like a hermit moving through a dark night of the soul

I’m not even sure where to begin. I suppose this isn’t a big leap from my last post. I’m sitting here in front of the keyboard, a jumble of words trying to fight for the right to flow from my heart through my hands. Maybe I’ll start with what I did today, and see where that goes.

image from http://www.thewitchescollective.com

After spending some time listening to some favorite books and tooling around Azeroth, I took a nap. Before the nap, I laid in a darkened room for quite awhile and thought about last night’s dreams, which featured Jasmine and several other faces from my past. Most of the faces were somehow directly involved with my spiritual journey, whether it be as teachers or fellows along the path. Some people were both – teachers at some times, fellow journeyers at others. Like tonight’s post, the dream was a mad jumble of images and points in time. I woke up completely unsure what it all meant, save one thing. There’s this thing I’ve been thinking about for a long time, very literally for years, and it seems like maybe it’s time to act. So I wrote some emails to local church leaders, kicking open a door I thought was long shut.

Over the decades I’ve been a practicing Pagan, I’ve had friends drift into practice and then move back towards Christianity. Some exist in both worlds. Others, as I’ve written before, moved onto Buddhism. I think that latter is probably the largest category. And still others just melted into a place of non-practice. The ones that have always been most difficult to deal with have been the ones returning to Christianity. Because… how could you? How could you go back to the dogma, back to the restricted world view, back to the idea that there is One True Way or One True God? And more importantly, how could I ever do that? How could I, knowing what I know about the history of Christianity, both distant and not-so-distant? The hypocrisy? The willing ignorance?

And yet. And yet there is Christ, and there’s always been Christ. I’ve never had a problem with Christ. I’ve said so many times. His is an exemplary life, one that I share (not coincidentally, I’m sure) values with. One that is inspiring. My problem always has been with the church, with the ignorance and pushiness of Christ’s followers. Their blinders suffocate me. Their kneejerk reaction to questions seem to indicate a shaky foundation. Recently, though, I’ve started to have a growing awareness of a different kind of Christianity. I think it’s gotten more vocal in reaction to the rise of the ugly fundamentalist and/or the unquestioning literalist. And perhaps like a healthy living tradition, the church has simple evolved in many ways.

image from http://bethalynnebajema.com

If you know much about my story, you know that I spent most of my younger years pursuing a connection with God. Until I was 16 or so, that pursuit was in Christian churches, mostly Baptist or Lutheran or the deceptively-named “non-denominational” (which frequently meant really extreme and often ugly). I dated a Mormon and was baptized into the LDS church at 16. It was the only time my dad ever expressed disappointment in my choices. I attended a few Catholic services as well. In each place I ran into a problem – I asked questions, I noticed the Emperor was often naked, I didn’t see why science had to be at odds with God, and I for damned sure didn’t buy the Eve/curse/woman’s place bullshit. Those were my big “beefs” with my church experience. I’m fortunate that I really never had a personally horrific experience. Many do. That’s part of why I’ve kept my distance. That, and a love of mythology and ecstatic ritual and multiple faces of God.

Thing is, I’ve spent all this time feeling an either/or distinction, even as I’ve counseled others that you can be Christian and Pagan, if you define Christian as seeking to live according to Christ’s example, and willing and able to understand that the Bible is a flawed piece of literature, and not the literal word of God. And it goes without saying, you need to get rid of the concept of One True Way/God. That doesn’t work with Paganism. And I’ve long felt that aside from the UU’s (who are very intellectual and prone to question), there aren’t many denominations that would allow for that kind of practice. Recently I’ve seen evidence that this isn’t true.

