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Struggling Faith: The God Of Green Hope

Digital artist journal page by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy, using our upcoming ArtLife set of digital assets, by Frances and Connla.

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 began my arduous search for the God of green hope in February of 2016, following the realization that I had become hopeless.  Clearly, Jesus wasn’t “that guy”, because He and I weren’t exactly on speaking terms by that point.  Lleu Llaw Gyffes wasn’t “that guy”, either, even though I had considered myself a practicing Druid for a number of years previously.  So I began my dive into the Norse Tradition, in hopes of finding “that guy” there.

I had been a “weekend Druid”, but I was anything but a “weekend Heathen”.  From the very start, my journey down the Norse Path led me to daily prayer, weekly blots, and active participation in my newfound Faith.  By June of 2016, I had finally begun to “feel better”, but I still hadn’t fully recovered my hope, nor had I met the God of Green Hope.  A year on, in February of 2017, I still had not found Him/Her/It, and those feelings of quiet desperation began to slowly seep back in, this time compounded by my inability to figure out the “riddle” within that verse that I had been given.

The truth of it was this: I couldn’t find the God of Green Hope because I was looking in all the wrong places.  I was looking outside, when I should have been looking within.

I am the God of Green Hope.  You are the God of Green Hope. We are the God of Green Hope.

I automatically hold anyone suspect who says in a serious tone that they are the god of anything. Sure, people may jokingly say things like “I am the god of homemade tacos”, and I’m perfectly fine with that, because it’s a joke.  But to claim godhood for oneself smacks of a brand of pretentiousness that I have a difficult time fathoming.  It’s part of why I take issue with the writings of Aleister Crowley.  Yet, hear me out.

For a full year, I prayed, participated in rituals, researched, and searched, trying to find that one, great, outside source that would fill me up with joy and fill me up with peace as that passage promised.  A full year, and yet I still felt that I was hanging on the tree.  I looked outside, and outside, and outside, but only on the rarest of occasions did I look within.  And even when I did, my focus was on where I fit into our business, rather than on where I fit into the World.

In March of 2017, I finally looked inside.  The business was tanking yet again, and as I sat in my office literally crying, it finally dawned on me that doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results is the very definition of insanity.  So I decided to do something different: instead of shaking my fist at the heavens, I took a deep, long look within. And I discovered something I definitely didn’t want to discover: I was the problem.  The good news was, if I was the problem, I could also be the solution.

Becoming the God of Green Hope:

  • Stop looking back; you aren’t going that way!

Mistakes and triumphs you’ve experienced in the past are precisely that: in the past.  The longer you dwell on either, the more they are allowed to control your present, which in turn leads them to shape your future.  Do you want a future shaped by your past mistakes and triumphs, or do you want a future shaped by you, yourself?

  • Stop mourning, and start celebrating!

Stop mourning all of the things you don’t have, haven’t accomplished, or didn’t do, and instead focus on celebrating what you do have, are accomplishing, and are doing via showing gratitude.  You’re likely great at sitting down and making detailed inventories of things to mourn; take that skill, and instead turn it towards making a detailed inventory of all the things about your life that are actually good.  These don’t have to be big things!  Things for which to be grateful can be as seemingly insignificant as a shockingly blue sky outside your window, or as mindblowing as having your art published on the cover of a popular newsletter or magazine.

  • While you’re making lists, make one of everything that worries you right now.  Read through it, and then discard it, and actually let go.

Worrying is basically looking towards the future with dread, instead of looking towards the future with eager expectancy.  We all do it, and we all have done it, and even after you make this list, discard it, and make a conscious decision to let go of those specific worries, the chances are fantastic you will find a whole new list of things to worry about at some point in the future.  When that happens, you should repeat this exercise.  Worrying is a useless endeavor: all it does is leave you feeling defeated, and make you tired.  It actually accomplishes nothing, so why keep doing it?

  • Rediscover joy.

The marrow of what we really want out of life is locked inside the bones of those things which bring us joy.  Make a third list: a list of everything in your life, no matter how big or small, that actually sparks joy in you.  In case it’s been so long that you’ve forgotten what joy even feels like, these would be things that create a sense of well-being for you; things that make you feel successful or fortunate; things that make you deeply happy or cause you to brim with delight.  Your gratitude list might be a helpful jump-off point for creating this list.  Once you have your list, take some time to actually spend time with these joy-sparkers.

  • Realize that you are enough.

