Mystic Hunger and an Anglican Feast

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I was a young child the first time I encountered the sign of the cross. It must have been on TV—probably watching The Sound of Music for the hundredth time. Having grown up in a staunchly non-liturgical evangelical home, I can’t imagine where else I would have ever seen such a gesture. It captivated me. Something about it struck a chord in the depths of my innermost being. It seemed special. It seemed mystical. I knew it was sacred.

Excitedly, I asked my mother whether I could do the gesture. It had to do with Jesus, so surely she would agree! To my shock and embarrassment, she said, “We don’t do that.”

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Sacred Hunger Pangs

That moment—accidentally, no doubt well-intended—began the suppression of my lifetime hunger for the sacred and the mystical.

I had always been an imaginative child, sensitive to faith and creative expression. One of my most treasured memories involves my dad building a massive bonfire on our land to burn brush and me holding a stick in the embers until it smoldered, then dancing around the yard waving the woodsmoke like incense. I wasn’t even seven years old the first time I spoke to Jesus as if he were standing next to me, asking him if I could please take my teddy bear to heaven one day. He must have smiled to receive such an honest and pure prayer.

As I grew, I lost some of that pure piety. Politics, video games, and the internet distracted me. However, at my core, I was still the little girl who loved gazing into the light of a candle and traipsing through her yard to look at the flowers and think deeply.

It wasn’t until I moved away to attend college that I started rediscovering my hunger for the mystical. My bohemian tendencies flourished during my years in and just after college when I was shopping at a hippie store in the mall, buying incense and salt lamps, wearing flowy garments, and hungering for something in my life to feel special. At the same time, I became obsessed with personality assessments, looking to letters, numbers, or humors to help me make sense of who I was and why I felt like I didn’t fit in the world.

A Sacramental Appetizer

Around this time, I became disillusioned with the denomination of my youth. The summer before my senior year of college, I visited an Anglican friend in another state and attended church with her. We went to a small chapel service on a saint’s day, and I had spent most of the service sniffing for heresy and growing increasingly shocked as I found none. Instead, I found ritual, beauty, and deep reverence. The candles, the bowing, the vestments—I’d never seen anything like it. Then came the Eucharist. Even in my childhood, I hadn’t experienced the Lord’s Supper in such a way, with wafer and wine mingling on my tongue. It unsettled me and clung to my mind unrelentingly. Something had happened to me.

Evangelical Distaste

When I returned to college that fall, I shuddered at the idea of returning to my church and realized it all felt wrong. Don’t mistake me—it was a good church filled with good people. I do not feel I wasted the time I was there. But I couldn’t square a church where the people talked to each other when I thought they should have been singing to the Savior. It didn’t feel right after what came over me when I dipped that wafer in that chalice.

My disillusionment deepened. During my senior year, I experienced some church hurt, including a personal betrayal by a member of the pastoral staff, which made me feel even less like I belonged in the world I lived in. I took a summer off from church attendance, trying out several other churches in town, but they all felt wrong. Each one felt shallow, disjointed, and profoundly irreverent. Eventually, I stopped going altogether, even though every week I kept Googling: “churches near me.” Spiritually, I hungered and couldn’t find a meal, even as I scrolled dozens of church websites and read their “What We Believe” pages.

Malnourished Mysticism

The next phase was astrology. Where once I had laughed at horoscopes, I looked at my natal star chart and thought that it seemed true, arguing that if all truth is God’s truth, then it must be okay. I turned to yoga for health and relaxation and became incensed by all the Christians on the internet who dared suggest that maybe I shouldn’t include that tool in my toolkit. I almost got into Reiki, energy pulling, sound bathing, and the like. I was listening to Norse neo-pagan music, with its rich tones and drumbeats making me crave a connection to a majestic past, a beautiful history. I even bought a pendant of Mjölnir, telling myself it was because I liked the Avengers.

All along, I claimed I still believed the Gospel, which I’m confident I did. But I was slipping, starving to death, and unable to find a place that the little girl entranced by mysticism could call home.

An Anglican Feast

The December after I graduated college, I finally listened to my best friend’s urging to find an Anglican church. On the Feast of St. Nicholas in 2015, I pulled into the parking lot and gave God my ultimatum: “This is the last church I will try. You know I still believe in you. But if this one doesn’t work out, I’m not doing church anymore.”

I walked inside, and when I sat down on the next-to-last pew, I, in fact, sat down to a feast.

Much ink has been spilled on the beauty and reverence of an Anglican service. But I experienced the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit that day for the first time in—years, maybe? As I moved my body through the service, awkwardly copying others’ liturgical gestures, I wept, terrified and overjoyed at once. This was full, embodied worship: rituals, candles, bowing, and—yes!—the sign of the cross.

I couldn’t get the service out of my head. I kept going back, and I became a confirmed Anglican the following November. I have now been an Anglican for nearly eight years. Since then, I’ve been able to wade into the deep, life-giving waters of healthy, true mysticism—real connection with God—and the contemplative life, following Jesus and Holy Scripture.

The Aches of a Longing World

While my story didn’t take a dark turn, it came close. The devil seems to enjoy preying on people like me especially: young women with sensitive souls, spirits hungry for something mystical—an aching sense that this world cannot be all there is and a desperation to connect to something bigger and grander than themselves.

When I look at young women who turn to crystals, sage smudging, manifesting, and all those other things born from witchcraft, I see myself aching for meaning in a world gone mad. When I see young women who veer into sexualities and gender identities that God never intended, I see souls who feel like they don’t fit, desperately trying to carve out somewhere that they can. I hurt for them because I have seen firsthand parts of all those struggles but have also experienced a beautiful solution.

One of the gifts the Anglican tradition offers is a chance to know Christ in his fullness—mysticism and all. It’s a place where that hunger for meaning and ancient rites finds healthy expression governed by Scripture and guided by tradition. This tradition is a gift from the Lord for those of us who crave to plumb the depths of his mysteries, one sign of the cross at a time.


Image by ArtPlus from GettyImages, courtesy of Canva.

Author

Stephanie Traylor

Stephanie Traylor hails from Jackson, Tennessee. She attends All Saints Anglican Church, where she was confirmed in November 2016 and now serves with the altar guild, prayer team, and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. She views writing as her God-given passion and talent, and it is her goal to steward this gift well. You can keep up with her at voidcatpress.com or @voidcat_press on Instagram.

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