Descending into Darkness with a Christ Enshadowed

In honor of Good Friday, here’s an answer to a Tumblr ask I received last week: “If someone were to ask you what you thought the Christian Gospel was about, what would you tell them?”

I sat on this question for some time, because it’s so…insurmountable. All I can do is bring a perspective, a tiny reflective shard of the mirror of truth to this issue, since there’s no way I can comprehend everything the Gospel is and does, much less fit it into one post. I will say before we begin that I think that God’s activity in the world has numerous facets, and people resonate with some of them more than others. This is why language of ransom, enlightenment, absolution, gift, acquittal, mercy, transformation, rescue, and paid debts clamor against each other in Christian hymns and poetry when people try to describe what the Gospel is about.

Christianity is so many things: a social system that privileges the poor and downtrodden, a flowering philosophical offshoot of the tree of Judaism,a framework of power that orders the universe and our place in it, a liturgical heartbeat of repentance, feasting, fasting, and forgiveness that circulates through the year. But ultimately, I resonate most with Christianity in its aspect as a mystery cult of death and rebirth.

There’s plenty to be said here about the Hellenistic syncretism that led to this designation, and the interaction of Jewish philosophy and Greek ritual piety in places like Alexandria and Antioch, and while the historical-critical elements are important, I’m always going to be most concerned with the stories. The myths (here meaning a story that is sacred outside of its veracity, not one that is inherently false) that underpin the whole belief system.

Christianity is what happens at the intersection of the eternal, unfathomable divine and the mutable mortal body. It’s the story of a God descending into flesh to instruct us and enter into relationship with us from a position of deep empathy. This relationship and instruction brings about transformative, supernatural rebirth in everyone Christ touches, and the Bible talks constantly of putting the old self to death again and again so the new self can rise. The cross is painted as one of the darkest moments in cosmic history, when the veil between heaven and earth is torn violently open, and the natural order of the universe is turned on its head and swallowed up in a lightness eclipse. The cross is the ultimate transgression, the ultimate taboo, the ultimate dark night of the soul. But it’s also the cauldron of chaos out of which new life emerges. There’s explicit, literal regenerative properties to the godly blood that drips from a battered human body, and Christ’s broken corpse is the verdant soil from which the vine of the church springs.

One my pet doctrines is the harrowing of Hell, a sometimes divisive belief that Christ descended into Hell in the period of the time between the crucifixion and the Resurrection to proclaim good tidings to those who died before his incarnation on Earth. It’s an idea that’s echoed in so many other religious and mythic systems worldwide, and something about it resonates deeply with me. Christ is the Lord of light, and of new life, but he is also Lord of death and commander of darkness. Because of this unique nonduality, because God deigns to step down from the numinous and embrace mortality, sensation, anguish, hunger, pleasure, and pain as well as death, mere mortals can transcend the bounds of sin and death as well. The Gospel (and I also think the entire Bible on this one point) is a story about nothing staying dead, everything coming back to life, and God never giving up on the material world. That. to me, is the crux of this whole religion, made perfect in the incarnation.

So yeah. Maybe it’s because I’m a Scorpio and already closely aligned to death and rebirth energy, or because I’ve needed a God in my life that was bigger and darker and more wild and strange than a pastel-colored stained glass man hugging a lamb, but that’s what does it for me. That’s what makes me stay. The promise that death is merely a passage, that evil will never get the last word, that God waits in the darkest places of the world to transform and resurrect us again and again.

Reclaiming Our Attention from the Distortion Machine

This is a reprint of a guest post I wrote for the Fratres Dei blog. Be sure to pay some love forward and check out Rachel’s amazing blog about embodied spirituality and contemplation in the material world!

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Social media is kind of my thing. I met my future spouse through Tumblr, I’m an author who promotes her work on Twitter, and, as some of you may know, I’m the digital communications manager for Fratres Dei Spiritual Direction & Ministries.

Thoroughly a product of the digital age, I’ve been privileged to witness the best social media has to offer. I’ve seen friendships forged, beautiful art created, valuable information exchanged, and online spaces for religious expression blossom. However, I’ve also lost weeks of my life to mindless scrolling, been “dragged” and “cancelled”, participated in unwarranted digital pile-ons I still regret, and woken up in a cold sweat from nightmares about being doxxed.

Sometimes, friends, the internet is bad.

At the start of 2019, I knew that something about my relationship to social media had to change. As an increasingly public figure, I was placing too much of my worth in my public persona. My attention was becoming more and more fragmented, and time on social media was the only “leisure” time I was allowing myself away from my day job and writing, even though I viewed social as just another form of work. I had no inner life I didn’t perform for the internet. My prayer life was nonexistent, because I couldn’t sit still that long, much less devote intentional time to something that didn’t have an immediate material benefit or reward.

