I woke up Saturday morning very early, tired of fighting the hourly check of the clock. I kept my brain at 20 percent functionality until the coffee quit brewing. As I sat on the edge of my bed, holding the warm mug in both hands and enjoying the smells of the first cup, I slowly allowed my mental operational status to reach full power and immediately the same annoying questions flooded my brain, decreasing my need for caffeine. I was still clueless, the night having provided nothing in the way of answers. This ordeal may have been outside the scope of any of my life experiences but I knew where the rest of the world gathered; it was at the other end of my wireless connection. I looked at my laptop sitting on the end table, grabbed it, climbed into the bed, stacked some pillows behind my back, turned the computer on and prepared to find some answers.
I stared at the blinking cursor that was waiting for me to type in key words to put the search engine to work. Trying to describe in two or three words what I went through that night was more difficult than I anticipated. As a way to get started I punched in “invisible healers” but the returned links were all about people who channeled ancient doctors and something called Light Beings. None of the situations described in the articles I read resembled what I experienced. Apparently the creatures needed a human to work through and no one was with me when the event took place so I was able to dismiss aliens and healing entities as my answer.
When I decided to dump Christianity, the only logical label I could think to give myself was “atheist.” Since I had no idea what that really meant on levels deeper than “doesn’t believe in God,” I conducted a search for information on atheism that might shed some light on what I experienced that night in the garden. There were over one million results returned so I explored some of the more popular sites and began reading up on what I was supposed to believe, or not believe in this instance. I discovered there is “weak atheism” as well as “strong atheism,” the difference being unclear, at least to me. The people writing the text obviously felt strongly about the differences although all they could come up with to differentiate the two was “weak atheism” is skepticism in the existence of God and “strong atheism” is belief that God doesn’t exist. I was pretty sure I fit in there somewhere but the thought that something bigger than me acknowledged my existence and had chosen to interact with me kept pulsing in my head. The “something” was hard to ignore when it was communicating with me. So if, as an atheist, I didn’t believe in anything bigger than myself, how could I explain what happened? I searched through several sights but couldn’t come up with any satisfactory information relating to my incident in the garden. According to the websites, any attempt to rationalize a personal experience was ridiculed as a desire to believe in god and discounted as human weakness. One example compared God to Santa Claus, explaining they were both entities people had invented to make themselves feel better. I deliberated their reasoning but ultimately felt silly considering Santa as a possible source of my transformation. Maybe I wasn’t an atheist after all, at least not after Thursday night. Of course, whatever it was I encountered didn’t have to be god, but I refused to chalk it up to my imagination. It was much more real than that.
I followed up my exploration of atheism with search queries on agnosticism and then freethought but both groups tended to rely on science or unquestioned reason for all of their answers. Anything outside of those parameters was superstition and “ignorant rationale,” end of story. I toyed with the idea that there was a physiological explanation for my instant transition, that I somehow healed myself through will, luck or the proper alignment of the stars, but I wasn’t trying to heal myself, just asking questions. But did that matter? Did I have to make a conscious choice for something to transpire? I wanted answers and all I could produce were more questions.
It was easy to dig deeper, following links listed on web pages, drilling through seemingly bottomless layers of information available online, so I continued to research, hoping to find some answers. Not having much luck with the godless groups, I took a different approach and conducted a search of the word “pagan.” It seemed like the next logical step and I was intrigued by a lot of the information available through an overwhelming number of websites. What was especially interesting was the common theme of love for and kinship with nature that permeated each group under the pagan umbrella as well as their belief that we should all pursue our own vision of “the divine” as a direct and personal experience. For the first time, something I read was ringing true to what I had encountered. I had been sitting in the gardens outside the chapel, surrounded by nature, and I had been alone, which qualified the experience as direct and personal. Not all of the pagan pegs lined up with my holes but they were close enough to generate some excitement. So I continued reading.
I pulled up individual pages explaining the beliefs of several branches of paganism such as Wicca, Shamanism, Druidry and Goddess worship. As I continued to read and educate myself on each group another thread began emerging and it was less encouraging, eating away at my excitement. The first time I saw the phrase “the mystery of nature and old Gods” I didn’t give it a second thought, assuming it was just an expression to add some flavor to borderline dull material. I soon discovered it wasn’t a one-time reference and was constantly mentioned within each overview. I began to tie the concept together with all of the allusions to Woden, Beli and Isis I was coming across in the text and my fervor began to lose some steam. It started becoming clear that a lot of the pagan beliefs were based on gods and goddesses invented by men, some a long time ago, some more recent. They weren’t even pretending most of them were real, living under the assumption if they were good enough for the caveman they were good enough for today’s believers. In their philosophy, longevity beat reality. Unfortunately, I tended to place Thor in the same category as Santa Claus when I thought of credible healers. What completed my turn away from a possible swim in the pagan river was their admiration and respect for the deities of the “newly dead” such as the designated spirits of lakes and forests, the power of guardian snakes and toads over your home and a reverence for elves and leprechauns. It was some seriously weird shit. I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the thought of being associated with the unstable world of horse-whisperers, witches and palm readers so, reluctantly, I continued to dig, still confident the answers were possibly one click away.
