On Christmas Eve my partner and I watched an old favorite of mine: Donnie Darko. The film is a trippy, incoherent and yet strangely cathartic philosophical exploration of reality. Running through the film is Donnie’s struggles with belief in God. The film captures well the unreality and alienation that accompanies such deep exploration: little makes sense in this world, and we are surrounded by delusions and nightmares.
The scenes that struck me the most powerfully were the discussions Donnie has with his therapist about his struggles with belief in God.
For as long as I have had faith in God, I have also known doubt. My doubt and I have been in a dance for years, now, growing apart and then coming together, sometimes fighting, sometimes talking, sometimes choosing to understand one another.
As I struggle with navigating the faith I love so dearly, I turn to the internet for guidance, and I find a great deal of cerebral talk with little soul. I hear Sam Harris and Dawkins and Christian apologists talk about the pros and cons of faith, but what’s missing for me in almost all discussions about doubt is humanity.
Last week, I wrote that the future of the world depends in no small part upon how we – the normal, everyday people who populate this globe, practice our capacity for presence and focus. We live in uncertain times, but we are not helpless. As I argued in my previous post, we begin changing the world by putting our own houses in order.
Like many, I watched in horror as America elected a narcissistic bully as our next president. Like many, I was overwhelmed by despair, panic, and grief, and astonished by the intensity of my feelings. A serene voice in my head repeated, over and over, “There, there, things might not be that bad. We don’t know the future. Maybe he won’t be a complete unmitigated monster.” And yet I couldn’t curtail the horror, disgust, and panic that was rising within me. I couldn’t sleep, I drank too much, I was a morose basket case. I couldn’t get out of my head the circus of obscenities that we had all been exposed to: the abuses, the lies, the disregard for the beams of democracy, the Caligula-like grandiosity of Donald Trump. Now we are to live with such disgust – and whatever other follies may come – for the next four years.
Several weeks ago I made a decision: that I would drastically reduce my time on social media. It was an attempt to drain the shallows from my life – reducing the meaningless, easy-to-replicate tasks to give more time and space to the activities that create meaning and fulfillment in my life.
Last week I wrote about my sexual compulsion which flourished in grief, despair, and self-loathing. Most of all, the sex addiction was watered by the unwillingness to allow myself to love and be loved in a distinctly erotic way.
In 2013, I was sick with heartbreak. My boyfriend, on a sunny January day in Baltimore, broke up with me.
He was a conservative Christian, and so was I. We both believed that homosexuality was not God’s best for humanity, and that it would be a sin to act on it. And yet, here we were: deeply in love, and now deeply heartbroken. We had lived in a horrible in-between place, unable to change our beliefs and unable to stop loving each other. The dissonance drove us mad, and it ended in him breaking up with me. I’d never known such rending emotional pain.
In her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeleine L’Engle writes,
When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening. I will never understand the silent dying of the green pie-apple tree if I do not slow down and listen to what the Spirit is telling me, telling me of the death of trees, the death of planets, of people, and what all these deaths mean in the light of love of the Creator who brought them all into being; who brought me into being; and you.
This questioning of the meaning of being, and dying, and being, is behind the telling of stories around the tribal fires at night; behind the drawing of animals on the walls of caves; the singing of melodies of love in spring, and of the death of green in autumn. It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the hearts of all of God’s creatures.