This is a GUEST post. Every now and then we’ll get another writer in to take on a topic that’s been on their mind. This article is the final in a five-part series by Vanessa James, writing about her spiritual journey of doubt and deconstruction. If you missed the earlier parts, here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
Vanessa James is a film/TV composer by day, singer-songwriter by night, radioactive at lunch, and trespasser by derelict buildings. She lives by the sea in Brighton but was born by the main road in Bradford to a wild Colombian mama and a polite English papa, which keeps her confused, but multi-coloured.
T H E B I G B A N G
Well, we’ve made it to the end of the series, amigos! I’m a bit sad to see this thing off; what a friend it has been in helping me move along my own spiritual road.
The last blog saw my status as a pretty unmovable atheist which was me over a year ago, but something happened a few months later that changed all that, and it went a little something like this…
It was evening. I’d just finished writing what I thought was going to be my farewell blog, signing off as a happy humanist. I distinctly remember my shoulders dropping, releasing a breath loaded with contentment, leaning back in my chair and reflecting on the epic adventure I’d been on for the past two years, grateful for the lessons I’d picked up along the way.
I felt I was flying at my own personal altitude.
I felt totally and purely Vanessa.
This was a good moment.
Me and Miguel (the cat) took our usual night-time walk round the park then got in our jim-jams and hit the hay. No cheese. No alcohol. No pills. Nothing out of the ordinary. No one but me and Miguel in the house.
I fell asleep but as usual got stirred awake in the early hours. As I went to move my body, I discovered I couldn’t: I was paralysed. Conscious but paralysed.
‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘It’s coming again.’
This wasn’t the first time this had happened…
Backstory, circa 2007
Back in my Christian days I’d often get these terrifying night experiences that I thought were some kind of attack of the enemy. As it turns out it’s actually a ‘thing’ that others (including non-believers) experience too. Wikipedia best explains how it was for me:
‘Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which an individual temporarily experiences an inability to move, speak, or react, either during falling asleep or awakening. The person is awake and conscious but paralysed, often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations, and often involving a person or supernatural creature suffocating or terrifying the individual. A common hallucination involves intruders (human or supernatural) entering one’s room or lurking outside the window, accompanied by a feeling of dread. Visions and hearing a demonic voice are symptoms commonly experienced during episodes of sleep paralysis.’
Nothing like a bit of demonic tomfoolery to rock you to sleep, hey!
Now, I’ve got a great relationship with fear, but these experiences were something else. I’d even try keep myself awake some nights just to avoid it, and when they became too much to handle, I reached out for prayer and never got them again.
Years later, it returns.
Back to 2015
So here I am again: paralysed, but alert, aware and present enough to hear my own breathing and the occasional car pass outside my window, or even to notice when Miguel twitched by my feet. As it goes, what follows this awareness of paralysis is what I can only describe as feeling like I dissolve into another realm. Less of a dream world and more like another reality layer running parallel to this one. But a much, much darker one.
There is no colour, not even white, just various shades of grey and black. I sense it’s the place where something bad is about to happen. I then become aware that something evil is next to me or on me. The presence comes in various forms but always with the same intention: to take my life (either literally or some other way). Each attempt is different but always done slowly, as if the build-up is part of the killing.
My survival instincts kick in to help burst me out of the paralysis. As a Christian the weapon that felt most potent to cut through such darkness was the name ‘Jesus’. If I were living in ancient Egypt maybe my conditioning would assign the same feeling of power or salvation to the name ‘Horus’ – who knows. Either way, the minute I forced my saviours name through my frozen lips, I would instantly get sucked out of the realm and unlocked from my paralysis.
The problem with experiencing this old haunt as an atheist was in realising I held no power or genuine belief in those mystical things to fight back with; no divine light for divine darkness. “Oh great,” I remember thinking, “I can’t even pull myself out of this because I don’t believe in Jesus anymore.” I collapsed into myself, knowing I was just going to have to wait it out.
