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Struggling Faith: Becoming A Fundamentalist

Digital artist journal page created by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy, featuring digital elements from our Samsara set of digital assets, and original prayer poetry by Connla Freyjason. Some elements also from our Imramma set of digital assets. Samsara may be purchased by clicking on this image. (Link opens in a new tab)

Last week, we met the God of Green Hope, which I hope has greatly boosted not only your self-esteem, but also your self-confidence.  You may remember from the first blog post in this series that confidence is one of the five keys to hope; today, we are going to talk about another important aspect of one of those keys: becoming fundamental.

This is our first step towards exploring the ultimate–the sacred–which may come as a surprise, because in our modern society we don’t tend to think of fundamental and ultimate as related concepts.  In fact, we tend to think of them as direct opposites.  

To our modern minds, ultimate has generally come to mean something bigger and better than us, while fundamental has come to mean basic, and not in a good way.  When we think of something as fundamental here in our modern world, we tend to think of it as somehow “dumbed down”, which is never a good thing, right? At the same time that we sit around wishing for the “simple life”, we equate the simple with being basic, and the basic with being “dumbed down”. It’s no wonder, really, that we spend half our lives confused and in a rut!

The true definition of fundamental is anything but dumbed down:

Fundamental:  serving as a basis supporting existence or determining essential structure or function; serving as an original or generating source; of central importance; essential; indispensable; a foundation without which an entire system or a complex whole would collapse.

From that definition, I hope that it is relatively apparent how the fundamental and the ultimate are actually inextricably woven together.  The ultimate–the sacred, remember–also serves as a basis for existence, determining the essential structure and function of the Universe around us and serving as its generating source.  In some ways, in fact, one might say that God(s) is (are) the fundamental personified.

We may know who or what God(s) is/are.  We may also not like Them very much at the moment because of the rough spot we’ve just come through. We are trying to crawl out of a faith rut, after all.  It might be easier, therefore, to rebuild this portion of our “faith ladder” via a backdoor: the fundamental.  But what is or are the fundamental(s)?

I’m going to do that thing many of you hate again, and throw another Bible verse at you.* 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. –Galatians 5:22

For those not coming here from a Christian background, the fruit of the Spirit might best be understood as the nine necessary attributes for a person to live in accord with the Universe, God(s), and other people: in other words, the fundamental(s).  While nine are given in the verse, they can actually be simplified down to three:

  • Love
  • Joy/Happiness/Fulfillment
  • Peace (which patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control all bring into being)

You will find these three fundamentals echoed across almost all world religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, and, yes, even Paganism.  They effectively provide a “back door” through which God(s) enters the room, and we may come face to face with the ultimate.

For many people coming here from a Heathen background, the concept of love, joy, and peace as the three fundamentals necessary for making contact with the ultimate may seem sickeningly sweet; trite, even.  They tend to brush up against the “rough warrior exterior” that so many like to paint in broad strokes across the face of our faith in an uncomfortable fashion.  To those people, I would say three things: first, if that were truly all there was to our faith, many of us would have left it long ago.  Second, have you met Freyr and Freyja? And third, try substituting each of those in the blanks in the following sentences and tell me if they still do not ring true:

_______________ supports my existence; without ________________, life would have no meaning.  ________________ is the source of everything in the Universe.  ___________________ is of central importance.  Without ________________________, the entire Universe would collapse.

The sort of love we’re talking about here isn’t the icky, complicated human concept of love.  Let’s face it, whether you want to get all fancy and call it agape or eros or what have you or not, somewhere somehow along the way, our limited concepts of love get us into complex and complicated situations that end with someone broken-hearted, disattached, and hurting.  No, what I’m talking about with that one terribly-grafted-upon four letter word is concern forenthusiasm, and devotion.  Love is fundamental not because the Beatles sang songs about it, but because without concern for things, situations, and people in life, enthusiasm as we go about living it, and devotion to something bigger than us, life has no meaning and everything falls flat.  Ultimately, love and respect are the same thing, and what we respect, we come to cherish: to hold in our minds and hearts constantly (as in, we’re thinking about them and considering them all the time) with esteem.  