Re-engage with yourself.  The first question too many of us ask when attempting to “find ourselves” is “am I worthy?”  That is an adversarial tone, and we all know what such a tone gets us when we’re talking about exterior human relationships, right?  So why do we think it will go differently with interior ones?   Think about it like this: let’s say you’ve just met a new person with whom you’re considering building a friendship.  What would happen if, upon first meeting them, you introduced yourself by saying “I’m me, and I’m wondering if you’re worthy of being my friend”?  That likely wouldn’t go over terribly well, now, would it?  They would likely find you rude and pretentious, and they wouldn’t be wrong.  So why do we approach our selves that way?  The simple answer: we shouldn’t.  Enough means “occurring in such a quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.”  If you are enough, that means that you are capable of meeting whatever life throws at you halfway.  Look around at your life: you’ve made it this far.  You’re still breathing; you’re still sitting here reading this.  If you’ve made it this far, that is empirical proof that you are enough, and enough is the first important step towards plenty:  a large or sufficient amount or quality; more than enough.

Once you have found the God of Green Hope within you, you should start experiencing more joy and peace in your life.  You may find that you need to do these exercises multiple times–I certainly did–and there’s no shame in that. Don’t worry if you don’t immediately feel as though you have been filled up with joy and peace; that will come with time.  This is just the beginning, and we’ll discuss where to go from here in the next blog post in this series.

 

 

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Struggling Faith: Hopelessness

Digital artist journal page created by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy, featuring digital assets from our Imramma Page Kit, available by clicking this image. (Note: link opens in new tab.)

In my last blog post, I talked about “faith ruts”, how people fall into them, and laid the foundation of a pathway out of them, kicking off this seven part blog series on Struggling Faith.  My own struggle with faith began in December 2015, with the death of the family dog.  As I said in the last post, that may seem like a small thing to cause someone to completely lose their faith, but when you are already hopeless, even the smallest of things can be enough to send you reeling into a faith chasm, because faith is the simple, pervading presence of hope.

Let’s take a deeper look at the modern definition of that word, hopeless, courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

Hopeless:  having no expectation of good or success; not susceptible to remedy or cure; incapable of redemption or improvement; desperate; despairing; incapable of solution, management, or accomplishment; impossible.

Now, you would think, if I had reached a point where my outlook was that level of bleak, I would have realized it, right? You would think that as that downward spiral began, I would have noticed the signs, and begun to take steps to turn things around.  Given all the blog posts I have written here about looking on the bright side and positive living, you would think that I, of all people, would never have allowed myself to reach such a state.  Yes, you would think so, yet, there I was. I was hopeless, and I didn’t even realize it, until the bottom dropped out from under me.

At that point in time, I was operating this business in more of a “behind the scenes” capacity: Michelle was decidedly the “face” of the business, while I sat behind the screen every day, designing graphics, handling the web design, and making sure our marketing schedule was on par with the rest of the industry.  Our primary focus at that point in time was her then-newly-published book, Dragonfly Theology, and attempting to establish her Tarot-reading business.  The art was more or less a sideline: I was constantly churning things out, but with a focus on listing the art at RedBubble and CafePress, and under her name, not my own.  We had not begun the digi-scrap business yet and I was, for the most part, still “in the coffin” to the outside world. I was the dude there, in Michelle’s shadow. At that point, we were operating from a primarily Christian-influenced Pagan base; I considered myself a practicing Druid.

And I honestly thought I was happy and, more importantly, hopeful.  Turns out, I was wrong.

Looking back now, of course, I can see it. Hindsight is, after all, 20/20.  

Through the fault of no one, our business was tanking.  No one was buying Michelle’s book, which kept her perpetually depressed.  I felt really bad for her.  Her Tarot business wasn’t exactly sky-rocketing, either, and I felt bad about that, too, because it had been a lifelong dream for her.  I was doing fairly well in the art-sales department, but everything was listed with her signature, so it wasn’t exactly like I was experiencing a “moment in the sun”.  I woke up every morning and worked my ass off, yet never received any credit, because we had been taught for twenty years that our “situation” is one you “just don’t talk about”.

I was a “weekend Druid”, in the same sense that some people are “weekend Christians”: I “showed up” when there was a holiday, but beyond that, it wasn’t exactly a part of my daily life.  Prayer was a thing reserved for when things got desperate.  Candleburning was what one did when the dog farted.  I’m not exaggerating, I swear. I dove a bit more deeply into my Buddhist/Taoist upbringing around that point in time, and I was publishing a Daily Kuan Yin meditation on our Facebook Page, but, once again, posing as Michelle, rather than taking any credit myself.

