Wait… what?? Do I suddenly believe in God again?
Well, kind of. I just had an amazing experience tonight. Let’s say I now identify as a Pentecostal Atheist.
Back up 4 years, the most Pentecostal/Charismatic time of my life. I was incredibly filled with Joy and the Power of God (as I called it then). I “operated in the gifts of the Spirit” daily. Meaning — I was so “in tune” with the Holy Spirit that I was tapped into this majestic flow that gave me this sort of insider view of the world. I knew things and felt things other people didn’t. It was like I had a backstage pass on the concert of life when everyone else was stuck in the audience. Or like I had invisible goggles that let me see things that happened in the world that gave me direct connection to how God saw them. I was chosen. It was incredibly powerful. And it truly gave me unspeakable joy.
Many moments occurred during this time of my life that I’ve been unable to completely explain now as an atheist. But, as I always said, just because a Christian (or anyone) has an explanation doesn’t mean it is the correct one.
And now, at least experientially, I think I have an answer.
Let’s create a metaphor for this time of my life. A secret Garden. My belief in Christ was the door and my experiences as an Evangelical, Pentecostal Christian was the key. The Secret Garden unlocked to me. The best time of my life was as I described above– living in the heart of the garden. Beautiful. Vibrant. Fragrant. Life-giving. Succulent. ALIVE.
As my beliefs in the supernatural began to fade, I started drifting farther from the center of the garden until I came to the door itself. My disbelief in God ejected me from the garden completely.
Yet another way I can identify with Eve — I was cast out of the Garden because of my sin: my unbelief. And with that, the door locked and sealed and the key was gone forever.
As I was cast out, so were my spiritual gifts. My joy became a ghost of the past. My gift for music, completely parched. My vision of the world flattened. My senses grayed. My life once tapping into the 4th and 5th dimensions now barely reached past the 2nd. Lifeless. Dead. Tears. Numbness.
Gradually, sprouts emerged from the parched soil of my desert heart over the past 18 months. I began to feel like a human. And I’ve described new senses of freedom and happiness many times in this blog. But beyond human? Or even just unspeakable joy? A mere memory that seemed impossible for me to gain. Wasn’t it all based on my blissful ignorance? And now that I have stepped into greater knowledge, I cannot now unknow something. I cannot un-experience the suffering of the world, the unanswered prayers, the hypocrisy of religion, the reality of science and evidence that shattered my belief in God. Once you see through something, you can no longer see it the same way ever again. There is no becoming naive. So I abandoned all hope of joy, let alone experiences I had in the Secret Garden. My life became a balancing act of desperation in trying to find some meaning and general happiness in any day to day life. It was there. The freedom was new. And in many ways, I was much happier than as a Christian. But garden? Never again.
My piano playing, composition, improvisation had been my deepest, most personal spiritual connection to God. The easiest access into the depths of my Eden. No need to walk through a door, it was like a transporter device that placed me within the deepest heart of the Garden, of the heart of God. After being an atheist, it took me awhile to sit at the keys without crying. Once the grief healed, I could play again, but never in a way that tapped into the flow as I could before. It has always felt more difficult, more forced, more furrowed brows and less closed, fluttering eyes. I still enjoyed playing, but it didn’t mean much nor had it any sort of magical flow anymore.
Something miraculous happened tonight.
Miraculous? Yes, in any way that that word matters, yes. A miracle.
At our in-laws for an early Easter celebration, my little girl was distracted by all her aunts, uncles, and cousins. (Polygamist families are quite large ;-). I was able to sit at a real piano and play, truly play. And something magical happened.
A new door and new key appeared, and my garden unlocked before me. Not believing in the existence of the supernatural/other-worldly/spiritual, my experience was exactly the same as if I had.
I composed a new piece of music that felt like the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. I nearly cried. The music flowed from within my soul, not from my mind. I didn’t even need to look at the keys. When I had finally completed the piece, I breathed out a sigh of *ruach*, the Hebrew word for Spirit, a breath of new life. And as I got up from the piano, a new, familiar joy overcame me. A joy I hadn’t felt in 4 years. A joy I presumed dead, forever.
Overflowing with excitement, I told my husband about this experience on our drive home. “I’m happy again!!!!!” I told him, “Like I was when I first moved out here!!” And then I remembered the lyrics to a favorite song of mine at the time:
“My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive
He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion!
He’s Alive now I’m Alive!!”
It was incredible to me how TRUE this is for me now!!! Oh my goodness, what a mind-blowing realization!!!! God ISNT dead, He’s LIVING ON THE INSIDE!!! HE IS ME!!!! I’ve had him inside me all along!! A supernatural, sentient being? No. Me. ME!!! I AM the Garden!
I had believed for soooo many years that the only access into the Garden was through a belief in God. Belief gone, access gone, and even the existence of the Garden with it. I thought the whole thing had dissipated like a dream dissipates upon waking. I had no idea I could still tap into it.
So here I am ladies and gentlemen. Filled again with the Gifts of the spirit — but now, they are the Gifts of Life, my Life. In the Garden again, but one that isn’t exclusive. I now believe that its existence is entirely due to the human experience and potential, chemicals in my bloodstream and science of psychology, not because of some other-worldly, supernatural thing, some exclusive belief or religious practice. It’s just a deeper way of experiencing life. And I’m there again. A Pentecostal Atheist.
Want to know another incredible tidbit? My first Easter out here in Utah as a newly-excited missionary, I drove early to church so I could praise and worship God without restraint before others arrived. I blasted the song “He’s Alive” by Laura Hackett and soaked in the presence and power of God. (click here to listen to it.)
I didn’t listen to this song much after this time in my life because I didn’t want it to lose its meaning to me. And in past year and a half I couldn’t bear to hear it because of the pain it caused me. Memories of the dead god. Memories of the dissipated garden. I just could never handle it.
For the first time since then, I listened to that song again tonight and cried. I…. felt ….the same as I did before!!?! That feeling of joy, of purpose, of LIFE!!!! It’s within my grasp!!! And I’ve grasped it!!! Without needing to repent, practice righteous, or do any sort of religious duties or Christian relationship junk. It’s just there. It’s mine.
And then I realized it’s Easter time. Four-years later almost to the day. What incredible, mind-blowing symmetry. “God” has been resurrected in my life again.