Monday, January 25, 2016

Faith, Doubt, Certainty, Mystery

I've been reading Thomas Moore's A Religion of One's Own, a heady blend of art, psychotherapy, and spiritual guidance. Moore is a compelling writer, with an interesting history; early in life he pursued a monastic path, then life as a student, a therapist, a father and husband. It's a rich and varied set of experiences, so he brings a lot to the table in any discussion of religion and spirituality.

There is, as Inigo Montoya would say, too much to explain. Let me sum up today's thoughts as I was reading a chapter about creativity and ways of seeking inspiration. As you can imagine, it's the sort of subject that's dear to a writer's heart, especially a writer who's on a quest to grow spiritually.

For a while, I wasn't sure what I believed--wasn't sure I could believe anything at all, any more. Experiences in which my deepest spiritual needs went unmet, as the depression I'd long struggled with grew more and more life-threatening, left me floundering and unable to trust. Coming from a religious background in which there is only one true way, only one source for inspiration, and an established hierarchy to keep order, when that pattern falls apart, it's hard to have any kind of faith at all.

I struggled with that because I've always been the sort of person who seeks a spiritual life. The idea that either I was so fundamentally flawed and broken that no god would speak to me, or alternatively, there was no god to hear was crushing in a way that few other things can be. And doubting the pattern which has been presented as the one true path was like becoming a compass that had lost its link to magnetic north. I was directionless and spinning. Dizzy with sorrow and confusion.

Doubt became my awkward companion. Doubt was not an acquaintance I wanted to make. I liked the comfort of certainty, of belonging. Yet that path had vanished from beneath my feet.

Gradually, I realized something about myself. Though I wasn't sure what to believe, I needed to believe in something. I'd lost a key part of myself, one that played a role in my creative work that I'd only begun to understand. After floundering so long, I realized I needed to do as Christ told his disciples: become as a little child. Accept that I knew absolutely nothing about the divine, or any larger purpose I might have. Take a deep breath, and embrace the mystery.

I'm finding teachers along the road--writers with wise things to say about faith experiences, friends who are on the same journey but see the path with different eyes. And slowly, slowly, that inner sense of what leads me to be better has started to come back. I've had to learn it all over again, now that I don't have to pretend that I feel what others are feeling. It was sort of like getting the perfect house halfway built and realizing the wiring had been put in all wrong. I had to rip everything out and start over . . . But hopefully, in time, things will be much brighter. They're already improving.

The weirdest thing is that I'm starting to be grateful for my own failures and the neglect of others, the things that drove me out of my comfort zone. It isn't the life I planned on, but amazing, beautiful experiences started to show up when I opened the door of my heart. Doubt and uncertainty and suffering were signposts on the path to renewed creativity,

In today's chapter, Thomas Moore talked about the mystery of faith and the spiritual life. Our modern society seeks certainty above all else, whether it's the comfort of scientific reductionism or of religious fundamentalism. And certainty is a sort of comfort, make no mistake. But I've witnessed a growing compassion gap, people unwilling to think or speak or act kindly toward those who were different and thus somehow less worthy. That deficit in compassion affects every strand of society, wherever anyone would rather be right and comfortable than kind. Certainty is a comfort, but it is also a poison. And the unscrupulous use it to gain power, by inspiring fear and a sense of lack in us.

And that is not how I want to live. I want to marvel at the mystery of it all. I want to end this war against myself and be whole, knowledge and creativity and passion feeding the spiritual, and the spiritual nourishing all those other parts of me in turn. Being sure of anything is too high a price to pay, if the cost is a loss of wonder and hope.

1 comment:

  1. I tend to think of faith as ebbing and flowing. Sometimes faith is easy, other times I can't seem to figure out where I left it (especially when life is wearing me down.)

    So I completely get your dilemma. Great post.