Concern and care are not synonyms, even though we treat them like they are.  We can care too little, but we can also care too much.  That is why when you look up the definition for the word care in the dictionary you get positive, good things within that definition like painstaking or watchful attention and regarding with esteem, but you also get  profoundly negative, bad things like grief, anxiety, uncertainty, and apprehension.  To be concerned is to be engaged: to relate to, to be involved with.  There is no necessary emotion implied, as with caring.  When we cease to be concerned, we disengage, and when we disengage, everything and everyone ceases to matter, and when nothing matters, everything sucks.  When we lose concern, we also lose enthusiasm: we become unable to become excitedjoyful, or happy about anything in life.  And when we aren’t enthusiastic, it is impossible to be devoted to anyone or anything (to set anything or anyone apart as special or sacred; if nothing is ever special, life loses its luster fairly fast).

When we fall into a faith rut, we become disengaged in exactly the same way as if we had fallen down a well.  At the bottom of a well, you’re all alone (hopefully, unless there are rats or spiders, of course, in which case you’ll soon be wishing you were all alone!).  You are in a cold, dark place, disengaged from the rest of humanity.  Chances are, you’ll soon be hoping that you could re-engage, likely at the end of a rope tossed down by some would-be rescuer.  But how do you trust that would-be rescuer enough to grab onto that rope and climb up those slippery walls back out into the light, without having to fear that they will let go of the rope?  You have to engage with yourself before you can do so with anyone else: you can never grab onto that rope if you’re so busy freaking out over your present condition that you never even notice that it’s there in the first place, and you will never have the courage to grab onto the rope once you do notice it if you constantly fear that your would-be rescuer is going to let go.  This is why, in the last blog post, we re-engaged with ourselves, via meeting the God of Green Hope within.  To experience love, much less to spread love, you must first love yourself.

Meeting the God of Green Hope also helped us to restore joy and peace in our lives (hopefully), so now we have the building blocks in place to take our journey deeper and reach out towards the ultimate.

We are going to begin that reaching out through prayer.  Prayer does not need to be conflated, or composed of poetic phrasing; on the contrary, I have found in my own personal experience that my most profound experiences with prayer consisted of conversations very much like those one might have when initially making contact with another living-breathing human: 

“Hi, Freyja? Yeah, this is Connla. Are you hearing me okay?  I just wanted to call you up and tell you how much I appreciate having you in my life….”

Or:

“Hello, Hella? This is Connla.  I’ve noticed you being around in my life a lot lately, and I just thought I’d let you know that I know that you’re there….”

Because the entire purpose of this blog series is to attempt to climb out of a faith rut, your God-conversations (aka prayers) should probably focus right now on asking for help in doing that.  To make your life a bit easier, I’ve taken the liberty of including a suggested prayer below (a Heidhrinn and a Christian version).  Feel free to use them, with or without personal embellishment.

Climbing Prayer (Heidhrinn)
Hail, Freyr,
Lord of Light!
Help me to love me
As You love me.
Show me my strength,
When I feel I have none.
Teach me the joy
Of sun upon the wheat;
Of mead in the cup,
And of birds on the wind.
Grant peace and good seasons in my life;
Peace and good seasons in the lives
Of those whom I hold dear.
And when my cup is empty,
Let me trust in You to refill it:
For You are my Brother,
And my Friend.
Blessed be.
Climbing Prayer (Christian)
O, My Christ,
Lord of Light!
Help me to love me
As You love me.
Show me my strength,
When I feel I have none.
Teach me the joy
Of sun upon the wheat;
Of mead in the cup,
And of birds on the wind.
Grant peace and good seasons in my life;
Peace and good seasons in the lives
Of those whom I hold dear.
And when my cup is empty,
Let me trust in You to refill it:
For You are my Brother,
And my Friend.
Amen.