It was in that moment that my right arm started to burn. I’m not talking some dreamy impression of a feeling: this was hot, heavy fluid rising up my arm and it was hurting me. I wanted to look over but I was also afraid because I knew something surreal was happening and I didn’t want to feed my eyes with information that could potentially delude me, not at this time of night, not when I’d just completed my blog and felt so ‘done’, so clear, so in control, so like the proud owner of a new tidy brain.
Problem is, I’m curious.
I’m not sure if my head physically moved or whether I looked over in some other conscious way, but somehow I looked over: prepared to see some weirdness, but not this much weirdness.
My arm wasn’t the 3D, skin-covered limb it usual was, no, it was like… how do I put this… Tron meets Avatar meets The Matrix! My arm was multi-multi-dimensional!
I saw molecules running up and down, cleverly aligning into the shape of my arm. I saw double helix’s spiralling. I even grasped history on another level – like an immediate understanding of everything that had brought my arm into being and existence: motherly and fatherly love, time, growth, resistance, nutrients and everything that grew those nutrients like water, soil, sunshine, stars. It was the whole universe, which at that moment in time was expressing itself as my arm.
It’s near impossible to explain this, it’s like grabbing a handful of smoke because the whole thing is outside definition and inside experience. It’s more a cellular understanding than a single sense intake (like vision). It was a knowing. A deep and immediate understanding. An ‘I know this to be true’ recognition. Ineffable but catchable through a mix of senses, cells, feelings, emotions, instincts, impressions, tastes, colours and more.
The best way I can describe it is that I momentarily inherited what felt like the mind of God.
I looked up from my arm. It was my room alright, everything in its usual place, except I was seeing it in a sort of infinite dimension (and by ‘seeing’ I mean more ‘absorbing’). It was as though I were witnessing the mechanics behind everything: of existence, of being, space, structure and my right arm, which looked like science, maths, history, geography and all the other GCSE’s, all reacting and playing together.
It was a symphony of everything.
No biggie, but I was also able to comprehend eternity. Yeah, it’s indescribable (boo!) but I think we catch glimpses of it when we’re in a very present and in-the-moment state, or in those outside-of-time moments of ultimate connection to something or someone. Like a first kiss, or losing ourself in music.
More overwhelmingly was how I viewed space, air, nothingness. Except it wasn’t nothingness, the gaps in between my fingers were packed with existence! With cosmic depth, with equations in practice, with things we label gravity, weight, mass and more, but here it was alive, almost infected with consciousness.
When I moved my arm I was denting space, making it ripple out like water, but thicker, like a transparent gel. Space was an existence in itself and it was made of the same stuff that I was. It made me see how nothing is disconnected. Nothing is separate from anything. Everything is gelled by the substance of existence. Everything is living. Everything is interactive. Everything causes something to happen. Everything is connected, but more than that…
Everything is in relationship.
All sense of separation fell away for me in that moment. As though I was experiencing the very essence of unity.
It wasn’t long before an army of sanity defenders barged through my atheist brain trying to save me from delusion by infusing me with panic, fear and anxiety, and that’s when I saw something else… my emotions moved things!
My sudden, strong emotions moved like a heatwave, pressuring the space gel, causing atoms to move, waves to react, equations to re-form and vibrations to change. The whole thing was like a spider web: when you flick a single strand, any strand, however lightly, the whole thing responds. It made me believe that our words, thoughts, motivations, feelings, even beliefs about ourselves and others can literally re-shape the universe.
I lay there in my bed witnessing this natural magic, feeling honoured, humbled, in awe, but not in shock, because it was almost obvious. Prolifically obvious! This wasn’t a spiritual, supernatural or divine experience – not in my old definition of those terms – this was the most deeply natural experience I’ve ever known. It was science in 4D. It was the grass roots of nature. It was life at its very essence. It was the nucleus of reality. It was naked reality. It’s everything behind the façade of reality we have broadcast to us via our perception-silver-screens everyday.
And this realm would always be happening, whether I believed in it or not.
There’s something more to add to this, a vital ingredient behind everything: intent.
