“Always falling into a hole, then saying “ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of the hole which is not the grave, falling into a hole again, saying “ok, this is also not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of that hole, falling into another one …. ” Anne Boyer, What Resembles The Grave But Isn’t
Imagine this sentence is a rope, cast from the bottom of a dark hole up into the light. Let’s call this rope faith. Maybe there is someone up there to catch the rope, someone with strong arms and a firm foothold, someone who can hoist us up and out. Maybe not. Maybe the rope will fall back, collapsing in graceful arabesques. When faith collapses into fear, it’s not always obvious. We may feel acute panic, but most of the time we find ways of pretending‚ even to ourselves, that everything is fine. We distract ourselves, we criticize something, we try to feel a sense of control, we dig ourselves a more comfortable hole-within-a-hole and lie very still until it feels safe to emerge—however long that might take. Anne Boyer writes of “sometimes falling into a hole and languishing there for days, weeks, months, years, because while not the grave very difficult, still, to climb out of and you know after this hole there’s just another and another.”
Faith is the act of throwing the rope up again and again and again. Faith is the hallmark of Sagittarius energy—that special buoyancy that allows us to keep rising above our present troubles and believing the future will be better. Faith can be foolish, or even dangerous, as when we keep believing an abusive relationship will get better if we just try harder, or when we have faith in governments to give us justice, or corporations to clean up the environment they polluted. But faith is also powerful medicine against despair—against staying in that hole forever and pretending this is good enough.
Today, on the Gemini Full Moon of 2019, as massive wildfires engulf Australia and protests disrupt climate talks in Madrid, as my country continues to imprison children and families using a rhetoric of fear that is strikingly similar to the rhetoric that justified the Holocaust, as we find ourselves in a period of mass extinction that forces us to ask how much longer the Earth will support life as we know it, as I recover from inhaling ambient toxins in my office after it caught fire two days ago, as I drink homemade ginger-turmeric tea and wonder if I can afford the longterm medicine I need, I can feel into the waves of fear and grief washing over our planet. I can also feel the warm bite of ginger on my sore throat and I think of my cousin who taught me this recipe, how to blend fresh ginger and turmeric root together with honey, how to sprinkle black pepper on top to help activate the curcumin. I can feel my body’s understanding of how to heal, given the proper resources it needs. And I know there will be illnesses I never heal from, given the sheer fact of aging and mortality. On a larger scale, my energetic connection to this world is responding to an onslaught of stress—what we might call systemic oppression, environmental devastation, global neoliberalism as an inexorable force of banal evil. And I still believe in the possibility of healing.
When I was in my twenties, the anarchist bookstore in Philadelphia was full of books with titles like “Another World is Possible.” Coming off the enthusiastic, colorful, puppet-filled protests of the anti-globalization movement in the 90s, the early 2000s were still by and large a time of faith. I believed we were winning, as our banners proclaimed, so much that I never learned to drive a car. Surely our reliance on fossil fuel and highways would be over any day now. I believed in the capacity of my activist community to care for each other well enough that I spent most of my time invested in these relationships and as little time as possible earning money. I placed my life in the hands of my friends, again and again, and we kept each other safe. Those years felt like a kind of magic spell, like opening a door into a fairy world where ordinary reality holds no sway. All the rules I’d been taught about how to survive were upended—it was like each of us had jumped out of a window and no one could fly on their own, but together we managed to hold each other up.
And then I got sick, and the laws of the marketplace once more imposed themselves on the rhythms of my life. I had to go back to work to afford doctors and medicine, and as I had little energy left for friends and activism, I was increasingly isolated. I spent some time crushed by the failure of my community to meet my needs—we had amateur herbalists, but no one who could get me the lab tests I need and an accurate diagnosis. We had free bagels and pizza scavenged from dumpsters, but I had to spend money on fresh, healthy foods to stay well. A bubble burst for me, and it took some time to forgive “the community”—which was who, really?—for the ways I had to leave it to seek healing. I’ve heard a similar story from so many people who age out of activism, who find that once they have emotional or physical needs that require a slower pace, they feel left behind.
In my first years of illness, I spent a long time grappling with fear and faith. I still believed in relationships as where we create revolutionary forms of healing, strength, and shared power. The more I pulled back and saw the larger perspective (a Sagittarius skill), the more I saw lines of connection between everyone I knew, the more I could forgive individual acts of carelessness or fear. Tilting my head to one side, I saw our communities as traumatized, self-righteous, and haphazard. Tilting my head to another angle, I saw us as experimenting with unprecedented ways of healing what we inherited from our parents and their parents and all the ancestors that enslaved and dominated and poisoned, and all the ancestors that suffered and resisted and became embittered and some who became free. I saw the whole damn map of us, going back generations, and I was able to love our efforts to heal what’s been broken for a long time, even if it’s still mostly broken.
What I came to was something I later found in the work of Joanna Macy—that we cannot know that we will win, but that we must believe it’s possible—this belief give us the energy to keep trying. In our current moment of uncertainty, in the long years ahead of us as we see clear evidence that things are getting worse, we need faith. Not blind faith that someone else will solve the problem and release us from responsibility, but faith that is an act of creation. It’s the act of throwing up that rope, again and again, even if we doubt anyone is up there to grab it. It’s the joy we feel in the act of throwing, and even the pleasure of hearing the rope swoosh back down into our empty hands. This kind of faith relies on feeling connected to something much larger than ourselves—whether that’s a divine energy or merely the existence of so many other humans throwing up ropes from their own holes, hoping maybe one rope will find another and we can pull ourselves out together.
Balsamic Moon Ritual #3 Summary:
Intention: To interrogate the nature of faith
Main activity: For this ritual, I lit a candle and invited my ancestors to join me as I went into a trance and did some free-writing, mostly asking questions that were impossible for me to answer and then noticing what answers came through.
What I learned: Faith is powerful medicine when it is an intentional act, less so when it encourages passivity.
Join the conversation: What is your relationship to faith and doubt?
Support this blog: I’ve just soft-launched a Patreon page for those who’d like to donate to this blog. In the new year, there will be all kinds of goodies there for subscribers—for now, it’s merely a place to offer support if you feel so moved!
Balsamic Moon Blog Schedule:
December 23: Ritual
January 10: Blog Post
January 22: Ritual
February 9: Blog Post
February 21: Ritual
March 9: Blog Post
March 22: Ritual
April 8: Blog Post
April 22: Ritual
May 7: Blog Post
May 20: Ritual
June 5: Blog Post
June 19: Ritual
July 5: Blog Post
August 17: Ritual
September 2: Blog Post