I have spent the past week wondering if I’m going crazy.
I know I haven’t written here much, even though so much has been going on in my head, my heart, my soul. I think it’s because usually, when I write something, I want it to be perfect, beautiful, succinct. I want it to express a truth I found out. I used to teach English Composition, for God’s sake. When you write an essay, you have to have a main idea. Coherent body paragraphs. A nice, pretty conclusion.
But I don’t have any main ideas lately. Just lots of little ideas. And the older I get, the more I learn that I know next-to-nothing when it comes to the immaterial world. And that’s the world that interests me most.
So in the midst of my soul-searching—a habit of mine that really irritates my mother—I’ve had the desire to read everything I can get my hands on: fiction, memoir, books by Anne Lamott, essays on meditation, New Yorker articles about mental illness, Wikipedia entries about St. Francis and Claude Monet. (Did you know Monet almost killed himself once because he didn’t have any money? And St. Francis grew up rich but eschewed his wealth and his father after he had a vision of Jesus Christ?)
Which brings me to my dirty little secret. For the second time in my life, I’m trying to undertake the scary experience of reading the Bible.
I’m pretty scared of Christians, if you want to know the truth. I’ve been scared of them for years, even though my closest high school friends were Christians, and my father is pretty devout, born-again. Why do evangelical/fundamentalist Christians scare me? Well, for one, a lot of them voted for Donald Trump. If we want to talk about crazy, that’s crazy. But also because they seem so dogmatic in their thinking, so rigid in their framework. Jesus is supposed to be about love (so I hear), and yet on a public stage, many Christians don’t exude or express love. Christians tell me, Jesus is the only way, everybody else is wrong. They tell me, women are inferior to men, and can’t preach on Sundays, because they’re much better off in the corner, making pies. They tell me, gay people are bad. They tell me, a woman shouldn’t totally be able to decide if and when to have a baby. They tell me, Eve ate the apple and that effed everything up for everybody and now we’re all screwed.
My closest link to Christianity has been through my experience as a Quaker, a branch of Protestantism that feels more inclusive to me. Quakers have plenty of problems of their own, but the unprogrammed branch I’m a part of doesn’t require you to read the Bible or listen to an unsexy man preach for an hour each Sunday. Quakers say we all have an “inner light” inside of us, that there is “that of God” in every person. This means that Quakers look for the good in everybody instead of the “sin.” And in my years of sitting on wooden benches in Quaker meetings, I made what I thought was a kind of friendship with Jesus. Even though I hadn’t read the Bible, I was visited by stories. When I lost a job I loved, when I felt I was betrayed or wronged, I had visions of the resurrection, reminding me I could rise again. And when I was overcome by sadness, by the hurtful actions of other people, I had visions of Mary and Joseph traveling through the desert, finally finding a warm place to bring hope and love back into the world through their son. Then, sometimes, when I was feeling joyful, I’d have visions of Jesus and I dancing. Jesus was pretty handsome, after all.
When I was at the Louvre in Paris earlier this year (doesn’t that sound so divine? The Louvre? Paris?), I was especially struck by the paintings of Mary and Jesus, her calm, loving nature, the way she held him, this new and innocent light in the world. As a mother, these images of Mary always stand out the most to me—the feminine divine, the feeling that we are all children inside, that a great, loving power holds us and loves us.
So when I meditated a couple of weeks ago and had the image again of mother and child, I turned to a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for about a year. It’s called Gnosticism: A New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, by Stephen Hoeller. Gnosticism is an old and more mystic version of traditional Christianity. And reading that, relating to some of the experiences, made me decide to look into the Bible. And reading the Bible is kind of blowing my mind, because it’s weird. It’s really, really weird. And interesting. So interesting that I asked people at my Quaker meeting if they want to do a Bible study, even though that phrase sounds terribly uncool. In fact, I should probably get a shirt that says, “I used to be cool,” while I sit rifling through those thin little paper pages.
Here’s the thing: plenty of people who lose their minds feel led by God. They say Jesus told them to do things, or God told them to do things, or they even think they are Jesus, at times. The same part of our brains that connects to the divine, the same part tied to creativity and imagination, is also tied to mental illness, to losing a rational hold on the world. In order to believe in God, you have to believing in something that isn’t physically in front of you. You have to put aside reason and let yourself float on faith. And that’s friggin’ scary. Which is why, as I wade into these waters of Christianity, for which so many people have suffered and changed and even, at times, died, I worry I’m either crazy to begin with, for sticking my feet in the water, or that it will turn me crazy, make me zealous or something. So what do I do?
The only way I know how to find answers, to find meaning, to have whispers of enlightenment, is to write.
That’s why I need you, my reader, as I catalog this new adventure. Help me stay sane.
Although—if we’re honest—staying sane might not be all it’s cracked up to be. After all, what is our definition of sane, except saying what everybody else says, doing what everybody else does?
So, in the words of the late, great, Prince, Let’s go crazy.