The main problem

Standard

I can’t write straight. Because I can’t think straight. Because I keep bouncing from book to book, from webpage to webpage, in a desperate attempt to find something I can salvage from my faith. I never, ever realized, except in the most academic sense, how central my faith was to my Self.

I never realized how easily I used to just lean on it in times of need. Read a quick Bible passage, send up a short prayer, ask a Christian friend to pray for me, listen to a worship song. How it was woven so tightly into the tapestry of my life. I didn’t know that when I looked for answers to all my long-held questions, that I was yanking on the the warp threads holding said tapestry together. Now all I’ve got is a pile of tangled thread all over the floor.

If faith helps point you in the right direction on life’s map then I’ve got a problem. I haven’t just lost true North – I’ve lost the whole damn compass. I keep reflexively trying to do the things I’ve always done, but they don’t work anymore. I try to read the Bible – but as I read I remember the similarity it has with all the other ancient faiths and myths. And suddenly I feel like I’m trying to gain comfort from Shakespeare or Homer. Which suddenly strikes me as pointless and ridiculous.

I try to pray in times of need, or before bed. But now that I know that I may have only been hearing my own thoughts inside my head, it seems quite silly.

I’ve been trying to learn new ways of being spiritual, such as meditation, but I’m not very good at it yet. I get monkey mind – a lot. I’ve done yoga a few times. It helps me relax and be more flexible, but I haven’t found it particularly enlightening.

Running helps. Sometimes, when I’m pounding the pavement to the beat of a favorite song, I feel like I can outrun the demons in my head. But they always come back.

Weaving a faith into a persona seems like a great idea, a way to keep both person and faith strong. Until the faith is questioned, and the person is left with an enormous hole where her young Self was supposed to be forming.

I can see so clearly now what I could not see back then. How my faith picked up the slack and became my coping mechanism. And it was a very good, very effective, socially acceptable coping mechanism. But it came at a very high price. As I found myself drawn farther up and farther in to the evangelical minded form of my faith, as the seeds were gradually planted here and there, the plant of my faith turned into a kudzu that gradually took over every aspect of my personality.

At the time, I thought this was a good thing. It gave me a purpose and an identity. My family approved. My friends thought me a little odd, but admired my fervor. And when “God” brought new Christian friends into my life, well, my fervor was vindicated.

I never noticed though, that this faith of mine was gradually shaping and changing my personality. That it was shaping my goals and my dreams, and inserting itself into my life plans.

And now here I am, with the life created by the choices made “under the influence of God” wondering how I’m supposed to cope without the faith that helped me make them. Some of these choices I would likely have made with or without a faith of any sort. I would likely have attended the same college. Most likely would have met the man who became my husband.  I would have joined some of the same groups that I joined – like the two choirs I sang in. Probably would have majored in the same thing. None of those things were ever really “faith things”. They were the product of choices made by my real Self.

But oh, the dreams I left by the wayside, in the name of “seeking God’s will”.  And inserted in their place, church, church, and more church.   Ad infinitum.  Ad nauseum.  More books about God.  More Bible studies.  Christian rock music out the wazoo in an attempt to “keep my eyes on the prize”.

I worked so hard to keep “going deeper” in my faith I accidentally dug to China and came right out the other end.  Out of faith.  Bewildered and blinking in the daylight wondering what the heck just happened.  What a very odd place to be.  It’s like waking up one morning not understanding the language of your homeland.  I hear people use the same words and phrases they’ve always used, that *I’ve* used for so many years, and they don’t make sense in my mouth anymore.

I want a faith – some faith – any faith.  What’s a person supposed to do?  Shop around?  Do a cost comparison?  Choose a new faith from the cornucopia as though choosing produce at the grocery store?  There aren’t any guidebooks for this sort of thing.  Many people who’ve done this, who have undergone a similar journey, simply leave faith by the wayside.  I admire their courage, but I don’t want to follow in their footsteps.

