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A Crisis of Faith: Descending to Ascend

I’ve taken a longer essay on my personal crisis of faith and have broken it into three smaller, digestible parts. Though these experiences are personal, they may be useful for others. The feelings of despair and sadness accompanying a loss of faith do not need to be permanent, and may actually be a necessary part within a longer journey towards living an authentic life. I’ve come to believe that each of us has the power to create a greater resolve toward living after a faith crisis, than we could have possibly imagined before.

Part 1: A Child’s Religion

My family moved out of the only house I had ever known just before I turned seven years old. Up to that time, my parents had become disillusioned with their Baptist faith and avoided church wherever possible. Speaking with my father as an adult, he had determined that all churches were corrupt, and wanted absolutely nothing to do with them. Both he and my mother had made a conscious decision to not speak about religion in my presence, all in an attempt to spare me the trauma they had experienced from a fundamentalist upbringing. All of that changed though, just months before leaving. They were tracted out by two LDS missionaries, convinced they had found the truth, and were soon baptized as newly minted Mormons. I didn’t know it at the time, but my entire world was about to changed because of that decision, and it wasn’t even mine to make. As far as church is concerned, I went from zero to sixty over night, but it would be a mistake to think that just because I wasn’t given a set of beliefs before Mormonism, that I didn’t have any.

The events surrounding our move then, have allowed me to look back and place a date on a number childhood memories that provides a valuable perspective on similar events happening now. I was five years old at the time, and to my mind, the house was alive. I don’t mean that it was metaphorically alive, as in alive with activity or fun, but that it was literally alive with an actual consciousness, and that it loved me. Any changes within the house I didn’t personally witness, were attributed to an action by the house itself. I would make a mess of my toys, leave them and after returning later, they would be put away. I would speak to my room, thanking it for taking care of the mess. Some mornings, the clothes I needed to wear would mystically appear laid out on top of my dresser, waiting for me to wake up. This was pure magic that only a living entity within the walls could have performed. Amazing and miraculous events occurred with regularity in that house. I lived a life of cautious amazement as I began to train myself on the metaphysics of my new world, not noticing any strangeness because everything was strange. My parents would allow me take a glass of water to bed with me. I’d sit it on the night stand before going to sleep, telling my room in a loud voice “I’m finished now!” and then lie awake as long as I could watching the glass, waiting for it to disappear in front of my eyes. Of course I would eventually succumb and fall asleep, and in the morning it would be gone. I felt so fortunate to have such a wonderful house that could do whatever it was I needed. One evening, I caught my mother trying to remove the glass while I was watching it, and screamed at her to leave it because I didn’t want to miss seeing the magic first hand. I tried to explain, and I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember she didn’t understand. It never occurred to me that she could be the real source of my magic.

I know now that I used to sleep walk at that age, but for a long time I thought the house had the power transport my body into the night, just like it did the dishes and toys. I’d wake up downstairs, in the kitchen, on the pool table, and in the garage. I’d have dreams about walking around in dark rooms, seeing a light above my head and then climbing towards it on whichever objects I could feel below my feet, which felt a lot like stairs. I’d ascend all the way to the top, the entire time with a slight fear that I might fall off into the pitch blackness and never hit bottom. I would get close to the light, wake up standing in my own doorway, and then crawl back to bed. As comforting as it was to have such a benevolent force looking over me and obeying my wishes, the games it played began to become disquieting. If it had the power to make me disappear, then what if it decided to keep me and not let me return? What if the house was to send me far away and I couldn’t find my way back? The vivid memory of these fears has given me a greater amount of empathy toward my own children when they cry out scared in the middle of the night. They can’t articulate a reason, and neither could I at the time, because there were no words for what was happening. It was a simple, unexplainable fear of the dark.

Ultimately, I began to treat my house as I would my parents. It was kind, but all powerful, and I didn’t want to think about what it could do to me. I would greet my room in the morning, and tell it goodnight when I went to bed. I developed rituals for turning the lights on and off and closing the doors to empty rooms. In return, my house would continue to care for me. Perhaps my mother thought it was a streak of independence when I would tell her she didn’t need to help me with things, but it wasn’t. I was simply convinced that I had the help from a higher power, and much preferred its supernatural abilities to hers. As I began to feel confident in my new found relationship with the world, things changed. One day I got of bed, as usual, said “good morning” to my room and began reading a picture book on the floor. Quiet and graceful, in a scene I can vividly recall to this day, a tall blonde woman with blue eyes and a flowing white dress appeared in my doorway smiling. She spoke my name, said “Good morning to you”, and then proceeded down the hall. I immediately chased after only to find that she had vanished just like so many other things into thin air. I was left to wonder, was it the house caring for me, or was it her? I never saw her again, and never stopped wishing for another visit. Thus my first introduction to religion was not given to me, but was one of my own making.

Leaving that place left a huge void in my young life that was quickly filled with the new found activity of attending church. It was here that I learned a new language and context for reality. Suddenly, I had a way of explaining my experience in a way that didn’t exist before. The benevolent power I felt was no longer within my walls, but from a heavenly father. The woman who appeared in my doorway became an angel, while that mysterious fear that lived in the darkness became the devil and his demons. My self-made religion was quickly consumed by a larger readymade system, and by time I reached eight years old, I was devouring it with hunger. The explanatory power of my new faith was intoxicating. Not only did I receive a new vocabulary, relieving the frustration stemming from an inability to share my internal world, but I was also given an opportunity to step foot into the even more mysterious adult world. Yet, with all the new excitement, there was a big difference between the experiential religion of my early childhood, and the rote religion which replaced it. I was no longer required to feel around in the dark for a way to go, because my path was set. This felt complete, safe, unambiguous, and worked well within my rapidly unfolding universe, but it never managed to be as viscerally authentic as my first religion, practiced all by myself.


tiny mosquito said...

Beautiful piece. In my personal experience my crisis of faith did not initially bring me any sorrow but instead great hope and unexplainable joy. I believe this is because even though I was raised in an extremely TBM household my religion never sat right with me. I always felt that something was off, and I always felt a great amount of angst. I also didn't like feeling that I was not the person that I was "supposed" to be. All I have ever wanted was to be the person I was meant to be, and to feel connected to the world and with my spirit within. This desire for connection led me to where I am today.

The sadness and despair DID come however. It came when I tried to share my new found faith and feelings with friends family and loved ones who did not approve of the path I was on, and chastised, condemned, and abandoned me as a result. This is where my sadness comes from. I am not sorry for the loss of a faith that wasn't serving me well, but I am sorry for the loss of my relationships. It hurts.

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