One of the things that no one will ever tell you about having a religion is that it is easy. They will never sit down and tell you that if you do X,Y, and Z then everything will work out perfectly, the way you hope it will. This is because religion, no matter the flavor, is not easy. Instead of a pretty path, walking through the forest with flowers in bloom and birds flying overhead, you will end up in a rocky outcropping and be forced to climb a cliff face. The thing is that it’s a matter of maintaining a certain status quo between constantly doubting that this all is really happening to you and constantly believing that this is all really happening to you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about doubt lately because lately, I’ve been doubting. Since Hetheru showed up to talk to me about beauty, I’ve been doubting everything. I’m always doubting, anyway, but there are days where that doubt is stronger than others. Don’t get me wrong because I honestly think doubting is a good idea. I tend to equate it along the lines with discernment, the fun and exciting word that consistently makes its rounds amid the pagan blogs. If you throw yourself wholeheartedly into a religious practice, then part of that wholehearted toss will end up being doubt. I think we, as pagans and polytheists, go through this right alongside the Christians and the Jews. I think they doubt, just as we do. None of us happen to know what’s right and what’s wrong concretely and we probably will never have concrete proof of things.
The thing about faith is that it can be very difficult to maintain. Sometimes, I think that what we term as “faith” is really like a flowering plant. And sometimes, the flowers are full and in bloom and you just know that everything you are going through is incredibly real. But, on other days, the blooms don’t open in the sunshine and maybe it starts to look a little wilted because you haven’t been paying as much attention to it lately. And that’s when the doubt really starts to eat away at you, both your mind and your soul. It can get kind of heavy – doubt – and then it comes down to what the next step is. You can continue to doubt or you can get right back in there and start maintaining your plant of faith again in the hopes that everything will go back to how it used to be.
A while back, I was reading a post on Dver about how when things turn really bad, we tend to turn away from our religion. That post, Do Not Stop Your Devotions, is something that I think about a lot, especially as I’m in the middle of one of my heavy doubt sessions. I can be in the middle of doubting every single ounce of my religion, but if I can just keep doing all the things that I do on a daily and/or weekly basis while I’m doubting, then I think I will get through it. I used to, I’ll admit, just stop doing everything whenever doubt would overpower me and I would lie, crying, on the floor about how I’m obviously insane and everything I think, feel, and know is actually a product of my imagination. After reading that post, though, I realized that it didn’t matter how much doubt I was going through: I had to keep going.
I know this is from a movie, but it always stayed with me. I don’t remember what movie this is from (so if anyone else knows, can they let me know?), but there was discussion about those who have the deepest faith in something can sometimes be afflicted with the worst doubt. That’s not really how it was portrayed or discussed in the movie, but that’s the message I gleaned from whatever the hell the conversation was about. (Is this from Stigmata, maybe?) I just remember sitting back and thinking for a long time about how having faith can be intertwined so heavily with doubt and that the more faith you have, the more you can be racked with heart-wrenching doubt.
Ask any one who knows me on a personal level – I have a large influx of faith. The faith that I had eschewed in high school and beyond has filled me up, ten to fifteen years later. I can remember not having any faith in anything and never really doubting. Now, though, I have faith in my gods, in my religious path, in my astral life, in the lessons I’m learning. And in this constant faith, I am now constantly and horrifically assailed with this doubt. Though I am not like the saint who decided to probe the wounds of Jesus Christ on the cross, in a way, it could be said to be similar. Only instead of probing wounds inflicted upon the living son of the Christian god, I am probing my own wounds in not having concrete evidence that what I do, what I learn, and what I believe is true.
Just as putting together a stack of blocks can be a process, so too is having faith. While my son will build huge, large, flying structures across the living room carpet for me, I am busy building the faith that I have in everything that I do and everything that I believe in. My blocks may fall over, just as my son’s do. And that process is one of doubt. In that moment, I will have to rebuild whatever it is that I was building in the first place, just as my son does. And it can be frustrating, irritating, and a back-breaking process. As the screams and stamps of frustration of my son suppose, building the structure of blocks back up to what we had in our mind’s eye is something that is not even remotely easy. Especially when you place that one last block in the absolute perfect place, only to have it tumble down around your feet [again].
But, having faith is a process. It’s a long process. It’s a hard process. You are assailed on all sides by things that would tear down your sturdy structure. Sometimes the things that assail that faith is yourself. Sometimes the things that assail that faith are outsiders, peering in. Sometimes the things that assail that faith are personal tragedies. Sometimes the things that assail that faith are personal goals achieved. Whatever it is that is scaling your fortress of solitude’s walls in an attempt to cause doubt doesn’t really matter. What does matter is, even amid the frustration and anger, you are still willing to attempt to build that wall, that structure back up again. What does matter is, even amid all the frustration and anger, you are still willing to give that little faith-plant love and tender care as you try to nurse it back to health.