It’s a puzzle that won’t leave me alone.

My Church Problem

Standard

It’s Sunday morning. Church time. Or would be church time if I was still going to church. Instead I’m sitting here drinking coffee and writing a blog post. The guilt still nags at me, like a good Jewish mother. Even though it’s been almost 5 years that we attended a church regularly, the guilt still nags at me.

Old habits die hard, I guess. Not that I wanted this one to die. Just the opposite, actually. For the first year or two after leaving the Very Evangelical Church I fervently, feverishly searched for a new church for our family. I researched the possibilities online, narrowed them down, and visited the ones I thought might work. I’m in the South. There’s *lots* to choose from. I tried to be realistic. I wasn’t expecting to find one right away. I wasn’t expecting to find a perfect fit. However, I *was* expecting to find one – eventually.

Well….there was one factor in my church hunt that I forgot to take into consideration. Me. My newly open, questioning self doesn’t resonate well (if at all) with the old church model. Like trying to stuff a square peg in a round hole, I kept finding the old adage to be uncomfortably true – “Wherever you go, there you are.” I kept *noticing* things. Things like dying congregations who were desperately rallying the troops just to keep the church building open and functioning. Things like new church plant congregations which were basically personality-cults centered around a charismatic preacher. Many of these were also Nepotism Central – with father as the preacher and various family members filling the other positions of leadership. I had been in one of these monstrosities twice now, and vowed never to darken the doorstep of another again.

I began to see, in some ways for the first time, exactly how much many churches (at least in my immediate area) are truly like families – dysfunctional families. In one or two cases, the dysfunction was obvious enough to be almost a miasma hanging over the congregation. Ick. How could I in good conscience subject my family, my children, to that?

I’ve attended churches so big that a person was practically just a number, and churches so small that everyone had to wear half a dozen leadership hats just to keep the doors open. I realized I was just….DONE. Finished with the whole outdated, outmoded thing.

I knew I was burned out when I left. That was *why* I left. But now I was discovering that I was burned out on more than just service to the church. I was burned out on the whole idea of pledging all of one’s (scant) free time, not to mention money, to an institution that seemed to take more than it ever gave.

This new spirituality, this newborn calling within me, doesn’t fit anymore within four walls, no matter how ancient or modern.

The Longing

Standard

It happens every year around this time.  And it’s getting stronger.  At some point in January, when the winter sun shines at a certain angle through the bare brown trees, it comes.  Rising up from within like the sap in their branches, it comes.  The Longing.  The Restlessness.  A thousand books or so into this journey and I can’t latch onto a name.  Those are the closest I can come to the feeling.

It’s like a spiritual itch.  Christians will tell you that it’s that missing piece where God fits – a sort of God-hole.  They may be right, but I’ve been thinking about this a *long* time and I find that their answer is too simple.  At least, their solution is too simple.   Fill the hole with church services, worship, Bible study, various service and social groups and call it “God”.  Tried that for years.  Their were points where I thought it would drive me actually insane.  The last few years before I left the mainstream church I think I truly had a spiritual addiction.  I ran from activity to activity, frantically, maniacally – craving that “high” that comes from a great prayer meeting or worship service.  A few hours later, back in Reality I would crash, and crash hard.  I feared for my sanity until I realized what it was I’d actually been doing.

Cause in the happy shiny Christian world more Church is always a Good Thing.  Right and proper and holy.  Except when it’s killing you.  Killing your spirit as slowly and surely as drugs are killing an addict.  But more insipid.  Because actual addicts have groups they can go to for help and support.  Understanding, fellowship.  It was about 3-4 years in to this bizarre journey before I even wondered if such a thing was possible, a spiritual addiction.

Five years now since I left, I know is’s possible.  I also know that trying to kick a spiritual addiction brings on a very peculiar sort of detox.  While my body remains perfectly fine and healthy, my mind and spirit have been undergoing a painful sort of purge.  At the point last summer where I realized I was on a Hermit’s journey I knew I needed to find a way to accept the process because it wasn’t going to leave me alone or go away.

