I've blogged a bit in the past about crises of faith as an important opportunity for spiritual growth and reaffirmation, but the question still arises: when you are in the midst of such a crisis, what do you do? How do you get through it?
I'd like to say I have definitive answers on this, but I’m still working it out myself--my last major crisis was in 2004, and I handled it, er, rather badly. The wisest thing I did was to take a sabbatical from writing and teaching and focus on my own recovery (this particular crisis started off as a family tragedy and spiraled into what I can only describe as a nervous breakdown complete with medication). I can't say, based on my behavior, that I am some kind of expert on the subject, although the experience has left me with a few bits of insight.
There are, to my mind, two basic types of crises of faith. The first is, as mine was, brought on by catastrophe--a traumatic loss, abuse, assault, death, or betrayal by a loved one can all spark a conflagration of doubt that culminates in a Job-like shake of the fist at the gods.
In these situations, my advice is this: go back to the absolute basics of self-care. Don't push, don't try to make sense of it all right away. Start by taking care of your body and your physical needs, and be sure you have emotional support you need, including a qualified and sympathetic therapist. In the immediate aftermath of such an event, forget about the long-term, and focus on the day-to-day; sometimes that's all that keeps you going, focusing on one thing at a time.
The second type of crisis--the kind I am more interested in for the purposes of this post--is much quieter, and in fact most people going through them hesitate to use the word "crisis" at all because it implies drama where there is none. In this type, your connection to the Divine simply seems to…fade away. Perhaps it's the result of a lot of little things rather than one big unfortunate event; perhaps the bastards are simply grinding you down and you didn't even realize it. The weight of the world sneaks up on the awakened and can eventually press them back into sleep.
The same kind of advice applies here: go back to the basics. Let go of your reliance on outcomes; Americans in particular tend to be far more interested in the ends than the means, when it's the means that define who we are.
Instead of thinking, "Damn, that ritual was absolutely pointless, why did I bother?" or devoting your energy to magic that you really can't summon the necessary passion for (I've said it before and I'll say it again: the only true counterspell is disbelief), go back to the early days of your training and try to remember what it was that brought you joy and satisfaction when you were a baby Wiccan.
Something important to remember: the Divine did not disappear. The world is still every bit as holy as it was a month ago--but as humans, our spiritual experience of life is often bound by the limitations of incarnation, and our connection to Deity does, and will, waver. Don't deride yourself for your human imperfections; concentrate on reestablishing the connection, without pushing too hard. If you try to build a house too quickly without a solid plan and in deference to the weather, it's going to fall apart around you before the paint is dry.
The important thing is not to just quit. This is where having a daily practice really does pay off, because it's that daily routine of sacred contact that will sustain you even when you don't think it's working. If you have to, reduce your meditation time, but spend at least five minutes per day and keep trying. Showing up is never so important as when you would rather stay home in bed.
Talk to the gods, even if you feel like They're not listening. Tell Them you're pissed. Tell Them you're ambivalent. Tell them your rear end itches. Just keep talking. It may seem corny, but write the Goddess a letter about how you're feeling, then burn it, allowing the fire to help purify you of your apathy.
In addition to talking, be sure you're still listening, too, and not shutting down. The sacred is constantly speaking, singing, laughing; do not allow selective deafness to harden your heart to the symphony that plays in every moment.
Contrary to the belief of many mainstream religious leaders, doubt is not a faith-killer. Re-examining your beliefs can in fact strengthen them, as long as you go into it with an open mind and heart and leave your cynicism at the door. Honor your feelings, or lack thereof, toward your religion; ask yourself why you have arrived at this difficult place, and what the purpose of this trial might be.
I hold two somewhat-paradoxical views on suffering. On the one hand, I don't believe that all suffering is sent from God to test our faith. I decided long ago not to revere any kind of God who would be that much of a dick to His beloved children; abusive parent figures don't do it for me. At the same time, however, I do believe in the old cliché that "everything happens for a reason" or rather that there is something to be learned and something to be gained from even the most terrible life experience. I don't however blame this on God; I believe that my free will collides with the free will of others, and sometimes they get what they want and I get shafted. The universe operates on far too grand a scale for me to pin down a cause for every last bunny fart.
Regardless of what you believe about the purpose of suffering, in the end what it comes down to is choice: you can choose to let your crisis of faith, whether violent or silent, destroy your faith; or you can choose to learn from it.
Another thing I recommend is a divinatory reading--and not from yourself. I read for myself all the time, but there are circumstances where I am simply too deep in the situation to get a complete picture, so I enlist the help of a coven sister or other trusted friend to read for me. Often their results match mine to an uncanny degree, but their insights can help me break out of the trap of depression and malaise, and see things from a different angle.
Practice regular ground-and-center exercises. Talk about your feelings with someone who has been there. Seek out new inspirational literature to rekindle the old love affair you had with your path in the beginning.
Oh, and there's that other thing I keep saying: GO OUTSIDE.
Lastly, be patient. Think of the situation as gestation, not stagnation; don't force the seed to sprout before it's ready. Treat yourself like the first green shoots of Spring: give yourself plenty of water, sunlight, and air, let the crisis be your fertilizer, and eventually like any newborn thing you will emerge ready to greet the new day.
And possibly get eaten by a deer.
But we'll worry about that later.