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In Honor of Faiths That Don't Survive
On what happens when you must lay down one's faith for one's life.
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Over the last several years, I have spent a lot of time dwelling in painful stories. I’ve listened to, read, and shared so many of them—through podcasts, posts, retweets, etc. I’ve kept just as many stories, the ones that are honored by being held privately rather than brought to broader light.
The majority of these stories have to do with “deconstruction,” the catch-all phrase that has become internet shorthand for the messier individual process of questioning inherited belief. Similar metaphors abound, too: faith shifts, faith transitions, faith unraveling, etc.
But sometimes faith doesn’t just falter or shift or transition. Sometimes it dies.
Death can come in a moment, from a long illness, from a grave injury, at the end of a long life, well before or well after its time, as a mercy, or as a curse.
The death of a faith is the same. It is not always a choice, but because it is death, it is a final, undeniable reality.
Sometimes that faith simply cannot carry on.
The grief that follows isn’t simple. It’s an admixture of anger, sadness, relief, black humor; sometimes these feelings come all at once, and sometimes they visit alone.
With a combination of luck and work, we can come to an uneasy peace with this grief.
Grief doesn’t ever leave. It lingers, like a shy housecat. You don’t ever know where it goes, but you set out food for it all the same, knowing it will visit again.
I often think of the words that we say when we try to address death & loss. I’m no snyasethete, but those words feel hollow. Words of consolation alone cannot respond to the solidity and finality of death; it is why we show up to shed tears together, to share food, and to remember.
But we say them, even when we know they are not enough.
When faith dies, no matter the cause, there is a void. Some experience a rebirth, a resurrection of sorts, that imbues their world with a similar energy as the faith that passed. Others may just carry on, feeling no compunction to “replace” their former faith. Still others find their way along this spectrum on a more circuitous path, exploring what they need in a given moment.
There is no right answer.
Those faiths did not survive. But we did.
We remember the things that that faith did for us, for good and for ill. We carry that legacy, now tinged with grief, forward in our lives and do our best to learn from it.
And we carry on.