Blogging Meditation: Apprehensions about Writing, Thoughts on My Faith

Posted on June 20, 2011

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It takes a manic sort of man to want to write, and moreover to be published, I suppose. Even in a little blog like this, there’s some madness in the craft.

It’s not true of all writers—I’m sure some who have memorized formulas and pleasing little tricks can make their living off of words with little real introspection. But for most who set themselves to the task earnestly, for those who do not do it just for duty or for dollars, there is a desire, at times a terrible lust, to pick at the flesh and marrow of the world. Those who would talk about the world, attempt to unravel its mysteries and bring forth new understandings through narrative or non-fiction, they are the people who probably know and understand the world the least. And like any confused soul, though there may be sadness, the terror can bring forth a rampage—an infantile screech for the comfort of a mother, of a knowing arm, alone in the wilderness, but born out with the full brute strength of a man.

That is to say, the impetus to set print to page, or more so to create a Raskolnikov or a Moreardi, almost never jumps to a mind at peace. And to create such hate and such hope in a story, there usually must be equal hate of and hope for the self.

That’s not the heart of the madness, though. The madness is in letting the world see one’s works. There is no shame, nor anything spectacular, in wandering lost and groping at the blackness for some bearing, some guidepost, or at least a mooring to hold tight to. But to say, I know I am lost and wandering and wondering, I know well why I sat down before these pages—to say this either outright or silently or even implicitly in the act of taking up pen and paper to write a certain kind of story—to say this and then emerge with a tattered manuscript, ugly in its blotted ink and uglier still its numerous errors. To bring this squalling and deformed infant into the world and to love it as the fruit of one’s labors I could understand. To send the child forth into the world, under a banner advertising half grotesquerie and half enlightenment, and stand behind it, ever the adoring parent. There is an impossible narcissism in that. In this.

That’s a wide and warring camp of feeling to exist in one person, both an impossible self-love and an indefatigable self-hatred. But, although it is my impulse as it is everyone else’s to try to pain those around us with wide brush strokes, to summarize and understand everyone in glyphs and symbols of whole meaning, I’ve come to place my faith in the essential hypocrisy of existence. In that sense, I’ve found some appeal in the works of Zoroaster and Mani and their adherents—the notions of forces of light and dark, good and evil, at times waging war, but more often than not coexisting in some balance within a human soul. What need to invent all that is around us—things such as mirrors, pens, papers, words—if not to sate two intertwining hungers within ourselves?

I see both in myself. I see self-hated and self-love. And though I am for the most part a happy person, I know the grimness in myself that bids me sit and write out words like this. Honor and disrespect for the same man, trust and paranoia at once, there is nothing in me that isn’t snapping its head back at the maw of some equal and opposite force—demon or angel, perhaps a little of both—writing inside my guts and waking me in the middle of the night from fevered dreams. Alone and confused in the darkness, awaiting the first light of dawn to make the self-indulgent existentialism somewhat less literal and at least starve it of that oxygen.

It’s at times like this that I envy my friends their faiths. I hear the muttered prayers, and even when I don’t hear them I see them in the eyes and motions of millions—God, grant me peace. Grant me humility, grant me serenity, grant me the strength, grant me the love and compassion. God, please grant it to me. I want to beg the same so badly that it’s a wonder why we are not, all of us, screaming and wailing the same twisted dreams, yelling them hoarse into the ether in the hope and dream and honest faith and expectation of some return. Even if we may not recognize it and even if it is born of silence, or from within us, some return. Please, God, please. But I can’t bring myself to kneel to pray.

I’ve never been able to hold faith in God, not in any way I’ve tried to phrase His existence to myself. And it’s that which made me sit down today to write. Because I’m not sure why I can’t hold that faith. I demand understanding of myself. I demand that I ought to be able to understand, at least after the fact, why I do what I do and how I’ve become who I am. But I’ve never been able to figure out why I fled the faith of my mother.