Reaching out to the ultimate is your first brave step towards coming to rely on something greater than yourself: the first true building block of a returning faith.  I hope you’re feeling hopeful right now; I know I am!  In my next blog post, we’ll talk about how to use that reliance and trust to begin living without fear.  I look forward to our time together next week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*(As an aside, I’d like to note that the Bible is a book, just like the likely plethora of books sitting over there, across the room from you on your bookshelf.  To discount it as a valid source of wisdom, based on experiences with others who have beaten you over the head with it, is as arbitrary–and discriminatory–as dismissing the Qu’ran purely because you have some sort of personal issue with Muslims. The book itself hasn’t done anything to you: it can’t; it’s an inanimate object. It’s just a book.  It’s also a magnificent work of literature, so if you’re down with quoting Byron, Eliot, Tolkien, or Poe–who were all Christians–taking issue with the Bible is hypocritical, at best.)

 

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Struggling Faith

Digital artist journal page created by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy using our Imramma page kit, available by clicking this image. (Link opens in new tab)

Faith.  It’s a word that often gets looked down upon in traditional Heathen circles, yet it is something with which we all struggle, regardless of our chosen spiritual path in life.  Many modern Heathens sneer down their noses at it, saying that as a concept it smacks of someone’s “Christian upbringing”, yet it can be found scattered throughout the Eddas and Sagas, and when we do not feel it coloring our daily lives, we tend to become listless beings; we suddenly feel lost. In fact, one of the most frequently posed conundrums that I encounter is this one:

How does one get out of a “faith rut”?

I personally believe that the number one reason that we fall into “faith ruts” in the first place is due to how we have come to define the concept of faith.  That overriding definition of the concept is also intrinsically bound up with that tendency for people to sneer down their noses at it in certain circles, because the primary word we find linked with faith is belief.  This leads us down the garden path to that ages-old issue of the dreaded blind faith: adhering to something without any true understanding, perception, or discrimination.  But faith is not belief: it’s more than that.

In Pagan and Catholic circles, faith also tends to become bound up with action or doing: when one is not routinely performing the actions of one’s chosen spiritual path, one feels that they have somehow lost faith, and fallen into a “faith rut”.  Such actions might include attending Mass regularly or saying the rosary, if one is Catholic, or attending rituals and doing workings, if one is Pagan.  For those of us on a Norse Path, these actions include offering blot, working with the runes, or perhaps performing galdr.  But faith is not action or doing: it’s more than that, too.

Faith is the simple, pervading presence of hope.

Unfortunately, hope is another word that we tend to misdefine in our society:

Hope:  to want something to happen or be true; to desire with expectation of fulfillment

Basically, we confuse the concept of hope with wishing.  There are deeper definitions of the word, however, which ring closer to the truth of it, as a concept:

Hope:  to cherish with anticipation; to expect with confidence; trustreliance

I find it quite telling that those last two words–trust and reliance–are listed as the archaic definition of hope.  No wonder so many people are out here falling into “faith ruts”, when we’ve lost the very meaning, not only of the word faith, but of that which is at its core: hope!

The five keys to hope are italicized in that last definition:

  • cherish
  • anticipation
  • confidence
  • trust
  • reliance

We tend to think of the word cherish when thinking of loved ones and pets: it has become, not unlike faith and hope, a somewhat sappy thing, drained of its original meaning.  What it ultimately means, however, is to hold something constantly in your mind and heart with esteem.  Things which are cherished are not only loved, they are also respected.  They become ultimate to us.  What does that mean, to “become ultimate”? It means that those things become fundamental to the basis of our very existence:  they are of central importance, defining and supporting our total concept of how the world and the universe actually work to a degree that we would feel lost without them.  Which is why, when we lose the concept of the word cherish and at the same time have nothing in life that we actively do cherish, we begin to fall into a “faith rut”.

