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Posts Tagged ‘Relationship’

I read Carson McCullers’s The Heart is A Lonely Hunter last month, but it’s taken me some time to sit on it and stew over it. It’s not an obvious book. I’m not going to summarize it here.

The imbalanced relationships between the main characters (Singer and Antonapoulos and each of Mick, Jake Blount, Biff Brannon and Doctor Copeland and Singer) are the heart of the narrative. The close friendship between Singer and Antonapoulos is demonstrated from page one, but are they really close friends? Is Antonapoulos even capable of the kind of relationship that Singer projects onto them (with an actual projector even!), or is Singer really just doing to Antonapoulos what the others do to Singer? Singer imagines a deep and fulfilling relationship with Antonapoulos that is in fact not really mutual at all: the handicapped Antonapoulos is as incapable of understanding what Singer says to him as the deaf Singer is incapable of truly understanding what any of the others say in turn to Singer. Nevertheless, just as all four fiercely believe and cling to the notion that they have a unique and powerful connection with Singer, Singer believes his only real friend is Antonapoulos.

Thus we are faced with the terrifying true nature of relationship and mutuality, the extent to which we are inevitably and fully alienated by our inability to really know what the Other is thinking, and we are shown the resulting despair. Nobody’s ending is happy. Everyone dies alone.

There are a lot of other things going on in the novel–definitely a lot sexuality and innocence and hate and race and class and Marxism, but all of it is primarily explored through this fundamental lens of alienation, the loneliness that results from our fundamental inability to know or be known by other human beings.

Hand in hand with this theme of loneliness and alienation is a related theme, and the two are tied together in the novel’s title. Each of McCullers’s main characters is yearning for something, and although they try to express this yearning (futilely!) through connection and relationship, relationship is the impossible means to the impossible end, not the end itself.

Mick’s quest for music, to really get music, to capture whatever-it-is that music makes her feel when she hears it, is the prime example. It’s an obsession, really: Mick hears a symphony and she is certain that somewhere in Music is that Thing that will fill the hole in herself. Blount and Doctor Copeland are both looking for it in the Marxist dialectic (although race creates an inseparable gulf between the two characters that should be able to connect), and Biff, though he doesn’t consciously know it, is looking for it in gender and sexuality, but for each of them is is an aesthetic hunger. A notion that the truly beautiful thing will fulfill them. And with each of them, what they are looking for is elusive–it’s not clear if they could theoretically find what they are looking for, but they certainly are not able to find it through their (non-)relationships with Singer. And, unable to find it, each of them flails around their respecitve existences, trying to find substitutes in sex, alcohol, hate and even death.

In the end, it’s a sad book, but it’s a beautifully sad book.

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I am a Hellenic polytheist actively working out my spiritually while keeping a balance between reconstructing the ancient ways and moving forward boldly in living faith.

I believe that the gods are alive, that they take interest in the affairs of mortals, that they are approachable, personal–they hear our prayers and are capable of responding with infinite might and ultimate softness. I believe that by entering into relationships with them we can let their divine passion into our lives and be changed forever. I believe that we live in a world full of gods, and that when we wake up and see it for what it is, then only can we begin to fully understand and experience its beauty and terror.

I believe that virtue is eternal. I believe in honesty, loyalty, courage, and temperance. I believe in the the significance of fatherhood, motherhood, sisterhood, and brotherhood. I believe in friendship that transcends affinity. I believe that what we do, what we accomplish, our reputation, our deeds–these things matter; these things can live forever.

I believe in meeting my fate boldly and unafraid, in walking the path that the Kosmos has laid out for me without reservation or trepidation. I am not afraid to love, to fear, to feel joy and sadness, and I am not afraid to hate. I am unafraid to live life to the fullest, and to meet death when it comes.

I am a father, a husband, a son, a friend, and a brother. I am a soldier. I am a mystic. I am a man.

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I have thought a great deal about Hera over the past few months, and I must say that I am developing some fairly intense spiritual feelings about her. So intense that it’s like my heart can’t really pin them down. They’re too overwhelming for me to really be able to contain, so it’s like they slip out of my emotional fingers all of the time.

I haven’t spent much time in prayer or worship to Hera, and I have not made many sacrifices or libations to her. I think I need to change that, because I feel like Hera exerts a powerful influence on my family.

This is a spiritual experience that is different from what I have encountered with other gods and goddesses, because it relates to my whole family. Thus, I as an individual soul I am only tangental to Her presence, as opposed to the deeply personal way I have experienced Aphrodite and Dionysus.

On the other hand, I have the distinct impression that Hera is deeply and much more personally involved with my beautiful and sexy wife. When I see her in her gently soft but powerfully strong role as a wife and a mother, I feel Hera’s power crackle around her like some kind of divine lightning (a deliberately-chosen simile).

