To start from the beginning would be to acknowledge the comfort and security being raised in church gave me as a child. I had no doubts, other than not understanding how some of the bible stories could be true. But I felt there was a God, no doubt about it.
At 13 or so, I began to question religion, had one last fling with God that didn’t end well and put the nails in the coffin of my faith. I lived my early adult life as an atheist, then an agnostic. Then I took a world religions class at the local college. It piqued my interest in eastern thought, in Hinduism and Taoism and Buddhism.
I began to stumble towards a belief in “something more”. I was seeing it described in ways that drew me. I began to meditate and read sacred literature. Then I had an experience that led me to believe I should try to find “God” in an arena I was more culturally comfortable with. Hence, my turning to the Christian faith in my early 30’s. I tumbled into what felt like falling in love. I believed! The church I had turned to was charismatic. The music was fun, the teaching absorbing. I kept notes like crazy. I began reading the bible, something I would do passionately for the next 2 decades. I read it cover to cover, again and again, tried different translations, got a concordance and started studying the original languages. Got a lexicon and swam farther out. I began to hunger for an experience of God like that I read about, one that was intimate and ecstatic and transforming. I read about Brother Lawrence and practicing the presence of God. I read about the early believers, the saints, who had this experience of God. I read about others who walked in this awareness of presence that was, to me, what it would be to really live.
I was drawn on in my yearning and hunger on the road towards an interior life. I began to understand that I must face myself, make my own acquaintance if I was to experience union with God. I had a few times of “dark night” experiences that caused me to become ever more aware of how false I was, how I postured and posed and pleased others and kept myself looking good. I began an earnest practice of meditation, contemplation and journaling. I became more and more myself, with the result being that I fell more and more out of step with the church and the believers I knew. My disenchantment with the church grew as I changed how I read the scripture, as I stopped reading it as something literal and began to read it as something poetic, something that leads beyond conceptual thought to an intimate audience with that which cannot be conceptualized. I found errors, mistranslations. I studied enough history to become more intelligent in my search and in what I had been taught was “certain”. I began to realize that I had been holding to ideas that weren’t mine about God and the bible. I began to realize that for me to have the “right view”, for me to hope to have this deeper union with God, I would need to let go of all of my preconceived notions, my wrong perceptions, my murky thoughts that confused and distorted my vision.
Right about this time, I was separating from Tom. It was impossible for us to stay together, but I took almost a year and tried to help him see this. We had such disparate views about the things that matter most, and he was unwilling to budge from his certainties in order to accept who I was becoming. I was no longer able to be the person I was, which must have been very hard for him and for that I feel regret. Anyway, it was right in here that I entered the dark forest of my heart. This was completely different from the times where I lost the sense of God’s presence for a season. This was total. All thoughts towards God hit a blankness, a darkness. Things I had used to bring me through tough times in the past left me, too. Worship music was like nails on a chalkboard, there was no solace or direction in the bible or prayer. I lost the ability to pray. I lost the ability to believe that there was, in fact, anything to pray to. There was suddenly no faith, no belief in God or the bible, no comfort in it, anything to do with the religion itself was completely without attraction. It threw me. I felt like my feet had been cut off, like the ground was gone. All that I had based my life on seemed a farce. My hunger for God seemed a delusion. My spiritual experiences were reduced to emotion, need, delusion. I lost it all. I was plunged immediately into a sort of despair, yet one I continued to function in. I found it impossible to put what had happened into words. Few bothered to ask. All but one of those found my experience unacceptable, tried to ply me with platitudes and place the blame on me. But they didn’t understand. I didn’t do this to myself. All I did was answer the call to relationship, to intimacy, to divine union with the beloved.
I’ll be honest. I was angry for some time. And then lost. It took time for me to get my feet back under me. I was thankful for Matt coming into my life at just the right time. He sees me. I felt like the Velveteen Rabbit when he became real. It saved me.
After several years like this, I was finally able to return to my meditation practice. I was able to stomach reading sacred poetry again, although when first I did, it was with a wistful and broken heart. Then I began to search for a way to live this life. I had come very far in those 20 years, father still in the next hard years, you see. I had experienced healing and I had begun the process of self-knowledge. I was continuing on and felt a need to live in such a way that I was more engaged with my life, where I was more in tune, more aware of each moment.
The study of Buddhism has been tremendous for this. It took me a bit to separate the philosophy from the religious off springs, but once I did I found a wealth of knowledge about living, about suffering and pain and ease and equanimity. It has been wonderful to me.
Just lately, I have begun to feel intimations of something more. I don’t know how to describe it just yet. Just a faint whispering, a noticing of things I’d been blind to in the past. A recognition of something besides chance and chaos in the ordering of my life’s experiences. I don’t really have words. I will say that I feel fear. It is hard to explain what it is to live without hope. You learn to focus on other things, to live your life as best you can, to try not to hurt others, to try to lesson another’s load. You look for meaning where you can find it. But it is still living without hope. It is living a life that will end. Having been through the hell, through the breaking of my heart that it took to find a way to live in this world after faith is gone, the idea that there could be hope of any kind is deeply frightening to me. So, I notice the fear. I notice the warnings in my thoughts, “be careful, you were wrong before, dead wrong, about so many things. You were wrong about God. You could be wrong again. Don’t be deceived.” And on it goes. So, I notice these thoughts. But I also notice the other thoughts. The ones that say to keep open. The ones that assure me that just staying present is all that is needed. That if there is any new understanding, it would occur naturally enough, no need to fret. Just rest. Just be where you are, just be who you are in this moment. If there is comfort to be found in a “something beyond”, let it come to you. You searched and ran after this knowing before. Now is the time to rest and to wait.
If there is to be a knowing, I know this much: it will be an interior work. It will be deep in the inner spaces where any understanding or experience will happen. And I no longer care whether this experience is one that others understand or approve of. Either Christian or atheist. I have been about a decade now with nothing. If something comes, I will not close the door. Till then, I continue to work on becoming ever more real, to face myself, all that I am, honestly. I continue the practices I have now: meditation, reflection, journaling, contemplation, reading poetry, yoga, mindfulness practices. This is my path for now. I am open to the future. Or, at least I am opening to the future, to whatever experiences I may have and all they have to teach me.