Friday, January 11, 2013

Hugh Jackman and my crisis of faith.

Stop me if you've this one before... You're watching Les Misérables, because you're a giant fan of musicals and you want to appear a bit more cultured than the folks watching The Guilt Trip, when Hugh Jackman is singing some incredibly sad song about how sad and unfair life is. I knew that's what this movie was about, the sadness of life, but I'm dumb enough to hope that there would be a happy ending...that in the generations of people depicted throughout the film...it would end well for one of them, that all the suffering would have been worth it.

I realized somewhere in the middle, when Hugh Jackman was singing, that this wasn't going to end well. And, then something else happened. I began to get a little bit short of breath. My heart started racing. My head hurt. I felt the ghost of nausea creeping up through my innards. I was experiencing early signs of a panic attack. I did not want to be in that movie theater any longer, but I wasn't alone and I paid a lot of money for tickets and a bucket of popcorn the size of Idaho.

Hugh Jackman didn't give me the heebee jeebees or anything. Something happened that hasn't happened to me in quite some time: I became consumed with the fear of death.

Did you see that one coming?

When I was little, I used to be afraid of death. There were times in the dark of night that the thoughts would consume me, making it hard to sleep. Sometimes I'd be afraid of going to Hell and what that might be like, but mostly I was afraid of oblivion - that's a word you learn when you're older and people don't sugarcoat things anymore. See, when you're a little one growing up in the south, you're told stories not of death, but of waking up in the afterlife. The act of dying is called 'going to sleep'.

You're not dead. God called you home. This is easier to swallow when it's an old person you barely knew in your church and had no real connection to, but it becomes tougher to use as an answer to THE BIG QUESTION when you're in high school and someone you grew up with gets killed in a motorcycle accident. God called him home? Really? He died putting himself in front of his sister, so that he would take the full force of the impact. He was painted as a hero, but you cannot tell me that this was what he was supposed to do on this earth. Grow up in a small town and then die before graduating high school because a logging truck didn't secure its load properly and all the logs fell off.

I didn't make a big deal about leaving Christianity. I sort of morphed into this 'spiritual-other' person. I didn't leave the church in some big drama-filled ordeal or create some formal ritual in which I divorced Jesus and got hitched to Cernunnos. I just...evolved, for lack of a much better term.

I decided the word 'pagan' fit me, because I liked the belief in magic, and I think just calling yourself 'spiritual' is a form of a cop out. Sometimes. It means you don't have to decide anything...which...I dunno...

Whatever. Not the point.

But, I'm telling a story about Hugh Jackman and Les Mis and a crisis of faith. Somewhere in the middle of the movie - which is brilliant; you should see it - I was so overcome with how awful people's lives can be, how we can be affected by such insurmountable circumstances far beyond our control (where we're born, who our families are, how poor or wealthy they/we are, the color of our skin, the time period we're born into, and so on) and how for people all around the world, stretching all the way back through time, life was horrible...there was no good. They were incredibly poor and hungry and treated badly and there was such great sadness. And then they died.

My problem with all of this is the possibility - the very real possibility - that that's it. That's their whole story. They're not living somewhere else. They don't get a second chance. They're not coming back. There's just...oblivion. That's what science would tell us. When we expire, when we die, when we cease to breathe and function...that's it.

 

And it's so sad and it's so unfair and it makes it all so...pointless. Even now, typing this out, it's hard not to cry, to curl up in a ball and weep until there are no tears. I cannot tell you why it consumes me so. Why, after so many years between those childhood nights and today of this not being an issue, why it's suddenly come about, but there you have it.

Part of me says that this is the price one pays for continuing to ask questions, for poking holes in spiritual theories and wanting to inject 'reality' or 'science' into the realm of spirit. The two have a place, but the mixing of the two leads to uncomfortable questions. Uncomfortable, because the answers on paper aren't good. For the spiritual folks, at least.