I’ve also been experiencing what is almost certainly a very long dark night of the soul. I’ve been familiar with that phrase for awhile, but only now was I miserable enough to do some investigation. This piece in particular spoke to me: Dark Night of the Soul

Things that especially resonated were things like “its general meaning — in the field of higher consciousness — is a lengthy and profound absence of light and hope. In the dark night you feel profoundly alone” and “You’ve experienced indications of the reality of higher consciousness and yearn to be more deeply in communion with it. You see the principles of a higher power at work in your life. Yet, all in all, you find yourself somehow painfully on the outside. You feel caught between your old way of living, your old tendencies and associations, and this nebulous, unreachable realm of higher consciousness.” Really, the entire thing, which you can read if you like. When I read it, I felt exposed, like a bug pinned to a board while still alive.

image from Twilight Realm: A Tarot of Faery  

And I’m still in the middle of this, nowhere near the end. I’m still having the struggle with surrender, with ego. I don’t know where I’m going to end up, and that is really fucking frightening. Most of my best friends first connected with me via spiritual practice. What happens if that goes away? And what if I do end up in a Christian practice? Are they going to feel the same sense of unease that I did when my friends moved in that direction? Will they stop talking to me?

I don’t know. But I know I can’t stay in this place of in-between. Something has to give. And it doesn’t even have to be a move to another category. It will likely be a category all it’s own, and to me, that’s the marker of real spirituality anyway. To have connected in an individual way, and yet still be able to be in community. So I may be checking out a few Christian churches here locally. And maybe I’ll find one that feels like it can be home to this bisexual, earth-worshipping feminist who still loves her some Irish myth and views it as equally as useful as Christian myth. We’ll see.

For now, it’s scary out here, but I’m going to keep my light held high. I no longer feel like I need to hold the light for anyone else, but I surely need to hold it for myself.

Danger Mouse – Dark Night Of The Soul – Feat. David Lynch

11 thoughts on “like a hermit moving through a dark night of the soul

  1. Well. First and foremost, I’m excited for you. I’m of course excited because of the whole Christianity thing. That’s important, very important indeed. But really, I’m excited that you can thoughtfully and purposefully admit this “in between” place you find yourself in. That’s no good. Period. I can appreciate and do personally understand this flawed church you find. I’m glad you don’t reject Christ because of the church. Really though, I’d suggest that His church is not flawed rather the people within. You, me, everyone. At some level, we’re all flawed. Without too much digression, I think we’d both agree that it’s a select few, which give “the church” a bad reputation. It’s the bigoted, hypocritical, overzealous, hell-fire-brimstone casting, judgmental, critical, arrogant… well, and you get the point. It’s usually those guys that drive us (well, me at least) nuts. You’re right to admire Christ. He was perfect. He is perfect. He was a real man, and yes He is God. (We’ll save that whole mystery thing for another time) Either way, Christ lived a life worthy of pursuit. He shared values and wisdom – even outside the context of “Christianity” which most people would deem honorable. Heck, even Muslims admire Jesus. (Albeit as a profit) Ok, back on track. I don’t know what kind of churches you’ll find locally. I hope a decent one. I hope one that suits your needs. I hope one with people you can tolerate and even maybe like. One with real people. Not Christian fakers. One where people have real problems and they don’t have to hide them to go to church on Sunday. Those churches do exist. I hope one exists close enough to you. I think you’d like that kind of church.

    Your perspective on returning to Christianity is interesting. It says so much about your experience with “the church” and at least some of the self-professed “Christians” you encountered. When I read your comments my only thought is “How could you not?!” How could you not embrace a loving Christ? How could you not desire to be in communion with the God of the universe? How could you not be connected to the one who makes the earth spin and float? I hope that doesn’t sound too “preachy” – certainly not intended to be. I believe it all to be true. Factual.

    I think you’ll find whatever you’re looking for. Literally. I mean, I don’t believe my faith limits my world view. It certainly shapes it, but does not limit it. I’d even go as far as saying it even enhances it. Yeah. One true God – sure, why not? Is it not conceivable that there’s a single creator of Heavens and Earth? It’s at least as plausible as other beliefs. I even tend to resort to a sense of logic when I think about the amount of faith it takes to be an atheist. Seriously.

