For most of my life (since high school? earlier?) I've experienced a dull heavy emptiness inside of me. My religious education says that's the place for God to live, but religion didn't help me to fill the grey sack of emptiness. If anything, religion exacerbated the problem, heightening my perception of distance between people and between people and the divine. And the distance rendered everything meaninglessness. Oh how I struggled to find meaning. A point to being alive. A value to embodiment in flesh and blood. A sense to make of how people treat each other. I haven't found it, yet.
A few weeks ago I finally settled on the idea and accepted that there is no unifying meaning to be made of life the way it is. The lessons of my childhood and a spiritual walkabout through Neo-Paganism and Wannabe Buddhism all fell away with a clattering clumsiness confirming their unreliability. This very prospect of accepting the emptiness had followed me for years, threatening to unravel my tenuous and tentative commitment to life. And in this moment of acceptance it called to me again, with a bellowing vow to suck me into a void where nothing really mattered. Where I and my love, my Little N, didn’t matter. But I held my ground.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed in my bright little room, I spoke softly to the emptiness inside of me. "You can stay with me. I'm not running from you anymore. And you can speak with me. I'm not afraid of your noise and words. I understand you a little better, now, and you are precious to me."
The emptiness is valuable. It reminds me of my agency. I can choose how and what I assign meaning to. Like some sort of spiritual anarchist, I'm declining and refuting the religious law and order that defined how I became who I am. I retain a hermeneutic of love, grace, and justice as my lens on life, but I reject the prescribed social order and the shoulds of personal piety, of judging our neighbors, of accepting and yielding to an unjust social, political, and economic status quo.
There’s no inherent meaning, for me, no obvious goodness or rightness, to the way Western society is ordered. It’s not God’s Law that we live in heterosexual legally married nuclear families, that we prioritize private wealth and comfort, that we amplify a narrow view of individual morality over a broader view of public health, economic and environmental sustainability, justice for the marginalized and the poor, that we define those in need as “deserving” and “undeserving” of aid and support… It goes on. It’s all been better said and sometimes solved by folks wiser, more experienced, more effective than me. But it bothers me. And the religion of my upbringing hasn’t helped any of it get better.
The same critique applies to my personal life. There’s no inherent meaning in my marriage and divorce. It doesn’t mean anything that my ex-husband, L, now lives with me and Little N as a roommate and my partner in parenting. I assign no value nor criticism to my leaving home and my birth family to pursue my education and plant myself in a new place with new people in my life. There’s no particular meaning to rejecting the religion and politics I come from. There’s no particular meaning to my current financial struggles and career anxiety. These things just are, and I get to choose what sense to make of them.
It’s easy to wax on about the big bad world out there. And it’s easy to hunker down into my tiny personal world. The common theme in both scenarios is my choice. The ordained law and order is an illusion. It’s refutable. It’s synthetic. I can and must choose something true in order to keep going in my life.
The search for something true sends me right back to the prophets and good teachers who have walked this path before. I’m thinking of guides like Buddha, Jesus, and even today’s pagan teacher Starhawk. Their words, lives, and choices, illuminate true things for me about non-attachment to stuff, people, and notions, drawing in the marginalized, supporting the weak and the poor, heeding, tending and defending our home planet.
In some ways it would be easier to yield to the illusion and accept the myth of a divine law and order that structures our public and personal lives giving us meaning and righteousness. But that doesn’t ring true for me and my life. It doesn’t fill the emptiness and it never has.