That's where faith comes in, I suppose. You believe in things, because...why the hell not? If this is really it, then what in the world does it hurt to believe in something beyond us, beyond this? The only problem that arises in faith is when whole societies of people decide that you must believe in such and such, or we're going to vote you off the island...or...you know...torture you, burn your cities, and rape your women. Because of belief.

Belief in deity is as old as man. We worshipped the great power of the thunderstorm, the lightning, the rising and setting of the sun and moon. We worshipped bodies of water, and fertile soil, and places of destruction and death. We have worshipped rocks and sky gods and spaghetti monsters and all sorts of things. There are deities who were worshipped for thousands of years who are nothing more than words in an encyclopedia now, if that.

For most people on the planet, that means there's got to be something to it. Right? So many people believing in a god(dess) for as long as they have, believing in an afterlife in some form or another for as long as they have...that many people can't be wrong. They just can't.

Yet, for about the last month or so...this is where I've been. (One of the reasons you haven't heard much from me here on the blog or on the podcast.) I've been scared to write this...no...not scared...unwilling? Unwilling to admit that I'm going through a hard time with my faith. I don't know if it's in my nature not to have an answer to something. I suppose if I die and there's no afterlife, I won't know the difference, huh. Can't be disappointed if there's no me.

Ugh.

I've let go of so many things. I feel I'm on a sense of pause, and possibly because things for me are in a place of stagnation in many senses, I'm feeling a bit worried that this is it. That I'm going to be retail guy for the rest of my life and then I'll die. That I won't have truly lived, because I'm hoping it'll get better. Oh sweet gods, I almost did an Anne Hathaway 'I Dreamed A Dream' joke. I'll spare you.

Funny, though. I still light my candles. I still pray. I'm not really sure it would be right to think that my 'crisis of faith' is something that will end my faith, because I don't think I'm the kind of person who can go through life without the greater meta story of the gods, the spirits, the magic. I think this is a moment of evolution for me, however. That the questions I've asked and the answers I've come up with and the faith I want and the hard reality of the spinning universe are all coming together, sitting at a table somewhere in my gray matter, and they're hashing stuff out. It'll be interesting to see what comes out the other end.

Have YOU ever had a crisis of faith? Have you ever questioned the reality of the gods? The veracity of an existence beyond this physical world? They're called big questions for a reason, I suppose. They're tough. They're big. Really, really big. Hurt your head big. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. (Or Les Mis...you know...whatever.) Leave them in the comments below, as a few people have emailed me recently with similar 'crisis of faith' conundrums, and it might be good for them to see your answers, too.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

 

16 comments:

  1. While I'm thrilled to pieces that you've posted something, as I've missed you quite a bit, I'm very sad to see this. Not sad that you're approaching this topic, but sad because I understand what you're dealing with. I know how hard it can be.
    I wish so very much that I could offer you some sort of comfort. Unfortunately I have always believed that the things that we say to comfort someone who is struggling with this type of personal issue feel empty as we speak them.
    Feel it all however. Do not try to run away, because it will only chase you and it will be so much worse when it catches you. Accept the fears and the doubts, understand that it doesn't make you less of a believer or less of a person. Use it as an opportunity to realize how wonderful the things you do (magic, candles, loving Partner, etc.) make you feel. Revel in that feeling and appreciate it that much more. Tragic as it may be if there really is nothing after the act of dying, how much more tragic is it to watch someone as fabulous as you not glory in the life you have? These are the things I do and they work for me.
    I hope that your life continues to be filled with light and that it comforts you as you continue on your journey.

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  2. I have gone through a crisis of faith, mine was less of the fear of the nothingness of death but more of one of complete disconnect. I felt...nothing from the gods I thought I was in the care of. My practice faltered and I had to basically restart from the ground up. I had to leave Wicca behind and find something else (this had been coming for awhile as I was already disconnected from certain magical stylings and deity concepts), something that gave me that connection. I tried Asatru, then Buddhism, then wound my way back to the Celtic gods I'd been drawn to under Wicca. I studied their myths more closely, learning more about the cultures. I then found podcasts and through them learned about certain authors such as Peter Paddon and Robin Artisson. I began to feel connected again, but this was a crisis that lasted for nearly a decade, with the worst of it being a pretty dark time in my life (and it also marks my transition from magickkkal fluff-bunny to a more serious and scholarly practitioner). I left Wicca, wandered, and then found Witchcraft (of an obviously different kind)...kind of silly, but it makes sense to me.

