Stargazer's Story

Stargazer wrote a story which demands a wider audience:

I’ve spent nearly 20 years of my adult life believing what you so often state about the Spirit, being led by the spirit of God, etc. I grew up in a conservative evangelical setting, where even C.S. Lewis was considered ‘iffy,’ (he smoke, drank, and enjoyed bawdy jokes, you know!), but he was allowed. In my late teen years, I expanded my reading to other writers, and found my way eventually to where I felt most at home, with the mystics of the church. My intro to this world was through Evelyn Underhill, Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton—from there I found my way to the Theresas, John of the Cross, Julian, Hildegard, many others and eventually committed myself to a lay contemplative group connected to a Cistercian monastery. Over those same years my church experience and theological outlooks, at least to my mind at the time, broadened and deepened. Like you, the experiential became more foundational than the intellectual, and everything I read in scripture or in the writings of Christian authors and teachers was seen through the lense of my experience. After all, I had opened myself to the spirit of love, the spirit of God, and had come to trust that I would be led into the truth, since that was my deepest desire.

I became the standard by which all things were measured—my perceptions and understanding of the truth were a very subjective measure, and when my perceptions came into conflict with those of my fellow contemplatives, it began to raise more questions. We were all committed to God, we all supposedly desired truth, how did we come up with so many opposing ideas?

I was with that group for about 15 years, and then went into formal spiritual formation training with the goal of becoming a spiritual director (I blush now to think I even allowed myself to think I should do this!). While the experience was very positive in the relational aspect, I found myself beginning to wonder how on earth we could end up in such different places, using the same basic source for our beliefs.

The problem was that, essentially, we become our own ‘popes.’ Even when I would say that my relationship with God was born out by the evidence of experience, it still resulted in belief system—there were things I believed about God and things that I did not. You mentioned offering another option other than liberal and conservative views of scripture and belief—but I think what it comes down to is that it is just another system. And it again results in the cherry-picking that has been mentioned in various posts on this blog. It offers no more of an evidential support for belief in God than any other system of belief. We believe that God is love, we believe that the spirit guides us, we have felt this love and the spirit in our innermost being. Problem is…when I came to the point where I had to honestly admit I no longer believed in a personal god, I would still have that experience—but it was connected to things I would read about the cosmos, or when I would lay outside under the trees and just look at the world around me. I get the same sense of awe, the deep, heart-thrilling, take-your-breath-away sense of being overwhelmed just be the sheer beauty of life and the amazing fact that I am alive in all of this. Part of this comes, I am sure, from no longer having to feel like I have to get it “right” about god. That is done. Now, I just live and learn

I’ve been reading a recent book, Leaving Church, by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopalian priest who resigned from parish work and is now teaching. She talks about how, for the first several years of her life, she remembers having tremendous joy in the natural world, experiencing a deep oneness with that world, and then says when she finally went to church for the first time at the age of seven, she “got the impression that the people who were there that morning had figured out a way of talking about their feeling (equating that with her experience). They seemed to know where it came from , who was responsible for it, what it meant, and how to respond to it.” When I read that and what followed, I felt very sad. Though for her it remained a positive experience, because it made her hungry for God, it also led her to a way of thinking and being from which she found later she needed to extricate herself. She now is at a place where God is much bigger to her than the church will normally allow, and my guess is if she continues on the path she is on, she may well find herself letting go of all the definitions.

But that is where I now find myself—I’m back in the world again, knowing that I’m a part of life. I want to know and understand as much as I can. I want to know about novas and supernovas, I want to learn some languages, I want to get back to my music, I want a telescope for Christmas, I want to know more about fractals—you name it, I want to know it. I feel like I have been in a cocoon far too long—it was often comfortable, familiar, warm, but dark. And the real me is finally allowed to be. All those spiritual experiences—they were wonderful at the time, but they kept me from asking my deeper questions.