I was raised in a Baptist church, but decided when I was 16 that organized religion was not for me. I still call myself a Christian, but I don’t ascribe to a lot of the rigid doctrines that most churches do. I know what my soul tells me is true, and whether that truth is relevant to anyone outside of myself is not up to me to decide. I have included some of my philosophical and spiritual musings here in the hope they might spark consideration in others. I certainly don’t presume to have everything figured out, and I encourage you to draw your own conclusions. As for me, I believe there are shadows in every heart, but if people can brave them, they will find the soul is much brighter than the darkness. I endeavor only to share what I believe to be true from my own glimpses of that light.
My “deep thoughts” are below. I recommend reading Thoughts on Life, the Universe, and Everything first if you plan on reading any of my ramblings in great detail, as that post describes much of my personal beliefs on the nature of God and the Soul.
If you follow me, you know I’m doing the Women’s Forum in about two hours. I gotta go get dressed, but I want to make sure all you people who give a shit hear what I have to say today, so I don’t care if it’s perfect. I’ll come back and edit it later if I need to. For now, buckle up. Today, shit’s gonna get real.
(“What do we say to Death?”
Download my slides here. (If you use Google Drive, it should work fine for you. No promises if you’re anti-Google, sorry. Ain’t nobody got time for that today, and let’s be real, I probably won’t get back around to this because Life. If you want to see the slides today, just use the damn Google for once. It won’t bite.)
Below is the “script” of my talk. I always write my presentations as blog posts first because Writer. I ad lib as needed from them in person. So, if you want to hear one version of this presentation, you can download the audio here. If you want to hear the live version… well, you should have signed up for the Women’s Forum. Catch you next time, loser. (jk, I love you guys.)
So, with no more ado. Here’s the audio, and I’m off to the Forum. See you soon.
p.s. you’ll find my “stage notes” still embedded in this blog post, so if you pay attention as you read, it will tell you when to progress to the next slide. Some information will be the same on “different” slides. That’s on purpose because Visuals help people not look at little ol’ me while I’m talking. It freaks me out. So pay attention, move the slides when it says, and it’ll make sense. Also, one of those stage notes is sure to make you laugh, which why I decided to leave it here. Have a good one, folks. :D
Creativity and the Authentic Self
Using art as a means of activism and self-discovery.
I have this friend, an old cowboy type, who never asks people how they are. Instead, he saunters over and drawls, “Whatcha know?” I like that because it invites people to connect intellectually, and not on such a visceral level. Most people answer, “How are you?” with, “Fine.” Come on… we know most of the time that’s a lie, or at least an oversimplification. Even if you tell me how you are, there’s no guarantee I’m going to understand your experience. Maybe you have a cancer. Maybe you have three children. Maybe you’re Hindu. I wouldn’t know what it’s like to experience life through any of those lenses, but I’d still like to hear about them. What is it like being you? What have you learned in your time here?
When I was an angsty teenager (oh come on, we’ve all been there), I had the idea to write a list of things I’d learned that year. Mostly because I had no friends and my parents went to be at 9:30, and I wanted to stay up til midnight. But damn, New Years is boring alone! It’s amazing what you can make when you’re bored and lonely. Anyway, I’ve done this every year since I first started in 2001. At first, it was every day things like, “got my learner’s permit, started learning to drive” or “today, I learned the oldest organism on Earth is a colony of quaking aspen named Pando, estimated to be over 80,000 years old.” (That’s true, btw.) Cool information, but anybody could learn those things. Today, most of life’s questions are only a google away. As I got older, I started drifting away from the information, and more toward philosophical observations about the world around me. In 2008, I wrote, (slide) “we’re not as big as we think we are.” (Clearly, I got kicked around a little that year.) In 2010, (slide) “I am beginning to think the meaning of life is infinite. I’m sure there is meaning, but it will manifest itself differently in each individual piece of the whole.”
It was around this time that I started writing things more personal and important to me. That was the point where I started to really come into my voice as an artist. Some of you, I think, have heard me speak before. You may know me as the author of a young adult fantasy series called The Seven Wars. You may recognize Lask– this guy [Vanna White the book cover images, because marketing, and they’re pretty, so they won’t look at you– and your broke ass needs the money. Someone might actually buy one today. Dammit, Elanor. Do it right.].
