When I was a student at a small East Texas university, it was a time in my life when I set out to articulate just what I believed about the world. Having grown up in an incredibly small town in South Texas, my beliefs were "assumed." I assumed they were the same as everyone else's and everyone else assumed they were the same as well. It wasn't until my arrival in Nacogdoches, Texas and my sophomore year in college that I really began the questioning phase of knowing what I believed. I had a few basics: reincarnation, the physical world, and some form of metaphysics.
Being in East Texas "behind the Pine-cone Curtain," as we often referred to it, was a place that stimulated my need to know just what I believed. The extremes of conservatism, fundamental Christianity, and racism were such an abrasive environment that it pushed me to the other side in a dramatic repulsion. This environment that so intensely demanded that I believe with them or be opposed was just what I needed to find my way in my own beliefs. Like bumper cars limiting me into a designated lane, the contrast of the dominant culture in East Texas pushed me into my own path, the one single path of my own beliefs that only I could take.
There was another key to uncovering these beliefs at this time. This was a time when I met someone that would become a lifelong friend. I applied at her parents' restaurant and for the next 13 months, we spent every afternoon and evening at the front of this restaurant in deep conversation about the mystical world around us and how we fit into it. Amy has been at the other end of those conversations for more than 15 years now, but our conversations, unfortunately, have held a different tone to them rather than one of discovery.
As the years passed, our lives have progressed, the focus of our talks, letters, and emails have leaned more toward the daily ongoings of our lives and those ever changing events that weigh the heart so heavily. And it is here that I have found myself wondering again, as I travel through the loss of a first husband, two dogs, both parents, and now the growing pains of being a mother and rising out of depression, just what do I believe?
Some days, my beliefs remain intact, but they are fragile, like shattered glass waiting to crumble to the floor. Other days, I can't see past my own immediate experience to believe anything beyond survival, and it is this particular place that leaves me most uncomfortable. But again, the universe is providing me with what I need to settle in to a new place of faith.
Recently, there have been two events that have created the beginning of that bumper car lane to send me down the path of what I believe. Stephen Hawking, a famous author and scientist, openly declared that he believes there is no afterlife and in a dramatic disappointment to many, a large number of Christians also believed that just this past weekend was Judgement Day . As I read about both perspectives I find myself agreeing with both in an interesting and surprising way. But is there really nothing beyond this physical existence? Is there really no God and no spirits and no soul? In my darkest, most desperate hours, I can believe that, but then an intrinsic part of me rebels. I look around at the physical world and the existence of all the beauty in nature, all the horror in humanity, and I sense the ludicrousness of the notion that anything could exist without there being a spiritual purpose, a spiritual existence beyond the physical.
As May 21, 2011 passed and there were many a sigh of relief that this particular group of Christians seem to have had it wrong about the apocalypse and Judgement Day, my husband was amused with the extremity of this idea. As he chuckled his way through the weekend, I found myself fearful at times, and defensive at other times for this group of people that choose to believe beyond rational thought. How do we know Judgement Day didn't happen? No, there were no explosions, no disappearance of large groups of people, but as Sonia Choquette often reminds us in her teachings, the psychic pathway is a subtle pathway. The dramatics of movies and television express the level of intensity that we can feel about metaphysical events, but over-exaggerate the actual manifestation of them. And as I contemplate the notion that for Christians, their Judgement Day could have happened a dozen times already, but on such a subtle level as to not manifest in the dramatic way that the whole world, including most Christians, would expect, I return to a place of knowing that has been foreign for quite some time. That knowing, for me, returns to the notion that it is ALL real, that every single belief is a reality in some form, but embraces the layer of knowing that it is because we have created it all in individual and mass manifestation of the worlds we believe to be true.
When faith leaves us, we have to return to the beginning, to the most basic questions, and be willing to allow the answers to be unfamiliar. This may take time, or it may be in bursts of revelation, but however that sense of "knowing" returns, it will be a result of having experienced what caused us to question faith in the first place. For me, the spiritual world has been an anchor and when that anchor seemed to be dissipating, it was a challenge I didn't know how to face. It was only by being challenged to know what I DIDN'T believe that I could return to understanding what I STILL believe.
Losing faith comes in our darkest hours, when our lives, or others', seem to be needing assistance and not receiving it, when miracles seem to be absent, when the Gods seem to have left us to our own survival. Re-embracing faith happens when we return to exactly what we believed before, but re-inventing faith happens when we allow ourselves to discover anew, to be open to change and to believe in what is shown to us. Re-inventing faith means rising from the ashes and embracing the world as our changed existence reveals, letting go of what no longer serves us and embracing the path and the beliefs that will take us forward.