In order for me to recover, I needed to give my spirituality a complete overhaul. The God of my youth darn near killed me. Literally. I was told that God was pure Love. Then I was told that if I didn’t believe certain things about his Son, then I’d burn in hell forever. When I was a little kid, this sort of made me wince. As I got older, it began to stick in my craw. I couldn’t reconcile these two statements. You know; God is nothing but pure love, yet He’ll torture you in a hideous way for all eternity for what seemed like a rather minor infraction. This seemed like a rather irreconcilable set of propositions. I worked on it, over and over, trying to make this work. I couldn’t do it. In tenth grade, I quit. I left church and God behind, turned my back on it all, and walked away. I become, for all intents and purposes, an atheist.
I went on my merry way. I don’t plan on talking about my whole life in this posting, but I can tell you one thing that’s true: my plan didn’t quite work out. Not in the least, actually. I ended up in a REAL hell-hole and couldn’t get out, no matter how hard I tried. It was at that last moment when I realized that hell existed; but it wasn’t necessarily “out there” somewhere, nor was it only after death that one went to hell. I had been living in an all-too-real hell right here on earth, for a number of years, and I absolutely could not do a thing in my earthly power to get out of this hell-hole. I was quite literally on the precipice of death; death was not far off, it was rather close at hand. Something had to change, but what? It was a helluva spot to be in.
As it happens, I was graced with a moment of absolute clarity, followed by a profound surrender experience. Don’t ask me how it happened; it just did. It began with a complete collapse of my ego – my extremely deep-seated need to be in control of my self, and of my environment. I felt like I was about to jump off a cliff into nothingness. I was terrified. But somehow, I jumped. At that very moment, I was lifted up. The room filled with golden light. This surrender experience was characterized by a very clear, overpowering, direct experience of the vast, pure, absolute love of God. I felt as though a million tons fell off of my shoulders. I didn’t feel forgiven; rather, I felt absolute blamelessness. It was as though this “Higher Power” wasn’t a petty bureaucrat, keeping a ledger of failures and sins. No; it was as though I had never sinned in the first place!
So. What to make of this? It brought the old conflict right back to the surface and into TODAY. Here, now, at last, I had had quite visceral, undeniable experience of a God or Higher Power of true love, and nothing else: Just pure love. What to do with the old God?
I’d like to say that I was able to let go of the old God immediately; but that was not to be the case. That old stuff was down deep in the marrow of my bones. The truth is that working all those conflicts out, consciously as well as unconsciously, took many years. It took a tremendous amount of effort, of reading tirelessly about how the dogmatic formula of my youth took several hundred years to achieve the totalitarian state it now enjoys. Through reading volumes about the very earliest days of the formulation and development of the spiritual movement that eventually crystallized into orthodox fundamentalism, I learned that the earliest days of this spiritual movement were characterized by tremendous internal variety. This shocked me, because I was taught in the old church that the dogma was absolute, unchanging, and stemmed directly from the mouth of the founder of this religion. Guess what? It didn’t!
So, after many years of hard work, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually, I became more and more liberated from those early years of spiritual trauma. I had to find some other root or foundation, of my own spiritual path. I found the deepest resonance with the work of Carl G. Jung, as it turns out, and also with the Gnostic Gospels of the original Jesus movement (not Christianity). And even more critically, the foundation of my spiritual and emotional growth has stemmed from 28 years of intimate relationship with the liberating Twelve Steps.
That’s my story and my path. One of the most beautiful aspects of Twelve Step spirituality is its invitation to freedom. That goes for you, too. So what is your path like?