One odd thing is the extent to which I feel that Hera is a mother-goddess as much or more than (or perhaps as an inseparable part of) she is a goddess of marriage and of wives. This isn’t really a particularly significant aspect of Hera in classical sources, which is why it’s odd. Usually Demeter is the goddess most closely associated with motherhood.

I ran across one possible explanation on one of the Hellenic Polytheist fora I frequent (I’d love to give credit where credit is due,but for the life of me I can not remember where it was): someone explained that Aphrodite, Demeter, and Hera are all goddesses of Sex, Motherhood, and Marriage (the three are intimately connected, after all), but with each of the three goddesses, one of those aspects is primary and the others are tertiary.

If that is so, then perhaps my impression of Hera is not so odd (or heretical… a “Hera-sy?”) after all. It is possible that my wife and family have a specific connection to Hera that transcends her most typical godly attributes. I’m not necessarily claiming that we are special to Hera or chosen by her for favor (although given our stable family life and happy marriage it does seem like she has blessed us richly), but just that our relationship with her is particular and unique, in the way that all meaningful relationships are.

In any case, I find myself wanting to honor and worship Hera much more than ever before, and ideally to do so as a family, in response to the incredible blessings she has given us.

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I believe in an ultimate divine unity that encompasses all things–humans, gods, the universe–and is also beyond all things. Because it is everything and more, it is at once like all things individually and like nothing else in the universe. It can be intimately known in the smallest, simplest facet of the world at the same time as it can never be known because it is utterly unknowable: to know a flower, a song, a human touch, a thunderstorm, or a Ford Mustang is both to know it completely and to not know it at all. To touch the smallest thing is to touch the face of God. We cannot work to grow closer to God because being close to God is meaningless: we are always close to God because we are God.

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Here it is, the summer solstice, one of the most significant pagan holidays, and I’m just not sure how to celebrate it at all. I’m still kind of stumbling about with regards to how to express my newfound faith. I have been developing a fairly close relationship with my gods, and that has brought a lot to me spiritually, but I still am looking for some kind of practice that will tie my spiritual life together more fully. And I am still convinced that an exclusive devotion to Hellenismos just is not the right answer for me. I have more to say on that than I said in that earlier post, but it is a bit off-topic at the moment, so it will have to wait.

I have an attraction to Druidry, and I have continued to think hard about the Ancient Order of Druids in America, but that path doesn’t seem to have quite clicked yet. Part of that is pure laziness on my part and chaos in my life (annual training with the National Guard, studying for the bar exam), but a lot of it is pure stalling and hesitation or a lack of a clear beginning, a point at which I commit myself and say “okay, I am actually going to do this, starting today. I’m not really sure what is holding me back.

But in any case, I’m sitting here on the longest day of the year, feeling like it should be somehow both festive and spiritually significant, but feeling that it is in fact neither. And I’m not sure what to do about it. I kind of wish I had some like-minded pagans to celebrate and worship with. Actually, that’s one of the reasons I’ve been looking into the ADF: they have a grove (relatively) nearby, with even a group of Hellenic druids who get together to worship separately.

Any ideas?

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When I think of direction in religion and my ongoing conundrum, some of my difficulties fit the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy really well.  Simply put, in terms of Apollonian religious experience, Christianity is the most appealing and compelling to me.  Christianity (and for me I mean mostly Episcopalian/Anglican Protestantism) is beautiful: I love the liturgy, the hymns, I love the churches.  I like the idea of a professional, trained clergy, and am comfortable with a degree of hierarchical authority, especially when it is given legitimacy by the weight of tradition, and when it is unable or unwilling to exercise its authority in a heavy-handed or abusive way.  I like an authoritative clergy, not an authoritarian one.  I like the freedom of thought that is (often) preserved in Episcopalianism.  I like Christian theology and history.  I like churches and cathedrals, and the entire aesthetic of Christianity.

But on the Dionysian side, nothing happens.  Jesus does not intoxicate me.  I am not in love with Jesus.  I don’t feel a connection to Jesus, a relationship with Him.  Nothing, nada, not at all.  I have no problem with Jesus conceptually–I think he’s pretty great, and the idea of a personal, mystical relationship with the incarnate God of the Universe is amazing to me.  But I can’t figure out how to make it happen at all.

I’m sure someone is going to say that that side of religion is not important or crucial, but they’re wrong, at least when it comes to me.  I’m not just going to embrace a religion because it sounds good and looks good on paper.  I need something more.  I hunger for the divine, and the Apollonian, while really important, simply does not sate that hunger.  So I am just not okay with a spiritual direction where I don’t make some kind of contact with god.