Well – I’ve cleaned out a bunch of both physical and mental clutter over the last 6 months or so.  I thought perhaps the thing I’ve thought of as the Longing or the Restlessness would maybe go away – simply a side effect of my misguided craving.  Uh uh.  Not only did it NOT go away,  I found to my surprise (and sometimes distress) that it was getting stronger.

I tried to step back and analyze it objectively.  (As objectively as anyone can analyze something within their own head.)  Was it mid-life crisis?  Hormones?  Boredom?  Surely there were elements of all those tossed in there, but it just felt Bigger than that.   I’ve been going about my daily life looking for clues in other people.  Read books from different spiritual paths – Wicca, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. looking to see if anyone else had the answers.  I do know one thing.  Not many people are engaged in looking for it.  They happily go about their business, absorbed in their technology, family activities, work, hobbies, even church.  If they feel the Longing, they certainly don’t show it.   They don’t talk about it.

I’ve puzzled over it a lot.  I think it wears different faces, shows up in different ways.  Sometimes it comes as the Muse, banging away inside my brain till I write.  Sometimes it visits as Lust, giving me cravings like I’m a teenager again.  Sometimes it makes me want to go for a run – feel the pounding of my feet on Mother Earth, dappled sunlight warming my skin.  Other times I’ve been moved to look for my art supplies, long buried and dusty (along with my skills.)  It sends me searching for music that soothes it, or perhaps that sets my feet to dancing.  Sometimes I have to find a few favorite songs and just sing them at the top of my lungs.

The best I can come up with is to call it The Longing of Life for Itself.  Others have found it and called it different things.  Prana. Chi. Breath of Life.  Ruach.  Holy Spirit.

I realized that what I’m longing for is not the outward manifestation of the thing (religion in all it’s many guises).  I am longing for the Thing Itself.  God within seeking union with God without.   In Kabbalah, Ein Sof – the Source of All That IS.

Cheap therapy (a disclaimer)

Standard

So what happens when in your innermost soul you’re a writer who gets too busy to write?  What happens is the words get all jammed up in your head and drive you crazy.  Then they give insomnia.  Then you find yourself at 2 AM wishing your brain had an actual OFF switch.

And then you stupidly let your soul go wandering off on a dark-night-of-the-soul/ascension/chakra clearing/Mother Earth craving/shamanic journey Thing which involves all kinds of life upsetting topsy turvy making stuff.  Oh, things like trying to clear almost 20 years of accumulated Stuff out of both your head and your basement.  And all this while trying to raise 3 children – 2 on the autism spectrum – and keep a house live-able and some sort of schedule.  Which results in all kinds of skeletons falling out of your mental closet and a head full of thoughts that keep trying to escape.  Not to mention the niggling thought that perhaps  an actual therapist would be beneficial.

Except that for many reasons is isn’t practical right now and besides, if anyone’s getting a therapist it really should be the Aspie teen trying to navigate middle school.  Anyway….

All that to say – if you’ve joined me on this journey I have to apologize that while I usually try to share cool, pertinent spiritual things – right now I’ve got a mess in my head that needs an escape valve.  You guys get to be my “cheap therapist”.  I don’t know, maybe if anyone is going though a dark night maybe it’ll help to know that someone understands.   A close friend of mine is going through a sort of body detox a year after being clean from his addiction – the body catching up and manifesting all the delayed effects of the disease.    My journey is no where near comparable to his, but I keep finding myself thinking of this process as a “spiritual detox” or perhaps “detox from mainstream religion”.

I am learning that a dark-night-of-the-sould neither starts nor finishes on my timeline.