These are, as the name suggests, fanciful works for young people, but in writing them, I learned something about myself: (slide) I feel distinctly out of place, while simultaneously believing everyone and everything belongs here and is part of a much greater whole. This is the paradox of the creative spirit, I think. Artists are inherently weird people. The ability to produce art stems from an innately warped view of the world, for better or worse, and the practiced skill of being able to share your warped view with others through the use your chosen medium. I also learned you have to ask the right questions. And sometimes those are hard questions to ask… and even harder to answer.
You have to learn to acknowledge, accept, and enjoy your own weird company. This is a challenge for anyone, but especially someone the world thinks is already abnormal– your body is too big, you’re too tall, too short, too pale, too dark, you have social anxiety, you have ptsd, you have an eating disorder. Nobody’s normal; we all spend our lives feeling like freaks.
A lot of people shy away from getting to know themselves altogether. They take more shifts at work. They argue with the people around them. They lose themselves in the mindless scroll of social media. They take their existential anxieties out on the world around them, vent their fears into arenas that feel safe, pin the blame on things that are tangible. We distract ourselves with constant entertainment– our technology puts all the knowledge of humanity at our fingertips, and also offers a font of endless distraction. It’s easy to avoid coming to terms with yourself by never letting your mind wander deeper than the current spectacle at hand.
As artists, life doesn’t always let us sharpen our craft in the ways we think we should. We don’t have time to paint; we have day jobs, and meals to cook. There’s not enough quiet space to write, children make incessant noise, we have people calling us, showing up at our doors, pinging our phones with social media notifications. How can we be creative in a world that demands our attention be spent outside of our own heads?
I think a few of you attended my workshop here last year, so you may already know where this is going. Being an artist, a true artist, colors everything you do. Creativity is a lens through which we view life, and if we practice it regularly, sharpening your craft becomes a way of life. At it’s root, any creative work is simply thinking and feeling– the art produced is just the expression of the thought or feeling. Therefore, even when you’re too busy to put pen to paper, if you’re consciously practicing mental awareness, thinking critically about things around you and in your own head, considering the emotional and universal aspect of an experience you’re part of, you’re practicing the most crucial skill to any art form, and when you do have time to pick up your pen, you’ll be a better artist for it. Any artistic technique takes practice, so if you want to be good with a particular medium, you’ll have to make time to practice the technique eventually, but the technique is worthless if there’s nothing to express with it. Real art takes substance, and you can only learn to produce things of substance if you yourself are substantial. In order to become substantial in a way you can use creatively, you have to first exercise your intelligence and come to understand yourself as an artist, where you stand, and what you actually think about anything. In order to do that, you have to brave the nitty gritty of being honest with yourself.
Many people are afraid of silence. They’ll do anything to avoid it– play music in the background, leave the tv on all the time, turn on noise machines. Why are we afraid of silence? What do we hear echoed in the stillness that so frightens us? Maybe it’s simply the unknown of our own beings. It’s a scary thing to examine what’s in your head. It’s never comfortable to take a thought, pull out your magnifying glass and tweezers, and ask, “Why is this here? How did this come to be in my head? Is this even true? Why do I think that? Should I let it stay? Should I indulge this thought?” This picture here is a self portrait that I took three days after I came home from the hospital; I had been battling numerous infections, and was depressed and anxious about everything I was juggling at the time, I literally went crazy for a night. Police came and dragged me to the hospital in handcuffs. That’s what this crazy world will do to you if you’re not careful. I’d never experience anything like that. It was terrifying. Humiliating. It broke all the relationships in my life that were important to me for a while. Some are still broken. It’s the price we pay for the pain we carry just living here.
When I came home, I took week off work because I was too embarrassed and shaken to face my coworkers. I had sent raving lunatic emails to some of supervisor, sent the most random pictures to people who hardly know me, and myriad other things that will forever being shoved into my Closet of Shame.
But a few days into this shame-ridden vacation, I was looking for ways to take my mind off things. I’m a millennial. We’re big into selfies. I decided I’d see about snapping profile picture for Facebook. So, I picked myself up off the couch, put on real clothes for the first time in days, did my make-up, and took this picture. I just walked over to the window for light, held up the phone and pressed the button. Did a little editing afterward on the lighting and stuff, but overall, this is a fairly candid shot of me on that day. And it startled the hell out of me when I put my phone down to see what kind of shot I had gotten. I didn’t intend to take this picture, but yet… this is a dangerous woman. She’s standing there slightly bowed or cowered, with her arms tucked back, like she’s still feeling the bite of those unforgiving metal cuffs, and yet she’s looking up at the world like, “when I get out of here, I’m gonna kick your ass.” That’s a powerful photo. Especially when you the story of that woman on that day. But it’s also a selfie. It’s also art. There’s nothing wrong with embracing modern culture if you can use it to help yourself or someone else. Even if just taking that selfie helps you better understand what you’re going through, it’s still art, and it’s still productive. It doesn’t matter what you’re creating, even if it’s as vain and vapid as a good selfie. If it helps you think and express yourself, then it’s a good thing.