I had this clear sense of intent in, around, and through everything I witnessed. Like a source was behind every component. A master force. A current that guides all things. A unifier of all. A breath that makes everything living. A host from which everything stems and everything connects to. It was more than just magnetism or energy, this was living. A force that pulled all things by attraction, or intention, or (dare I say it) consciousness. Maybe even desire.
And its ultimate goal was harmony.
If I had another word in the human language to describe this ‘thing’, I would… I really would. I’d actually rather describe it using an inaudible textural sound but that won’t help us here. The highest word I could reach for in the moment to describe this thing… was God.
The word comes with so much baggage, so let me try to inject it with the life I now feel it to have.
God is not a noun, God is an adjective.
God is “Nothing” with a capital N.
“God is the blanket we put over the mystery to give it shape,” U2’s manager once said.
God is not someone or something that’s ;out there’, God runs though everything, is in everything, is everything. In this sense there’s no such thing as god-less. Whichever way you try, however far you run, there’s no separation, not when God is the ground of all being, the nebula of existence, the bottom line of reality, the spirit in everything, the source of everything, the thing we are within and not that’s outside of us.
God is not hard to find, he’s impossible to avoid.
So, none of this God-talk rattled my atheist cage too badly, but this next bit did…
I genuinely don’t want to tell you this bit, for several reasons. #1 because my atheist half mocks me when I bring it up, and #2 because it’ll probably get Christian club flags waving and encourage tribalism, which annoys me. I’d honestly rather keep this private but I promised myself to remain 100% transparent in all this, so reluctantly… here goes.
At the beginning of the night when I said to myself ‘I can’t even pull myself out of this because I don’t believe in Jesus anymore’, and then I turned to inspect my burning cosmic arm, well, there was another cosmic arm there with me too. It was more like an outline of an arm made up of light, like blue florescent strips, and maybe something of the constellations in them too. It was reaching down from above to lift up my arm, making the burning disappear.
And just in the way you’d recognise your own mother or father without question, in that moment, without question, I recognised this divine helper as Jesus Christ.
My cage soon rattled, so I heard myself out…
Maybe this is a projection of something I once found comfort in, especially in times of spiritual darkness as this. Maybe someone else would assign this divine and familiar rescuer to their own religious icon: Horus, Buddha, the virgin Mary.
But names and labels aside, the role was the same: it was the bodily assistant to God. Being that God is bodyless, personless, addressless and not separate to anything, Jesus helped make that unpersonal force… personal.
More on my Jesus thoughts a bit later.
So what does an atheist do who’s experiencing Jesus, God, and the living universe in her bedroom? Well, real truth can stand a fight, so how does an atheist fight? …Debate!
My internal Q&A session went a little something like this…
“Is this experience coming from your desires or desperation?”
No, I don’t even want this to be happening because it’s disturbing my new settled place. I like being an atheist, for many reasons, the bonus being that you somehow get thought of as smart, and because I’m human, I like that.
“Is this coming from your conditioning?”
No, I’ve learnt to separate the two so that it can no longer dictate my choices and this feels detached. Not one ounce of me believed in this stuff just moments ago, so it’s not coming from unseen belief.
“Is this coming from someone’s mega prayer?”
No. Nobody knows I’m going through this journey.
“Is this happening because you’re actually asleep and dreaming, and who would trust a weird dream like this?!”
But I’m awake! I just heard the neighbour flush the toilet! I actually feel more self aware in this state of… whatever it is. I’m in no dream-state, I’m in a sort of wider-eyed, super aware state.
“Is this happening because you’ve been thinking and reading about this stuff too intensely for years?”
I do recognise things I’ve read about here, but there’s also much more than I’ve ever heard articulated. There’s no way my mind could invent these truths or orchestrate the dance between everything: between science and nature. I’d sooner believe I’m Einsteins love-child if this were a creation of my mind. No, this feels beyond all books and brains.
“You know when you observe something, you’re part of the thing you’re observing, so this is just a projection of your brain.”
