For all you Mormon Stories fans out there, the "second generation" of Mormon podcasts has begun now at Mormon Expression, so make sure to check out this new site when you get a chance (You can also see a link on my blog roll). A commenter on my previous thread, Sunflowercalm, tipped me off about a new podcast by the guys at Mormon Expression, interviewing John Dehlin about where he is now and how and why he is now in a much better place spiritually speaking. I think they asked him most of the questions that I would have wanted to ask him myself and I really enjoyed the insight that he was able to give from the experience of his journey. So download it and listen to it. You'll be glad you did.
More directly related to this post, however, is another series of the Mormon Stories podcasts that I hadn't listened to yet: "Fowler's Stages of Faith," podcasts #'s 15, 16, 17. I wish I had listened to this series first and I highly recommend listening to it before embarking on the rest of the podcasts. Seriously, if you listen to nothing else, LISTEN TO THIS SERIES. You won't regret it, I promise.
You can read a bit about Fowler's Stages of Faith Development here, but I highly recommend listening to at least the first podcast (#16) in order to get a better grasp on what it actually means. It will also help you better understand what I'm trying to get at in this post.
I first came across the "dark night of the soul" theory when I read Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light by Brian Kolodiejchuk (which I highly recommend, by the way). Mother Teresa herself experienced intense spiritual darkness and doubt that lasted for most of her life until just before her death. But back then I don't think that it registered in my mind that this phenomenon of a "purgation of the soul that brings purity and union with God," could perhaps apply to regular people and not just extraordinary and holy individuals such as Mother Teresa. It's not something that I've ever really heard in Mormon circles before and I think that this is probably because it is assumed that when we doubt and lack faith, the problem originates in us. God NEVER abandons us or closes the channels of communication, right? Wrong.
But there is a purpose.
Last time I was home visiting my family, I remember having a discussion during FHE about faith. Dad asked us all whether any of us had ever doubted that God existed. To my astonishment, I was the only one in my family who said they had. I was then suddenly aware of the chasm that existed between me and even my own family members, who are by no means ultraorthodox, conservative Mormons. Even they had never doubted. I know that my family would never mean to make me feel weak or "less" in any way. But I did.
I think that those of us who struggle in the Church are usually looked looked at with either misunderstanding (i.e. "They're just not committed to living the Gospel.") or pity (i.e. "It's too bad that they're just not strong enough.") But more than we actually hear it from people, we tend to feed ourselves these negative thoughts all the time. And sometimes we start to believe it. We feel sorry for ourselves. We start to think that perhaps we are weak because we doubt and everyone else knows that we doubt. Then the resentment of those who are spiritually-fulfilled sets in and we start to look at believers in the same condescending manner that we were probably looked at. As we become more "enlightened," we see how "deluded" they are.
After listening to these podcasts, I have begun to look at doubt in a different light. Although I had concluded that having doubts and issues weren't really a sign of weakness, I hadn't really thought about them as being constructive or a necessary part of progression. At least not in the way that they were presented in these podcasts. These stages of faith (or unfaith) are necessary, they can't be rushed, they can be lengthy, (even "brutal," as Tom says in the podcast) and they can't be skipped over.
For those of you who had lived a pretty orthodox, faithful life before entering a crisis of faith, you know the flood of emotions that comes with such a crisis: anger, disillusionment, apathy, and, my personal favourite -- cynicism. It's terrifying and perhaps even a little exhilarating at the same time as you are forced to cast aside all your old dogmas, beliefs and ideas, starting with a blank slate and realizing that you need to make the most out of this life since it may really be all there is. Priorities change. The way you view others changes (as Tom said in the last podcast, he was literally a homophobe and a racist when he was at Stage 3). When he got to Stage 4, it was hell. But now that he's gradually leaving 4, he is grateful for having been forced out of Stage 3. It's about going to a higher level -- and I don't mean that in condescending way. It's about having a deeper and more mature faith.
I'm in Stage 4, I don't know how long I'm going to be in it and I know there's no guarantee that I will ever leave it. I know that many people "check out" once they get to this stage. Some are in the purgatory of Stage 4 literally for years, perhaps even decades.
Part of graduating from Stage 4 and moving onto 5 or even 6 is not harbouring anger and resentment towards those who remain at Stage 3 -- and certainly avoiding any sense of superiority for doing so. For those of you who are or have been in Stage 4, you know how hard it is. And there's no magic pill to make you let go of the anger, doubt, resentment and sense of superiority. Even now that I'm able to put things into perspective and see a possible light at the end of the tunnel, I was reminded today as I sat in church and listened to people that I still have a very very long way to go.
Few will get past Stage 3 and probably fewer are able to leave Stage 4 once they enter it. I know that going back to Stage 3 is not an option. And I don't feel peace at 4. So the only way from here is up.
It's not about "getting my faith back." My old orthodox faith is gone and it's never coming back.
But a renaissance is possible. And who knows what it will look like then.
Maybe that's my glimpse into Stage 5. But it's just a glimpse.