“Nature abhors a vacuum.” –Aristotle
When a person removes something from her life–a job, a relationship, a routine–the space that used to belong to that person yawns like a pit. Where there was substance there is only a vacuum; and this vacuum staunchly resists its own nature. Whether or not the person actively seeks a replacement something, the time, energy, and effort once expended on the now deposed something will suction onto a hobby, a rebound, a new routine, or reapplied to other areas of the person’s life.
I wrote a few days ago about my decision to stop attending church. It’s a radical change for me, as I’ve faithfully attended some kind of service, in person or online for my entire childhood and adult life. I grew up in a family that took church seriously; it wasn’t just a meeting, it was an event for which we geared up every Sabbath morning. Even in college, a time when many young adults let religious practice fall by the wayside, I remained faithful to the habit of church going. Except for one semester.
This won’t be the first time I’ve left church. When I was a sophomore in college I forewent church for several weeks, opting instead to meet up with close friends Gustav, Jodi, Janet, and Wendell on Sabbath mornings. Eventually I returned to church because I felt a need for spiritual community that could not be met among skeptics. I still supposed there was something out there. I still even considered myself an orthodox Christian, sort of…Most importantly I lacked the courage to tell Jodi and Janet–who seemed so blissfully certain, so impossibly liberated by atheism–that I lacked not only readiness, but any desire to shed my sense of the spiritual. Each week I felt like a superstitious bumpkin as I strained to appear their intellectual equal even as I stubbornly clung to the supernatural, absolute morality, and faith. I still do.
One of my many attempts to understand my lack of spiritual fulfillment involved writing down a list of the things I needed from my spiritual community. The rough draft of that list contained four items: Education, a sense of responsibility and ownership, acceptance, and a mission or purpose. In other words, I want to learn to be a better human being, and I’ll need aid and support in the journey of discovering my own sense of morality. I want to be continually impressed by my responsibility to that sense. And yet I want to know that whenever I violate that sense, and I will, there will be firm voices of reason to hold me accountable, and welcoming arms to remind me that it’s okay to forgive myself. Most importantly, I want to have a hand in making life– for all living things– better.
Now that I’m leaving church for the second time I recognize that I can’t adequately fill the spiritual vacuum with another morning meeting, religious or irreligious. I also can’t afford to ignore the vacuum, only to discover later that it has filled itself with a worthless hodge-podge of timesucks and familiar habits. Instead, I need to actively pursue the fulfillment church couldn’t give me. I need to educate myself; to dig into my questions about the Bible, and alternate scriptures, and philosophy, and science; and I need to take the time necessary to seek out my mission. Hopefully, somewhere along the line, I’ll stumble upon community.