    Remember, not all Christians are pushy. Not all Christians are ignorant. Too many indeed are, and that sucks for the rest of “us”, but don’t let a group a jackasses force your hand for all eternity. (I know, I went there.)

    You once said something to me that gave me hope that a spark of faith in Christ remained in you. When we were talking about Jasmine and her imminent death – you reminded her that my dad would be in Heaven with her and would keep her safe. It made me cry. It still does. I want you to know that I believe Jasmine is in Heaven. And she is safe there. She is happy there. She is at peace there. She lives in perfect, flawless and healthy body there. At least I believe that to be true. I hope you have that same hope and faith.

    Finally, don’t feel like you can’t embrace life, the complexities of life, Irish myths, feminism and your sexuality through the eyes of a living, loving and amazing God. Because you certainly can. I don’t believe science, faith and the world are some sort of mutually exclusive concepts and you have to reject one to acknowledge another. Nope. That would be too easy. Too simple for a complex God. I love you and wish you well on your journey.

    By the way, you can always pick up the phone and call your cousin sometime!

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  2. Have you ever seen “Dogma”? It came out in the late 90's, and it's a Kevin Smith flick. I love it, and it's kind of part of the household canon here. Hilarious and completely irreverent. Some Catholics took umbrage, but I think there's plenty to offend any Christian who wants to be offended. There's also a good deal to think about.

    At the end of the film, after a bloody confrontation based on the rigidity of belief and man-made law, a woman who had been an atheist says, when asked if she now believes in God (portrayed beautifully by Alanis Morrisette), “No, but I have a good idea.”

    That's kind of how I feel about God. Belief tends to lead to dogma and rules, and that is where I think the concept of church can get misused. I'm not interested in that. Just as it's conceivable that there's one God, I find it equally plausible that there are multiple gods OR that there are multiple faces of the same God, that people see themselves, and that God is nature… I can hold a multitude of concepts at once.

    (con't)

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  3. I can say most completely and succinctly that I think there is a divine force in the universe. I think that force can (and does) act through people and outside of people. I think that force has been amplified in certain people, like Christ. I don't much go in for the concept of Christ as savior or messiah though. Or as a lone prophet (if we define prophet as a messenger of the divine), or the last prophet.

    So… a place that takes me in would need to have room for me to be that way. I don't want to be saved because I don't think I'm in danger. So… not a conversion event in the normal way. But, as I've had a deeper relationship with Brighid and the Morrighan and even Dionysos (THAT one was a challenge), now I find myself seeking a deeper relationship with Christ. I'm hoping to find a home for that relationship. Reading those names in a sentence with Christ may feel very weird to you because you haven't experienced them as having the same… reality, I guess. But to me, they do have and have had. As of right now, only the UU's have been brave enough to respond to my query. Can't say I'm surprised! Heh!

    con't – this was part 2

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  4. this is part 3

    Probably my biggest influence in this regard is Joseph Campbell. Are you familiar with him? Absolutely brilliant and fascinating. Amazing insight into humanity. Probably his best known work is his Power of Myth series. But know that he views Christianity as having a mythology as well. Some Christians have a hard time swallowing that because so much Christian dogma/belief teaches that Christ and Christianity is real and true, while all other paths are not. So… may or may not be for you. Me, I think it'd do nothing but enhance and deepen your relationship, but I'm speaking from outside your personal path.

    Funny thing about that conversation – I never said Heaven, but I can see where you would get that idea. I was sharing the conversation I'd had with Jasmine, where I asked her if she were afraid to die. She said, “No, because I know when I get there, Uncle Ronnie and Gigi will be there.” The “there” for Jasmine was a Wiccan concept called the Summerlands, which is very like Heaven, but maybe without the judgement piece. Jasmine was staunchly Wiccan, and really got pissed when our fundie neighbors tried to scare her with Christian … stuff (like telling her she was going to burn in hell when she died and that she had to be Christian if she wanted to be in Girl Scouts, for a start). If I haven't shared that story with you, ask me about it sometime. It's a doozy. I think that wherever we go in the afterlife, it's probably much as we imagined it would be. Another great film exploration comes to mind – What Dreams May Come. Have you seen it? Great movie. Really hard to watch now, and Jeff refuses, but still amazing work.

