A brief look at what happens when you discover that everything you know is... Incomplete.
The day began like any other. Your alarm went off, and you begrudgingly got out of bed. You went through your morning routine, put on your clothes, and got ready to face the day. You had no idea that you were about to get caught within the blast of a devastating bomb. When you woke up, you had no way of knowing that you wouldn’t be the same person when you went back to bed. So you go through your day, blissfully unaware of the upheaval that’s headed your way. Finally, the time comes.
You get a text with bad news. You witness an act of injustice. You hear an insincere minister. Perhaps, an epiphany stops you in your tracks. In that singular moment, you realize that your ideology is not equipped to deal with a blow this severe. Your beliefs, regardless of how long you’ve held them, suddenly become suspect. You’ve seen the world in a light you’ve never known before, and everything you thought you knew seems like a lie. Life, as you have known it, has come to an end.
Welcome to the Apocalypse.
Saint John of the Cross referred to this period as the “Dark Night of the Soul”. In every person’s life, there is a moment in which the beliefs they’ve built their lives upon begin to crumble. For those of us who have never had any reason to question our beliefs and consider them to be core to our identity, this moment is truly terrifying.
Many of us have spent years creating an entire cityscape of beliefs within our head. Pristine ivory towers of morality look down upon the ghetto of our secret shame. Our desires, at first little shanties, soon rise and scrape the sky, leaving wide swaths of land hidden in their shadow. Off in the distance, nestled in the rolling hills of our ideology is a little gated community. The homes all look the same and each one houses a different belief. The mailboxes say things like “Speaking in Tongues”, and “Calvinism” and “Baptism by Submersion”. The inhabitants of this internal city are our thoughts and ideas, our words and our beliefs. For the greater portion of our lives, we have been shaping this little community into exactly what we wanted it to be.
And then the bomb fell. And it ruined everything.
The city has been leveled. The towers have fallen, the skyscrapers collapsed. The little suburb of Theology is so heavily radiated it might be years before anyone can build there again. And what of those little people who lived and worked in our city? They are homeless. They are without direction. They are lost. And so are we.
And this is where we start our exploration; with Struggle and Pain. Why here? Because it is out of these things that true spirituality is born. Imagine your Faith is like an action figure. It comes in a fancy box and is wrapped in see-through cellophane. Churches are filled with people who are content to leave their Faith in the box. They see it as a collector’s item, something to be cherished, certainly, but kept at a distance. To them, Faith is something to be set on a mantle and admired from afar, to besmirch it by opening the box and playing with it is heresy!
These people unknowingly do themselves, and their Faith a great disservice. Faith was made to be taken out of the box. It was made to be played with, dropped in the dirt, shoved in a pocket, and interacted with. Indeed, it is the same people that tear the box asunder and shred the cellophane that begin to discover how their Faith actually works. Dirt and danger, muck and mayhem, are the batteries that make Faith go.
As humans, however, our preference is to remain in warmth and comfort. The longer we’re entrenched, the less we find ourselves in need. Faith soon gets misplaced and it could be days, weeks, or even years before we notice it’s missing. Generally, this is the state we’re in when the Apocalypse arrives.
I believe that the timing of this Apocalypse is not an accident. I believe that there is a God, and that he cares for us. I believe he chooses to interact with us in everyday life. And I believe that when he sees us getting too comfortable, when he sees us forgetting the faith we used to value so much, when he sees us content with the state of our little belief cities… He drops the bomb.
My bomb hit a few years ago, back in 2006. I grew up in a Christian home, went to church all my life, and eventually, Bible college. When I was younger, it was like God was always around. It seemed almost easy to interact with him. This was true even throughout my freshman year in college; that closeness remained present. I didn’t realize how charmed my spiritual life was at the time.
In the second semester of my freshman year, something began to change… The intimacy I had with God was fading. My writing (which was very central to my identity at the time) started to grow weaker. I had a relatively popular blog at the time and my readers began to notice that my posts were coming less frequently. Worse, when I did manage to post something, my words lacked the substance they once had. For a long time, I fought it. I read my Bible more, I prayed longer. I started a prayer group, and when that didn’t work I started an art group.
I attempted to force things back in place several more times over the course of a year before finally giving up. I remember being at the end of my rope while sitting in a church pew during communion. God had felt so distant for so long, so far away… I stared at bread in my hand, willing it to magically fix things, to make things better. I begged God to show himself, to just say something. I brought the morsel to my lips, chewed slowly, and after a moment’s hesitation, swallowed. It felt like the bread slid down my esophagus, sank through my stomach, and popped a hole through my soul.
In that moment I felt everything I believed deflate and for the first time in my life, I felt completely alone. It was like I was in a vacuum that was suddenly and completely devoid of God. I was abandoned. I felt chilled and queasy as my skin grew clammy. I stepped outside to get some air. I lifted my eyes heavenward and stared at the stars. Months of mounting frustration and anger began to boil and spew out of my lips.
“God! I know you’re there! I know it. I’ve done everything I can think to do and you still won’t answer me? I’ve tried. It isn’t like I asked for a miracle and just walked away when nothing happened, I just… I just need something. A word. Say one word to me and I’ll go back into that sanctuary, drink some juice, and call it a night.”
The only reply I received was the soft chirping of the crickets. I stood in the silence as hot, burning tears welled up in my eyes and slid down my cheeks.
“Fine!… Fine… Then fuck it. When you’re ready to talk, you know where to find me.”
That would be my last year at Bible College. I dropped out after my sophomore year, partly because I realized that a degree from a Bible College meant nothing for a man who wanted to be a writer/director, but mostly because I couldn’t stand to go near chapel or church services anymore. I couldn’t stomach seeing people raise their hands, enraptured by a God that couldn’t be bothered to even say “Hello” to me.
My entire belief-city was built on the notion of having easy access to God and deep thoughts. When God refused to answer me as he always had, it began to shake my city. After a year of constant rumbling, that night in the church service was the last straw. The bomb dropped and leveled everything I thought I believed. The relief effort has been agonizingly slow. I mourned the loss of the world I once knew for four years.
The first couple of years were difficult. I was so angry. I never questioned the existence of God, never even questioned the legitimacy of my Faith… I knew God was there, which made his continued silence all the more frustrating. I didn’t feel abandoned; I felt neglected. I lived by the last words I spoke to God, “you know where to find me.” I waited for him to come looking, and grew angrier when I felt he didn’t. Looking back, I know that God was there the whole time… I was just blind to it.
Around year three, my fury began to wane. Not because I had found resolution, but because I was exhausted. Two years of carrying bitter, toxic, anger had left me burnt out and sad. Bit by bit I began trying to make peace with God, simply because I couldn’t continue to be the person I had been.
What I didn’t realize at that time is that when you’re dealing with an eternal commodity like our souls, where there is an end, there has to be a beginning. Hiding under the ruins of the old city, I’ve found signs of life. It seems some of the old inhabitants have survived. They’ve been salvaging the broken remnants of past beliefs and world views, building them into something different. Several of the houses were demolished, but new ones are being built. This new city is scarier than the last one… It’s no longer familiar; it no longer feels safe. In fact, it seems dirty and dangerous. So with no other recourse, I braved the alien streets and alleyways looking for my lost Faith and found it amidst the muck and mayhem.