’

Paddy Wood on a recent Sunday stepped off the pulpit at Unity Fellowship, the non-denominational church where she served as the spiritual leader for 5 1/2 years, after delivering her sermon.

Unity welcomes people of disparate faiths, attracting Jews, Muslims and ex-Mormons, among the faithful of other religions, and Wood, who grew up a Catholic, practiced Judaism for a decade and now describes herself as an interfaith minister, reflected the congregation. She is at least reasonably fluent in the traditions of many faiths and sees them all as worthy.

"There are many paths to God and all of them are good. I have said this hundreds of times because I believe firmly that all spiritual and religious paths are valid and one is not superior to another," Wood said in an interview on the eve of the last worship service she would lead.

But Wood’s stature in Park City, where she has lived for 10 years after spending 35 years in Los Angeles, spreads to the city’s secular realm, where she has been a noted peace activist and an artist, probably best known for her paintings of hearts that are in scores of local art collections.

Wood is 63 years old and was partially attracted to Park City by its mountains, where she skied for 25 years before moving to the city. She married Bart McEntire in November and has two grown children, a son and a daughter who live in Los Angeles.

A 1995 stroke, which she credits for leading her into the clergy and to Park City, ended a previous marriage, momentarily stopped her from painting because she lost the use of her right arm and made doing business difficult as she recovered from the resulting brain damage.

The stroke, she said, forced her to change everything in her life, to discover herself again. Nobody is defined by a career, she learned.

"I was a painter, a business owner. I was a wife. I was athletic. I lived on the beach. I ran every day," she remembers of her life in Los Angeles. "In one moment, every aspect of my life that had to do with my identity was gone."

The artist

Dale Craghead, a mixed-media artist, like Wood, emigrated from Los Angeles to Park City, bringing the Southern California influence to the art scene. She has known Wood most of the time Wood has lived in Park City, admiring her work.

"It was somewhat abstract. It just had a beautiful warmth," Craghead said. "It was not just the color combinations but it was an overall impression (that) leaves you with a sense of warmth and calm."

Wood primarily paints in oils, a classic and forgiving medium of expressive colors that suits her somewhat abstract landscapes and flowers. For years, Wood painted hearts, hundreds of them, in a series that she says helped her recover after her stroke.

"The hearts have really been a lifeline — sort of getting sick, getting well, getting into the light," Wood once told The Park Record.

She has painted since she was 14 years old and has supported herself as an artist for about 25 years, calling Georgia O’Keeffe, one of America’s masters, an artistic hero. When O’Keeffe died, Wood, "invited her spirit to come and live with me," she has said.

Wood has sold her pieces at the Park City Art Festival, at a few Main Street galleries and out of her home at Blackhawk Station, in the Snyderville Basin.

"Anytime I’m playing with colors and moving paint around, it’s a good day for me," Wood has said.

She owned a gallery in Los Angeles and dabbled in carved marble and sculpture before choosing oils as her medium.

"Her work is wonderful and very alive and vibrant. Her choice of colors, her subject matter," Craghead said. "There’s a lot of emotion in her work."

The peace activist

Wood’s Lhasa apso, now 13 years old, has a perplexing name for a pet belonging to peace activist: McNamara, named after Robert McNamara, the Vietnam War-era secretary of defense and a key architect of the war.

She tells the story that, when McNamara the dog was young, he went after a cat on her porch. Wood is allergic to cats and, since then, the dog has been known as McNamara, Wood’s own defense secretary.

In the 1960s, Wood protested McNamara’s war, beginning her activism in the peace movement, which has now stretched to the two conflicts against Iraq. She protested the 1991 Gulf War and then demonstrated against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"I think that there is enough brainpower in this world and certainly even in our country that a solution other than war could certainly have been found," she said. "I didn’t become a visible member of the peace movement, I have always been a member of the peace movement."

Wood said she has not been mocked for her role in the peace movement, even in Utah, which she describes as "the reddest of all the red states," and said there are differences between peace activists like herself and people who demonstrated exclusively against the Iraqi war.

"I’m very proud of the people who have come to take a stand in favor of peace. They’re not demonstrating against the war or policy, they’re advocating peace. Those are two very distinct things," Wood said. "I think one is angry and one is hopeful. I think one comes from a place of inner peace and the other comes from a place of anger."

Jill Sheinberg, an Iraqi war opponent who has heard Wood speak at several demonstrations, sees Wood as "one of the inner circle" of the local peace movement.

"She hasn’t stopped the war yet, however, her message is very effective," Sheinberg said. "Her message is always, ‘peace starts with yourself.’"

In a speech to about 80 peace demonstrators at the Olympic Welcome Plaza in February 2003, just before President George W. Bush launched the Iraqi war, Wood urged kindness between people even as the world was divided.

"We must begin within ourselves. We must begin in our own hearts first," Wood said in her 2003 remarks.

The clergy

Like many other members of the clergy, Wood led an increasing number of worshipers after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, helping people cope with the disaster.

In an effort to teach her congregation about Islam, Wood took a caravan from Unity to the Islamic Center of Salt Lake City, telling the women to dress modestly out of respect for Muslims who worship at the center.

"I think it’s probably the most meaningful time for the clergy in our lifetimes. There is so much divisiveness with regard to religion," Wood told the newspaper during the spring after the attacks.

Park City, with its hundreds of Delta Air Lines pilots and flight attendants, was moved toward religion after the attacks, Wood said. People who were not seeking what she describes as a path to God began that search, she said.

"The people that seemed the most troubled were the ones that were saying such things as, ‘Well, what else could we do? We had to go to war,’" Wood said.

Joshua Aaronson, the rabbi at Temple Har Shalom, praises Wood’s efforts to help people find their own beliefs about God. She "met people and walked with them inside," the rabbi said.

"She really accepted people on their own terms. Religion can be very intimidating," Aaronson said, adding, "Wherever you were spiritually, she was prepared to go there and get you and lead you."

The worshipers at Unity on Sunday listened to Wood deliver what was planned to be a sermon, her last for the congregation, about the resurrection of the spirit.

She plans to continue to marry people and paint more frequently in her retirement.

Wood also said she will not disappear from Park City’s peace movement.

"People pat me on the back and they say keep up the good work," she said.

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