Bipolar & Religion

I feel a stirring in my heart again that hasn’t been there in a long time.

For a while, I was an Orthodox Christian. I was never baptized, but I had a long catechism, and explored the possibility of a monastic life while living short term with the monks at Holy Cross Hermitage in West Virginia. Today, I look at those facts with a tinge of pain — a little pain for how far gone I’ve become from that life, and a little pain because the wonder and zeal I once possessed I feel will never be fully recovered.

Still, I feel a stirring within me again. My mental illness has always made faithful attendance to any church difficult  pretty much impossible. During my highs, I am zealous, attentive, and give much of myself to spiritual pursuits. During my lows, far from any of those things. And it hurts me to not be all or nothing, I suppose it’s a flaw of personality.

I was watching this video last night when I was telling my cousin about my monastic retreat:

It brought back a flood of memories, of that particular visit, waking up at dawn to pray in an incense-filled, candle-lit room with deeply prayerful monks, breaking bread with them, then going on to spend the day working. Then after the evening meal and 9pm struck, there was a rule of silence, where one may only pray, walk the grounds quietly, or read. Being on a mountain in such an atmosphere would move the coldest of hearts to warmth, to at least some kind of wakeful penitence.

It brought back memories of my old parish church, the liturgical year that I grew to know, the feasts, the fasts, the Saints.

Despite how much I miss it, I am still afraid to recommit. I never told my priest about my mental illness, or how it made my church life so difficult. I would only disappear for a time and then return. He knew and understood that Orthodoxy is hard enough for a young man, to be honest, living by strenuous rules on eating, sexuality and praying is extraordinarily difficult, and there were only brief periods when I could keep on track.

Despite the difficulty, I greatly enjoyed the spiritual nature of it. I equated it to the “spiritual marines”, where you had to work for the prize. I enjoyed the structure, which can be difficult for those with bipolar to attain. And on a more worldly level, I enjoyed and miss the aesthetic aspect of it, the bells and whistles, so to speak. Candles, wafts of incense, prostrations, chanting, the whole nine. It was beautiful.

I don’t know if I’ll ever return. I’ve returned only to fall away three or four times already. Not to mention, I no longer have the faith I used to. It’s very shaky and unsteady now, easily broken, and has never been fully healed since my last falling away.

Perhaps faith is a ride. Deep down, I know that to be so. And maybe I’m approaching the crest where I’ll find myself once more prayerful, penitent, God-fearing and full of faith.

I no longer believe in Christianity as fully as I once did. I became jaded by Westboro Baptist types who spew Old Testament levitical laws to the masses. I never understood how Bible-knowing Christians could on one turn preach hate to homosexuals, or tattoos, and forget about wearing mixed cloths and fabrics, or tilling multiple crops from one field. Those are levitical laws, too. The New Testament is a testament of love for your neighbor, forgiveness, acceptance, and looking to correct only the sin within ones self. And I know that I have plenty of it, especially if judged by Old Testament standards (why people still do that, I’ll never know).

When I find a church like that, I’ll return. Until then, I will slowly watch and see how this inkling of faith in my heart grows — or how it doesn’t. The sad reality of it is I’ve come to recognize these stirrings within not as stirrings of faith, but stirrings of mania.

I’m tatted, I drink, I smoke, my mouth isn’t always clean, I fornicate, and the list could go on. I’m no poster boy for the faith.

It’s just if God is who I think he is, these things are a non-issue. A prayerful heart and a forgiving nature avails much, the acceptance of being a sinner that much more, and believe it or not, I may have done a few good works here and there…

I don’t know. Sigh. The same guy posting this also shows sympathies towards pantheism and longs for an ayahuasca retreat.

I just want to know God.


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