For years I thought I was a Christian. My mother was a Christian. All of my friends were Christians. But one day a schoolmate walked up to me—both our voices far too squeaky to discuss matters of theology. “Are you a Christian?” he asked. I opened my mouth, but then I realized I didn’t know. I croaked and said as much, squirming away form the question, backing up towards a fence.

“Do you believe in God?”

Did I? I didn’t really understand what or who God was. I’d never thought seriously about the idea. I knew my mother believed in God, I knew many of the other children did. I saw little difference between us. “I guess so,” I said.

“Then you’re a Christian.” And he walked away. But I stood there against the fence, nervously fumbling with rusted chain links. No, I’m not I realized.

The Bible, the Talmud, nothing held much for me. Nothing within those books helped me to understand God or divinity and my place in existence. Later, the first time I read the Qur’an and read that God sent signs to all of us, that it was up to us to recognize the signs in our lives, that God had a sign for each man, I felt a wriggling in my guts. Why couldn’t I see the signs that so many others had seen?

The story I’ve told myself and others is that I lost faith after my mother’s stroke. That as I sat in the corner of a dark room and listened to one after another of her friends tell her they’d see her in heaven, I felt a deep hatred for whatever ideology led them to cast her aside, to accept her death so blithely. But there was so much anger and confusion then. And I didn’t even understand God at the time. That was not it. That was not why I can’t hold faith.

It may have, I’ve realized, something more to do with all that happened in the following years. Between ages five and eighteen I developed out of necessity a degree of independence—emotional and physical self-reliance. It became not just a need for me, but a deep value within me. If one cannot provide for his/herself, if one cannot stand before life alone, then how could one hope to stand? All supports were in truth infirm, everything you relied on could be taken away so easily. And divine or not, there was no guarantee that something would swoop down and bail you out.

So here’s what it boils down to: I can believe in something bigger than myself. But I have trouble believing in a God who answers prayers, even indirectly. I have trouble believing in an entity, even a diffuse one, who acts and orders the universe. Because I believe that everything larger than us—fate, karma, duty and divinity—is all the amalgamation of all that is around us. That we are the confluence of our own actions and the ripples they make among others, the meeting of waves and the crash and drive of systems set in motion by their very existence and first kicks at the world around them. Insomuch as I believe in this individual-as-total-entity idea (driven by a belief that we are responsible for our own fates, that anything we wish for ourselves, even if we must rely on others, it is us who create the fate we desire), I do not know that it is possible for me to believe in God in any form.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the devil. In my faith we call him Mara, and he is everywhere. Insomuch as that which is beyond us and drives us all is really the joining of all of us, Mara is born of us. Mara is all that is confused, pained, and angered about us. Mara seeks to drive us off the path to serenity, to calm waters. As we kick and scream and try to blame someone else for actions and events we helped to precipitate, our rage and sorrow creates Mara, perpetuates suffering in the world. And Mara rules the world so long as you allow him to, so long as you create him within your own life.

If one wishes to defeat Mara, to balance him out with some force of goodness, one cannot appeal to God, to some higher being. Defeating Mara requires taking responsibility for one’s own actions. It involves taking responsibility for one’s own awareness, for attempting to pacify one’s own life and the lives of others around them.

God is within us. If there is one notion of the divine that I can believe it’s that—that his ruh was breathed into us when he blew our clay bones into animation.

It’s a lonely idea. It’s not anti-social, and it’s not pessimistic. As much as I believe that we create evil in the world unfettered by any good outside of us, I believe we are all capable of infinite goodness, of realizing the godly within ourselves. I recognize the need to beg help of others and the ability of others to give it. But I do not count on it, nor believe it to be just or deserved. I have faith only in myself to control myself and eliminate evil in my life. And if you think it’s to grim to believe in the devil, but not in God, in demons, but not in angels, I understand that. To me, it is a hopeful though, in a twisted way.

So I cannot pray for serenity or humility. I must recognize the vanity in my own words—the devil that stalks through this text—and I must cut it out myself. With that verbal meditation drawn to a close, the best way to cut the ignorance of narcissism from my life may be to stop writing for now. But of course, I’ll be back to the blog soon enough.

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