The Emptying

Standard

Five years into this Dark Night of the Soul now – I find I still haven’t found the bottom, the end of the tunnel, the light switch. Ordinary and Divine circumstances conspire to keep hollowing me out from the inside. Wresting any illusion of control from me, but not yet replacing it with any sense of consolation or Communion. I am so alone, and so different from those around me. I mean, I’ve always been “different”, but now it pulses from my very cells, my blood and breath. I don’t know if I wear a strange expression these days, but I certainly garner some strange looks from others – my very aura must vibrate with it.

I am beginning to feel like that Nietzsche quote “….and when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

The Hermit’s Journey

Standard

This spiritual journey that I’ve been on for the past four years has become ever more eclectic.  One of the constants, something to hold the journey and myself together, is the Tarot.  It began with the dreams shortly after leaving our last very Evangelical church – when I realized that one of the symbols that kept popping up was actually a chalice – an important symbol and an entire suit of the Tarot.  The mystery of the Tarot had called to me once before, before we had children, before I fell headlong into Evangelical Christianity.  Before I threw out all my metaphysical tools in a fit of Christian fervor.  I went and got my hands on the favorite deck I’d had back then – the Robin Wood Tarot.  Before long I found many more Tarot decks started following me home.  I kept trying to find one with that “perfect” intuitive connection.  Well, Gemini soul that I am, I never found “the” perfect one.  But lately I’ve realized I have found a theme of Tarot that works better for me than all others.  Any decks which have a pagan, Wiccan, or witchy theme work on my intuition with very little straining.  For a while I found this odd little fact both intriguing and disturbing.  After all, why should I so easily connect with pagan themes when I’ve been raised by Christian parents, in a Christian family and Judeo-Christian environment?  It’s a thought provoking question. One that can’t be answered easily and succinctly.  Maybe I really do have past lives that are beginning to bubble up through my subconscious.  Or maybe there really is something to that theory of racial memory – all that Welsh and Scottish DNA coursing through me.

Since I’ve been researching and studying the Tarot for four years now, I suppose I thought at some point I would just “get” it completely – that I would come to a point where I’d lay down the cards and everything would make sense, all the time.  Well, turns out that’s a silly Western notion that doesn’t translate well for an intuitive tool like Tarot.  Near the end of a very busy and stressful school year, I decided to try a different tactic.  Instead of trying to forcibly suss out the Tarot’s secrets, I would simply use it.  I stopped trying to do it the “right way” (whatever that is).  I simply chose a deck from my collection to use each night before bed.  No planning, no pressure, and usually without referring to any guidebook – I simply chose whichever deck appealed to me at the time and shuffled and laid out a Celtic cross spread.  I did not even take out my Tarot notebook and write down the cards I’d laid out.  I was curious to see what would happen if I stopped over-analyzing my methods.

What happened was intriguing, to say the least.  Without over thinking, without even writing things down, I noticed that my spreads began to show a pattern.  Within a few weeks time I saw that I need not have worried I would forget what cards came up.  Not every night, but very consistently – more consistently than attributable to mere chance – I saw the same cards come up over and over again.  Also all my spreads were showing an awful lot of major arcana cards.  According to most of the Tarot wisdom I’ve read, spreads that show lots of minor arcana are concerned with the everyday situations we find ourselves in – situations dealing with our own choices and actions.  Spreads that are major arcana heavy show more the forces (of God, the Universe, etc.) acting on or around us.  The major arcana are archetypes or life themes.  The minor arcana are daily life and happenings.

At first, when I saw the cards that kept coming up, I was frightened.  This, I remembered, was the reason I’d stopped studying Tarot in the first place.  Out of desperation for insight (and pure curiosity) I took a deep figurative breath and let the cards fall where they may.  These are some of the ones I began to consistently see:

 

The Tower, The Devil, The Hanged Man, The High Priestess, The Moon, The World, Justice, Death, Judgement, The Wheel of Fortune, The Hierophant, The Magician, and most often and consistently – The Hermit.

Well.

I began to wonder what on earth sort of plans the Universe has for me.  I was also seeing lots of Swords (intellect, thought) and lots of 2’s (decision, duality).  