God, or Gods in case there were more than one. It seemed like an obvious next step, so I typed “Gods” into the search engine and was disappointed by the results. Everything I would ever want to know about Poseidon, Hermes, Jupiter and Neptune was at my fingertips but, unless I was writing a research paper or studying to be a pagan, it was not what I needed. There was literally nothing new for me to read; it was all ancient history. I conducted a search for “Modern Gods” and the results were no less poor. I discovered there are people in this world that want to bring back the worship of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods, dressing it with cool sounding names like “Hellenic Reconstructionist Paganism” but it was still the worshipping of ancient, man-created gods. Interesting? Maybe, but not relevant, so I stopped for lunch.
After a sandwich and a beer, I crawled back into the bed and picked up my quest again. The questions were still throbbing and I was impressed with their ability to fight through all the data I was ingesting and still draw attention to themselves. After several hours I still wasn’t close to any answers but I was far from discouraged. Minimally, the internet exercise was helping me discover what I wasn’t, what I didn’t believe, even if I didn’t feel like I was any closer to answering the opposite. I was still at step one, the place I landed instantaneously two days before: there was something out there, something with clout, and that something knew I existed. Since I was acknowledging the existence of something, a powerful something, I decided to give the theists a chance to fill my void.
It started out simply enough; theists believe in the existence of at least one god. The tracks extending from that plain definition were a network of confusion and mind numbing descriptions. Monotheism, henotheism, deism, polytheism and pantheism were just part of the family that existed under the theist umbrella. From each of those groups extended more tracks leading to everything from Buddhism and Protestant Quaker to Islam and Unitarian Universalists. There was a lot of information to cull through but I was determined to give every group the courtesy of minimally reading the introduction and “what we believe” sections of their main websites. I read about Baha’i, Jainism, Sikhism, Falun Gong and the Mormons. I also read about Christian Scientists, the Nation of Islam and Shinto. I even read an incomprehensible explanation of Scientology. If it was explained on the web I gave it serious consideration, dissecting and comparing each group’s perspective and beliefs on God, gods and specifically healing. By early evening I was drained. The amount of jargon and terminology I crammed into my brain was painful and confusing, the vernacular of each subgroup getting knotted up with its fellow blurbs and forming a large lump of lingo that was festering in my brain. Somewhere in that morass I expected to find illumination, clarity and fulfillment but what I got was a headache. If I had been given a quiz on Religion’s of the World at that moment I would have failed, possibly inventing several new sects by combining beliefs and responsibilities. I set the computer aside and rubbed my eyes, trying to imbue new life into the overworked orbs, trying to sort through the information crackling in my head.
What had I learned? A lot and nothing, all at the same time. I was surprised at how self-absorbed most of the religions were, even when there was a god involved. The beliefs seemed to focus on self improvement or reaching high levels of self worth that made a person feel better about themselves and enabled them to become a better citizen of this world, preparing them for an existence beyond this life. Most of the paths and requirements were filled with vernacular and jargon that required a certain Gnostic clairvoyance to comprehend. The few groups that deflected the scrutiny off the believer tended to hold everything with the same priority, including animals, plants and dead people. Nothing was more important than anything else; all were equal. That leaning was probably persuasive when shared in person but when it had to be written and explained for the mortals it came across as ludicrous.
One thing that was noticeably absent from most, if not all, of the explanations I read was, surprisingly, love. I read a lot about enlightenment, fulfillment, forgiveness and respect but not too much about love, especially in the area of interacting with your god or gods. And if there was no love, what had been the motivation to heal me? Why would the thing that touched me that night be inclined to intercede? Basic god or goddess goodness? Humanitarian obligation? A whim? And did it have to come from someone? Why not some thing? Regardless, there had to be a motivation, didn’t there?
The low regard for love struck me because in my former life as a Christian that was almost all we talked about. We did not live it, of course, but it was definitely a major theme in the propaganda. I remembered Pastor Enzo’s favorite phrase was “Love God and love folks.” He always stressed that following those two commands, what he considered the bottom line of the entire Christian life, was critical to a life of peace. It was certainly less complicated than some of the other steps I just spent all day having explained to me. Maybe that part, the love part, was implied in the other religions, an aspect that didn’t need to be spelled out. Everybody loves, right? Or was that another sign of mortal weakness? If I had been in charge of any of the public relations of the world’s religions I would have made the love aspect more prominent, requiring it to carry a more flag waving role in the descriptions. As it stood, at least with me at that moment, it was hard to tell if it was important to them at all. And I found that more than a little unsettling.
This is an excerpt of a full length novel entitled “Back Again.” You can read it in it’s entirety by downloading it from here or you can keep coming back to this site and read it in chapter chunks over time. Your call but, either way, I hope you will read it and, most of all, enjoy it. And leave a comment or two. It lets me know you are out there…