    Anyway, you're dead on that I don't reject Christ (obviously, with this conversation, heh). I've had a very mixed bag of experiences in church. Of course, when those things were happening, I was much younger and didn't know how to articulate the things that got under my skin. I think I NEEDED to take the path I've taken. I don't regret it. I'm just looking forward to broadening a bit. I think. Because I'm still very much in that dark night of the soul place. I know I have a need for community, but there's only so much I can sacrifice of my experience of God to have it, if that makes sense.

    Right now I'm in research mode, reading things, listening to things, talking to people, seeing how things sit when I hear them. The biggest triggers for me in Christianity are around sin, salvation and the claim to having some kind of corner on the markets of truth and morality. And… as you know, those are like … central to Christianity for many people. So we'll see what I can find. I'm hopeful when I see things on church websites like “we don't judge other religious paths” but I'm wanting to experience it as reality, rather than a goal that never quite gets met. I don't want to seem as though I'm turning my back on the path I've followed for over two decades, but rather that I'm broadening it, or exploring a branch.

    And the phone. ::sigh:: Welcome to the list of people who suffer because I detest talking on the phone. It approaches phobia, seriously. I'd rather write or talk in person, which I realize probably seems like a weird dichotomy. I think it's because the phone makes silence awkward, when it isn't awkward in person, and certainly isn't awkward in writing. And sometimes when I'm being thoughtful, I like to stop talking to allow whatever needs to come out to move and shape before I share it. I DO wish I liked the phone more though, because your example of Christianity is one of the ones that made me think I might want to check things out, finally. Maybe I'll get over it. No promises! (end)

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  5. I'll have to check out “Dogma”. As you've probably figured by now, I'm not easily offended 😉 Funny about the whole Jasmine and my dad heaven thing: I guess its true that you hear what you want to hear… or what you “need” to hear… Either way, I'll hold on to my hope of Heaven 🙂

    I think its always good to “broaden” your perspective. And yes, I can see how one might find God in many things, with many faces, particularly in nature. You'd be surprised (or not) how progressive I am in that arena. Not that it doesn't ultimately come back to God (as in Jesus Christ), but that I see the mystery, magic and mystique in nature, especially nature.

    Its good to confront the idea of sin, salvation and the claim of “cornering the markets on truth and morality”. If fact, I'd even suggest its the responsible thing to do. I did. I do. I'll be the first person to admit (maybe the first you know) to say I don't like everything about Christianity. And even less about “the church”. But at the same time I am a big fan of the Jesus guy. He's mysterious. He's real. Sure, he's humble and moral (by worldly standards even), but even more so he a real bad ass. He doesn't tolerate the religious BS. He's the guy throwing over tables in the synagogue because the “religious leaders” were making a mockery of the church. He's legit!

    I do rest in the hope that you'll find what you're looking for. This “in between” place is certainly no good and I know you know that. Yes, God is everywhere. He's in you and me and the crazies too. He's all about people. He's all about you and me.

    I suppose becoming a Christian was somewhat easy for me. The right time. The right circumstances. The right church. The right people. It all lined up. And it was, has been and is good for me. I did struggle at first. With many of the same thoughts and ideas. Some I still hold on to. Some I've let long go. For me this Jesus guy – you now the bad ass I mentioned above, well, he just made sense.

    As always, I love our digital conversations! Love to you and the fam.

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  6. “I am a big fan of the Jesus guy. He's mysterious. He's real. Sure, he's humble and moral (by worldly standards even), but even more so he a real bad ass. He doesn't tolerate the religious BS. He's the guy throwing over tables in the synagogue because the “religious leaders” were making a mockery of the church. He's legit!”

