On losing faith

On losing faith

Faith is a strange thing; it’s almost impossible to explain precisely what it is. The various dictionary definitions do not help much. The Oxford English Dictionary has faith defined thus: 1) Complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Or 2) Strong belief in the doctrine of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof:

( http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/faith)

Neither of which really captures what faith really is; it presupposes an instinctive understanding of the concept because it uses synonyms (trust, confidence, conviction).

I’d say I’ve been a person of faith for a long time, with pockets of total loss of faith. Some might say, Hurrah, she’s finally coming to her senses, but in reality it’s like losing a sense or an ability. Let me explain a little. Other than the workaday modern English I speak and write every day, I’ve studied in some depth another six languages to varying degrees of competency. Of those six, two are modern, living languages. I can’t call myself fluent in either, but I’m intermittently articulate in French (I can read it better than I speak it, and understand better than I speak) and stolidly, unimaginatively practical in German (I can ask the way to the library, order a pint of beer or a cup of coffee, make small talk about whether it will snow). To lose one’s faith is like discovering that one can no longer speak a word of a language one was once fluent in; there’s a sudden, gaping, aching void where the skill used to be. It feels akin to what I imagine certain kinds of brain injury might feel like; a leg, an arm, half your face, no longer at your command. The emotional pain of such a loss is not unsubstantial, and the frustration is vast.

Here are some ways I have lost faith:

I’ve lost faith in myself.

I’ve lost faith in humanity.

I’ve lost faith in the divine.

The loss of faith in myself is complex and painful. If I can use an example from my writing history to explain what I mean, it may help, but it goes beyond writing and enters every area of my existence. I’ve written most of my life and have never felt the desire or the need to “go and do a course.” In honesty, I am far from convinced they are a good idea, but I shall keep my more inflammatory opinions quiet. Whenever I began a book, I had a deep inner certainty that somehow or other, the book would write itself; I just needed to get out of the way and let it flow. I had no doubts that my own unconscious was capable of producing the story and the characters would be close to what Robert Holdstock called “mythagos”, that is archetypal beings that are shaped by both the narrator and the narration. If I had concerns about where the story was going, or how it might end, they seldom lasted; I trusted the process, that the story itself knew where it was going and how to get there. I believed in myself as a writer.

But that belief, that faith, has ebbed away under the sheer weight of confusion brought about by the intense and competitive world of writers jockeying for position. There are thousands of articles, memes, Facebook posts, courses, blogs, and even books, on How to Write, on what good writing is (or isn’t) and so on. I stopped reading them quite a while ago, sometimes giving in and checking out articles because, frankly, FOMO* (* Fear of Missing Out) but the damage is done. The worms are in my head, gnawing away at my self-belief and shitting doubt everywhere. It’s futile to say, Good writing is writing that YOU enjoy, when there’s a million other interpretations and opinions. I’ve always had trouble keeping strong psychic boundaries (most empaths struggle this way) but it’s caused me paralysing self-doubt that no amount of reassurance seems to be able to stem.

Losing faith in humanity is not hard to understand; to have access to a television or to the internet is enough to leave one weeping in despair. I will not list the things that we, as human beings, ought to be hanging our heads in shame for, because they are too many and too depressing. The single fact that a certain troll-like US business man with a terrible wig, has even been considered as a candidate for president, is in itself proof that humanity has not reached adulthood; the British equivalent, the former major of London, proves that this is a world wide thing. I could throttle people who say, “Oh I like Boris, he’s funny and he’s entertaining.” He’s not; he’s a man who veers closer to true (but hidden) evil and laughs in our faces for falling for the buffoon act. History may show quite how mistaken people have been.

