| finding faith |
"Finding faith may be more about feeling faith-full. To yourself. What is faith?"
— Quote from Mother Mary during our morning meditation conversation on a morning ferry trip to Anacortes, 4/19/21.
Fresco by Raphael in the Vatican The School of Athens depicting the great early philosophers Plato (painted as Leonardo Da Vinci), Aristotle, Euclid, Pythagoras and many others. When Raphael originally presented his study of the painting for approval from his benefactors, he depicted Hypatia on a statue, front and center. The church wouldn’t approve. Raphael relegated her to the position that I have circled above.
This has been a time of intense transformation for our culture. Police violence, blatant racism and class inequities, pandemic tragedy, and political divisions. If loss is the great socio-economic leveler of life then no one’s escaped its grip this past year or two.
If you follow my writings, I’ve talked from time to time about a concept called spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. According to Robert Augustus Masters, whose book of the same title I devoured, bypassing lies at the heart of our development as a people. We avoid the hard work of exploring our hidden motivations in favor of easy, pithy ways to rationalize our behaviors and lifestyle. In an effort to become more full- frontal about how I needed to expand my worldview, I enrolled in an online course through Ubiquity University. This at the same time as delving deeper into my faith by participating in Lent classes with my church. And committing to weekly marital therapy sessions.
An interesting thing happens when you begin to explore your shadows. What you find in the dark begins to look alike. I guess that makes sense: I put these things back here in the first place.
The stress MS [multiple sclerosis] put on my 30+ years of marriage became evident immediately in our sessions. This wasn’t a shock. I am a counselor, after all. What was a shock was hearing aloud my explanations in regards to how I manage my health and wellness on a daily basis. The sheer number of work-arounds I create to track my life with a dwindling memory sounded maddening to me; I can only imagine my therapist’s notes. Control of my physical surroundings, what I can actually see, allows me to trust my reality. If I see something then it must exist, right? Am I trying to control my relationship with faith in the same way?
In my therapy sessions I began to face how much I was bypassing the awareness to my true state of health.
And then there were the Lenten classes. Good stuff, overall; a way to approach a personal relationship with Jesus or God in a defined and systematic way. When I explored Jesus through the church or the bible, my meditative meetings with JC naturally tended to dwindle off. I took a short class with Kayleen Asbo, PhD on Hypatia and Theon through Ubiquity. I learned about the life of Hypatia through the lens of the painting above, The School of Athens. (The previous “Great Lives” class was on Pythagoras. It was equally mind-blowing!)
I discovered this incredible woman scholar: philosopher, astronomer, astrologer, mathematician and teacher who taught both Christians and pagans in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, a time of waning scientific inquiry due to the rise of Christianity in the empire, especially in Alexandria. Due to Constantine’s efforts a century before, and then emperor Theodosius I, Christianity was now a state religion. This powerful pagan woman was taking a stand in an empire falling apart. Hypatia was beloved and respected by many, including those in power, for her tolerance, intelligence and integrity.
A rising bishop named Cyril was in a power struggle with everyone, on a mission to silence all voices non-Christian. A brilliant theologian, he inflamed tensions with Christians and Jews alike. He used a mass of uneducated monks for his bidding. The Jewish and pagan populations that contributed so much to the intelligencia now fled the city of Alexandria. Cyril fixed his sights on Orestes, a newer prefect and moderate Christian, forcing his hand to obey his tightening stance. This political feud escalated into a failed assassination attempt upon Orestes by one of the monks. When this truce was left unrequited, Cyril turned his rage and his mob upon Hypatia.
Hypatia was taken from a carriage on the street, brutally tortured, her body torn apart, and burned. This was a difficult time in history for the empire, and a complex set of factions were at war with one another, so our instructor recommended that we watch the movie Agora, starring Rachel Weisz. As I watched the movie, I became increasingly livid. When it was over, I told my husband, “I believe I need to leave the Church.” My naïveté about the early Christian church was broken.
I read more articles. Hypatia, Constantine. The more I researched, the angrier I became. The fall of scientific inquiry was no fall. It was snuffed out. By a few very powerful, demented men. This was the beginning of Christianity? I knew some of the arcs of the rise and fall of scientific inquiry and reason throughout the history of Islam, but no one told me during my master’s program that the person who wrote the Nicene Creed (Constantine), murdered his son and boiled his wife alive on his path to power.
I wasn’t aware my master’s education was so… wanting. Granted, my field of concentration was less historically focused and more pastoral, I chose Jesuit education because there was less dogma, less propaganda, and felt more authentic. But I now know I learned a very small, procured slice of knowledge.
My education was a bypass without my knowing it.
As my weekly marital sessions continued, something else was happening over the course of the pandemic. My ability to reflect was declining. Making decisions had been difficult since my MS diagnosis (2003) but something deeper was at work. Thinking was like trying to hold water in my hands. So much for my control strategies. My insomnia worsened.
My inner world was morphing into something I had trouble even pondering. The Ascended Masters helped me in meditation make sense of the turnover. Jesus told me in a long conversation filled with more silence than words, that at some point acceptance needed to take over where understanding left. Faith in the Church was my anchor and I left it out at sea after learning about Hypatia. For all the darkness, however, I did notice something hidden beginning to take shape.
Not everything in the shadow is dark after all.
I noticed I was worrying less. My anxiety began to dissipate. In my daily meditative work, they slowly began to lead me to new territories. Through their metaphors and acronyms, the masters began to show me a more fundamental way, which was quite extraordinary. Those things that I kept praying for? Peace of mind? Detachment? Guess what? They were beginning to show up.
I’m still trying to piece things together. I imagine I will be doing this for a while. When you aren’t able to hold things in your mind and shuttle the good portions to long term memory that’s just the way it is. So, this past Tuesday, Mother Mary helped me in a conversation on the ferry ride to the mainland. She cracked open the hard shell of the word faith to tell me to look inside myself. “What is faith, Sally?” This allowed me to reframe things. Shouldn’t the anchor be inside of me? My motto has always been “we all house the light.” When I doubt, where is my light?
By Thursday morning, my anger was shifting from sadness into loss and a deep longing. I shared with the group where I was at. Not having slept well, I sat on the sands amidst the masters and told them I was tired of history. No, I am tired of his stories. I heard a voice and I realized it was Jesus. He was standing above me on the right. The sun was emblazoned around him so I was blinded from his face. With his hand outstretched, he said “Follow me.” I grabbed his hand and he lifted me up. We begin to walk.
No shadows here.
When you consider the concept of spiritual bypassing, is there anything area in your life that may be seeking your attention? Your compassion?
What cross have you carried through this time of pandemic? How has it changed you or your awareness to your place in the world?
How or where do you find faith? Where have you lost faith? Are you seeking a new way to develop a relationship with faith, as I am?