People are afraid to think. It leads us into uncharted territory, brings up unanswered questions, and people don’t like those. Makes ‘em squirm. Makes ‘em feel threatened. Threatened people get mean. Our amygdalas encounter fear and scream, “Oh god! Puff up! Yell! That’ll scare it off!” Why, though? Why are we afraid to think about things we don’t know and don’t understand? We like to know things. We’re all secretly nosy. Knowledge is power. For some people, knowledge is even moral superiority. Reality, faith, truth, these are things most people base their daily lives on. If you pull a loose thread in one of those, people start worrying the whole thing will unravel, and everything they know and love will come crashing down around their heads.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t work that way. Thoughts are free. Nobody knows what goes on in your head (put down that tinfoil hat), and the only judgement you’ll get for it is what you give yourself. So don’t judge yourself for the things that go through your head. There’s nothing wrong with you for thinking, for using the brain that God gave you. That’s what it’s for; God will be proud.
History has shown ignorance is far more dangerous than knowledge. By not thinking, by letting ourselves be distracted into complacency, we walk, oblivious, through a world we take no part in, and that’s a sad way to live. By not thinking for ourselves, we give control of our minds to whatever entertainment or resources we consume. Thinking, truly thinking, is a deep and personal activity. Your mind is like any other tool; you have to practice often and diversely if you are to use it well. Mastering any skill requires you to learn about yourself, your abilities, your handicaps, what you can and cannot do. In terms of your mind, this requires you to address your own biases, your influences, your beliefs, what you will compromise, and what you will not. It’s an ugly process, but I promise you’ll be a stronger, more beautiful, more loving, and more creative person because of it. Sometimes you will overstretch yourself, feel too acutely the pain of the world, and come crashing down in a flood of tears and dismay. Sometimes you will disappoint yourself. Sometimes you’ll make people spitting furious. Sometimes your own hostility or prejudice may surprise you. You won’t always like what you find, but you don’t have to.
That’s the part I think people miss: learning who you are, becoming who you’re meant to be, it’s not about becoming perfect, or even better at something. Being yourself just means knowing who you are, all of who you are, and accepting it as part of your life. You don’t have to like it all, but you do have to accept that it’s there. The man who was born without legs has to accept that he won’t move around this world like most people. Likewise, some things in your mind you just have to learn to work around.
For some of us, that means accepting our minds don’t work like other people’s. I would even say it works that way for all of us. Regardless of whether or not your struggle is compounded by things like mental illness or trauma, you’ll still have to accept that you’re never going to be like “most people” because no one is exactly like you. None of us are. None of us can be. Normalcy is a myth perpetuated by people in power to keep you from realizing the power of your own uniqueness.
This picture was taken about eighteen hours before those cops dragged me out of my house last year. Even when I was going crazy, I was snapping pictures, scribbling writing notes, and sketching like mad. It’s like my brain was searching for anything to help it understand what was happening, but that it time it was a biological problem and no amount of soul-searching would save me.
That’s where art comes into our lives. Art touches us most at the moments we are most alone, hurting, and vulnerable. That’s why I personally believe it’s an instrument of God; Art is the one thing that can bring Light to someone no matter where they are or who they are. Art is one of those rare things that serves as a bridge between the single human mind and the vaster horizons of the world. Art gives us a safe way to explore what is within us, and share it with minds outside of us. It allows us to indulge whatever questions, feelings, beliefs, frustrations, or dreams we have. It means that even though we are alone, we don’t have to feel alone. There is no facet of the human experience that cannot be communicated in art. Whether it is through writing, or painting, or music, dance, acting– anything that provides an outlet for the creative mind allows us to share some part of our experience, and part of ourselves, with each other. That’s what makes art so personal and so powerful. The art is unique to the artist, and yet it tolls a familiar chord somewhere in the hearts of others. Art taps into the numinous force connecting us all, (slide) wait, no… (slide) the thing great psychologist Carl Jung called the “collective unconscious,” the shared humanity between people from all places. The ability to communicate through shared emotions, symbols, and experiences is art’s greatest power, and the tool that has the greatest potential to unite us as a community of human beings.