Losing faith in the divine is something I ought to be used to by now but I’m not. It feels more like the death of someone close and very dear to me, than a cessation of belief. I’ve never been orthodox in my beliefs, nor yet comfortable with the simplistic set of beliefs that seem to be the norm. I used to find that in silence and in solitude, the sense of Other became clear to me. Now there is just a resounding silence, an echoing void of nothingness. On the odd occasion I attend corporate worship, the sense of void is even greater, and it underlines how alone I feel. For those who dismiss God as “an imaginary friend”, often said with contempt (citing various biased studies that suggest people of faith have lower IQ than atheists) I can only suggest that however imaginary that deity may be to you, it was very real to me. For without that sense of Other, I cannot find a way to live than does not leave me lost, alone and frightened, without purpose or meaning or future.

I do not ask for advice or sympathy here; understanding would be pleasant. I’ve been frustrated by my inability to express the depth of the pain of no longer being able to write; I cannot, as one commenter suggested in a previous post, just write for myself, or move on and leave the whole thing behind, go and do something more fruitful instead. I’ve begun to realise that perhaps, like with the concept of faith, losing faith is not something you can really grasp unless it has happened to you; the metaphors and similes can only reach so far. Experience is the most ruthless of educators, and much as I wish for understanding, I would not wish the experience needed for that onto anyone.

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12 thoughts on “On losing faith

  1. mmmmm. Hi Vivienne – existential doubt about everything including about yourself has got you by the short and curlies. You’re right, not an experience to be wished upon anyone – but, without wishing it on anyone, it is an experience to be valued. I’m re-reading Chaim Potok: The Chosen (his ‘ My Name is Asher Lev’ was a recent re-read and very powerful) and came across this: ‘I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality may is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. …. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. …’
    The divine is everywhere – even in pain and the void and nothingness …
    Thank you for your expression in this post. It is of great value.

  2. So much of worth in this clarity. Your tripartite division of Self,God and Humanity, are the trinity of the One and loss of faith in any is loss of faith in all. I have been in this identical state for many moons and it was a lack of any sense of identity ( as writer, thinker, poet) that ate away at the rest. If a lifetime of trying to serve was so unvalued, wherein lay Self? Life? Purpose? Meaning? I realised that I was in danger of becoming angry, not the money-changers- tables anger ( all for that!) but a meaner kind of selfish anger, cowed and spitting.

    Trump v Clinton is a kind of validation that faith is ill placed in humanity. Maybe they are the mirrors we cannot escape looking into? There is much more (rational) evidence for doubt than the other way. Yet the crisis in the Soul of humanity might be the dark nicht ( typo fortuitous) before a new dawn, and as Susan quotes, time is not the measure, nor quantity.

    I am with you on feeling that nothing taught in courses has much value. But I chastised myself for arrogance and found that I was returned (through an easy tolerance) to myself unchanged except in a greater acceptance of the glass darkly. I was teased for all ‘your College words’ and other things.

    Apropos your stories springing full fledged and needing no shepherding you agree with Stephen King who pleased me by saying exactly that in his much heralded text ‘On Writing’ and exempted me from any thoughts of beat sheets, time lines etcetera. Once I try to plan the story’s vitality flies and I think it is because where it springs from is too encompassing a flow than can be contained in sluices weirs, and runnels.

    I guess that is another kind of arrogance! Really searing post!

  3. “Good writing is writing that YOU enjoy,”

    You can say that again. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t write anymore. I feel it’s a calling in a way. I get to express something that comes from a place where something far greater than myself resides. Call it the divine in all of us.

    This post reminds me of what St. John of the Cross must have gone through in his “Dark Night of the Soul.” Even Mother Theresa had her moments of doubt. Both were named saints despite their loss of faith.

    Hell, just because you lost it, doesn’t mean you can’t find it again. I like to think that Love is one way to discover the path back to faith. If it doesn’t work, at least you kept your heart and your mind warm during the search!

    Michael J, still writing about faith despite the presumptive nominee for president of the USA by the Republican Party

  4. I do understand. Still wearing the Tshirt and will lend it to you if you like. I have faith in you and your writing. Remember Julien of Norwich – all will be well, all manner of things will be well. No advice, just a big shoulder if you need one.