Isn’t everything?! Except this feels like the source of that which we project. I now think the brain projects a constricted view of this, down into something we can work with in daily life because this is CHAOS! You couldn’t live with this much awareness. It’s too overwhelming, too sensual to focus on anything and live out our lives. It’s less like the brain is projecting and more that it’s just not censoring.
“So what are you saying, you seriously think this is actually real and happening?”
I’m on skepticism over-time here, OK?! My biggest fear is getting lost in delusion so I’m wrestling with everything, except all the educational ammunition I throw at it only backs it up. This is already the most reduced state of truth I think I’ll ever know.
“Admit it then, Vanessa… you’re becoming a God botherer again aren’t you?”
But I don’t want lose the clean and tidy mind I’ve just inherited with atheism. I just want to finish this detox journey already! I’m tired! And I found a home in atheism, and loved it. This is so inconvenient.
“Ok then snap yourself out of it! It’s probably all a dream, open your eyes!”
They are open! They’re more open than they’ll ever be; physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, I’m all present and alert to EVERYTHING. I’m paralysed, but I’m right here! Hello me!
“Hello back. Well then knock yourself out with sleep! Before you start believing what you’re seeing! …then Google it in the morning.”
I like your thinking, Vanessa. Yes Google will protect me. Ok, closing eyes for protection and shut down.
<fade to black>
– – – – – – –
(CHRISTIAN DETOX FINALE)
THE BIG BANG: AFTERMATH
Some epic night, right?
The morning after.
Having inherited what felt like the mind of God for a night, I expected to wake up with some dreamy edging to my memory of it all, except it seemed just as real and clear as I did that bright, British morning. I sat up to look around, no more God-vision, but things somehow surged with that ‘under life’ I’d witnessed the night before. What now hit my eyes just looked like skin.
I didn’t tell anyone about my experience for a long time, mainly because I didn’t want to fictionalise my memory of it in recall, but also because I just didn’t know how to convert the indescribable into words, any attempt somehow killed the life out of it (taxidermy!) So i decided to explore it silently, to protect its purity from any social contamination or expectation.
I began with a question: How much can we accept the truth that is revealed in internal coherence? And I took my case to Google court!
That’s where I discovered that sleep paralysis was actually a ‘thing’. More psychological than demonic.
Next on trial was the ‘God-vision’ factor, and that’s where I discovered LSD users were recounting similar states of awareness. Somehow the drug dissolves the obstacles and barriers in the brain (like ego, thinking, expectations) that prevent us from seeing that deeper dimension.
Not exactly, because I’d taken nothing. The whole thing just came to me naturally. Like I didn’t have the experience… it had me. And all at a strangely coincidental time in my spiritual journey, right? So I can’t help but feel it was less of a coincidence and more of a gift; as though nature had chosen to reveal itself to me, for its own reasons.
So… epileptic event, dream, gift from the universe, hallucination, brain malfunction? Maybe. It could be that a brain malfunction is exactly what helped dissolve those perception obstacles and enabled me to be in that state of greater awareness. Whatever the cause or explanation, what is true for me is that I witnessed something that resonated with more truth than anything I’ve read, heard or ever believed before, to the extent that it has forever transformed my perspective. It’s marked a real turning point in my life: maybe even a personal salvation moment.
Not that I despised my atheist state, I’m happy wherever I hear truth ring loudest, but looking back from this plane I suppose it was a little like being stuck in a two-dimensional materialist world. Flatpack reality. Still, I tried the door back to atheism because I felt I needed more time ‘under’ with seeing how well it was growing my un-developed areas, but the door was shut. You can’t unsee what you’ve seen.
Now everything looked different. I’d touch a tree and sense our cells were in some kind of communication: like the trees in Avatar, illuminating when life touched them. On one occasion I tasted my words: flowers when I spoke heartfelt gratitude, and metal when I spoke truth out boldly – as though my tongue were a sword. Even just breathing made me feel I was in constant conversation with the universe… or with “God”.
My relationship to that word has changed over the years, but if you asked me whether I believed in God now, I’d say: “Yes, but not the God you may think of.”