    I'm not sure this will help, but according to Celtic myth, the soul resides in the head. To think of this from a scientific perspective, that could be connected to the electrical impulses of the brain. The brain "lights up" as it transmits signals between synapses. Electricity=energy. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Will that energy remain "you" once it's left the body? That's a different story.

    We all have crises of faith. At least, those of us who are educated, thinking beings who actively seek new knowledge have them. It's what drives the formation of new ideas, at least spiritually. Sometimes we have to step outside the box just to get back in it.

    May you be blessed by whichever gods you fancy,

    Teresa S.

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  3. I was raised an atheist until I was twelve when I became, yes, spiritual but not religious (which was not a "cop-out," as deciding what, exactly, I believed and how I wanted to approach my faith was, and still is, a serious thing). I'm currently an eclectic Pagan. Having said all that, there's a part of me that is still an atheist, that still questions faith. While I haven't had any major crises, there have been minor ones, but for the most part I just get through them. I accept them as a part of life. ...except for the times when I wonder what comes after life--and that's where my old atheist tendencies really rear their heads, as do my current beliefs--yes, my brain is quite the war zone. And it sucks. Big-time. So I understand--and I second much of what Rebecca said in her comment.

    As for "Les Mis", I haven't seen it yet--but I plan to, hopefully a week from this coming Tuesday (Tuesdays are the cheap days, which is great for students like me). I've been waiting for this movie since I was nine and hammering out "Master of the House" on my family's upright piano.

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  4. As odd as it may sound, I have never had a crisis of faith about death. Mine always centers around finding belief and faith in what can't be seen. I'm not sure why this is but I suppose it has to do with how I was raised.

    Even though I was raised as a Christian, I am different from most Christian to Pagan converts in that I was never taught to believe in Heaven and Hell as being real places. My parents are Jehovah's Witnesses so that is how we were raised. Their basic belief is that when you die you die and that's it until God performs the Resurrection after Armageddon. Then you will wake up just like you've been asleep and have to choose between God and Satan. So I was never saddled with the belief that if you are good you go to Heaven and if you are bad you go to Hell.

    As an adult, I have always been a healthcare worker so I have seen my share of people die. Sometimes dramatically, sometimes peacefully with their family at their bedside. The act of dying doesn't necessarily scare me, if anything it always raises my curiosity. I am more afraid of something happening to me and leaving my kids without their mom and my husband with the burden of being a single parent.

    I have had enough experiences with paranormal activity to believe that there is something more when we die. I don't believe that we totally cease to exist. I don't know what's on the other side but I'm not to afraid to find out one day. Hopefully not anytime soon though!

    This may not help very much but maybe it will be something else you can add to your toolbox of things to think about as you work your way through this.

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  5. Oh, yes been there and still there until I push it down for a bit. Like you I still light the candles and say the prayers but like Rebecca I have really embraced loving each day, the people I am with, the fun Witchy has and what comes after, well if nothing we won't know but we will be remembered for your stories, art and podshow and Witchy for hers and yet if what comes after is what are hearts have dreamed on then that is a greater joy. Perhaps we don't know what is after because if we did how could we appreciate our time here? When life got awful here how many would say - that's it I am out of here and if there was a purpose for the hard times finding that out after leaving probably wouldn't be all that great. I read once a long time something about hoping in more after makes our life richer but I think either makes ones life richer. If all there is - is this well then I better spread a lot of sparkles before I go and if there is more - let me just say when I leave here I don't think I want to come back here for awhile, maybe another place will be offered for a change. I hope we get bonus points for living in the asylum of the Universe ;)
    Hugs and Sparkles
    WG

