I haven’t posted this anywhere else, but I’m starting to feel like I’m inescapably drawn away from the church I’ve been attending for nearly two years.
I joined because I figured that if I was reincarnated, it was because of an error on my part. But to begin with, this particular gnostic church never quite shared my maltheism or pessimism for the world.
The priesthood in this particular church isn’t paid, either. The organization’s too small to really afford it. It’s good that they’re not big on chasing money but this leaves me with the problem of finding a living wage; I don’t want that distraction if I’m trying to become an ascetic. It honestly made my devotion feel less serious, like some kind of hobby that with my finances I couldn’t really afford to take seriously. I don’t want that. If I serve God, I want it to be a full committment that I can live by.
Moreover, it always rubbed me the wrong way how they tried to walk some middling way between the spiritual and the material. It felt forced when I was longing to escape the flesh altogether. It carries an all-too-familiar, bourgeouis sort of falseness.
I’m reminded of this passage from Hermann Hesse’s “Steppenwolf:”
Now what we call “bourgeois,” when regarded as an element always to be found in human life, is nothing else than the search for a balance. It is the striving after a mean between the countless extremes and opposites that arise in human conduct. If we take any one of these coupled opposites, such as piety and profligacy, the analogy is immediately comprehensible. It is open to a man to give himself up wholly to spiritual views, to seeking after God, to the ideal of saintliness. On the other hand, he can equally give himself up entirely to the life of instinct, to the lusts of the flesh, and so direct all his efforts to the attainment of momentary pleasures. The one path leads to the saint, to the martyrdom of the spirit and surrender to God. The other path leads to the profligate, to the martyrdom of the flesh, the surrender to corruption. Now it is between the two, in the middle of the road, that the bourgeois seeks to walk. He will never surrender himself either to lust or to asceticism. He will never be a martyr or agree to his own destruction. On the contrary, his ideal is not to give up but to maintain his own identity. He strives neither for the saintly nor its opposite. The absolute is his abhorrence. He may be ready to serve God, but not by giving up the fleshpots. He is ready to be virtuous, but likes to be easy and comfortable in this world as well. In short, his aim is to make a home for himself between two extremes in a temperate zone without violent storms and tempests; and in this he succeeds though it be at the cost of that intensity of life and feeling which an extreme life affords.
That was how it always felt. Like a very light, milquetoast sort of existence when I was attuned- at the time- to a more extreme asceticism. But I really did try it. I tried to see things as a golden mean that I could live by.
But then the world went mad, and far from cherishing the stability the church afforded I found a certain excitement in the madness. The march back in November changed me. It awakened something I didn’t know was still there. I wasn’t among the people committing acts of vandalism (which, by the way, the media seriously exaggerated the scope and scale of). But I was there when the police deployed flashbang grenades and a full paramilitary response to what had been- until their provocation– a peaceful march. I was there, watching the state use strongarm tactics against free speech right before my eyes, and my adrenaline surged. I realized that the old soldier was still there inside me. The gas and explosions didn’t faze me; they invigorated me. They made me feel alive.
I thought I’d had enough of being involved in this world’s affairs up until that point. But seeing state violence firsthand like that challenged everything I stood for. Suddenly, I got no pleasure swinging the censer. The mass felt less like a respite and more like a distraction. I had a few more good times (Christmas and Easter were very nice), but ultimately, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was really what I wanted to do.
I’m still not entirely sure what I actually intend to do if I do get involved in current affairs. I’m keeping my options open; times are crazy and I’m trying to stay as adaptable as possible.
There’s another dimension to this though. At the time I joined the church I felt I had seen all there was to see and done all there was to do, and the world had nothing left for me. What I was actually experiencing- though I didn’t realize it- was anhedonia brought on by severe depression and trauma caused by a series of bad events after I was betrayed by several people I had only gotten involved with for sexual reasons. My ability to enjoy sex was devastated after that. But now that my depression is being treated and the last person from my lost years I had a sexual history with (the bad roommate) is gone from my life, I feel as if I’ve been half-dead for the last five years and I’m only just starting to wake up again, feel pleasure, and enjoy the things an ordinary person would. Perhaps being unable to commit to a totally ascetic path for financial reasons wasn’t the loss I had feared it would be, since I’m starting to regain interest in sexual practices which, while not forbidden by my church per se, would give people reason to shame me if I professed to be clergy (among these, polyamory and kink).
I still consider myself a gnostic in some capacity. At least, I see a lot of truth in the Nag Hammadi scriptures, the Pistis Sophia, and the treasury of wisdom made living. But between being unable to withdraw from the changes I see all around me by committing fully to an ascetic life, and being faced with so many changes in such a short period of time, I need to engage with change for a while… both in the world and in myself.