But according to that definition of hope back there, we not only cherish, we do so with anticipation.  Anticipation is the act of looking forward with pleasurable expectation: it looks for the best in things, rather than the worst.  Looking forward which focuses on the worst outlook is the antithesis of anticipation. We have a word for that, too. We call it dread!  Cherishing with anticipation is how we can look out the window today, and see trees covered in ice, and think “My Gods, that’s beautiful”, instead of “holy crap, we’re gonna lose power and I’m gonna freeze to death”.  The first thought is cherishing with anticipation–it focuses on the best, rather than the worst–while the latter thought is cherishing with dread.  Cherishing with dread instead of anticipation is another way in which we begin to fall into a “faith rut”.

“Expecting with confidence” is part of how the concept of hope gets confused with wishing: we tend to focus on the expecting part of that sentence, and ignore the confidence that comes after it wholesale.  We all go through life expecting things: I expect to be successful with my business, for example.  You might expect to win the lottery.  But when we add confidence into that equation, our feeble wishes get elevated into something far greater: they become hopes.  Now, confidence is defined as the feeling or belief that one can rely on something or someone–firm trust–and also as the feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.  When speaking about spirituality, somehow we tend to divorce those definitions from each other: too often, people arrive at a worldview wherein you have to choose whether to believe in a Higher Power (that first bit, that we can firmly trust and, therefore, rely on someone or something greater than ourselves), or to believe in one’s self.  But the definition is not an or statement, it’s an and statement!  True confidence, as a key to hope, requires that we do bothrely, and, therefore, firmly trust in a Higher Power while at the same time feeling self-assured, thanks to an appreciation of our own abilities and qualities.  When we treat the definition of confidence as an or statement, losing our appreciation of ourselves, and thereby coming to doubt ourselves, while focusing solely on that Higher Power part of the equation, once again, we begin to fall into a “faith rut”.

Which brings us finally to trust and reliance.  When we speak of that first word, we tend to think of it in an either/or fashion, because once again, we bind it to the concept of belief.  Trusting is what we do when we know something can be believed; when we know something is true.  As with every other bolded word in this blog post, the actual meaning of the word trust goes way, way deeper than that, however.  The deepest meaning of the word trust is to live without fear.  But how in the heck can we do that when the world is such a scary place?  Newsflash: the world has always been a scary place!  Our Ancestors unlocked the way to live without fear when they “discovered” something larger than solely themselves to rely upon.  Yes, I’m talking about a Higher Power!  What you choose to call that really makes zero difference to me; It all boils down to the same thing anyway.  That reliance, shockingly, also has zero to do with belief: whether you believe in Them or not matters not in the slightest; what matters is that you believe in you enough to be worthy of Them believing in you, too!  When we lose these definitions of trust and reliance, once again, we fall into the dreaded “faith rut”.

I didn’t figure all of this out just today, in an attempt to write a pithy blog post that might get all of you thinking and feeling and perhaps shopping while you’re here.  No, I figured all of this out quite slowly and painfully over the course of the past year, and I was forced to figure it all out because I did not simply stumble into a “faith rut”, I was pushed, ass over teakettle, into a faith chasm.  On December 23, 2015, our family dog died.  Two days before Christmas–her presents already bought and waiting to be put into her stocking–she succumbed to convulsions, and our family was shattered.  That may seem like a very small and insignificant thing: the death of the family dog.  Even to a dog-lover, that may seem like quite a tiny thing to qualify as the gateway to a faith chasm.  Yet, that’s what it was, for me.

You see, I prayed to practically every God I could think of to save her, not because I was going to miss the family dog, but because of what this was going to do to our family as a whole.  There is, after all, no pain in the world quite like grief at Christmas. And then I was expected to go sit in a pew and celebrate the birthday of one of those Gods, as if nothing had happened; as if my prayers had not been heard and yet gone unanswered.  The whole thing smacked of the most vile hypocrisy, and I wanted no further part in it, if that’s what religion entailed. Bingo: faith chasm.

