I have been reading David Ostler's new book Bridges (Publisher). My hope in reading this book, was that I could eventually refer our bishop or ward council members to the book, so that they could better understand where so many people in our ward are coming from. That is, after all, the stated purpose of the book. My wife pointed out that because it is not published by Deseret Book, it might lack credibility to my target audience. Sadly, I think she is right.
I'm about half-way through the book, finishing up the first section titled A Crisis of Faith. So far, I am actually enjoying the book. My one reservation so far is when Ostler is attempting to describe what its like to have a faith crisis to those who have never had one. He briefly reviews Fowler's Stages of Faith, and then proceeds to share a number of individual and scriptural examples of people who have experienced this "dark night."
He lists the following...
- Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail - D&C 121: O God, where art thou?
- Mother Theresa - Doubting God's existence, feeling isolated, lonely.
- Alma the Younger - Wracked for 3 days!
- Lehi - Wandering through mists of darkness before finding the tree.
- Himself (David Ostler) - Having rough nights and calling on God for comfort.
Joseph Smith questioned where God was, not whether or not he was even there. And even then, he received an answer to his query within at least a few days or weeks. That powerful answer is now D&C 121.
Alma the Younger felt bad for horrible stuff he actually did to other people. He felt guilty, not betrayed and lied to. His world view and personal identity weren't so much turned upside down as simply confirmed to be someone he didn't really like. He called out to God and received his immediate answer of peace.
Lehi probably felt lost in the mists but again, his answer came immediately when he asked for help. He was never questioning his own purpose or the reality of his entire eternal existence.
And while I'm sure David Ostler has had some very terrible and probably even isolating nights, he still had a God to call on for comfort.
I tried talking to DW about this and she, at least a superficial level, seemed to recognize that a real "dark night of the soul" is more than just a rough day or two. It literally calls into question your entire understanding of yourself.
I used the analogy of having the church or God as a wall to lean on for support. You get hurt or feel sick or dizzy, you reach out and lean on the wall. There is not doubt the wall is there, and it will certainly hold you up. JS, Alma, Lehi, and Ostler all had prayer and God to call on. They leaned on their walls and found support. In my experience, my faith crisis hit and I reached for that wall, only to find there was no wall. And now, even years later, I'm still flailing to find something to lean on trying not to fall on my face. All I really know, is that there is no wall.
I have also been listening to Anthony Miller's MS interview. In part 2, he shares his "dark night of the soul." This guy gets it, and I wish my wife would listen to someone who can explain better than me what its really like. In tears, he mentions meeting with Lindsay Hansen-Park, and how she told him that he felt like he was standing on quick-sand, but he was really on solid ground.
I grew up spending a fair amount of time on boats and I think this analogy works as well. When you first get on a boat, you feel the waves. The floor rises and falls with the water beneath it and at first you feel very unsteady. But you get used to it. You get your "sea legs." This doesn't seem too strange because you expect the boat to move. You expect the "earth" to be unsteady when you're on a boat.
There have been times where I have spent weeks at a time on a boat. The strange part happens when you get back off the boat and onto dry ground. You expect it to feel solid, strong, secure. A "sure foundation" if you will. But your sea legs and brain have now adjusted to the constant motion of the boat and without that motion, the solid ground you're walking on seems to be moving beneath you.
The dark night of a Mormon faith crisis is similar. Your very foundation of existence gets pulled out from under your feet and replaced with... reality. Reality is the solid ground, it is not moving. But my life, ironically, has been built on the very shaky foundation of LDS Doctrine. And now, with everything in motion I feel unsteady, dizzy, sick... lost. And I still can't find wall to lean on.