A little background:
I was raised Catholic by two faithful Catholic parents and attended Catholic school through 8th grade. I left the faith and began to look for a new spiritual home at the age of fourteen. I explored Unitarian Universalism, Quakerism, and Episcopalianism, until my early twenties when I realized (to my absolute horror!) that I was, undeniably, an atheist. Fifteen years later I still love religious expression, still occasionally attend Quaker meetings, love meeting with Buddhists to sit in meditation, feel strongly drawn to Celtic spirituality, and am intrigued by Paganism. And, for the past few years I’ve begun to celebrate Advent and practice Lent.
So. This year I attended Ash Wednesday services at my local Episcopalian Cathedral. Normally a vegetarian I became mostly vegan (no meat, dairy, or eggs, but I did take in plenty of honey, and didn’t even consider giving up wool or forgoing my leather cowgirl boots), gave up sweets (no soda, cookies, candy, etc, but see above note re: honey), and alcohol. I attended services every day of Holy Week, sat watch in the middle of the night at the Altar of Repose, and met some really lovely, wonderful people at the Cathedral. Holy Saturday, and the Great Vigil, were like Christmas Eve. During the day I stocked up on my favorite chocolates, my roommates bought cheesecake and Prosecco, and we all prepared for an orgy of booze and fattening food. The Vigil was so beautiful and so moving, that as I drove home to my eager agnostic roommates, I felt high already. At midnight we cracked open the champagne and chocolates, and toasted rebirth and my completed contemplative journey. And I swear, that was the last time I felt happy.
After two glasses of champagne, I woke up hungover, and bummed out. None of the dairy-based foods I’d dreamt about for the preceding 46 days sounded appealing. We all went out for a lovely brunch, but when we came home I felt overfull, and heavy, and uninspired. Talking with friends today I kept saying that I felt “lost”, like I’ve lost a sense of purpose, and anticipation. I’m so done being vegan, but all those sweet, buttery foods I fantasized about all seem sickeningly sweet and rich.
And all the moving services of Holy Week and Lent are over. My time of quiet, reflective contemplation is finished, and, as inspiring as I find the Paschal story to be, ultimately I’m still an atheist. I just can’t keep showing up to this place where I just don’t belong. Even Saturday night—I loved singing, I loved listening, but there were prayers and statements of faith that I just couldn’t make, and which I believe I will never be able to make.
I am a kid the morning after Christmas morning. I can’t even say what I expected from this experience, but MAN, I’m bummed out, and lost.
And I have no idea what exactly I’m asking of anyone who reads this. Sympathy? Understanding? Advice? I don’t even know. I suppose I’m looking for what all seekers seek—a sense of being not alone in the universe. Of my existence, and my suffering, and my joy, and my grief, and my attempts at betterment, and my failings—of my life, my self, having some true meaning, some reason. And maybe, in the end it’s an offering as well. I mean, if you’ve read this far, then, God Bless you, I hope you can glean something from this wackiness. Something more than just wackiness. And if you have a little wisdom to share then, by God, do share.
Just please forgive me for these stipulations: As sad as I may sound, and as much joy as your faith (or lack thereof!) may provide you, please do not try to convince me to become a believer, (or to embrace the joys of non-belief). Trust me, I’m already convinced. If I could believe I would believe.
But to all those who have read this far, seriously, God bless you.