I have come, over the course of the past year, to realize, however, that my plummet into the faith chasm had far less to do with the surface issue of losing our dog coupled with unanswered prayers than to do with my own misdefinition of what faith actually is, and, within that misdefinition, my mistranslation and utter lack of hope.  Hope was actually something I had lacked for a very long time at that point, it just took the death of the family dog to bring that sharply into focus.  The Gods were doing me a favor, but as is often the case, it certainly didn’t feel that way, at the time.

I found myself returning, again and again, to the most inexplicable of all sources for comfort: a passage from the Christian Bible.  I would sit, head in hands, when no one was looking, and cry my eyes out, and there would be those words, over and over, echoing like a broken record:

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! –Romans 15:13, The Message

Let me take the liberty of making that a bit more Pagan/Heidhrinn for those of you who are currently squirming in your seats:

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your spiritual life, filled with the life-giving energy of inspiration, will brim over with hope!

I have spent the last year unlocking the secrets of that mantra and climbing out of my personal faith chasm.  The next six blog posts will follow me along on that journey, in an effort to help you climb out of your own.

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Hanging On The Tree

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, by Connla and Duncan.

Do you ever feel like you’re just “hanging out”? I don’t mean in the good sense of those words; I mean in the sense of that desperate kitty cat on the poster, just clawing his way to hold on so that he doesn’t fall off the rope!  Saint John of the Cross (Catholic/Christian) described such periods in our lives as The Dark Night of the Soul.  The Christian Bible tells us of Christ crucified, just “hanging out” on the cross, between murderers and thieves, to save the whole world from its sins.  And in the Norse Tradition, we have the tale of Odin hanging himself upon Yggdrasil: the ultimate shaman’s death experience.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Odin (or Norse Mythology at all, for that matter), the All-Father (roughly cognate to Yahweh/Jehovah in Judeo-Christian tradition) went to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, to seek the power of Knowledge and Wisdom.  He climbed that great tree, cut himself with his own spear to feed its hungry bark with his blood, and hung himself upon the tree for nine days and nine nights.  Much like Christ on the cross, Odin’s self-sacrifice is believed to have torn open the fabric of Creation (remember that part in the New Testament where it says that the curtain in the Temple was torn in two? Same thing.) and allowed the Rune Spirits to appear to him, and teach him the runes (written language, as well as a divination and magickal tool).    The end result of Odin “hanging out” was the beginning of True Wisdom for All.

“Hanging out” wasn’t pleasant for either Odin or Christ, yet for some reason, we humans have the gall to think that it should be pleasant for us.  That it should be easy somehow; that instead of desperately clawing our way up the proverbial rope, like the little kitten in that popular poster, we should be joyfully swinging from said rope while we “hang out”.  What gives us the audacity to think such a thing? If “hanging out” was that difficult for gods, why in the hell should it be a joyride for us?

In The Dark Night of the Soul, Saint John of the Cross writes:

“Spiritual persons suffer considerable affliction in this night, owing not so much to the aridities they undergo, as to their fear of having gone astray.”

From an early age in our society, we are unfortunately taught that if something is difficult or unpleasant, it means that “whatever it is” is likely punishment for something that we’ve done.  Some of that, I think, can be pinned on how pervasive the assumed Christian worldview has become in our society, but not all of it.  Let me be clear on what I mean by “assumed Christian worldview” before I move on to what other factors make us think this way:  that whole “eye for an eye” thing in Christianity?  The whole “if you go astray you will be punished in equal portion” thing? Yeah, that went out with the Old Testament!  Too many Christians seem to be missing the entire point of Christ “hanging out” on the cross in the first place!  Okay, so what do I mean when I say that not all of our “if something is unpleasant, clearly I did something wrong, and it’s punishment” worldview comes from that assumed Christian perspective?  The concept of karma and karmic repayment in Hinduism, Buddhism, and even modern Neo-Paganism is also responsible; we can’t pin this one solely on the Christians. Now, please don’t take that as me saying “there’s no such thing as karma”;  karma is, as they say “a right bitch”, and definitely exists, but it’s a slippery slope at best, when it comes to the idea that if something is difficult or unpleasant, then obviously we’re being punished for something else we’ve done previously.