To try pin down what I mean by ‘God’ with conscious description feels almost blasphemous, because it is to contain ‘him’ in a labelled jam jar so we can see him like a belittled bug. It is to make God small enough to fit within me. It’s blasphemy. It’s taxidermy. And to worship that is just idolatry.
Religion often turns God into a drag king. Clothing him in human terms, with human characteristics, laying human expectations on him and attributing Christian roles of healer, miracle maker, father, helper of the weak, poor and broken, loving, personal, someone with a plan for your life, an intelligent designer, etc. Of course only selecting the good bits (to make him more Christian!) and ignoring things like child death, poverty, failed healings, suffering, natural unfairness in the world, biological mutations in nature and other ‘not-so-intelligent design’ instances. But when that loving, cherry-picked, anthropomorphised God doesn’t deliver on those things we expected, or doesn’t line up to how we dressed him, he disappoints us. Or in my case, he just dies.
“The biggest obstacle to finding God is our assumptions about what we are looking for” – Theresa of Avila.
God is formless. Something I hope to never put in glitzy drag clothes or chain down with my expectations. For me to try to grasp God is for a cat to try to grasp the Internet: neither of us have the apparatus to do it. I’d like to think we are each focused in on part of the whole picture of God, and that through our uniting, maybe we can gain a greater perspective of that picture. A bit like we’re all connecting dots for a God painting-by-numbers.
As much as I know I’ll never see the final painting, l can’t help but try, and I’ve found there’s a lot to gain in the trying.
So I don’t know if God has consciousness, agency, will, or if when I reach out it will reach back, and if it does and I get that sense of immense radiation, whether that’s a true happening or just a reflection of myself. I don’t know. All I know is that I can’t ignore this ‘something greater’, that an awareness of it excites me, motivates me, makes me feel more alive, and that when I live from a place of love, I feel in conscious company with it, and when I create – even if just making someone laugh – then I feel in co-creation with it, and through that, find a knowing.
It was swell to hi-five Jesus’s blue, snazzy, cosmic hand that night, but I did wonder why he ‘showed up’ when my atheist brain held zero belief in the power of Jesus, which is why I feel clear of confirmation bias being a reason. However, it’s possible it came from my conditioning, like an old comfort that gets triggered in moments of spiritual darkness. The other possibility is that this really was a divine appearance of Jesus. There’s no way to back that up or prove things either way, so I’ll answer with this: it could be a number of things.
Can I ever know whether Jesus is divine and alive, or just a wise man who’s now passed but whose rumours caused mass hysteria? Personal experience is just that: personal. Subjective. And where there’s a book to say Jesus was a historical fact, there’s another to say he never existed at all. As for the Bible, I struggle to trust it with knowing how the Christian message evolved as it travelled from village to village. The greatest Chinese whisper of all time created several theological interpretations of Jesus’s relationship to God, causing disagreement and tension between the people, leading Emperor Constantine to ask his bishops to settle on one doctrine for the sake of uniting the divided empire, for crowd control, and for other not-so-noble reasons. So it’s shaky ground for me.
What I do know is that a literal reading of the Bible has robbed me of some great universal truths and lessons that I only now see through a metaphor lens. Tom Harpur in his book The Pagan Christ puts it:
‘The church took a literalist, historical approach to sublime truth. What was preserved in the amber of allegory, it represented as plodding facts. The transcendent meaning of glorious myths and symbols was reduced to a farrago of miraculous or quite unbelievable “events”.’
So the jury’s still out for me. What I do know is that Jesus is one cool guy, and anyone who follows his example is on a good track.
One nasty side-effect in partially seeing JC for me was the dead weight of responsibility. Like I had to ‘do’ something with it: say the salvation prayer or re-write “Christian” in the religion box on my Facebook. I soon recognised that was coming from a place of lingering religious obligation, guilt and pressure: not exactly things you want to build any relationship from. These days I follow where I feel free, and I felt no freedom or peace to follow that responsibility. It took a couple of months but eventually I dropped the weight and focussed on ‘being’ not ‘doing’. A bit like how God behaves.
