The Label Game

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One of the most difficult aspects of my own spiritual journey has been the struggle to find a spiritual home. Perhaps this entry would be better titled “Memoirs of My Religion IV,” but for the moment, “Labels” should suffice.

Ultimately, it is not the label that is important, and anyone with a mystical understanding knows this. Yet sometimes I can’t help but feel that the concept of not labeling things is the product of modernist dogma, the idea that nothing can be pinned down, categorized, and so on with total certainty.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, the accusation has often been levied against me that I’m inconsistent with my religion. This is an oversimplified and grossly misunderstood point of view. The reality is that much of what I have believed has remained consistent at the core, rarely, if ever, altering. Instead, I have a problem finding an appropriate home, an appropriate articulation of the inner knowing.

One of my former friends once said that it’s difficult for us to ground ourselves in a particular Tradition because of the abuses we experienced in previous religions, notably fundamentalist Christianity. The world view articulated there is simply inaccurate, we were damaged by it, and now that causes a great deal of fear when trying to find a more concretized religion.

As many of you may know, when I returned to Christianity as a whole, my immediate interests went towards Catholicism and, by proxy, Anglicanism. My reasoning for this had to do with the mystical writings of Bernadette Roberts and various works by Gnostics. Catholicism, to me, represented a “higher” tradition Christianity: more organized, more ritualistic, more spiritual, more mystical, and outright deeper. Having grown up in an evangelical, extremely low (lowest of the low!) church setting, I was not about to return to it.

The reality of Catholicism, at least in the USA, is a bit more dismal than I realized. The Mass doesn’t look like you would think it’s supposed to; it’s virtually indistinguishable from a lot of evangelical services in some cases. With all due respect to Catholicism and especially to my Catholic friends whom I adore, it simply didn’t mesh well with me.

The Episcopal Church’s Mass is more traditional, and as I understand it, most Episcopal Churches are more traditional, though there are some that are more evangelical. The evangelical Episcopal Church seems to be the exception and not the rule, but I could be wrong about this.

Now comes the labeling game.

The Episcopal Church has a wide range of theological and liturgical positions. Simply saying one is an Episcopalian or an Anglican doesn’t mean too terribly much on the one hand, as that can represent everything from Pope-less Catholics to I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Presbyterian.

Provided, I am not officially a part of the Episcopal Church, and as it stands, I’m waiting, watching, and testing the waters carefully and extensively before I make any kind of leap into a formal organization. I cannot deny that I am overwhelmed and taken to God in the Mass, especially in taking Christ in the Holy Eucharist, but that may not be grounds for officially joining and thereby having a label slapped on me.

But since we are playing this game, if I were to become Episcopalian, I would be labeled a Liberal Anglo-Catholic mystic. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? And since I love to clarify things, I’ll clarify what I mean by this.

  • Liberal, as opposed to Conservative, meaning having no problem on the matters of female ordination, gay bishops, and gay marriage (OBVIOUSLY); this is mainly to distance myself from the perspective that most Anglo-Catholics are simply snide and conservative Episcopalians. Also, in my case, this would denote a level of theological flexibility while holding fast to certain core elements
  • Anglo-, to denote English, Anglican, and Episcopal association rather than Roman
  • Catholic, to emphasize the catholicity of the Church, of the Apostolic succession, the necessity, beauty, rightness, and holiness of the Liturgy, and most especially the importance of the Sacraments as the means by which we receive God’s Grace
  • mystic, to denote my seeking the deeper, contemplative, and altogether directly experienced Truth of Reality and God as opposed to strictly that which is an “approved” understanding, and that the direct experience is the whole point of the matter anyway

But, of course, that’s all a matter of “if and when,” not “this is the way it is.” Perhaps it really is just a game, hey.

Labels ultimately are for the convenience of other people, and in this way, I seem to be defining myself in a mixture of what I do and don’t stand for.

Another suitable label might certainly be that of “Gnostic.” However, opinions about Gnosticism and what exactly defines a Gnostic are wide and varied, though I certainly share many of the common elements in general with it. A blog about Gnosticism in particular will be posted soon enough.

Beaux


The Experience of Identity Loss

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Under everyday circumstances, we talk about the loss of one’s identity. Often this is tied to something such as the loss of one’s career or a partner, something that definitely put you in the realm of social affairs and distinguished you in relation to other people.

However, the week before last, while journeying with Tyler and my friends somewhere, I had a more frightening version of losing my identity.

Without warning, suddenly I was quite confused as to who I was and how it was that I came to be who I am. No doubt, I could identify things such as my name, age, all the usual things; instead, there was something more crucial that suddenly seemed odd and strange and completely out of place in the scheme of reality.

This is certainly an “awareness of being aware,” a strange state of affairs where one’s own awareness stands in contradistinction to one’s personality and identity, a separation of Mind and Name might be a way to explain it better.

The first time I recall ever having such an experience as this was when I was a child, sitting in the bathtub. Suddenly the same oddness and out-of-placeness of myself hit me, of who I was, of my distinction as a person as opposed to other people in terms of individuality.

I do not mean to state that I was unaware that others exist; of course I was aware of that, and of course I am now aware that others are aware. This is a wholly different experience, one that is confusing at best and likely anxiety-provoking at worse.

Perhaps one might call it an awareness of being who one is. Perhaps it is the remnant of a child-like impression of who I was, an outside imposed notion of who I was as opposed to who I really am on the inside.

I realize that stating all these things is quite subtle, and only those who have been through the experience can begin to fathom and relate on what I mean.

The truth is that experiences that others have not had, perceptions and differing degrees of awareness, are ultimately the very “business” I’m in, for want of better terms. Mysticism revolves around this sort of ineffability.

I do want to make it clear that what happened was not the same as the disappearance of the Ego, which is the sudden and blatant absence of the “I” that normally resounds most loudly in the mind. That, too, is an experience that mystics all the time mention, and yet until one encounters it for one’s self, it sounds like pure rubbish.

Perhaps someone out there can give insight into what exactly this experience means or refer me to others who have had it.

Beaux