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Morgan Ravenwood


Experiencing a Crisis of Faith
by Morgan Ravenwood 

Often you hear about a nun or priest experiencing a “crisis of faith” which sometimes leads to their decision to abandon their vocation and return to the secular world.  Actually, I have met two such people, a priest and a nun; while the priest was a young man who had spent only a few years in his vocation, the nun had been one for thirteen years.  The priest’s chief reason for eschewing monastic life became clear when he married as soon as he was released from his vows, but the nun never really explained her decision in any depth except to say that her health had been bad through much of her religious career.  She too married and had a son; it is interesting to note, however, that she did not remain a Catholic.  

Their experiences as well as a few recent ones of my own have provoked me to consider what happens when Pagans, especially those in leadership/clergy roles, experience a personal crisis or upheaval that makes them contemplate their own spiritual path and its ability to offer comfort and wisdom when misfortune strikes. 

Many people abandon religion when they perceive that it has failed them.  Loss of a loved one often prompts one to question how a loving deity can impose such pain and suffering not only upon their loved ones but themselves.  It’s often difficult to differentiate “free will” from the “will of God,” and it’s even harder to realize that certain things are simply beyond our
control.  Sometimes it has taken me years to understand why a certain wish or goal was denied me and sometimes it doesn’t take nearly as long.  Still more confusing are the things that we firmly believe should have been granted to us since they would have made us happier and our lives more fulfilling.  Truly, the ways of the gods are mysterious, and beyond a doubt, adversity builds character. 

Of course, this is the rational, logical explanation for the way things are.  In his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good people,” (which I highly recommend to anyone of any faith who is experiencing troubled times) Rabbi Harold Kushner takes great pains to explain why bad things aren’t the will of God at all and in fact, it is the strength and fortitude granted to us by God that helps us survive them.  However rational it may sound, though, it is cold comfort to those who feel completely bereft. 

The Internet is full of websites, geared mostly to Christians, with lots of information about all of the dreadful things that can happen to people who suddenly abandon the religion they’ve practiced all their lives.  Depression, anxiety, drug dependence, illness and premature death are only a few of the “side effects” listed.  After all, an important role of religion IS to offer comfort, both spiritual and physical, in times of need.  Some of the recommendations given are for (of course) pastoral counseling and even psychotherapy. 

Some Pagans, especially those who came to Paganism from mainstream religions, may feel contempt for the doubts and frustrations sometimes experienced by those who still practice them.  Confident in their choice of a “kinder, gentler” religion, they fall into thinking “this could never happen to me!”  Unfortunately, we’re all still human and as such are still subject to the same vicissitudes as everyone else. No matter what your religion, experiencing a crisis of faith is a tough row to hoe.  Rituals, books, even friends suddenly matter very little if at all.  You feel disconnected and alone, sure that nobody could understand what you are going through.  If you practice solitarily, the feeling of separation is heightened.  If you belong to a coven or group, you could talk to your High Priestess or Priest, who should be able to give some recommendations.  But if it is YOU in the leadership/clergy role, the standard rules obviously don’t apply.  Where your group is concerned, this is a big problem. Faced with uncertainty about where YOU stand on the spiritual ladder, it is almost impossible to try to deal with anyone
else’s concerns. 

Thus, when religion becomes a matter of form alone with no true faith or interest to guide it, a decision must be made to either try and work out the doubts and get back to the core of belief or cease trying to be everything to everyone and be a little easier on yourself while you attempt to sort things out. 

Pagan leaders walk a particularly precarious tightrope when it comes to maintaining faith and balance.  Pagan groups come and go on almost a daily basis, and the chief reasons for their demise are lack of interest and participation.  When it gets to the point where you have to almost beg people to come to meetings and rituals, and when you invest tons of time, money, talent and dedication into trying to make it work only to experience devastating disappointment every time your members blow off yet another group event, then it is time to take a serious look at what you’re trying to accomplish and how much longer you are willing to put up with such treatment.  However, no matter how justified your decision to disband may be, the feeling that you have failed at something you really cared about may haunt you for a long while. 

Not only did the above happen to me, but it coincided with a couple of devastating personal events that threatened to permanently deep-six my relationship with my deities and my family.  However, after many months of soul-searching and attempting to reconnect to my spiritual roots, I have decided to forgive myself as well as those who failed me and get on with my life and my faith.  I am re-learning that the Goddess and God are never separate from us; it is only we who occasionally become so embroiled in our own affairs that we forget how to listen to Them.  One possible way to do this is through divination, particularly through the Tarot and the Runes, with emphasis on looking for a reappearing pattern.  It is sometimes difficult to overcome our own resistance to the message that is being given to us, but we will be the better for it in the long
run.  We don’t always know what is best for us but Spirit does, and the more we learn to “let go and let God(dess),” the better off we will be. 

As for me, I am still weathering some intense personal issues, but nothing that has even came close to tempting me to abandon the faith that has been so rewarding to me.  Instead I have concentrated upon looking at the “bigger picture” and attempting to learn the lessons that were surely intended to be learned from these experiences.  Such receptiveness, I believe, makes us both better and stronger Pagans and people.