It’s probably pretty fitting that today’s Daily Prompt is “Empty”, given that this is the one-word summation of why I started Canterbury Convert. It’s little coincidences like this that have me surer than ever of my path, and that this blog – a way of keeping myself accountable to a wider audience – was a good idea.
I’m a female, twenty-something university student who is struggling to return to the religion of her youth, and re-discover what it means to be spiritually fulfilled in the process. Looking back on a rather tumultuous life, I find myself looking back on a girl who is lost, in despair, struggling with physical and mental health issues, and lashing out at a world that had so much more to offer her than what she could see. I don’t want to be that kind of girl, and in light of recent health matters, I’ve decided that I need an overhaul. I don’t want to be in my golden years wondering what I could have done to live my life to the fullest. I don’t want to keep wasting time while I’m young, wondering what it all means and why everyone else seems to have what I don’t. As a Stacie Orrico song famously said, there’s got to be more to life than this, and I want to find it.
I was raised by an atheist father and a Protestant mother who tended towards Low Church Anglican beliefs. My mother’s side – a mess of Irish (Belfast & Galway), Canadian Irish, and Irish-American – were a mixture of Anglicans and Lutherans, but all were definitively Protestant in their beliefs. My father’s side – a mix of Scottish (sept of Clan Campbell), English and Italian – were firmly Roman Catholic in their beliefs, though as I mentioned, my father himself was an atheist. As a child, we were taught some basic prayers, and I briefly attended Sunday school, though that was about the extent of our religious education. We didn’t attend Sunday Mass, and we didn’t go through any of the Sacraments, though we did attend my Catholic cousins’ Confirmations and things. It left a bit of an inferiority complex in me. Why did other members of the family get to experience such things, but we were not allowed?
And I got older, I lost touch with my childhood religion. There were things about it I didn’t understand, and a swath of misconceptions that I had acquired from reading books, watching TV, and other sources. I thought, This can’t be something I belong to. I had no interest in learning more about a faith I had already deemed completely incompatible with my intellectual interests, and instead considered myself more agnostic than anything. I still believed something was out there; I believed in a Divine Being, a Divine Source from which all things emerged, but my interest in learning about other religions had me confused. There were so many different explanations, and so many different gods. How to know which was the right one? How to know which was Truth?
I spent the better part of my late teens and early twenties in despair. Life had thrown some very rough curve balls my way, and I was hanging on by my fingertips. Depression and crippling anxiety made me moody and aggressive towards others who meant well. I lashed out at religion – previously a source of intellectual comfort, as I love to learn – and I violently blamed God for everything that went wrong in my life. I had no peace, and my mind was tormented at all hours of the night. While I am proud to say that I did not turn to any kind of substance abuse to soothe my pain, I did rip down others’ self-esteem in order to make myself feel better, which isn’t much of an improvement. It took all I had to concentrate on my schoolwork, while my social life fell to the wayside. My love life was in shambles; in the space of about three years, I broke up and/or was broken up with by the same amount of women, which did nothing for my own self-confidence (luckily, I never did struggle with my sexuality; I was blessed with an affirming family who love and accept me for who I am).
Over the past two years, I have done my best to pull myself out of that black hole. My mental health is better, though my physical health is worse (I’m working on it). I am stable for once in the past half decade, and I feel good about that. And yet… I still find myself in a state of yearning. I don’t know why. I have my own home, pets I love, the woman of my dreams in my adoring fiancée, and more than I could list here. Sure, I don’t have everything, but I have the important things – health, family, and stability. But all of this doesn’t stop me from the empty feeling that takes over when I am alone and it is quiet. The crushing loneliness that occasionally wells up and leaves me in a state of anxiety and the all-too-familiar despair.
I dabbled a bit in Roman Catholicism, mostly due to an obsession I have with Queen Katherine of Aragon and Mary I of England. Reading biographies about these formidable women and the kind of steadfast faith they both had – even during the absolute worst of times – was so inspiring to me that I couldn’t resist exploring the religion that they both clung to. I met with a priest weekly in a sort of mish-mash RCIA course for several months, before breaking it off. I learned a lot, and had many of my misconceptions both about Catholicism and Christianity corrected, but it still didn’t feel right. I was behind the pageantry and pomp, and the basic tenets of faith, but something just didn’t click with me. Something was missing.
After reading some more about other denominations, I keep coming back to the Anglican Church. I am familiar to a degree with it, due to my mother’s family’s inclinations, and of course I know a great deal due to my interest in English history (particularly from 1480 to 1590). I don’t know what it is, but I keep coming back to Canterbury, and I think I’m at a point in my life where I want to give it a try. I want to fill that hungry, yearning, empty spot in my heart and soul with something beautiful, profound, and altogether more than I will ever be. I am a private person, so the idea of worshipping with a community will be new to me, but I want to try. I don’t want my anxiety or my doubts to hold me back any longer.
So, having said that, this is my introduction, and my post as per the writing prompt. It has been emptiness that has led me to take my first step on what I hope will be a beautiful adventure on the Canterbury Trail.