True art can only be made through the exploration of the human mind. Art is, at its a core, a communication. Whether you believe it is divinely inspired or not, art is the medium through which the abstract, the universal, the “form” (to quote Plato) (slide) is transferred into the physical world where others can experience it. If your art makes someone feel or think, then you have successfully created art. It may not be the best rendered art, you may have room to improve your technique, but if you are communicating yourself, the things that you think, then you are an artist, and the world desperately needs you– or if not the world, then the handful of lonely people who think and feel similarly to you.
I don’t think anyone can look around right now and say the world is a place of love and unity. It never has been. Probably never will be, since so many people prefer the comfort of their familiar mental boxes rather than actually getting to know each other, but if the world has any prayer at all of becoming a better place, then art is going to make it happen, because art is the place where we can unite in our shared humanity. It’s also the most effective medium for sharing our own experiences. Only by sharing our individual experiences, listening to what the world looks like to other people, learning from the experiences of others, will we be able to fix the things that divide us. Art is the most efficient and powerful way to spread what you believe and experience.
Art slaps us to attention when we are being complacent, and it soothes us when we ache in our souls. That’s what makes it such a dual force for social change, and self healing. If you can still make art, you’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter what you make. You don’t have to sit down to write a novel. Just write. Write a letter to someone, a few lines of verse, a few hundred words of a scenario you imagined in the shower. Doodle on your meeting notes. Arrange your fridge magnets into silly faces. If you still have the strength to make something, no matter how small, it means your soul is still kicking and you’re going to be ok eventually, even if it takes awhile. Sometimes life gets really complicated, deep, and heavy. The pain becomes immense at times, and some days, you question whether or not you even want to keep living. But it’s going to be ok. All you have to do is survive, and keep reaching for the will to create. Busy yourself with your work, and just live it one day at a time. You will survive, and it won’t suck forever. There’s no way to make life easy, but you will find you are strong enough. You won’t think so going into it. Every day, you’ll wonder if this will be the day that breaks you. But it won’t. Keep breathing, keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep making things that express you, and it will pass. You can cry, you can scream, you can hide or run or sleep, whatever you need to do to pass the emotion of the moment, those things are all ok, but it will pass.
Life won’t always be pretty. That’s what makes art an act of defiance and resilience. Art, for a moment, helps us remember that a bad day, a bad year, a bad stretch of years, doesn’t mean it’s a bad life. With any luck, we’ve got a lot of life left in us. Sometimes, you’ll be in the trenches, and you’ll be fighting. You’re not fighting for your spouse, your kids or your family. You’re not fighting for your career. You’re not even fighting for your art. You’re fighting for yourself, because that’s all you have at the end of the day. It’s the one thing nobody has any right to take from you, and the one thing nobody can. Fight for the life you want, the life that calls you, not the one anyone else thinks you ought to have. Live boldly. Create fearlessly. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, or what skill level you have achieved so far in your craft. Take pride in yourself, know yourself, and live by the things that feel true when it’s silent and you’re alone. Your art is your mirror and your megaphone. For some of us, it’s the only weapon we have, whether we’re fighting the world or what’s in our heads. If we want to stay alive and keep doing good while we’re here, we have to keep it sharp.
Where do I stand today? Like many of you, I moved through my morning in a state of shock and visceral dismay. I made my coffee and found myself thinking of a line from V for Vendetta: “for three years, I had roses and apologized to no one.” I am a 26-year-old American woman. I am a writer and an artist. I am married to another woman. I work for a public library. I am college educated, but make little money, and owe much in debt. My favorite people in the world each belong to one minority group or another. Donald Trump lies in direct opposition to what I am and what I stand for, no matter how I try to slice it.
The last time I set foot in the church that raised me, I was 16. The church was at a crossroads, and met to decide whether they would support the pastor’s vision, or fire him. The meeting ran long into the night. It showed me sides of my congregation I had never seen before. Much of it is a blur, but the moment I best remember is when a young black woman, not much older than me, stood to speak. She spoke of what the pastor’s vision meant to her, how the church had reached out to her neighborhood, made a difference for her, and made her feel like she could do more and be more. As she sat down, an elderly white woman rose, pointed her finger across the room, and crowed, “Listen, missy, we were here long before you, and we’ll be here long after you leave.” Shortly after, they voted to fire the pastor, and the church was ceded to the elderly, white, rural folks who had been there forever. The rest of us left.
