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.
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,