I could “be me” with a handful of people, including my Beloved, and with the dogs and the cat.  I had already lost Elvis the previous Spring, and then I lost Boo.  The number of “living entities” who actually knew me for me was slowly dwindling….

No wonder I was hopeless.

Let’s take some time now to talk about what hopelessness looks like:

  • An inability to see that tomorrow might actually be a better day.

Hopeful expectancy becomes a pie-in-the-sky notion, when compared with empirical data.  In other words, yesterday sucked, and the day before that, and the day before that, so why in the heck should tomorrow be any different?

  • An unwillingness to believe anything or anyone can fix how sucktastic your life has become.

“Higher Powers” are viewed as “well and good”, but not profoundly helpful. In fact, They may be on the receiving end of the blame-game by this point.  I mean, They let shit get this level of bad, right?

  • An intrinsic belief that clearly you are the problem.

The Gods aren’t the only ones on the receiving end of the blame-game: clearly, there’s also something deeply wrong with your self.  You’ve come to believe that you are incompetent, incapable, and unworthy.

  • A constant, underlying need to simply sit somewhere and cry.

Even when everything seems rosey, you just can’t seem to shake it.  It’s not exactly clinical depression, but a part of you wishes that it were, because at least there are medications for that….

  • A conviction that there is nowhere to go from here but down.

No matter how much you try to see a way to change course or otherwise somehow reorganize your plans, you see no way that this situation could be better managed.  Accomplishments become hurdles you must cross, instead of accolades you can celebrate.  Solutions become dragons you must slay, instead of actual repairs of the problem.

So how did I climb back up, after going through all of this? Is there hope for you as well, if you’re going through this right now?

Trust me, it didn’t happen overnight, and chances are, it won’t for you, either.  As the kids say nowadays, the struggle is real, but it is a struggle that it is definitely worth enduring.

For three long months, that mantra with which I ended the last post kept running through my head, particularly in my darker moments:

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!

So I began to try to unlock it, as if it were some riddle that somehow held the key to my very existence, because, clearly, it did!

Who was the God of green hope?  Where might I find Him/Her/It?  And would They really fill me up with joy and peace when I found Them?

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Advent Event: First Day of Advent: Vigilance Renews Hope

We ask you–urge is more like it–that you keep on [bringing light to the world], not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance.

–1 Thessalonians 4:1, The Message

(Paraphrase of [bringing light to the world] added by me.)

You don’t have to be Catholic, or even a Christian, to celebrate Advent, but isn’t it interesting to see that these words are in one of the traditional Bible verses used in Churches on the First Sunday of Advent? How many Christians do you know who actually do that–who go through the world bringing light, living their whole lives as a spirited dance, instead of getting bogged down in a religious plod?  You might find it even more interesting to know that the Gospel traditionally read on this day says this:

But be on your guard.  Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.  Otherwise, that Day [when goodness finally comes to overshadow negativity throughout the entire world] is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once.  So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch.  Pray constantly that you will have the strength and the wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet [when that Day comes].

–Luke 21:34-36, The Message

(Paraphrases within [] added by me.)

Isn’t it just too easy to get caught up in all of that, at this time of year–the drinking, the parties, the shopping–and lose sight of who we really are and who we are truly meant to be?  We get so obsessed with finding the perfect material gift for that special someone, that it’s all too easy to lose sight of the very real non-material gifts we’re giving them on a regular basis, and that they are also giving to us.  What’s more important? Buying that person the super-rare comic book that costs a gazillion dollars, that they’ve been wanting to get for months, or thanking them for being such a light in your life that you’d be willing to pay that crazy amount of money to buy them something in the first place?

We live in the mundane world, so we have a pretty nasty tendency to become of it. That’s not some pseudo-Christian psychobabble; that’s the damn truth!  It is a simple fact of our human existence that we tend to get so caught up in the material–because, let’s face it, sometimes the material is a matter of survival–that we often completely ignore the spiritual.  What is the spiritual, in the first place? In my new e-book, Dragonfly Theology, I define the spiritual as that force within each person that gives them life, energy, and power; it appeals to their true nature, who they really are.  Therefore, to be truly spiritual may be accurately defined as “the quality or state of being in touch with one’s true nature; with who you really are; an ability to recognize what actually gives you life, energy, and power.” Becoming of the material, mundane world, instead of just living in it, can make you lose sight of who you really are, and if you lose sight of that, you’re lost; you’re doomed to a hopeless life full of constant sadness and disappointment.  If you don’t know who you really are, nobody else is going to know it for you, and ultimately that is going to lead to a lot of people making assumptions about you that lead to constant disagreements, arguments, and backbiting. That’s a pretty miserable existence.