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  6. Yes sir, I've been there as well... I think questioning faith or existence itself happens to us all and sometimes more than once for a few folks. I was raised with what I would call loose ties with Christianity, my family didn't go to church but I knew there was Heaven and Hell and if i didn't follow God, I was headed for hell. Condensed version of my life... I didn't have a very good childhood, I had loving parents and family but there were some very difficult times that no child should go through. In my teen years I was pretty sure if I died, I had a ticket South... At 16 I was married and had a baby boy and the entire time I was pregnant I prayed and repented and begged for my child to be okay and I would be forever the good Christian. It must have been a premonition, my son lived for only 4 hours, he had a severe birth defect that occurred in the first weeks of the pregnancy. In the 26 years that have passed since my son I have come to believe that this is the equivalent of hell. I feel that Dustin's path was over and that he was a part of the "hell" that I needed to go through before completing my journey. This is the only way that I can rationalize the despair that so many face during life. That we each have cycles to go through and that they may be repeated several times before your path is over. Now, where we go when the path is over I'm not sure but my belief is that we are a bit of everywhere. I truly believe that I will be with the soul that is Dustin after I'm gone along with my daddy and other family and friends that have left before me. There are so many beautiful places on this earth and in space that I think (hope)that once my path is complete I can travel to all these places along with the people that are dear to me... When friends ask me if I'm worried about going to hell since I am Pagan, I now tell them that if I'm wrong and I die and am met at some pearly gate and I am told I am not welcome then so be it...
    Sorry for the long post!
    Love and hugs,
    Liz aka Witchkittybell

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  7. Hey this sounds like a show topic! Anyway,I had a crisis of faith in college. I was taking a religion course and there was a student in there who brought up a LOT of serious questions about the divine that I hadn't thought about before. He did get a little obnoxious, to the point that we had a hard time even discussing different theistic points of view without him interrupting everything. Which is not really conducive to a religion class but he did have some valid points. Anyway it shook me to the core. I did have tears about it and I desperately asked the advice of any Pagan that I knew. I felt pretty pathetic actually.
    So what ended up happening was that it drove me to ask more serious questions about my faith that I took for granted before. How much of those questioning belonged to the idea of an all loving, all powerful God? Are my spiritual experiences just in my head? How do I really feel about all of this? How much of this anguish stems from dissatisfaction in my own life? and so on. I just couldn't discard my spirituality so I just striped it to the core. Instead of say reading a book on Wicca saying, "yes this is what I believe," then doing the rituals, I started to make offerings and doing rituals, then based my spirituality upon my feelings and experiences. Does that make sense? I personally feel that the dark night of the soul helped me in the long run. If you want my advice I would just keep doing the stuff while trying not to judge the experience or ascribe belief or rules to it. I wish you the best of luck.

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  8. OMG, I have gone through a crisis of faith about every 3rd year or so! And yet, here I still am, plucking away along this path because in the end I always come back. Because despite all my doubts I still have faith, even if I don't understand that faith or why it's all so important to me.

    And I find comfort in the myth of the Prodigal Son (I know, shock, gasp, horror, I'm using a Christian tale as a life lesson). I value living a life that is questioned and examined, even if it makes me crazy sometimes. And my path is very much the same. There are times when I feel absolute peace with it and there are times that I don't. In the end, I think my desire to believe and my willingness to come back and work my way through each crisis slowly but surely makes my path stronger. If that makes sense.

    Our minds are complicated places and can "make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven" (rough paraphrase of Milton's Paradise Lost), and I think that part of the journey is realizing how much of a muck our mind can make of things (through said self-examination) and then learning to let go in order to not only calm the mind and our woes, but to find beauty and perfection in the imperfection of the world around us and in our very own nature. To me that is very much part of the great work which leads us back to remembering who we are.

    Ok, that was far too much thought before my first cup of coffee. Hopefully some of it made sense!