But what do you do when the internet feels like an increasingly essential, increasingly centralized feature of the human experience, and if, as for many of us, being active on the web is part of your job?

Common sense advises moderation, but I’ve never been good at finding balance. As I started listening to podcasts about the effects of social media and reading Cal Newport’s phenomenal Digital Minimalism, I realized this isn’t a Sarah-specific compulsion. The majority of Americans have a disordered relationship with social media. Like a gaslighting lover, social demands a glance at our phones every spare moment, yet convinces us to consistently underestimate how many hours a day we devote to the tryst. And as we uncover more about how social media is configured to work on our brains the same way slot machines do, keeping eyes on screens for as many minutes as possible to turn the highest profits for companies, whether or not those minutes wreck our sense of self, warp our view of our political reality, or urge us to throw money down the drain on products we would never otherwise want…The straits get a bit more dire.

As this year’s Lenten season commenced, I felt that gentle nudge, that divine voice in the back of my head saying here’s your chance. A chance to pull the plug on social for forty days and re-set my inner schema. It wouldn’t be a total fast, since I do spend a handful of hours a week managing the Fratres Dei social, but there would be no more browsing, posting, or scrolling from my own accounts for the rest of Lent.

By and large, I’ve taken God up on the offer, and the results have been quietly astounding. First of all, the jittery fear of missing out (on what? Malicious gossip and highlight reel announcements of rivals’ successes and the thousandth click-bait headline heralding society’s demise?) faded in about a week. What followed was overwhelming relief that I didn’t have to care about it all. Human empathy is a divine gift, and social media constantly exhausts it. We swing wildly from outrage to apathy, which makes it hard for us to be attentive and compassionate towards the real needs that surround us. Secondly, I got time back I didn’t even know I had lost. I started finding hours to cook big, wholesome meals while listening to audiobooks, and since I didn’t have the illusion of connection from seeing friend’s Instagram posts all the time, I started calling them a lot more. But most of all, I got my focus back.

The fragmented attention created by the noise of social media is really no attention at all. Conversation with a friend, playing with a child, reading a book, and especially listening for the stirrings of God in our lives require real, sustained attention. Constantly flipping from platform to platform, or article to article, trains our brains to make only the most cursory skim of information. Re-training the brain takes time, but we can start by setting aside hours of our day where we leave our phones on the charger, whether we’re out for a run, meeting someone for coffee, or scribbling idea in a notebook. It’s only in these moments of receptivity that God can press in with soft revelations, interesting food for thought, or divine encouragement.

I observe both the church calendar and the wheel of the year, a cycle of seasonal holidays used by Wiccans and other earthy types. The wheel’s holidays usually involve baking, candle-lighting, handicraft, and other things I love to do but never seem to have time for. But when the spring equinox rolled around during Lent, I suddenly had the time, and without the pressure to post aesthetically pleasing pictures and a description of my practice online for the edification of the masses, I didn’t experience the usual sense of poor planning or inadequacy. So, I pulled out the yellow candles, put a bit of soda bread and calendula tea out on my altar, and said some prayers praising God for light, and for new life. The ritual existed for no one except me and God, and that, I found, was empowering. For the first time in a long time I didn’t worry about how I looked or if I was doing “enough”. I just followed my intuition and listened for God.

Like chocolate, long naps, sex, and whisky sours, social media is good, if used in intentional moderation that doesn’t throw off the balance of the rest of our lives. It should be a tool that we use, not a corporate-run outrage machine that uses us for clicks and buys. Philippians calls the faithful to turn their thoughts towards “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable”. Personally, I find that hard to do when I spend hours a day being fed an inane stream of war crime, advertisement, callout post, wedding pictures, advertisement, human rights violation, cat picture, bad faith political meme, advertisement through my smart phone.

Now, I haven’t jumped off the social media bandwagon entirely. In a move I hope my audience will find charmingly meta I’m currently denouncing social media in a social media post, after all. But for now, I’m enjoying being time-rich and having the space to simply notice my emotions, my relationship to space, and my own breath. I’ve been noticing God a lot more too, not because God wasn’t there when I was scrolling or posting, but simply because I was too tapped in to digital white noise to notice.

Yearning to take better notice of the divine already in your midst? Learn to listen with a spiritual direction session with Fratres Dei.

ODD SPIRITS is on 99¢ sale through the month of October!

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This novella will be on sale for the ghoulishly low price of $5.99 for paperbacks and 99¢ for e-copies until All Hallows Eve. You’ll never see it at a lower price, so grab your ticket to flirty tarot readings, folk religion, and mysterious hauntings today! 