    Exactly! And that's what appeals to me. Funny thing… last night I was in the tub and I prayed to Jesus for the first time in … sheesh. Decades. Probably since I was a teenager. I just kind of opened to experience, to seeing his influence in my life in whatever way made sense. Last night, a few minutes after this, the How to Destroy Angels version of Roxy Music's “Is Your Love Strong Enough” came on… felt kind of like a little something. Then, when I got to work, Concrete Blonde's “Jesus Forgive Me (For What I'm About to Say) was first up on shuffle. I kind of laughed a little. I asked for little things.

    Of course, then I later had a conversation with a devout woman who was decrying the ACA because now there'd be too many people visiting the doc. She's a proud Catholic. And normally I like her, but there was such a sense of “those people… the ones who haven't EARNED the right to medical care…” in what she said, it seriously pissed me off. That's the kind of crap I have a hard time following, the worst kind of hypocrisy to me. Maybe that's part of why I never went back to church – I always felt like the institution never lived up to the example. And that's been my struggle in many ways – I face it in my Pagan paths as well. I guess that as much as I love the idea of being imperfectly human, I still struggle occasionally. 🙂

    But like I said Sunday, I think compassion is perhaps most important when I feel bothered by what someone says, ESPECIALLY when it pisses me off. Because somewhere in there is a mirror. So with the ACA lady (who of course did not call it the ACA), I'm going to have compassion for whatever is scary to her about some kind of scarcity of care in our system. She seemed to be struggling with the idea of success as financial vs.success as inner peace. Naturally I lean more towards the latter, partially because I struggle with the former, but also because it's never been about being rich for me.

    I'd love to keep this dialogue open. I have the letter from the UU church, and now the local Presbyterian minister has responded (and told me he was married to the Methodist pastor, who I also contacted). Small towns. Gotta love 'em.

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  7. SInce we're sharing “prayer requests” (Boy does that sound funny) I prayed for 2 things after I last saw you. I was heavy hearted and pondering our discussion. I thought, “why not?”. So I did. I prayed for two very specific things. I prayed that you would not completely give up on Jesus (in those exact terms) and that you and Jeff would reconnect and fall back in love. (In those words exactly) I know, there's always coincidence, but I tend to rest in the hope (there's that word again) that prayers are real and there's a real dude (Jesus) that just might be answering them.

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  8. Yeah, you're not likely to ever get away from that group of “those peoplers”. They're everywhere. They're impossible to please. And… well… I'll put on my nice hat and simply recognize they're imperfect and flawed just like me.

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  9. Argh! Google ate my response!

    I think that prayer and ritual and candleworking are essentially the same thing – a way to connect with the divine in worship or in praise or to ask for things. In my tradition, we always ask that things happen for the higher good of all lives touched. We do this because we know that answers to a prayer don't always look the way we want them too. Heck, let me get personal with that statement – I know that answers to prayers don't always look the way I expect them too. I vividly remember the mother of one my close friends at Jasmine's wake, weeping and apologizing to me because she had prayed and asked God for healing. Well, I think that maybe the way things turned out were the best way for her to heal. I think that free will exists and that besides the divine beings – God, or Jesus, or Brighid (that's who I prayed to for Jasmine, and there is a relational Catholic saint) – anyway, besides the divine beings, there is a light in each of us that moves towards other light, towards good and what is right and just. I think we become separated from that when the ego steps in, or when we second guess, or sometimes, when there are things in our way that make it very hard to make the choice to move towards that light. I think I said this much more succinctly before Google nommed on my text.

    I'm going to write my email replies now to the UU's and the Presbyterians. I think I'll spend the next few months checking out congregations and seeing where fit happens. Get it? Fit happens? Heh. Anyway, if it is to be, it will be.

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  10. Oh, and the shorter version included something about my own experience with prayer working. I know people prayed for me a lot in the Jasmine years, and probably in the years since. Probably for reasons I'd never even guess. Maybe that's best.

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