So, then, what exactly is hope, and what can it do for us?  Essentially, hope is to want something to happen or be true.  We hope our lives don’t turn out to be miserable messes; we hope that we can leave a positive impact on the world around us and on the people we love.  It’s a very small word for a really huge concept.  It can also seem like a namby-pamby granola pipedream, if we aren’t careful about how we treat it.  In today’s world, we tend to define hope as what we’d like to see happen or be true, but that usually doesn’t pan out. We have no belief in the things we hope for; they’re just fairytales we weave to keep ourselves marginally happy.  But that isn’t what hope really is or really means, at all.

We’ve got to “check ourselves before we wreck ourselves”, and that’s where the theme of vigilance comes in.  To be vigilant is to “carefully notice problems or signs of danger”.  In order to look for those problems and signs that might let us know danger is coming, we’ve got to know what the dangerous thing is, in the first place.  So, what’s the danger here?  What’s looming out there, just on the horizon, poised to pounce and totally screw up our lives?  The negativity of the mundane, and all the crap that comes along with it! I’m talking about things like an inability to form loyal and true commitments (which is totally gonna screw your relationship prospects!); things like constantly living in fear of judgment, all the while judging everybody else (which is also gonna really screw up how you interact with other human beings); things like addiction and greed; things like negative entities that come creeping into your home to make things go bump in the night and scare the bejeesus out of you (because yes, those things are real; you don’t have to believe in them, but they sure as hell believe in you!).

In order to avoid the negativity of the mundane and all the crap that comes along with it, you’ve got to come to understand yourself as a spiritual being that dwells in the mundane, but is not of it. In the words of Jedi Master Yoda:

Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter.

You are not the body you’re up walking around in (that shell that the world sees; “this crude matter”), nor are you the world that it’s walking around in. You are the individual that is walking around in that shell; something bigger, greater, and deeper than most people could ever perceive on the surface.  That’s the real you, and that true you is a being composed of energy, that cannot be destroyed, only transformed.  Because we are beings of energy, we are also connected to all the other energy that’s out there–good and bad, but hopefully, mostly good–in the trees, the sky, the rocks, the rivers, and, most importantly, in other people.  And it’s your job, because you are a luminous being, to shine, because that’s what luminous things do:  they spread light.  Got that? That’s who you really are, and that’s who I really am, and that’s also who that person who just cut you off in the check-out line while Christmas shopping is meant to be, they just haven’t figured it out yet.  Until you realize this, and own it, you’re “asleep at the switch”, the way we’re cautioned not to be, back in that passage from the Gospel of Luke.  Just because that Gospel is from the Christian Bible doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to it if we don’t identify ourselves as Christians: often when words have been considered wise for thousands of years, they gained that reputation for a reason!

Now we know who we really are, and we know what the danger really is; it’s time to get vigilant.  Look at your life.  What are the problem areas that might lead you down the path to the danger we have defined, or that might lead that danger to your doorstep?  How often do you focus on the worst aspects of a situation or a person, instead of the best ones?  How often do you do as we say in the South and “act ugly”–being mean, vengeful, or vile-tempered towards other people–instead of trying to beautify a situation by making it nice and pleasant?  How often do you curse things and people–saying bad or negative things, whether it’s about the state of the weather or about someone’s chosen lifestyle–instead of praising those same things and people–spreading compliments and gratitude?  How often do you just chalk your hopes and dreams up to pleasant fairytales you’re weaving to keep some modicum of happiness in your life, instead of actually believing and achieving?  If you’re doing more of the former than the latter with any of those things, then you need some serious work!  You in danger, chile! (said in the voice of Whoopi Goldberg in the movie Ghost.)

