I came across a video not too long ago by some YouTuber I vaguely follow. It was one of those muscles-ache-stomach-twists-lying-in-bed-days I so despise but are (thankfully) becoming less and less frequent due to some new measures I’ve been taking. As I was letting autoplay do its thing, eyes not really watching but ears tuning into whatever pain distractor they could, this vlogger began to talk about her religious beliefs and how she describes herself as an agnostic atheist. The atheist part, she said, because she doesn’t have faith in a god. The agnostic part, because she doesn’t know logically, with the mind, whether she can be sure her beliefs are correct. Two different beings, the mind and the heart, and two different descriptors for each entity. Agnosis and certainty, atheism and faith.
I turned off the video and slumped back into the overstuffed pillow, thoughts veering quickly into existential crisis mode. What even am I? If someone asked me what my religious affiliation was, at this topsy-turvy-sorting-it-all-out time of my life, how would I even respond?
For starters, I only bring this up because I’ve written about and alluded to the spiritual journey I’ve gone through multiple times over the last year or so, and have had people ask me about it too. There I go, from cradle Orthodox to wide-eyed campus ministry member to disillusioned mess to: what?
Tired of the arguments
I think about this as I walk through the yard one bright Saturday afternoon, the snow recently receded from the yellow grass and lying in soggy puddles over the still-frozen ground. I take solace at the foot of our pond, cooling hot tears with the late April breeze and chill that radiates from the still waters.
“I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” I whisper. My voice joins the wind and gets swept somewhere into the forest’s arms. I love the forest. It’s the lone positive thought that pulls me out of the miry mental mess I’d faceplanted in.
I had just escaped (um, I mean, left) an encounter with some Jehovah’s Witnesses who had shown up at our door, an encounter that I’m ashamed to admit left me more furious than I probably had been in years. I don’t really get furious. Angry, sometimes. Impassioned, almost daily. But furious?
I was surprised, really, to see how I—someone who had spent so long in a spiritually casual mode—could get so heart-poundingly angry at these people’s claims to being the sole possessors of Earth’s Perfect Truth. How they had shown up with their Bibles as weapons to find some unsuspecting people to argue about doctrine with, and were just so convinced that nobody else could have insight apart from their sect. Historian Rae also became very irked when they claimed Constantine had invented the doctrine of the Trinity in the 4th century.
“Have you really never read Polycarp or Ignatius of Antioch?!” I gape.
Blank stare. “Is that in the Bible?”
I shake my head, ask them to leave, and leave them in the company of my miraculously even-keeled husband. I take my tea out to the pond with me so we can both let off some steam together. How could anyone be so awful, so conceited, so arrogant?
As I breathe by the pond my fury subsides into irritation. Mostly at myself. I thought all this soul-searching stuff was coming to an end, but a scrape like this and my colorful reaction certainly doesn’t indicate that. And I’m tired. Maybe that’s why I’m angry. I’m tired of it all and want to be left alone.
And I stare at that water and whisper my lament and it floats to the trees and I don’t know if it was a statement or a dare or a question. I wanted to find something out here, under the sky and beneath the trees, some sort of answer that didn’t lie in millennia of religious sects arguing about who was right, more right, and the rightest of them all. Maybe this weary soul just needed to be done.
But done with what? I chuckle as I observe the situation. Here I am, fuming at religion and claiming to be done with it all while I’m sitting and hoping for spiritual answers to supernaturally invade my soul take away the pain. I really am a hot, contradicted mess.
Or maybe not.
Which takes me back to how I began the post, and how the idea of different planes for faith and knowledge has finally started to give me some ground upon which I can begin to understand myself. Understand what’s really going on in the depths of this human who’s murkier and more convoluted than this weed-filled pond.
I don’t know. At this point, I can honestly say I don’t know, and that I am thoroughly tired of the scripture-and-science-and-scalpel arguing of those that think they do. Or maybe they do really know something that I don’t: it’s probable. I don’t know everything, and I’m okay with that. Knowing everything sounds like it takes a lot of time.
I am on a journey, to employ an overused metaphor, and have to be content with mystery. Perhaps, as I go at my own pace, less will remain mystery. Or I’ll discover more mystery. That’s the beauty of taking the journey, isn’t it? But I know, almost for certain, that I don’t need arguments and convincing and proof of anything. All that has proven to be confusing and hurtful, as counterintuitive as it may seem. I don’t need to be convinced. I need to walk my own path, and know that I’ll still be loved in the midst of it.
I adore those whose paths are so simple, who just wake up certain that what they know is right and let that bring peace into their lives. Who can rest in their own conviction and move on with little worry. Who just live day-to-day life in the here and now without all those deep questions haunting them (maybe there are people like that, but then again, everyone is more complicated than they seem).
I’m not one of those people. I can’t not think of the deep questions.
I’m a seeker, through and through: an exploring-dimmed-paths and clawing-through-the-dirt and asking-questions and feeling-that-never-ending-gnaw-of-the-existential seeker. I resonate not with stories of those who were born knowing and never waver but with those on quests: like Harry Potter silently screaming at the memory of Dumbledore, wondering why why why he couldn’t have more answers, yet believing all the while that the answers—and someone who can give them—did exist. With those who climb mountains and cross oceans to discover what it is that’s out there and calling them. With those who moved to caves in the wilderness to come to some deeper grasp of the holy. With those who exude kindness and love even if they can’t give you a 12-step diagram to explain the history of everything. That’s my breed, my tribe.
There comes a point where you just have to take an honest look at yourself, and this is one of those points. There is something healing and clarifying about just letting all the questions and doubts hang out there and saying, “This is honestly who I am right now.” Not everyone is going to like it. And that’s okay. But I think it’s better sometimes to be honest and have people not like it than to have people continue to approve of a persona that’s not actually you.
Actual Rae is this: someone who doesn’t have all the answers, or sometimes any answers. Yet someone who has faith and believes in wonder and love and the sacred and mystery. Someone who doesn’t necessarily know how to define all that with a nifty diagram or a systematic theology, but feels it as true all the same.
Actual Rae is a seeker. I’ll see you on the road.