I may have been given a great and terrible and sorrowful gift when I left the ministry. I did not ask for this gift; it came upon me like a palsy. I shook and trembled. The sight of the Church blurred and the words of church people turned to babel. The gift – or it might be a curse – is of new eyes and new ears. I see Christianity with the eyes of the outsider, and I hear our words with the ears of the stranger.
I speak of this gift or curse without pride, since I don’t want the damn thing. I was content in my dogmatic slumbers. I was happy when the words of the Church made sense to me and I saw my life and purpose safely nestled behind her walls.
But I left that life. I walked away. I told people I couldn’t be a pastor anymore. Said I couldn’t keep doing that. That’s all I knew to say then and it’s all I can think to say now, if anyone asks and mostly they don’t.
I have wandered in and out of churches, hoping to connect to something I once had but now can barely remember. I am like a man who returns home after a journey to the far country and finds that he doesn’t recognize his mother and father. The conversations around the dinner table with his siblings sound oddly familiar but make no sense to him. After a time he gets up and slips out the door. No one notices. He goes to the porch and looks at the sky, seeking something familiar and comforting in the ancient stars.
Maybe this is the dark night of the soul that Saint John of the Cross wrote about. Maybe it is penance for all the years I tossed church words out into the congregation on Sundays as if they were free. As if that sort of thing doesn’t cost you. As if one day a pound of my soul would not be required of me. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the people outside of the church walls and am now cursed to walk in the twilight with them. Or maybe this is simply the collapse of my spiritual worldview, a good old fashioned loss of faith. Another soul that used to be at rest in Christ and now cannot fathom what that even means.
This could be a good thing, some sort of sacred transition. I could be closer to God than I have ever been. Or maybe not. Maybe apathy has simply overwhelmed whatever energy I had for the spiritual journey. I am either a prophet or an apostate. A man with great vision or no vision at all. I don’t know which is true, so I lurch forward in great uncertainty and with no real sense of conviction. Without the responsibilities and clear duties of the clergy, my belief has been stripped to the bone. Nothing is left that does not truly matter to me, and I’m finding that almost nothing of the traditional languages of faith matters to me now.
However it came to be, whether good or bad, whether new vision or ancient darkness, I have received a Cartesian insight that was born of this tearing down, this reduction of what I believe to a simple statement of my reality:
I don’t know therefore I don’t belong.