That night still rattles me. The hatred in that room humbled me and frightened me. It made me wonder where God was, and how He could let this happen to a church that stood in His name. It took me a long time to realize it wasn’t God’s fault. Freewill bites us all the time. God cannot help when we will not hear Him. I look around me today, and it feels so much like that night 10 years ago, when I was 16, hurt and afraid. This time, I see it unfold on a much grander scale, with higher stakes, and greater losses.
As the Trump camp raises their banners over my country, I feel inside me a sense of wide and dreadful scope. This happened despite all my best efforts, all my prayers, all my concentrated thought and will, all my hoping against hope. Control has once more been wrested from my grasp, and I find myself asking, “When will I get to choose? When will I be heard? When will my face be seen?” and it is those questions I hear murmured in quiet despair all around me this morning, from my friends of color, my LGBT allies, my associates of different religions. This is not a victory for America. This is a victory for White Masculinity, for wealth and elitism, for fear and blind nationalism.
America is called the Melting Pot. At our gate stands a woman who raises a torch over the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” The women did not win last night. The poor did not win last night. The refuse of teeming shores, the homeless, the tempest-tost did not win last night. America, what America is supposed to be, did not win last night.
It is tempting to feel shame. I find myself wanting to apologize to the rest of the world for what this slim majority in my country has done, but I will not. Instead, I will say: I am not one of them. I did not choose this. This is still my fight, and I will keep fighting it until there is no more breath in my lungs, no more ink in my heart. I will not apologize for them. I will not make excuses for them. I will stand on my own and say no. A majority vote in no way equals rightness. How long was slavery held as the majority view? How long was the Earth thought flat? How long was science condemned as heresy? How long were women kept out of the polls? How long were gay people denied legal rights? Progress is slow, but change is constant. Men like Trump come to power, but they never stay there. Hatred wins sometimes, but it cannot hold that victory. Light will always drive out Darkness. Love will always endure.
Where does this leave me? What should I do now that half my country has stacked itself against the things I believe? I feel small, but I do not feel unimportant. In fact, I feel my voice is more important than ever. I cannot control the world, but I can control me. Hatred and intolerance has come again to my country. It comes wearing the faces of my family. It comes wearing the faces of my neighbors. It comes in the guise of fear and isolationism. It comes relentlessly, but when it comes to my door, I still have a choice. The world may roar its displeasure, but I am still the master of my soul.
All over social media, I see my friends struggling with what to tell their children. I see my colleagues struggling with how to keep a stoic face as they work library desks today. My wife has gone through these past 24 hours mostly in silence. This morning, as we sat in the stillness, she asked me with great quietness, “What if he really is the Antichrist?” The only thing I could say to her was, “Then I’m glad I chose a side.”
We all must choose a side. We may not be able to escape the immediate consequences of this election, but we must each decide whether or not we are going to wear the face of the majority. As for me, I refuse, as I have so many times in my life. Though I am only 26, I am already tired of this. I am tired of spending my life feeling like an outsider. I am tired of people older than me assuming I cannot think for myself, and that they know what is best for me better than I do. I am tired of men controlling my space. I am tired of so-called Christians imposing their narrow will on me. I am tired of declaring, “this is me,” and the world screaming back, “unacceptable!” I am tired of fighting for Light and Love, and finding vicious resentment in my backyard. I am tired of exerting my will, and having it do nothing but make my freak light shine brighter on the bleak shore of conformity’s ocean. But I can do nothing else, just as that copper woman at my country’s gates can do nothing but keep holding her torch and her words. I am what I am. I was born here like the rest of them. I have as much right to be here as they do. I will not go quietly into this night. I will not accept the mask they would place on my face. I will not accept hatred as the model for my society. Today, like every other day, I will step out my door wearing whatever I want, with my hair falling wild however it pleases, with my wedding ring on my finger, with my pen in my hand, my spirit by my side, and my eyes and heart open. In my declaration of Self, I will fear no one. In my belief in Love, I will not compromise. To all of you, I would say: be yourselves. Be true to the Light inside you. Hatred may win battles, but it will not win wars. Never stop being yourself, no matter how outside you may feel, no matter how freakish you may feel, no matter how small you may feel. The world needs what you are. I need you. I need you to love fearlessly. I need you to stand bravely in the face of resentment and ridicule. I need you to shine as you are. We are not alone. We are, each of us, in this together. I choose to stand for love.
