So we come to the here and now, the present. For twenty years I’ve been going through crisis of faith after crisis of faith; constantly questioning my chosen faith, the pendulum swinging wildly again. Every time I think my mind is finally settled and resolved, it swings again. A couple of years back I was considering converting to Catholicism; then the pendulum swung the other way and I returned to being Wiccan; all the time though there was this feeling in the back of my head that something still wasn’t quite right.
I do have a very basic, fundamental requirement for belief in a higher power. I also have a need for the comfort that comes from belonging to something greater than oneself. I think the latter is due to having always felt something of an outsider and never entirely fitting in anywhere. I have the feeling I could feel so much at home and at peace within the Church, if only I could stop questioning – but that’s the problem. I can’t. At best my idiosyncratic views can be viewed as heretical; at worst, apostate. There is too much about the Roman Catholic Church I’m just not entirely comfortable with – the idea of papal infallability for a start, but it’s much more than that.
And of course I cannot discount the effects of faulty brain chemistry at play either; it’s not unusual for bipolar sufferers to “get religion” or go through spiritual crises. I just seem to have made it a lifetime’s habit.
Anyway, it finally got to the point where I found myself making a list, trying to work out just what the issue was.
- Am I pagan because that’s what I truly believe – or just what I want to believe / feel I should believe? (add in here stuff about maybe subconsciously wanting to appear more interesting/unusual/cool/weirder than I actually am)
- Are my theological/philosophical ideas something I really believe deep down inside, or are they just a bunch of clever-sounding theories that happened to seem plausible at the time?
- Am I just looking for some sort of community to belong to?
- What is it about Christianity that I really have a problem with believing? Scripture or dogma?
- I want to believe. What is stopping me?
- Why do I swing to extremes? Ultra-pagan/ultra-orthodox (not enough to be pagan – have to be Wiccan; can’t just be Christian – has to be Catholicism, etc) – High Ritual again.
- A need to belong to something “greater” than myself?
- Missing parental figure(s)?
I just want to find somewhere I belong, where it feels right. I can’t really explain it as more than the need to believe. I want to believe. I think I’ve spent most of my life looking for a sign from God – but at the same time, I’m angry with myself; if I actually believed, surely I wouldn’t need a sign. I’ve gone into countless churches during my Christian phases and prayed hard for a sign that never came. Likewise I’ve stood by a bonfire staring up at the moonlit sky, praying to a Goddess that never answered.
And yet… I had a long chat with my partner’s mother H when she came over to visit from Australia and meet her granddaughter (our little baby girl, born in May this year); she is a born-again Christian. I described to her how I’ve never received a sign myself, but sometimes it’s felt as though someone or something were acting through me – as if I were being a sign for someone else. I sometimes get an unexplainable urge to go somewhere, and I find myself doing something that feels completely right – but for someone else’s benefit; for instance, Aga on the night that Pope John Paul II died. When I finally got home as the sun rose the following morning, I felt an enormous sense of well-being and contentment, and I went to sleep peacefully – but when I woke up I was full of doubts because I hadn’t had a sign. H pointed out that my feeling when I returned home was my sign – and that I had been a sign for that woman by being there when she needed comfort.
It seems the more I turn towards Christianity, the more I seem to be drawn into active paganism – yet when I give myself completely to paganism, it feels so empty and lonely. And when I try to walk a middle road I feel wrong, alien, like I don’t belong in either world.
St John of the Cross coined the term “dark night of the soul” to describe a specific phase in a person’s spiritual life; a metaphor to describe the experience of loneliness and desolation in one’s life just before a spiritual revelation.
The following is from the Wikipedia article on the subject:
The “dark night” could generally be described as a letting go of our ego’s hold on the psyche, making room for change that can bring about a complete transformation of a person’s way of defining his/her self and their relationship to God. The interim period can be frightening, hence the perceived “darkness”. In the Christian tradition, during the “dark night” one who has developed a strong prayer life and consistent devotion to God suddenly finds traditional prayer extremely difficult and unrewarding for an extended period of time. The individual may feel as though God has suddenly abandoned them, or that their prayer life has collapsed.
Rather than being a negative event, the dark night is believed by mystics and others to be a blessing in disguise where the individual extends from a state of contemplative prayer to an inability to pray. Particularly in Christianity, it is seen as a severe test of one’s faith.
I wonder now if perhaps I have been living through a 20-year dark night of the soul of my own…. Two years ago, I stated that I was putting aside paganism to become Catholic. Then the same old doubts and fears rose up and I ended up retreating back to paganism again, even though it felt spiritually empty. I thought it was Catholicism itself I was having an issue with, but maybe it’s much simpler than that.
Maybe I first need to make the step of just accepting that there is a God, that I believe in Him, and I want to come home. And maybe then He’ll show me where I belong. Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong all along.
So I’m trying to take that difficult first step.
Lord, I believe.