Ah, the divine duality of man: that he may bend himself so studiously to the lifelong search for enlightenment yet still pass wind and pull his wedged robes from his bottom and in doing so find the very enlightenment he pursues!
[ An eccentric Buddhist monk told me this in a dream and I swear it was very important despite the toilet humor. ]
Devotion quarried the stones and raised the temples carved the statues and gilded the icons. Devotion preserved the myths and protected the tombs dusted off the altars and restored the artwork. Devotion carried their gods around the world and devotion carries them into the future.
I consult the Oracle while she sweeps the kitchen floor; my spilled guts collect in little piles with the cat hair and the pine needles. Tossing this detritus in the trash, she tells me to let go of the presumption that my gods have abandoned me. She reminds me that I am no more the person I was when I met them half a lifetime ago than they are now the men they were that same fateful day. People grow; why not gods? I cannot expect our relationship to remain static when we three have changed so much, nor can I expect the old methods of communion to yield the same results. I have to discover who and what we have become in the years we’ve walked this shared road, and where we are meant to go from here. To do this I must have faith, the Oracle says. Faith is not a passive state, it is a choice we make actively every day. I must let go of my death grip on the past and choose to have faith in the gods to which I pledged myself, and trust that everything will work out as intended.
The Oracle’s words are wise, I know they are, and I cannot ignore the truth in them. Yet I’m so afraid – too afraid, perhaps, to risk the rest of my wounded heart solely on faith – and so I make a face at her and go back to playing on my phone.
I will never have words enough to express my love for the divine, nor ways enough to express my gratitude and honor to live in its presence. If I repeat my praises too often, or if I reuse the same phrases because no others seem as worthy, please forgive me; I am just so often overflowing with awe that if I do not release some of it into the universe I may drown completely. Oh, the stunning beauty of Hathor! The humbling benevolence of Bast! The terror of the Morrigan, the ferocity of Inanna! Oh, to bathe my modest mortal soul in the pure glory of their divine radiance! How can I not sing their praises ceaselessly when everywhere around me I see evidence of their blessing? A word for every breath I take, every moment I live, every year, every decade, every life, still would never be enough!
Sometimes I forget devotion doesn’t have to be a ceaseless uphill battle. Dedication isn’t solely proven in the offering of blood, sweat, and tears, nor can love even grow in such salt-sown soil. The gods don’t require us to suffer to earn their love; they offer it freely and value only that which is given freely in return. In my quest to better myself, to uphold Ma’at and minimize the isfet I put out into the world, I forget devotion can be as simple as spending a quiet moment with the gods over a cup of tea. I don’t need to lash myself bloody in penitence or spend every moment analyzing the darkest parts of my psyche to make spiritual progress. In fact, my entire framework for the concept of spiritual progress is probably questionable – why do I imagine it as a path leading in one direction, instead of a vast land in which I could go any direction or even stop for a time? If there’s no end goal in mind, no specific destination, why do I feel so pressured to hurry forward? I can rest. I can sit in the shade and enjoy the moment without worrying if it’s helping me become a better person. I feel my connection to the divine like an unbreakable tether from my heart to theirs. Our hearts are one; I am right where I am meant to be.
Measuring the growth of the sapling, I miss the aging of the forest. Tracking the path of the moon, I miss the dancing of the stars. Analyzing the placement of one little jewel, I miss the twisting of the kaleidoscope. Seeking the smallest crumb of knowledge, I miss the grandness of wisdom.
There is a place for you in my heart if you wish. There is a room with a bed where you may rest in peace and quiet, away from the ills of the world. Paint the walls, move the furniture, do whatever you need to make this space your own. I do not keep a room here for you so that you must confine yourself to its defaults; I want to see what you make of my love, what you use it to create or achieve. You are welcome here exactly as you are, no pretenses, no expectations. Be yourself! That is all I want from you in return for my hospitality.
There is a place for you in my heart, if you wish, but understand there is a lock on the door of my heart as well. Those who are not welcome can never pass through, and those who were once welcome yet brought only pain will find the door barred when they seek to return. I have learned my lesson the hard way and will not make the same mistake again. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. You need little to make you worthy of this place – kindness, honesty, generosity, only things I would ask of myself as well – and that door does not close easily. Once it has, though, it cannot be opened again.
I will tell you a secret: sometimes it is good to fall. You do not always need wings to keep you aloft or a rope at your ankle to stop your descent. Sometimes what you need is to leap freely from the cliff’s edge and feel the way you become weightless, a creature of air and light. The wind whips past you, the sky lays far beyond your feet, and you fall for a breathless eternity through a stream of colors. Then you pierce the water’s calm surface and you continue to fall, plunging into cold, clear liquid that embraces your every curve. Deep in those indigo depths you finally surrender your momentum, gravity releases its hold for just a moment, and the water buoys you back up to the surface. That is how it feels to leap in faith and fall into the embrace of the divine. Be fearless. Be weightless.