Something I don’t understand is that people are so dead set on convincing everybody else they are right. It’s not just religious people; it’s the non-religious people too. Think about how much time is wasted on trying to prove or disprove the existence of God. The thing is, God is the epitome of something that doesn’t need human approval or confirmation. So why does that argument matter so much to us? If you don’t want to believe in God, that makes me sad, but hey, it’s your soul and your life. Conversely, you might say to me, “I’m sorry you feel the need to devote so much time and energy to some old superstition, but hey, it’s your life.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for evangelism in its proper place. There have been several times in my life where people I know have approached me and said, “You’re a very spiritual person. Mind if I ask you some questions?” I love talking about my faith like that. Not only does it let me share my beliefs, but it helps me solidify what it is I actually believe by forcing me to articulate it and challenging me with questions I can’t always answer. That, to me, is what evangelism should be: the quiet, engaging discussion of faith and exchange of ideas among friends or people who are questioning. There’s really no sense in these TV preachers, or the people who stand on apple crates in the middle of a college campus shouting at the students and telling me I’m going to hell because I’m wearing pants while I’m a woman.
(Yes, that happened. I asked the man if it was safe to wear pants during the times I was not being a woman, but that just made him mad at me. I still don’t have an answer, so I’m just going to assume wearing pants while pretending to be a man is totally fine by him.)
The point I’m getting at is it’s really pretty irrelevant to debate this idea, if you think about it. Our confirmation or disproval is not going to change the being of God one bit. Indeed, a central part of most any religion is the need for faith. Even if we were to scientifically prove the existence of God, then we would be robbing ourselves of our ability to have faith in something we cannot see or fully understand.
Sometimes I imagine God sitting up in Heaven, watching all this, and saying, “I gave you such a great inquiring mind, and here you are putzing around trying to decide if I’m real, or even if you’re real. Don’t you realize you could’ve cured cancer by now?”
Seriously. Imagine if we could take all the fervor and time spent on these Science vs. Religion debates and channel that into something a little more productive, like medicine, clean energy, world hunger, what have you. We probably would have, and still could, advance a lot further as a race.
Personally, I don’t see why Science and Religion have to be enemies. I tend to think of them like rival siblings; they both come from the same family, but they’re so busy fighting with each other they can never take a minute to let go of their grudges and acknowledge that the other one is probably just as right as they are. Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t God exist and do His work through scientific means? (or at least what we perceive as scientific?) Why can’t the Big Bang have happened while God was starting and overseeing it? Why can’t there be some measure of evolution with God as the directing force behind it?
Similarly, I don’t think there is a particular “right” religion. Personally, I think there is one God, or higher being or power, or whatever you want to call it, and all the world’s religions are basically worshiping the same thing, just calling it by a different name, and following it in different ways. For me, I quite like the idea of Christianity because of the presence of Christ, but that’s a whole other discussion in itself.
I refuse to believe that everything happened by sheer chance. Our world, our universe, is simply too beautifully and efficiently designed to be an accident. I mean, my luck stinks. If I wash my car, it will rain within a few hours. If I buy a Big Gulp on a road trip, I will spill it in the car, no matter how many precautions I take and extra strong cupholder contraptions I buy. I’ve never even been able to win a free small fry from McDonald’s, even though the odds were like 1 in 3. If my existence were all based on odds and coincidence, with my luck, I’d have been born some horrible mutant and never survived past third grade. The simple fact that I am here, whole and happy, is proof enough for me that there is a God.
It amazes me how averse so many people are to accept the simple nature of being. In this age, nothing can simply BE. Everything must be dissected, analyzed, explained. Yet some things simply cannot be explained, as their inexplicableness is essential to what they are.
When I was working on my final paper for one of my classes in college, I chose the topic of the nature of inspiration and the personification of inspiration in the form of Muses. I read many “scholarly” texts for this paper and I was amazed at how little those scholars seem to actually know about transcendental sorts of things. They understand God and the creative spirit in theoretical terms, but it is obvious from their cold, lackluster explanations that they have never experienced these things for themselves. That is not to say I am an expert in such things— I’m most certainly not— but I believe I am more willing accept that something simply IS than most people seem to be.
