I’m like Popeye. I am what I am. I suppose that also makes me like God, the I am. I can’t change my beliefs or my broken symbology. I can’t change my past. I can move forward. In fact, I have no choice but to move forward with time.
Every day carries me onward, crest and trough, swell and sink, endless waves of time. The waves of day and night, work and rest, birth and death wash out on the shores of my life. Little boats of ego and consciousness sailing on a silver sea.
I often feel like I’ve lost track of myself, that the true me is lost at sea. I feel like I was most true to myself as a teenager and very young adult. Perhaps I can simply pretend to be that person again, until I can really be my old self. Pretend until I can regain my rudder and stability. To reiterate to myself how important it is to be principled and earnest, eager and playful, reverent and poetic, hopeful and loving, and fearless and charitable.
I miss the poetry in life. Poetry drained of all its sense of heft and vigor when I lost my faith. My old symbols lay dead at my feet.
Sometimes I think that I did not lose faith in Christianity itself, but in the magic of Christianity. Oh, I sincerely believed in magic as a child, both in its basic forms – like sympathetic or contagious magic – but also in specific forms. How often did I shove aside clothes and old suitcases to tentatively touch the back of a closet? Or close my eyes in the attempt to go through a mirror? Or stop nervously before going though a dark space and, in my imagination and in mime, put on the armor of God?
I lived in a dream-like world.
At any moment I was prepared to fly away or to come into my own special powers. I anticipated being able to bring light, change into animals or speak with them, or bring a flower to bloom with a touch. I was dazzled by the magic aglint in the world. I was luminous and illuminated with it. Within me dwelt life and light and it was only a matter of time and fortune to bring it bursting forth into the world.
My experience of magic as a child was immediate and direct – suggested to me by the world I experienced and the movements of my soul and mind. Perhaps it was influenced by my enculturation in the church – but most religious imagery is too pedantic, confusing, or tied to specific times and places for a child to access imaginatively. I found angels in my imaginative life, though, and I found God speaking through natural events and objects. The lapping of a lakeshore could form words, the wind could billow into one’s soul, a flower could mirror your heart, or a robin could – just as it did for Lucy – lead you, chirpingly, from winter into spring.
I always believed in magical passages – wardrobes, closets, mirrors, and precipices that, if you walked to the very extreme of, you could turn around at and find your landscape changed. I believed that if you dove deep enough under water you might return to a different surface than you left, and in touchstones or tokens that could transport you like Dorothy’s ruby slippers.
Even now this kind of imagery holds strange sway over me. All the same hope and excitement grips me even with more than a quarter century of direct and compelling evidence that none of this is possible. This magic still holds the seductive possibility for me that, just yet, I may stumble across a place where it is clear that I am the central figure in a crisis of good vs. evil, of existence vs. negation.
Of course, I already am in that world. I am in the little boat of my life, bourn on the waves of time. I am the sole dreaming occupant and all the world sits between the oars.
It is in my soul that all these antagonisms play out and I must play my tripartite roles. I am the good, the bad, and the witness. I am the ground of existence, the consuming void, and the narrator of my tale. But as this tiny drama plays out, even as it occupies the very space of my soul, I find I do not know what goes on there or how to influence the outcome. How strange! It seems at first that this inaccessible soul is a fixed fact of my life, but the magic of my childhood was how I accessed these parts of me. When magic was no longer viable I lost valuable insight and access to myself.
(This interior drama reminds me of a Glockenspiel. How strange and modern to think of my soul as clockwork – my interior life nothing but gears and levers and weights – my thoughts nothing but machinations.)
My belief in Christianity was, I now think, just a way of extending my childish belief in magic, or at least in channels of magic that were clearly closed, into a more codified, respected, and shareable version.