Over the past several years, I’ve grown towards mature femaleness. As my youthful sense of invincibility has faded, life appears dauntingly precarious. I grow aware of the multitude of dangers which could end me, particularly as I drove home yesterday evening on I-285 after a dusting of sleet. My emotional instincts scream to me how precious life is. Even when my heart is consumed by lonely longings for friendship or nagging hunger for sex, I rejoice. Such desires are the hallmark of aliveness while the absence of desire mimics death. Yet, my fears regarding the permanence of death always lurk in the recesses of my life’s-breath.
My agnostic, humanistic society has provided great things: opportunities for working in science and the liberty to live outwardly as the person I am in my heart. At the same time, the agnostic world leaves me on my own about whether any bit of my consciousness will persist after death. Doubting and questioning on my own is empowering, but can also intensify my fears. Yet, I feel no nostalgia for my evangelical Christian upbringing. The rigid, cold, doctrinaire Christian notions of eternal life and eternal death always failed to give me hope or joy. Moreover, Christianity made my fears of mortality completely unmanageable when I was young.
In my struggles to free myself from a faith made toxic by prejudice and sexual repression, I embraced the notion that the human soul is not immortal. Yet, there are no easy answers to the profound questions of mortality, and I’ve grown from fearing hell to fearing oblivion. Confronting the doubt whether there is any form of existence after death, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote one of my favorite reflections on mortality:
“If dead, we cease to be; if total gloom
Swallow up life’s brief flash for aye, we fare
As summer-gusts, of sudden birth and doom,…”
Yet, I can embrace joy, or at least attune myself to the flames of desire within my still-very-much-alive body. I practice “faith-by-choice”, not faith in a laundry list of doctrinal statements. Faith is personal devotion to the Higher Power I choose to represent all Goodness which transcends even the best of human intentions. By fixing my desires and devotion upon my Higher Power, the Goddess-Birthgiver-of-Life, I need not sink down into the stormy waters of fear.