I actually started to wonder if maybe the mystical/Dionysian side of religion either didn’t exist, or just wasn’t going to happen for me.  I was waiting for it, and trying to put myself in situations where it could happen: I didn’t want to close myself off to the possibility of some kind of Road to Emmaus moment, but at the same time I was wary about lowering the bar on mystical experience too far.  If Mormonism taught me only one thing about religion, it is how easy it is to manufacture your own spiritual experiences if you want them bad enough and are willing to deceive yourself.

So, perhaps you can imagine my surprise and the eager excitement I felt when a Dionysian experience really did happen to me.  Perhaps you can also understand the special irony in the fact that I felt this Dionysian connection not with Jesus or Yahweh at all, but of all deities, …with Dionysus.  More on that in a future post, though.  Suffice it to say that at this point, my barrier to Christianity is not just that I am not getting the mystical access to Jesus that I want and need, but that I am actually getting it somewhere else.

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So, the fact that I’m not posting much on here isn’t really indicative of a lack of thinking in the religious/spiritual vein. In fact, I’ve been thinking in overdrive, but not coming to any conclusions and not really going anywhere with it. My brother, Racticas (he comments here somewhat infrequently) is now in a Religious Studies masters program, so that’s added an interesting academic element to both of our searches.

I’m not going to church now, but it’s a deliberate thing. I feel like participation in church gives me a kind of uncomfortable vertigo-like feeling. Like the merry-go-round is going awfully fast for someone like me who’s not even sure he wants to be on the playground. I don’t know if that metaphor makes much sense. I feel like participation in church means moving in a direction, whether or not I know I want to be moving in that direction, or indeed moving at all.

In my head I’m going back and forth and around and around: Christianity-Asatru-Agnosticism-Atheism-Paganism-Christmas-Asatru-Christianity-Agnosticism-Frustration-Druidry-Christianity-Frustration-Anger-Christianity-Asatru, and I like Christmas. I don’t really know what to do with any of it. Every religion in the world is repugnant to me for some reason, but so many of them are attractive to me for so many other reasons. At the same time, I just don’t know if I can, or if I am willing to, simply will myself to believe. I find myself yearning for a catalyzing spiritual experience, but they just don’t seem to happen. Indeed, I don’t know if mysticism has ever really happened for me.

In other words, I’m no better off than I was nine months ago. Look at my archives; you’ll see what I mean. I know some of the Christians out there would say that my problem is that I’m trying to connect to a religion instead of connecting to Jesus, but for all practical purposes that still just sounds like gobbledygook. I have yet to figure out what “being in a relationship with Jesus” even means. But I still really like Christmas, and I am hesitant to even consider giving it up, and the religious significance in particular.

Maybe I’m just afraid to commit, mentally and emotionally. Or maybe I really just want a reason to believe that’s greater than just my preference. I’m not interested in atheism, and I don’t think I could ever be happy with atheism. But I don’t know if I could ever be happy with Christianity, Asatru, Druidry, or anything else. And I sure am never going to be happy with agnosticism. And I’m absolutely sure that I’m never going back to Mormonism.

I feel more desperate about it than I ever did before, partially because of simply being frustrated at how long this has gone on, and partially (mainly) because of major, earthshaking, terrifying life changes that are coming very soon during which I think faith could probably be a great source of strength.

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So, I’m probably going to have my name removed from the LDS Church’s records, i.e., formally resign from Mormonism.   I’m not ready to do it quite yet, because I have to write a letter first.  Not the letter to the Church, but a letter to my family, explaining why I do not think the Church is true, and why I am resigning.

What I am not trying to do with this letter is convince anyone that I’m right.  I’m also not expecting anyone to agree with me, or even think that my position is reasonable, defensible, or plausible.  While it would be great if that happened, experience tells me that most Mormons are so fully inoculated against “Anti-Mormonism!!!” that it will essentially go in one ear and out the other (or in the eye and out the ears, or out the whatever).  If someone surprises me, I’ll be, well, pleasantly surprised.  But I’m not going in with optimistic expectations- so far, my family’s reaction to me leaving the Church has been really mixed.  Some people have been understanding and supportive, and some people have reacted with hostility.  I don’t want to get disappointed, so my expectations are kind of low.

That said, I do have some expectations, some goals that I intend to accomplish with this letter:

1. I want to break the ice.  I want to bring the subject up and indicate my willingness to talk about it.  I’m not excited about the prospect of future uncomfortable silences, or white elephants in the room, so I’m just going to be the one to start the conversation.  If people are interested in talking things through, I’m game, and I want people to know that.

2. If people just hear through the grapevine that I am planning on leaving, they’re probably going to freak out.  I’d rather control the information and be the one that tells people.

3. My family is steeped in Mormonism, and many of our relationships are based on the religion and the religion’s assumptions.  It would be naïve of me to expect that leaving the Church won’t irrevocably change things.  Again, I may as well brace for it, even if it’s uncomfortable.

4. I feel like I at least owe my family an explanation and a fair warning.

When the letter is written and sent out, I will probably post it here.

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