Spiritual Skepticism

“Can I please schedule a time to speak with the chaplain?”

Clutching a book tightly to my chest, I looked down and away. They seemed to respond better when I did that.

The nurse scheduled the appointment.

I can’t remember all the meetings I had with the chaplains while I was there, but I do remember how they made me feel. In a place where I felt dehumanized, the chaplains gave me a reprieve.

It was my feeling that they perceived me as fully human.

My recent zoloft-induced manic episode and hospitalization illuminated my eyes to a few things. I don’t even know what I set out to say by writing this post. But there were parts of my recent experience that felt, for lack of a better word, profoundly spiritual.

Maybe the way my brain tried to process the trauma of my experience was by fitting it all into a spiritual narrative of sorts that made sense to me so I could cope.

See I had spent the last year or so, and even before my first breakdown, feeling incredibly powerless.

I had been diagnosed with social anxiety at around 18 years old. But since I left the hospital nearly a month ago, I haven’t experienced any social anxiety whatsoever.

Yes, I have this new diagnosis, bipolar (which now is up in the air with my healthcare providers), but something is different in me. Something has changed deeply within my being, my psyche.

The anxiety is gone.

I don’t know what happened, but maybe after what I went through (for example going manic and singing in my apartment’s parking lot at 5 AM) nothing just seems to trigger my anxiety around people anymore.

It’s like a switch went off somewhere in my head. Yes, mania is not healthy, but its manifestation seems to have released a lot of pent up anger and resentment at being told what to do.

The shame at the root of it, the shame for merely existing, is gone too.

I’ve tested it. With no issues, I’ve been able to strike up conversations with strangers at the grocery store. Some react the way I would have a couple months ago, unsure, nervous and/or curious as to why I would want to talk to them, but most have reacted warmly. I spent nearly half an hour talking to a new friend in the grocery store the other day and we exchanged numbers.

While I was in the hospital I reconnected with some of my Mormon roots as well. Inspired by some of the words of Ghandi and the fact that Mormons fast on the first Sunday of the month, I decided to fast on the first Sunday of July. The staff questioned me on it, and some patients and a staff member or two scoffed at my fast, but it felt right at the time.

I did feel a little rebellious toward the hospital when I fasted, but I also wanted to show the staff I was capable of self control.

I even made my own prayer before the fast and crafted it to a divine mother. It was the prayer I had always wanted to say but had never been allowed to say, first by my belief in Mormonism and then coincidentally by my lack of belief in Mormonism.

I’m realizing now that spirituality is way more fluid than we are taught or trained to believe. Spirituality is intensely personal, as it should be. (Thankfully other skeptics use the word as well.)

I have started exploring myths that catch my interest, and reconciling my spiritual upbringing with where I am now in my life.

After my release from the hospital, two sister missionaries from the LDS church knocked on my door. This is the church I was raised in, the church I left.

They talked with me for the next couple hours. I told them all about my history. I told them I was bisexual (and this was before I had come out publicly about it), I told them about my rape and hospitalization. We seemed to really connect.

Does this mean I’m going to rejoin the church? Absolutely not. I don’t believe in practically every truth claim of the church and I have a major problem with it’s patriarchal makeup.

In fact I found it a damn near shame that these sister missionaries would never be allowed to be priesthood/spiritual leaders of the faith because of their sex. One especially contained more empathy and wisdom in her pinky finger than did my BYU bishop.

But my experiences have helped heal me of my trauma associated with spiritual things in general. The spiritual abuse I experienced from poor leaders and an imperfect church growing up left deep scars, but I recognize that people can and do find peace in the Mormon faith, and that’s OK.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think the LDS church shouldn’t be held responsible for the horrid way the organization has treated the LGBT community, or that I didn’t talk to the sister missionaries about that. Of course I did, and they listened. They shared a message of healing from their scriptures and I shared a favorite poem of mine with them. If I could share this poem a thousand times over, I would:

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

I was bitter for a long time when it came to religion and spirituality. Because I had been hurt, deeply. Spiritual abuse is real and devastating. And I still see people hurt by people in power in these organizations. But there is a lot of good too. And that I see in the love people have for each other.

Because there is a lot of love in the world, and love heals. And too many people on the religious side and on the skeptic side resort to harsh and angry words towards each other, and I can no longer stomach it. It has started to make me ill.

I’ve also come to integrate the worst of my experiences into my current makeup as a person. I seemed to have healed from the worst parts of my traumatic past, and I feel incredibly stronger. I also have more peace in my heart.

Myths, stories, and narratives have been immensely empowering for me.

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“In many of the ancient myths, a person who wanted to find happiness, love, or eternal life, had to first travel through the netherworld. Before being allowed to contemplate the splendors of heaven, Dante had to wander through the horrors of hell so he could understand what kept us from entering the pearly gates. The same is true of the more secular quest we are about to begin.”

– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

And that’s where I feel I am, still dealing with some of the burns and scars of the trials of my journey through the underworld, but I’m dusting myself off, and I feel like I’m coming out the other side.

I guess what I’m getting at is that it is possible to become a spiritual skeptic. The things that I find value in, the love I have for stories and those closest to me, that love can be the basis of my spirituality.

Myths don’t have to be real for me to take meaning out of them, and since this life is about creating our own meaning anyways, they’re a great place to start.

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Author: Larissa Hammond

Librarian. Writer. Mom.

1 thought on “Spiritual Skepticism”

  1. I am glad to you experienced some connection while in the hospital. My grandmother used to say that sometimes God sits you down so you can think. I have had that happen to me in my life. The thing is don’t let getting back to the real world take you back. You may not always feel the same but the memory is still there of your experience. I probably didn’t express this well but keep on with your journey. I have come to see that God is everywhere. Not just in each of our religious traditions but always there.

    Liked by 1 person

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