No, Saint John of the Cross got it right: the difficulty and unpleasantness we experience when going through the Dark Night of the Soul are patently not punishment, they’re tempering to make us stronger and wiser, in exactly the same way as one tempers steel in fire, but it is our fear that they are somehow punishment for our having gone astray that makes us believe that “hanging out” should be easy for us, when it wasn’t even easy for gods.  Being tempered isn’t pleasant, anymore than harsh instruction from a parent–designed to help a child grow and learn–is pleasant.  Priscilla, an early female leader in the Christian faith, puts it this way in the Epistle to the Hebrews (yes, that was written by a woman!):

Others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through–all that bloodshed!  So don’t feel sorry for yourselves.  Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as His children?

My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
    but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
    the child he embraces, he also corrects.

God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out.  He’s treating you as dear children.  This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.  Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves.  Would you prefer an irresponsible God?  We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? …At the time, discipline isn’t much fun.  It always feels like it’s going against the grain.  Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.  –Hebrews 12:4-11, The Message

Sometimes when things are difficult and unpleasant–when we’re forced to “hang out”–it’s because we did something right enough to deserve deeper wisdom and greater maturity, instead of because we’ve done something wrong.  “Hanging out” makes us grow–that’s what Priscilla means when she speaks of a mature relationship with God.  It deepens us as humans; brings us closer to the gods (whichever ones we favor).  While it may be hard to see such dark times as an actual reward, exercising such discernment can make all the difference between whether we put our head in our hands, cry buckets, and shout to the Universe “I freaking give up!”, or not.

I am, admittedly, “having a day” today. Today, I feel like I’m “hanging out”: like my whole life just ground to a halt in some sort of unasked for pregnant pause.  

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, by Connla and Duncan.

My usual response to a day like this one would be to honestly either sit around and cry about it (yes, I’m that guy!), or sit and stare at the walls and feel sorry for myself, or stomp around the house like an angry spoiled child, but not today.  Why is today different from all the other days in the past just like this one? Because today I realize that “hanging out” isn’t punishment for something I’ve done wrong, but instead a reward for everything I’m doing right.  Now, I’ll grant you, in and of itself, it’s a pretty sucky reward, but I have faith that what I’ll gain on the other side of it is worth this feeling.  “Hanging out” has forced me to “take a break”, and review what I’m doing, as well as what I’m not doing, and look around from this height at which I presently find myself hanging at all of the other possible directions I could be doing in.  This “pregnant pause” has reminded me that ultimately, all that I do, am doing, and will do is not solely my own, nor is it solely up to me: ultimately, I am just the messenger, and I need to “get out of the way” of Those who would speak through me. At risk of potentially offending any of my more “hardcore” Heathen or Pagan readers, there is definitely great Truth in this passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, so please humor my “Paganizing” of it:

Now the Gods have us right where They want us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us.  This instruction is all Their idea, and all Their work.  All we do is trust Them enough to let Them do it.  It’s Gods’ gift from start to finish!  We don’t play the major role.  If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!  No, we neither make nor instruct ourselves.  The Gods do both the making and the instructing.  They create each of us to join Them in the work They do, the good work They have gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. –“Paganized” from Ephesians 2:7-10, The Message

I am ready to join Them in the work They have gotten ready for me to do. In the meantime, I’ll just be here, “hanging out”…..