The good majority of people I’ve met seem to be haunted by the question of: Why? If they cannot explain something, then it must not be real. They deny some of the most real powers in the world simply because they cannot be seen in empirical terms. If you cannot see something with your eyes, hear it with your ears, measure it with instruments, and pick it apart with science, then it is written off as backwards mysticism and ignorant thinking. I personally believe the exact opposite. I think if one cannot accept anything on faith, then it is he who is ignorant to the fires of the soul. The soul knows what is real and true, far more than any of our sciences and explications ever could. Man walks with his eyes turned skyward not because he understands the heavens, but because he does not understand them and that unknowableness calls to the ancient wellspring of truths in his soul.
Souls are shifting, numinous things. Their very nature is to be mysterious, and they alight at the core of each of us. If our very being is something unable to be defined in the limited language of our tongues and the concrete demands of our scientific minds, then what hope do we have for ever understanding anything? If we cannot accept our own mysteries, how can we hope to explain the mystery of everything else? Mystery is the cloth from which eternity is woven. I can think of nothing concrete and truly explainable that can last forever. Everything that endures contains an unexplainable greatness.
I think it takes a certain arrogance to assume there is nothing we cannot know. The universe is infinitely greater than we are; we are but a speck in the fleeting dust mote of human existence, a single heartbeat in the eternal lifespan of being. Where are we in the sweeping fields of our own history, in the cosmos, in the gaze of God? We are so small, so evanescent, and to me that is the greatest miracle of life: that we are so small, yet not one of us escapes the attention of God. We don’t have to explain all that in order for it to be true. The Truth does not care one iota about whether or not we believe it’s true. It simply IS true.
We are all part of an infinite universe. We are thoughts of God. Within each of us lives the spark that was kindled by God and connects us to God and is God. We are the words of God, the story that He writes. Genesis 1:26 reads, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” As we are created in the image of God, so too do we possess immense creative abilities. Like our Holy Father, we have the ability to create entire worlds. Perhaps we cannot give it physical form, but our creative power comes from God. God thought of a world and of us, and it was made. And here we are, the thoughts of God, thinking of our own worlds, and so they are made. And perhaps in our worlds there are those who think of other worlds and so on. The cycle is infinite. Everything is eternal and connected.
God is Infinity. He is the Eternal. In each of us dwells His spark, and through Him we are all— past, present, future, real and fictional— connected in a vast web of interdependency. David Bohm once said, “In some sense, man is a microcosm of the universe; therefore what man is, is a clue to the universe. We are enfolded in the universe.” The universe is a beautiful fractal; a single pattern that repeats itself smaller and smaller into eternity. God created the universe and Man. Man creates his own universe. That universe creates its own universe and so on. The cycle is unending.
I believe that because we are made in God’s image and have that great creative capacity, that each person is an entire world unto himself. Within each of us is a vast new world. Some people will choose to explore the wonder that exists within them, others will choose to ignore it. This, I believe is where problems begin. To quote Margaret Cavendish, “And since it is in your power to create such a world, what need have you to venture life, reputation and tranquility to conquer a gross material world?” Everything we could ever desire we can create and claim within ourselves. By ignoring our creative potential, we become preoccupied with dominating the external world. However, if we cannot even achieve dominion over ourselves, how could we ever hope to rule the vast world outside of us?
Through God, we are all connected to each other and to the universe. However, one might ask: if we are connected to God and if God is as all-powerful and benevolent as He would have us believe, why are there so many problems on Earth? Why is there war, hunger, hatred? I would like to posit an answer. The problem is not with God, it is with Man. God is in everything and He is everywhere. He connects us all to Himself and to the universe. The problems spring from when Man chooses to ignore that connection. When he denies that he is connected to other men, then it is far easier for him to go over and kill them, destroy their homes, and take their land. If one feels no connection to something, then one will have few feelings one way or the other toward it. God is Love and His connection is Love, but if we push that away and ignore it, then there can be no other love between men. And so, there are wars. People go hungry because our society as a whole does not care enough to help them. When we forget the connection we have to God and to the rest of His Creation, then we are doomed to become selfish and self-righteous. That is where worldly problems spring from. God does not want it to happen, but how can He stop it when we have freewill and we constantly push His help away?
Everyone is always seeking the meaning in life, when in all actuality such seeking makes no sense. If the universe is infinite, if it contains infinite worlds and infinite beings, then why would there ever be one single meaning of life? Instead, the meaning of life is infinite. There is meaning, to be sure, but it will manifest itself differently in each individual piece of the whole. Just as a body is comprised of different parts; the purpose of the lungs is to breathe air, the purpose of the heart is to pump blood, and so on. Their individual existences have different meanings. So too are we all part of a larger entity and so have a different purpose to fulfill. We are all here for a reason, yet what that reason is, is entirely dependent on the individual person. The meaning of life is unique to the individual and yet the many meanings of life are infinite.
