I was a Christian once

Today is the first Sunday of the month when we share guest posts from people living and teaching the Contemplative and/or Celtic Christian way around the world. One of the beautiful things about the internet is that people doing amazing things in isolated parts of the world can learn from one another and grow together. We hope this article inspires you to dive a little deeper into what it means to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors while looking forward to what kind of world we will leave for our grandchildren.

Aaron Pope is a Celtic Christian and modern day contemplative living in Oklahoma. He is a part of our community and a constant source of wisdom and insight. We hope you enjoy his reflection!

I was a Christian once: born, baptized, and raised. I believed what the church said to believe, I had what the church said I could have, and I did what the church told me I could do. As I grew older I learned more about the church, and I learned what the church had forgotten. So much of the history and teachings of the church about itself and its holy book were intentionally lost or destroyed, and I could no longer abide in such a place that had lost its own identity. Especially a place so willing to sacrifice and alienate groups it identified as sinners, as different, as other, even though “all have sinned” and even though there are no others.

I was lost once: wandering from church to church, group to group, philosophy to philosophy. Trying to ground myself in something to fight off my feelings of loneliness, of failure, of nihilism and emptiness. Yet none of the sermons, books, teachers, or teachings brought me any relief. I grasped at everything, from the amor fati of the philosophers to the middle way in the East, but always was left with a sense of longing and of wrongness. I knew no peace and instead turned to a life of vice to distract me from myself. One cannot feel pain or fear if one is numb to its effects. I decided this would be my lot in life and that I must learn to accept it.

I was a pagan once: reveling in the storms of the thunder god and running wild through the forests of the horned god. Initially I felt the freedom of this path: a life devoted to Spirit, free from institutions, with a return to magic, awe, and wonder. The newfound excitement of this journey drowned out any of the warning signs I might have seen in my initial foray into this new faith. Yet as I progressed I found them tainted with the same sins of dogma, racism, sexism, and schism that any other religion experiences. I found their teachers to be of questionable origin, and much of their history written by a charlatan. I could no longer live this way with integrity, and again lost my way.

I was a mystic once: hoping that the esoteric and transcendental experiences therein would finally quench my thirst. I was convinced that a single experience of the divine, a touch of its true nature, would cure me of the darkness I contained. Through meditation, exploring my interior castle, and reading the wise words of desert saints and modern monks I felt as if I had finally found my way. Yet the divine experiences never came; only my restlessness and doubts grew, and the darkness within swelled and overcame me. I had hit the bottom, God was dead, and with it my hopes, my purpose, and my dreams.

I was a Catholic once: seeking the last bastion of reason against a rising tide of darkness. Throwing my critiques into the wind, embracing dogma, to hide behind the white walls of the church. I was in denial, and I refused to accept what the darkness was saying. This would be my final fight in this strong tower against the encroaching nothing I felt against my soul. Clinging to my rosary, crying out to the saints, weeping on my knees in front of the Holy Mother begging for a sign from heaven. Yet heaven was silent as the doors of this great castle were assaulted and I was left alone to await my inevitable end. Then the darkness came, not with a fist, but a touch, speaking to me “let go.”

And all was lost. And that was a blessing.

I was nothing once, and in being nothing I found my peace. I saw that God was not a Christian, not a pagan, not a mystic, and not Catholic. In all of these places I only found man: imperfect, divisive, warlike, and cruel. I realized the darkness, the nothing, had come to teach me and not to harm me, “God cannot be found in the words of man, only in the silence of the breaths in between.” The God of man, the God of the word, is dead. Indeed it was a false idol who rang hollow, its churches tombs for a rotting corpse. This cloud of darkness whispered to me, take hope, and empty yourself of the words of man, and find the truth in the silence. There I saw not darkness, but light, as they were one in the same thing. I found the real God, and all I had to lose was everything.

Then Jesus came to me saying:

He made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death

In finding Jesus I had found my master. In letting go I found my path. In emptying myself I found God. In darkness I found the divine. In nothingness I found everything. In dying to religion, I became a Christian.

But not that kind of Christian.

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