It takes a lot of commitment to make a marriage between a modern ceremonial magician and a chaos witch work, but when a malevolent entity takes up residence in Rhys and Moira’s home, their love will be pushed to the limits. Brewing up a solution is easier said than done when your magical styles are polar opposites; throw a psychic ex and a secret society in the mix, and things are bound to get messy.

This diverse paranormal romance novella is perfect for fans of The Raven Cycle and The Haunting of Hill House!

“Like a lovingly-prepared home-cooked meal, Odd Spirits compels its reader to both devour and savor…Gibson’s background as a poet allows her to deftly create richly-drawn little moments.” –Rouges Portal

See what people are saying about the novella on Goodreads!

FIENDS has arrived!

THE FIENDS IN THE FURROWS anthology, featuring my Southern Gothic story “Revival”, is available now in ebook and paperback!

Growing up as a girl in a conservative religious community is challenging, especially when you’re the bastard child of a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher and a Catholic waitress. Considered unclean by the congregation and her grandfather, the fearsome Reverend, because of her affinity for the church’s’ venomous snakes, eight-year-old Callie Ann spends most of her time feeding crickets and mice to her only friends.

 But as the Reverend’s sinister hold on his rapt flock grows, so does Callie’s connection to her dead mother, and a dark prophecy begins to take shape. 

What People Are Saying

“Revival finds that old time religion venomously snaking its way back, to the peril of those who would dare to dance with vipers and tempt Fate itself.”

“Gibson’s Revival was like THE BAD SEED set to a religious hymn (that’s a good thing)”

If you’re craving some grimy gothic goodness with your brave little girls toppling abusive religious hierarchies, add FIENDS to your Goodreads TBR! Also be sure to subscribe to my intermittent author newsletter to stay in the loop about new publications, giveaways, and flash sales!  🕸🐍🌾💀

INDIE RADAR: Queering Lent

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After seeing a number of my friends toting around Queering Lent, I decided to pick up the slim volume of devotional poems penned by a nonbinary pansexual Presbyterian pastor. Written as a spiritual practice over the course of last year’s Lent, the highly personal poems touch on interwoven themes of suffering, identity, and empathy burnout, all while employing classical mystical language of God as Lover.

Independent publishing can be a toss-up, so when I find something that shines in the lackluster mire of self-published titles, I’m quick to promote it. Queering Lent gleams despite its unpretentious packaging, and while some of the poems are unremarkable, many have a sort of understated profundity to them that’s hard to forget. In particular, I found the poetic sermon on binaries, the expansiveness of God, and the upside-down kingdom of Heaven in the back of the book to be particularly stirring, and I’ll be returning to it again and again in this Lenten season and beyond.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Slats a number of times, and they’re a truly unique artist and ardent lover of God who has a way of infecting atmospheres with joy. If you’re  interested in learning more about the creative process behind Queering Lent, you can check out this feature on Slats over at Sanctified Art. You can buy a copy of Queering Lent on Amazon, and 100% of the proceeds go to organizations committed to supporting queer and trans people in the church.

Spirituality Review: Still Christian

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Title: Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism by David P. Gushee
Genre: Spiritual Memoir
Rating: ★★★ ★ (4/5)

David P. Gushee has been at the forefront of nearly every schism, controversy, and watermark moment in American evangelicalism over the last 50 years. From his teenage mountaintop conversion, to his time as a professor at a fundamentalist Baptist seminary, to his successful career speaking out against torture as a Christian ethicsist, to the publication of his hit book Changing Our Mind, which shook up the evangelical world by championing the full inclusion of LBGTQ people in the church, Gushee has been red, blue, popular, derided, conservative, liberal, and everything in between. Still Christian accounts ongoing Gushee’s love affair with Christ and resulting divorce from evangelicalism with candor, temperance, and humor.

I expected a little more theological unpacking of the choice to “leave” American evangelicalism from Gushee, as this book as been lauded as an anchor in a swirling sea of  moral bankruptcy and theological confusion in the evangelical church. Instead, the book was quite simply a mid-career memoir, but a very good one, and one that cast a lot of light on the schisms and inner tensions that have been whittling away at American evangelicalism since the seventies.

Still Christian is delightfully dishy and covers enough scandal to keep even those well acquainted with the rise of the Moral Majority and push-back from writers and theologians on the Evangelical left interested, but Gushee deals with all people and events mentioned with humility, grace, and love. The heart of Christ is kept at the center of Still Christian, even if Gushee is all too aware how rarely the institutions in charge of seeking it out keep their promises.

Note: I received a copy of Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism in exchange for a fair review of its contents.