I dreamed I stood before a great altar full of Kemetic statues. I touched each piece with trembling fingers: human, avian, reptilian; feline and canine and bovine; creatures that were many of those, or all of them, or none. I knew these figurines were ancient, that they had once graced temples and altars in a time when the gods they portrayed were at the height of their worship. To see them at all was a wonder and an honor.
“They’re magnificent, aren’t they?” I glanced over toward the unknown voice. A beautiful African woman stood beside me, watching with quiet humor as I reverently admired the icons. She was made of curves; her round, smiling cheeks, her generous bosom, her shapely hips. Gold jewelry gleamed against her ebony skin and winked within the cascade of her tightly coiled hair as it caught the light. Most of all, though, it was her dazzling white smile that stunned me. There was such joy in her expression, such boundless love and affection; it was like her body could barely contain her overflowing personality.
I suspected who she was, but her presence here seemed impossible and so I had to know for sure. “Are you…” I hesitated. “Hathor?” The woman nodded, her grin expanding, and I burst into tears. I cried so hard I had to grip the edge of the altar to keep from sinking to the floor. They were primarily tears of awe, for never had a spirit blessed me with such direct contact, but I wept also in relief to have this undeniable manifestation of the divine right before me. If this radiant woman was Hathor, then all the gods I loved were real. With a single nod she banished every last scrap of doubt within me until I was pure faith.
My heart is a piece of lodestone and all my life I have followed its tugging, no matter that it pulled me away from well-tended paths and instead over mountain ranges, across rivers, and to the farthest ends of the earth. Sometimes my road runs beside another’s and we walk together for a while, learning from each other where our journeys have taken us, and other times my road so deviates from the norm that I find myself alone in the wilderness. Yet either way the compass stone beneath my breast guides me so that I need not question my direction or fear losing my way. I walk to the ocean and I swim through it; I walk to the cliff base and I climb up it; I walk to the waterfall and I jump down it. Where my heart leads, I follow. In thirty years it has not yet lead me astray.
I’m being a real Doubty McDoubterson about my spiritual beliefs right now. I mean bottom-of-the-well, solar-eclipse-totality, what-is-even-the-point-of-anything-we’re-all-gonna-die-anyway levels of doubt. My altar is dusty, my devotional jewelry tangled, and I can’t even remember the last time I gave offerings or lit a single candle. I am deep, deep, deep in the dark. Hooboy, it is bad.
I’ve seen many other spiritually-inclined folks write about what to do during a fallow or questioning period, so I thought why not try it myself? I know stuff about stuff. I’m possibly as qualified as anyone else on the internet who gives advice they won’t personally follow. So here you go, my surefire suggestions for surviving the utter crushing apathy that has become your spiritual life.
1) Avoid your altar.
2) Camp out on the couch and watch all 4 seasons of Arrested Development on Netflix.
3) Stand for indeterminate amounts of time in front of your kitchen cupboards. Eat nothing.
4) Lurk in the “pagan” tag on Tumblr and hate strangers you know nothing about for having more faith than you.
5) Avoid the room your altar is in.
6) See something sad online and automatically say a prayer before realizing what you’re doing, then feel many conflicting emotions you don’t want to deal with.
7) Get out your tarot cards, oracle decks, book of shadows, and crystals in an attempt to jumpstart your enthusiasm. Play on your phone while ignoring their presence.
8) Eat an entire loaf of bread, and only a loaf of bread, for like two days.
9) Rewatch Arrested Development while lurking on Tumblr and Pinterest and every other possible app you can download, since you’re a very important person and just don’t have time for things like religion.
10) Make up a song with lyrics like “Everything’s awful, then you die” or “whatever, it’s not like any of the things I believe in are real anyway so who cares if humanity is destroying the planet and I’m alive to witness the next mass extinction”. 11) Avoid the half of the house your altar is in.
12) Spend hours on Etsy searching for the One Perfect Thing that, if purchased, will magically transform your spiritual life and free you from ever doubting anything again. Do this until your phone overheats, then let your phone charge for maybe five minutes. Repeat until you have a migraine.
13) Pretend everything’s okay by writing something sarcastic yet uncomfortably bitter on your blog.
14) Watch, I dunno, Arrested Development again. Or Archer. I mean who even cares at this point.
15) Die on the couch.
The unbelievers ask, Where are the gods? If they really existed, wouldn’t they intercede to stop our wars, our destruction?
To them I want to throw my arms out and say, The gods are all around us. They are always here, always watching, always caring.
The unbelievers ask, Why do the gods not take matters into their heavenly hands, if they care so much? Why do they let us suffer and cause suffering in our turn?
To them I want to say, Why should they? Look what we have done with their gifts! Look how we show our gratitude! My Mother weeps for Her children who are hunted, drowned, poisoned, tortured, who are raised in mills and die in lab cages. What the gods have given us, they cannot and will not take back so lightly. For better or for worse, this is our world and our responsibility; we humans control the fates of countless lives. Thus my Mother can lend me the strength of heart to care for Her children, but She cannot simply unmake the evils which plague them. Human evils must be countered with human goodness.