It’s time to renew your commitment to being who you really are: to being a creature of hope, instead of a creature of empty fantasy; to being a luminous being. Empty fantasies are never going to get you anywhere good in life; they just build us up so we can keep getting let down.  You’ve got to start lighting up your own life, before you can spread light into anybody else’s.  What is the best thing about you? I don’t mean shallow things like “wow, I’ve got great hair”, I mean deep things like “I treat people with genuine kindness” or “when I love, I love deeply”.  What is the most beautiful thing about how you behave towards others and yourself?  How often and in what ways are you really and truly thankful for things, and how often does your Self-talk include compliments to you, from you?  What is the one thing you hope for the most, and how can you achieve it? Believe it! When we come to focus on all of those things–what is true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, and gracious–we move ourselves out of the shadows, and into the light, and then we can start spreading light.

And then we’ve got to live all that: we’ve got to go through life like it’s a spirited dance, spreading our light from one person to the next. We don’t plod; we dance.  There’s a great old story from France about an acrobatic monk that illustrates not only what happens when we go through life accepting who we really are and spreading light, but also what can happen if we decide to plod (or be held back by “plodders”) instead:

A long time ago in France, probably in the Middle Ages, there was a monk in a monastery who grew quite sad when he realized that, unlike the other monks, he really didn’t have any great talents to offer Christ as a gift at Christmas. All the other monks could do the “really cool stuff”, like make gorgeous, illuminated manuscripts, and write music, and sing songs, and compose prayers, but he possessed none of these talents, and so was left feeling quite unworthy. All of the other monks were bustling about doing all of these fantastic things, as gifts for Mary and Her newborn Son, while he sat around, feeling less and less worthy as a Christian. So he made his way down to the crypt beneath the abbey, and prostrated himself before the statue of the Holy Virgin, and confessed that he was sorry, but he wasn’t talented enough to have a suitable gift to bring for Christmas.

And that’s when the Holy Spirit gave him an epiphany: before he had become a monk, he had been an acrobat, a tumbler, and a juggler, in a travelling show; something like the circus clowns we have nowadays. It occurred to him that at the time of our Savior’s birth, Mary had been, in fact, a young girl–a teenager of about fourteen. Surely she had enjoyed laughing, and clapping her hands, and surely she had passed these gifts of joy on to her Son, the Christ-child? So he resolved that this would be his gift to the Queen of Heaven and her Blessed Son: he would tumble for them, and juggle; he would entertain them, and perhaps make them laugh and clap their hands.

He stripped down, removing his habit so that only the bare tunic beneath remained, and he began to dance. Dancing was followed shortly thereafter by spectacular feats of tumbling and juggling which belied his age and his monkish stature–because we all know that French monks in the Middle Ages were portly little gents, right? Picture for a moment that fat little monk tumbling and juggling, as the Holy Mother and Christ looked on there in that quiet crypt that day! He tumbled and he juggled and he danced, until he fell in a swoon at the feet of the statue of the Holy Mother.

And then a truly wondrous thing happened: Mary herself stepped down from the pedestal, and wiped the sweat from that monk‘s brow with the hem of her glorious white mantle. And not only that, but she was joined by angels and archangels.

This happened every day.

Now, there was another monk in that monastery who quickly became gravely suspicious of the tumbling monk, because our tumbler stopped showing up for the Matins service every morning. So this other monk–we’ll call him Friar Suspicion–decided to follow our tumbler one morning down to the crypt. There, shadowed in jealous secrecy, Friar Suspicion stood and watched the tumbler’s entire performance, and then, as the tumbler collapsed at the feet of the Holy Mother, he watched in awe as Mary stepped down, and ministered graciously to the faithful performer, recognizing the love which filled every action this monk had just performed both for Herself and Her Child.

Immediately, Friar Suspicion hurried to their abbot, and told him everything he had seen. The abbot summoned the tumbler, who fell down at the feet of his Father Superior and begged mercy, fearing that his actions would be seen as uncouth, and that he might, in fact be ejected from the monastery. Quite the contrary happened: the abbot, recognizing the true meaning of what the tumbling monk was doing, and the fact that the tumbling monk‘s actions did, in fact, please both the Queen of Heaven and Christ, instead made it known to all of the other monks in the monastery that the tumbling monk should be held in the highest esteem. And he was, right up until the day he died, when all of the other monks witnessed the Holy Virgin by his bedside, personally receiving his soul into Heaven.

For the tumbling monk gave neither gold nor silver, nor are gold and silver what are demanded by God; instead, he gave love–true love–freely of his own heart, the one gift which God loves the most. The one gift which each and everyone of us can also give.

The tumbling monk realized who he really was, and then worked hard to spread light with that knowledge, and he did it, not in a plodding, dogged, sad-sack way, but through a spirited dance. That’s what we’re all called to do, so get to it!