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  9. I know these feelings so well. There are lovely parts to faith, and very difficult parts. There are lovely parts to having no faith, and very difficult parts. To me, the ultimate question was, "is it true?" which is what ultimately made me leave my religion. I won't lie: I went through a very hard period when I first left a belief in God behind. I felt a gaping hole where He had once been. But eventually, with time, the reassurance of grasping the world as it really is brought its own reassurances-- that I could recognize that some people and animals really do just have difficult, prolonged, painful existences, and then just die; and that the worst injustice would be me, not doing anything about it. Me placating myself with thoughts of them in paradise, instead of helping those who are still here, living through the same problems: people starving, animals being killed for food, and the like.

    But I see no problem in maintaining the rituals, or in keeping the label, or in identifying a certain myth set as *your* myth set. I don't even see a problem in believing it, if you think there's enough evidence, and it doesn't placate you into inaction. Be kind to Fire Lyte, even as you are kind to others. <3

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  10. This is one topic that is near and dear to me as I too have these very questions that bring me to the brink of despair on a fairly regular basis. I have posted short "notes" about it from time to time on my FB page. I don't think it's so much about fear of death or dying, for myself, it's about not being forgotten.
    The simplest way for me to gain traction is to look to Nature and science. The law of conservation of mass states that matter cannot be destroyed, only transformed. If the universe has any sense of justice, then so too should spirit. My favorite example, is when you drop a full glass of water; the glass (body) may be destroyed, but the water (sprint) is only displaced and changes into vapor. We return to the Mother and the universe that spawned us.
    What truly screws with us is that we live the type of lives that allows this question to even be asked. The early 19th century convict didn't have the time, or luxury, to even contemplate the question and so passed into oblivion without history caring one iota (except for that one movie). What we all must come to terms with is that history cares as much about us as it did him. What we leave behind is our true legacy. Concentrating on the “after” death part takes away from the “living” part.
    "To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; this is to have succeeded." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

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  11. I have not had a crisis of faith per se, but i would say a crisis of life: faith included. The last month and a half has been so overwhelming I haven't been able to write about it until last week. Everything has been overwhelming. It has been a struggle, but the last couple of weeks have really opened everything up... faith included. I did the same thing you did... kind of morphed from Christianity to Paganism. It fit me a heck of a lot better and I liked the idea of magic too. Everything for me has gotten a lot more concrete in the last month... As I have said it has been a weird couple months for a lot of people I know in our Pagan blogosphere... So, thanks for this post.

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  12. the answer is simple, although it can be a long, hard road getting there.

    it is the most important decision you will ever have to make.

    there is only one truth.

    read john 3:16, or any of the rest of the new testament.

    the bible is the most historically-accurate book in the world from it's time - check it out.

    Jesus Christ is Lord!

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  13. ....Really? It's a shame you chose the name anonymous and chose to hide in the shadows of the internet. Also: You know what's funny? If you replace the word God with Godzilla in the bible, it still makes just as much sense.

    =)

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  14. Hi there Fire Lyte,

    I probably shouldn't be writing this right now since I've got a big paper due and haven't even started it yet. I've been so distracted this evening starting with Les Miserable at the Oscars and then with a full search of all things Les Mis on the internet. In my procrastination process, I came across your blog & read what you had to say about your crisis of faith. I loved you're writing style & found the whole thing very intriguing!

    It seems that you are very sincere in your search for truth, which is why I chose to write you. This is the first time I have ever commented on a blog – I avoid posting publicly on the internet at all costs because it seems that most people use the internet as an outlet for their anger, which turns into hateful comments and cyber bullying. It's not very appealing, which is why I usually stay away. But coming across your blog post, I thought – “Well, if I can help those around me, those friends who feel lost and are seeking happiness, then maybe I can help this gentleman who creatively expressed his concern for his spiritual life.” So here it goes, my first attempt at engaging with a cyber stranger. I'm prepared for any and all hateful comments, but that's not what's important, what's important is the truth.