Don’t you fear going to Hell though?
If I don’t believe in Hell does that mean I’m going? Fear of Hell sure has lingered throughout my journey, but my homework on it all has set me free of that control.
I let love dictate my choices, not fear.
And if I reach the pearly gates tomorrow and God says: “You didn’t say the Jesus prayer ont’ back of the church pamphlet, you heathen!”
Then I’d say:
“Then why make me a rational being?! You gave me sense, reason and intellect to seek the truth – to seek you! If you’re gonna turn me away for denying those senses just so I can follow a set of man-made rules and flawed holy books… then I’m not sure we’re going to get on dude.”
My status now…
Do I have to label myself something? Ok, if I have to…
A wonderer? A mystic-materialist? A spiritual-humanist? A faith-exercising atheist? One of those half-black-half-white mime characters? Basically, I’m bilingual. I have two world-views inside me that continually argue: they balance me out. Both offer wisdom and valuable perspectives so I respect them both.
I check in with my mystic lens to see if there’s something bigger to take from a situation, to see if there are any dots to join that might help me navigate through life somehow, to help me take bold leaps into the unknown, and as a way to make every moment an opportunity for my awakening.
And I check in with my materialist lens to calm down any internal over-excited unicorn fairy children, to keep me in my present reality, to help me see things for what they are and no more, and to remind me that my choices and future are ultimately in my hands and not backed-up by some pre-written destiny.
Honestly, I tend to make healthier, more pro-active choices when believing nothing has meaning and that nothing is watching or backing me up, but then it doesn’t bring me the strength or confidence that having a hope and trust in those invisible greater forces does. And if it is only psychological comfort, then I’ll take the comfort and use the strength for my reality.
So I drink from both cups, never getting intoxicated with either… because one is an antidote to the other.
I’ve been craving communion with this ‘greater something’ for the last few months, and I’ve managed to find that through interacting with nature: sitting in a tree, dancing in the rain, swimming in the sea, singing along with fellow humans at a concert or pub, complimenting my house plants, meditating, being grateful for as much as I can, being kind to people, being love to all things… this is where I find and feel a connection to God.
As an artist… having to reach into the abyss in order to pull out a new creation seems easier now with having that communion to such invisible greatness.
As a human… having your focus and intention on something higher and outside of your chaotic self is psychologically beneficial.
And when your ‘fact of the day’ notification buzzes with: “Highly cynical people are likely to develop dementia as they get older” as it just did, then why not.
Prayer has been scary. I feared it would reduce my new concept of God back into his old drag clothes, belittling him, boxing him in, making him a HIM! But I think if I can stay aware that I’m only praying to one facet of the ‘Great Spirit’, then I shouldn’t risk crystallising or making an idol of God too much.
So I approach prayer playfully, because I’m playful and so is the Universe, and it helps keeps things fluid. Somedays I pray without words: I listen to God and he listens to me. Somedays I focus on the feeling of what or whom I’m praying for, almost rev’ing it up in me, mixing in my desperation for its restoration and then pushing it out towards the person or place in mind. Somedays I just pray to God as a best friend. Other days I feel my tears or laughter are prayer enough.
A vicar once told me how he prayed to an Inuit god on occasion (the seal God) just to keep his concept of God fluid and multi-faceted in his mind. I’m not sure I’m quite there with that one but I like his thinking!
I wouldn’t feel comfortable returning to institutionalised religion; not like I can’t learn something from everywhere, but I just feel it serves up a sort of freeze-dried God. I’ve found a way to become my own spiritual home and there’s this frequency in me that I feel is a more direct access to God rather than a mediated access via religion or Jesus.
Not that I’m an island: I still need community and I love the ritual of the sabbath and group reflection upon something bigger than ourselves. So that led me to the door of a little Unitarian chapel.