As the universe is infinite, so too are the possibilities of individual souls. I believe that all souls are different, and yet none is more beautiful than another, at least at the start. My thoughts about the soul most liken themselves to a metaphor of a flame. A soul is kindled by God, and therefore is naturally pure and good. I don’t believe in “Original Sin;” I think we are all born pure and that we get preoccupied with the world and the wrong things and stain ourselves. The soul has the capacity to burn more brightly and into eternity, blazing and blazing forever— the state of Heaven. However, like fire, souls must be fed. To keep the fire of the soul going through our life, one must seek out wisdom, take pleasure in the natural beauties of life, strive to walk in the ways of God, listen to what the soul knows to be true. If one ignores the soul, gets so caught up in worldly constructs and possessions, then one starves the soul of life. That’s not to say worldly things are bad; I believe this world exists as a place for us to explore ourselves and our connections to each other and the rest of the universe. The world is here for our enjoyment and our toil, and we should work in it as best we can, but we should also appreciate what it has to offer us. If one starves the soul of goodness, it will wither, perhaps twist and darken, and eventually be snuffed out altogether— the state of Hell. I think death is that threshold, the moment at which our soul is set free, and if we have nurtured it properly, it will blaze and soar into eternity with God, and if we have starved it, it will fall and perish in darkness.
Souls, I believe, are worlds unto themselves. I do not believe they are necessarily people, but rather, they are many things; so many things, in fact, I do not think we can understand or visualize a single form for them. Souls avoid labels and bindings, they are the essence of freedom— no one is more free than when he is at peace with his own soul. I also do not believe souls have a gender, rather, I think that each soul contains all polarities inside them, including masculine and feminine, and light and darkness. I believe it is through the union and acceptance of all these different parts that we can nurture our souls and help them to grow as we strive for wisdom and connection with God.
As a writer, perhaps I have an unfair advantage when it comes to exploring and understanding my own soul. I see myself in the world I create, the people that come out of it. Each of them is a part of me, a small part that helps comprise the greater whole; there are terrible monsters in me, but there are also great heroes. By getting to know them, I know myself. By exploring the beauty of their world, I learn of the beauty that exists within me.
While I don’t agree with everything he wrote, I believe Carl Jung was on to something when he spoke of the various parts of the human mind. There is the persona, which we present to other the people, the ego, which is our true conscious personality, and then there are all the pieces of the unconscious, and it is there I believe the soul resides. The persona does not always have to connect to the soul at all; it can be a complete mask that we construct for others to see. The ego, I think, is the outer surface of the soul, the froth on the waves. In the unconscious, there are other figures. The Shadow is all that is dark in us, the place that monsters come from. We cannot ignore it and pretend we don’t have one, for that will only make it grow all the stronger and more vicious. We must learn to accept the Shadow. We don’t have to like it, but we must acknowledge it is there and respect it.
The Animus (or Anima, the feminine) is the inner complement. I’ll likely talk about the Animus a lot, so I won’t rehash everything that I might have already said. I do believe that the Animus is one of the most important facets of our soul, our inner partner, and that it is he (or she) who can lead us into the depths of ourselves and help us understand what we find there. The Animus, in my opinion, is the psychological term for a very ancient spirit called the Daimon. According to both Plato and Iamblichus, the Daimon is the spirit the universe (or God) assigns to us at our birth in order to help us fulfill our fate in the world and lead us to the next. The Daimon is bound to our soul, perhaps forever, and is our deepest companion in our existence.
Jung also spoke of the “collective unconscious,” which I believe is– in not so psychological terms– the thread that connects us with the rest of the world. It’s the part of us that can sense other people and the rhythms of the world and the cosmos. It is the memory of all mankind, the vast well of being, and if we can find that thread, that well, and call into it, we can hear the whispers of the universe in reply.
And then, at the very center, is the Self, which I believe is the bare spark of the soul. It is the place where God breathed into us and kindled the flame of our being. It is the part of us that simply knows what is true, and if we can travel the world of our mind and being, we might find it. And if we can quiet ourselves, be still for a while, I think we can hear it whispering to us, and I think it is that core of ourselves that hears, feels, and knows God, so if we listen to it, we can hear God as well.