We are among the first peoples in human history who do not broadly inherit religious identity as a given, a matter of kin and tribe, like hair color and hometown. But the very fluidity of this—the possibility of choice that arises, the ability to craft and discern one’s own spiritual bearings—is not leading to the decline of spiritual life but its revival. It is changing us, collectively. It is even renewing religion, and our cultural encounter with religion, in counter-intuitive ways. I meet scientists who speak of a religiosity without spirituality—a reverence for the place of ritual in human life, and the value of human community, without a need for something supernaturally transcendent. There is something called the New Humanism, which is in dialogue about moral imagination and ethical passions across boundaries of belief and non-belief.
But I apprehend— with a knowledge that is as much visceral as cognitive— that God is love. That somehow the possibility of care that can transform us— love muscular and resilient— is an echo of a reality behind reality, embedded in the creative force that gives us life.
― Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living
This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.
Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away—an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.
For five days the city had wilted under a hard sky, sweltering in a temperature that stayed fixed in the middle nineties. Even at night there was no relief from the heat. Pyjamas and nighties stuck clammily to damp skin. Half-clad, self-pitying figures rose, exasperated by insomnia, to stumble through darkened rooms in search of a cooler plot than their bed, hoping that, all accidentally, they might waken any gross sleeper the house contained. Cold water ran hot from the taps, and the roads turned to tar.
― Elizabeth Harrower, Down in the City
The healing process is best described as a spiral. Survivors go through the stages once, sometimes many times; sometimes in one order, sometimes in another. Each time they hit a stage again, they move up the spiral: they can integrate new information and a broader range of feelings, utilize more resources, take better care of themselves, and make deeper changes.
― Laura Hough, Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Is a Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse
I think we cry to release the animal parts of us without losing our humanity. Because
inside me is a beast that snarls, and growls, and strains toward freedom, toward Tobias, and, above all, toward life. And as hard as I try, I cannot kill it.
― Veronica Roth, Insurgent
She stretched her hands towards the sky. To grab all the stars, to hold the moon, to take away everything that the sky had. So that the sky could finally understand, how it feels to lose everything that makes it beautiful.
Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.
Sixty-three years on this earth has taught Hyacinth that it wasn’t so much the mistakes that people made but how flexible they were in the aftermath that made all the difference in how their lives turned out. It was the women who held too tightly to the dream of their husband’s fidelity who unraveled, the parents who clasped their children too close who lost them, the men who grieved too deeply the lives they’d wanted and would never have who saw their sadness consume them.
The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that, you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.