The Hermit is all about the inner journey.  It is exactly what one would picture – the old wise sage up on his mountaintop.  Shedding the material concerns of the world to seek after enlightenment.  The idea of which I am *all* over.  The practice in the real world becomes slightly more complicated.

I have found the Universe handing me some unusual tools for my journey.  Things like the unrelenting academic and social pressure on my oldest son who has Asperger’s.  And the emotional journey of my preteen daughter who is discovering that some of her friends are changing – not always for the better.  The neediness of my youngest son, also with a developmental disorder – which leaves me very little time to have un-interrrupted thoughts (or meals).  Topped off by a mystery rash on the little one that turned into a 5 month’s long ordeal of getting rid of a bed bug infestation in our sons’ room.

There were points this summer where I seriously questioned whether God and the Universe were pulling a trials of Job on me.  I did so much laundry I feared the washer would give out.  I lost so much sleep to the fear that they would spread and suffered the tickling of non-existant bugs.  It was like having the DT’s without ever taking the drugs.  

Suddenly the most important task on my household agenda was clearing out the almost 20 years of clutter that has followed us around from move to move.  I decided it would be my summer project.  I wasn’t counting on the toll it would take on me – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

I also wasn’t counting on how little outside validation I would receive.  The Hermit’s Journey is a solitary one.  In our technologically savvy, sound-byte, materialistic, ever-striving society – the womblike task of sorting and tossing both physical and spiritual clutter is looked down upon or ignored.  I am being torn apart inside and remade into something Other, something different than what I started out being.  And yet by the very nature of the Hermit’s Journey, very few notice or care.  It’s also very tough to find any sort of spiritual support group for this lonely journey.  

I have taken most of my comfort and succor from ancient texts and the wisdom of many mystics who have gone before me.  I basked in the renewing energy of our favorite mountaintop camping site.  I must figure out a way to make my home a sanctuary to hold this journey, and begin to seek out some local companions to share it with.  For it seems that The Hermit does not release his pupils into the world lightly and I will emerge forever changed.

Honesty in writing

Standard

Over the past month or so I’ve had countless ideas flit through by head and latch onto my brain. Some were whimsical, some were silly, some were thoughtful, some were painful, and some…. some grabbed hold of my insides and set them on fire. Those last ones, the ones that are Real, are the hardest to get past the Editor in my head. Those ideas that bubble up from the depths of my being – they upset my equilibrium. They’re not safe. They’re the ones that I start in a flurry of keystrokes (or pen strokes) but then stop halfway, or finish but don’t publish. Ephemera of a moment’s passion left floating unfinished in the ether. Somehow, I need to get brave.

I got brave enough to leave the church situation that was no longer beneficial behind. I got brave enough to explore all the unanswered questions about my faith. I got brave enough to dive down into the clutter of both my house and my soul to do some deep housecleaning. I made space to create the life I actually want to live right now. The only thing missing is honesty and heart in my writing. It may come out soon like it or not, planned or not. It’s been burning within me like the fury of an unexploded volcano. Been journaling a lot to open the pressure valve and not go crazy. But sooner or later it will work it’s way on here, when I can’t hold back any longer.

It poses a big dilemma for me. All my life, I’ve been proper – well-behaved, polite, God-fearing, well-mannered, kind, considerate (dull?). The good girl, that’s me. These ideas, they’re not good girl ideas. I keep trying to journal them out, stuff them down, ignore them. Now they’re showing up in my dreams. I spend my days chasing my children, and my nights chasing down the twisting hallways of strange buildings, or cities. I find myself battling anarchy in strange Orwellian dystopias, or being shoved, pushed, slid down things even a non-Freudian could see represent a birth canal.

The Muse will not be denied much longer. My very subconscious is fighting back at my efforts. If I encourage it, write what’s actually scorching me from the inside – will I find it worth whatever fallout ensues?