Unitarianism has no creed. It welcomes people of all faiths and non-faiths, and encourages them to find their own truth and spiritual path, rather than defining it for them. It seeks exploration of all possible truths from all possible sources. Questioning, tolerance and love are at the heart of it, as opposed to a fixed doctrine to follow.
Last Sunday we sang ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ followed by Monty Pythons ‘All Things Squat and Ugly’, the message being you can’t take the pretty and ignore the ugly. I loved that. They also used a David Bowie and Brian Eno track for contemplation time. I loved that too. I also loved what one of the speakers at Mill Hill Chapel (Leeds) said one Sunday:
“I don’t want to stop at believing that the human mind is just a result of the human brain. That existence is a result of material forces accidentally coming together. Even if it likely is, I don’t want to lose trust in my instincts. Where is our spirit of intellectual adventure? ‘We think too much and feel too little’, said Charlie Chaplin. If we can’t fully explain the stranger things, there’s room to leap into the abyss and pull something out that lights up our life, because more than anything, I’m seeking to feel alive. As for me, I want my life to host some magic.”
“If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist”, and I know you can’t measure human experience or find it in a book or chart, but we can’t be so robotic to not let it stand for something in our lives. For me, I’d only be reducing the truth of my experience to something it wasn’t if I didn’t treat it with the same respect as I have everything else that’s rung true for me in this journey. So if knowing my state of mind is to defend nothing except my own sanity and the purest form of truth I can observe, then I feel safe to pluck truth from my strange night.
Sounds like that unreliable ‘I feel it therefore its true’ stuff, right? Maybe. And honestly, I feel I’ve ended this series a bit like those books we wrote as kids: ‘Suddenly she woke up and realised it was all just a dream. The End.’ So my reasons to return to faith may be annoying for some, because they can’t be measured, shared, fully explained, or put up on a shelf for anyone to easily pluck. It feels a bit exclusive. It also clangs with favouritism. For years my friend has been praying for a sign from God so she can believe again – no reply.
So I hear you, it’s annoying. But here’s the thing, what’s true for you is true for you. It’s ridiculous to think we’d all believe the same thing when we’ve all lived different lives and had different experiences. None of us can really escape our perspective windows, so maybe we’re all free to colour them in a way that benefits and enriches us as individuals in this one spark of consciousness we have. As long as we stay self-aware and don’t get religious about the grammar of what’s really being said, and as long as our beliefs don’t interfere with us being a fully present human or a fully participating member of modern society, then I’m all for our multicoloured windows binding together like some beautiful stained glass feature in the great cathedral of life.
Quick side-note to any church leaders if I may: I really am grateful for being raised in a culture of wisdom, love, and big dreaming, but I beg you to invite a culture of questioning too. Truth needs no immune system built around it, a thinking congregation can’t even threaten truth, so let the false stuff crumble and the truth flow freely. Doubt and exploration is a vital part of our growth, especially for young people. And no society ever suffered because it’s people became too reasonable.
It’s not what we believe that counts as much as how we behave.
Time to go.
Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who has read, commented, been with me throughout this journey over the last few years: you’ve helped me process outside of the damaging shadows of shame, guilt and isolation. I know my newness has been a shock to many. Some call it a phase, but I call it my growth, my learning, my applied experiences, and it rarely goes in a straight line. But I will say that every moment I’ve been me has been true: a true Christian, a true Atheist, and now a true hodjimawotsit. Where I go from here, I couldn’t say: I’ll just keep following my nose.
We never complete, we’re all constantly becoming, and I hope we allow each other the grace to become.
May I wish you all peace and happiness, however you carve your path and wherever it takes you.
May truth be the drum that calls you and awakens you to yourself.
May you follow your curiosity and not your fear.
May you not worry about getting lost for you’ll only find yourself.
May you let no one walk through your mind with their dirty feet.
May you never judge your heart for where it wants to take you. Trust it.
May you experience yourself in different moments and let life touch you.
May you find more of yourself beyond who you think you are.
And may the spirit of Opera Winfrey get off me!
With love and gratitude to you for travelling with me,
Vanessa (aka ‘Red Raven’)… over and out.
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