    The truth is, I'm a young girl in her 20s (which is why I'm choosing to post anonymously... I hope that's understandable.) But knowing that fact may change things a bit, you might chose to disregard everything I'm about to say because I'm young & naïve, but I truly hope you don't and this is why... My entire life, I have possessed a true and unwavering happiness. An inner peace that is hard to even explain, especially to a cyber friend. But it's the kind of state where no matter how hard the day will be, I am excited for it! That doesn't mean I'm ALWAYS in a good, happy, outgoing mood, but it means that in those quite moments in each and every day, when it's just me & God talking, I'm happy with my life and with everything He's given me...the good, the bad & the ugly. (Now, I'm sure you're thinking, “hunny, you're a youngster. You don't know what life is like until you've lived a few more years.” But I hope you don't write me off that quickly.) .....

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  15. See, I come from a large family and I am the very youngest. We all grew up in a loving and happy home – one brimming with joy, excitement, romance, wonder and magic. When I say magic, I mean that my parents lived out their Catholic faith as best they could everyday, and in that way they made our childhood so beautiful and so magical.

    Our upbringing was incredible and I thought that my happiness was a direct result of that, but my senior year of high school things got shaken up a bit. What I mean is, one of my sisters started losing her faith. She went to a Catholic university that had atheists as their theology professors (go figure). My older sister started changing her beliefs and her views often clashed with my parents', but my parents were respectful of that. They knew that everyone's path to faith was very different and often required lots of bumps and turns. A few years after college, my sister's life was in great shape, but she had lost her faith – in turn, she lost any reason she had to live – and so, she took her own life. The shock our family felt is beyond words, but we got through the grief with the grace of God --- I use to think that saying was annoying because you hear “grace of God” so often in mass that it becomes meaningless and who even knows what that means exactly anyway? But lots of things in the faith are only understood once you've experienced them for yourself: once you feel His grace, that saying is the only way possible to explain the phenomena. How else could you peacefully live through something so tragic? A beautiful daughter, a blissful friend, a loving cousin, an irreplaceable sister had chosen to leave this world and to leave us all behind. There are few things that I imagine could be harder than that.

    I often think, for those who live without God, what are they truly living for? How sad it must be to think that productivity in the work place or an accumulation of money are considered to be the highest goals of one's existence. I do not say this in a mocking way... I say it with a sincere sorrow for anyone in that disposition.

    As you mentioned in your blog post, many great civilizations, religions, societies, etc. believe in an afterlife, because without the hope of an afterlife, there is no hope of true happiness. How can anyone be truly happy when they think “this is it, this is all there is to life.” Fire Lyte, I want you to know that God does exist. I say that so surely that I would be willing to lay down my life for that statement. Now, that probably doesn't mean much to you since we're strangers, masked behind the cloud of the internet, but, that is a strong statement regardless. Is there anything in your life that you are so sure of, something that brings you so much inner peace and joy, something that brings you “life to the full” and that makes you the best version of yourself everyday? Is there something else that you would be willing to die for because you knew it to be true? Maybe there is, but if there isn't, I invite you to give God a chance. If you're truly sincere in your seek for truth, you'll find it eventually...but only if you look for it in the right places! :)

    Wishing you the very best in your search.

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  16. Fire Lyte, it's me again... the anonymous 20-year-old that wrote you a novel last week. (You can call me Sparkle since that's what my name means in Lithuanian). I have yet another paper I should be writing which is why I"m procrastinating again and writing on your site.

    I had a proposition for you. Lately, I've been really digging deep into the questions you posed & have learned an incredible amount. I watched some anti-religious documentaries but then have also sought advice from my ethics & religion professor. I'm thinking of making a mini Youtube series about misconceptions about Catholicism & their views on heaven/hell.. reasons why so many people reject God or religion. I think, like you, many people believe religions are only followed by those who want a 1st class ticket to heaven - which isn't the case at all or at least it shouldn't be. I have so much I want to say & I think Youtube might be the easiest way to share it.

    You've inspired me to take on this project but I wanted to see if you're okay with me referring to this blog post. I want to mention it in my first video - the 'crisis of faith' that many people might be experiencing. What do you think? I promise I wouldn't use it in a mocking manner!

    Sincerely, Sparkle

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