  5. Really enjoyed this blog post, got me thinking. I used to get very depressed about what’s happening to the environment, to the point where I felt crippled to do anything at all because it was all so hopeless and overwhelming… I came across a small book by Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd which was like a manifesto, it really re-organised my thinking. I have also encountered a lot of grief in the last few years to do with my mother who suddenly deteriorated with Alzheimer’s and the guilt I felt in relation to that because I didn’t understand she was so sick, listening to Abraham Hicks on YouTube videos really helped me see things from a broader perspective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I’ll look forward to more of your blog posts.

  6. I admire your honesty, Viv. That’s difficult.

    Losing faith in humanity is understandable. One verse that I keep coming back to is Romans 3:4, “Let God be true though every man be false.” Or, as my father-in-law often says, “People are just no damn good.”

    And we’re in agreement about the troll-like candidate we have over here. Sadly, his hair (or wig?) is his strongest asset.

    Losing faith in yourself, or in God, is very sad, and the two losses may be related. I won’t throw another bible verse at you, but I’d like to tell you what I used to tell my girls when I put them to bed: I love you, and Jesus loves you too. And, that I’m praying for you.

    A commenter above mentioned Julian of Norwich, and I know you’re a fan too. I discovered her a few years ago, and find her Showings to be far superior to any of the mass-market devotionals on this side of the puddle. So go sit down with Julian and a cup of tea.

    Can you get away for a vacation? Sorry, too much advice. I’ll stop now.

  7. It’s painful and I get parts of it. I understand losing faith in oneself. I’ve struggled with that for years. The writer’s life hasn’t helped. There have been upswings and crashes, but following them makes me feel like I’m a flop. But, I sadly admit, I follow them all too much. I’m with you on faith in humanity. Even faith in common sense or self-serving. Because who could imagine that that businessman you describe (I’ve read it’s a botched surgery called a hair flap and not a wig) would be king of the airways and that zillions of people, especially poor disadvantaged people, think he will help them. My head shakes in disbelief. I think I still have spiritual faith since mine focuses on a kind of nature mysticism–so the earth keeps spinning and spring will come whether or not we humans are still trashing the planet and there is a certain cycle to life, growth, decay, death. That’s where I find the Divine–and occasionally in an experience of inner silence that chases away doubt but then doesn’t show up again for months or years.

  8. Dear Viv – I wish I were clever enough to say something profound – but all I can come up with is – I hear you, sister, and I’m sending you a big hug extending across the vast ocean and miles between us. I have great faith in you and your writing, and greatly value the way you express the depths of your heart with such clarity. I’ve noticed that those who are beset with self doubt and struggles produce art and literature so rare and beautiful – far beyond anything the vain and self assured amongst us could never hope to create. xx

  9. Pingback: Sunday Post – 29th May | Brainfluff

  10. *hugs*
    I remember when I realised I’d lost my faith in any devine and I do sometimes miss that feeling of comfort and support it provided, even if now I’ve decided it was a false comfort.

    Oddly, though it often seems there’s little reason to, I still have faith in humanity. There is indeed so very much horror and evil in the world, but too often unseen is so many more acts of goodness. decency, and kindness. That the evils and horrors make the news is a sign that they are abhorrent and >unusual<. So seeing these things on the nightly news is an odd painful comfort.

    And there's faith in the self. Or rather not. There is a painful and odd separation between the judgement of myself that those I trust have, and the one that comes from within. It is, I suppose to be fair, a symptom of the illness (depression et al), one I'd rather do with out.

  11. like the loss of a language – thank you for that, it really frames things for me – about me, so thank you for sharing. And I’ve been going through – still going through – a loss of faith but being supported by other Quakers and not worrying so much about it [mostly]. And me and humanity…today I found some hope in humanity. possibility.

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