Editor's note: The following piece is a contribution by my friend Daniel Alcantara. He is one of my closest friends and someone whom I once shared the faith's labor with. He left Seventh-day Adventism over a year ago, but has not left the spiritual pursuit. Neither I, nor he as you will read, endorse everything done in this story. However, the details are important to his experience and so here they are. To the Christian, may you be encouraged at the thought the Spirit does not abandon. To the uncertain, may you be drawn to the search for the Mystery and Unknowable.
Not sure how the doubt began.
I had just moved to Minneapolis from a northern suburb due to a job I hated and the perception of a stepfather who classified me as less of a man. The move to the city came from a desire to pursue something meaningful while I was young rather than beginning a retirement fund. The meaningful thing was to share the perspective of Christ, at least the perspective I had at that moment in time.
The sadness I noticed take root in my original nine to five answering phones before I moved lingered with me in Minneapolis. Despite the move, despite the absence of my stepfather, and despite my perseverance in prayer, I saw myself in tears and sleepless wandering through Lake Street. Friends I had made in California kept encouraging the practice of something I began labeling as useless. The suggested answers began to lose their validity: that my faith was perhaps weak or that the sorrow was a trial given to me for learning started began to sound look like cop outs not really addressing what was wrong with me.
Deep sadness makes a person want to die. For what benefit is received out of the aloneness felt even with company? That’s what I thought.
As the depression worsened, my mind could not escape the unfavorable Old Testament verses I encountered months before all this began to take place.
My girlfriend at the time wanted to end our relationship. It makes sense. I don’t blame her. I was very crippled by the constant aloneness I felt, and it formed an irritation along with an absent trust toward people. How would anyone want to maintain a relationship with someone like that? Yet, I kept walking in the words of peace spoken by that strange Galilean man.
I was still invited to give sermons at churches and presentations at Christian schools. I performed them faithfully. Sharing hope nurtured the very little I had.
The same Old Testament verses were now audible in my morning routine of forming the outline of prayer. My mind was not going to escape them.
My girlfriend, at that moment, stayed with me after my begging.
Not much was accomplished during my stay in Minneapolis. The basement I was sleeping in began to appear like a grey scale rather than a living space. I never really followed through on my ministry ideas for the cities. I then decided to attend college in western Minnesota.
The only ones giving me encouragement throughout my trial were hundreds of miles away, and it was through email. Members of my church preferred to critique my broken Spanish rather than encourage the message. So I was glad to leave for school. Yet, I encountered even more difficult religious dilemmas in my philosophy classes. Once the confusion of what time was and whether humans practiced liberty in the midst of divine omniscience came, I stopped praying. I stopped reading Scripture. I started smoking pot and found a group of people who were very open to experience and ignorance. The group was so refreshing to encounter after the experiences I had with church members who worried more about doing things correctly than learning from error. I broke up with my girlfriend, the one whom I begged earlier to stay with me. And soon after she left her faith behind, an action that put into question the sincerity of her baptism, but I don’t blame her, nor do I judge her. I will never understand what she felt.
The doubts grew stronger after my second semester. I took a class on Free Will and even did a presentation on Human Liberty and Divine Foreknowledge. I got an A on the presentation, and was the only one to face little to any opposition from the instructor. But I was still unhappy and found myself accepting the sadness from Minneapolis to be a permanent one. Antidepressant after antidepressant, sleepless night after sleepless night, and cigarette after cigarette, I kept going even when my mind told me death would ease the struggle. A part of me longed for suicide. I thought God’s slumber was very deep.
When I began to notice my mother crippled by the same sadness, my brokenness encountered new depths as I began to taste whiskey to the point of black outs.
While being back in Minneapolis after I was told my mother was moving out of state to pursue something better than what was in the Midwest, I transferred to a different campus of the same school. My sleepless nights eased with heavy marijuana consumption, which though it helped, I do not endorse doing. What a skyline the city had around midnight, though. I found comfort in staring at those buildings late at night, the concrete jungle of carelessness.
Near the end of the first semester, a youth I knew drank himself to death. And a close friend, a friend I love and shared so much in common with, had something similar to a schizophrenic break down. I wish him the best. He is on my mind and I wish to call him soon.
With the news all happening within the same week, the voice suggesting death danced with sense, what a frightening dance it was. It was scary to want to join its dance. And I found myself being told I was a hazard to myself by psychologists. Not knowing what to do, I dropped out of school because I found few benefits in a degree. It would all be taken from me at the grave anyway.
Now, what I’m about to tell, I suggest no one to reenact. I tell it to simply be thorough and honest about what happened. I respect the beliefs of Bryant, a long standing friend who has been nothing but comfort for me, and who was with me throughout my mental difficulties, and that of his church, a family I once belonged to.
One night, I was smoking a joint and I thought to myself, there has to be other plants like this. And there are. I started to consume Calamus and Galangal either orally or through smoke. Then after more reading and research, I got a hold of some mushrooms and Caapi vine. Once I took the proper dietary precautions before the consumption of these plants, I took them in hopes of betterment and enlightenment. Sounds weird, right?
I hit the streets of the city once I consumed the plants. I audibly asked for guidance, not sure to what or whom, though.
The snow blanketed the path I walked. Isaiah came to mind, white as snow. Harmaline and the other alkaloids in the Caapi made the shimmer in cold powder appear so beautiful, a beauty I hadn’t admitted in a while, hadn’t allowed myself to perceive. I walked with the curiosity of child through the streets catching a bus to West Bank and the light rail to Hiawatha Ave. I was wandering. I was searching. I was hoping.
Around 1 am, I decided I needed to get home because public transit stopped in an hour. The light rail was late around the stop near the Cabooze, a music venue surrounded by bars, so I walked toward the University campus, it was a few blocks and it was better than standing still amidst the negative degree weather.
I had finally walked to the other bus stop by Folwell, a building on campus right off of 15th Avenue. Groups of young people, some drunk, others high, and even fewer sober, I know I wasn’t, walked in laughter and commotion. Friends. Where were mine? After seeing all the inebriated happiness, I felt so alone again. The most alone I’ve ever felt. I felt angry toward my mother and father for the cowardice I inherited. I began to weep in the street and wiped them fast because of the freeze. Number three finally arrived and I boarded my bus. Raymond Avenue was my stop and I started to walk toward my apartment. My key slipped into the lock and I stepped inside for a shower and sleep. In the shower, I was suddenly overcome by a voice, not sure whether it was mine, maybe it was, like I said, I’m not sure. The voice told me I would be well, that I would get better and that my sorrow was induced partly by my disillusion toward people, something I needed to overcome if I wanted to impact lives positively. For some reason, the voice was very persuasive and I believed it. I would be well and I could overcome the damaging flaws I had embraced as permanent.
I woke up in a cold sweat. Strangely, I felt energetic when I woke up. I noticed the state of my apartment and cleaned it. All the beer cans thrown away. All the dishes washed. The carpet got vacuumed. I even organized my bookshelf. My motivation made an appearance again. I told you so, I felt the voice from last night express to me.
It’s been more than a week since that moment. The two years of depression were so difficult and I wish them upon no one. I feel uplifted and positive and plan on encouraging others to become positive and to not fully disregard the mysteries of life.
You can say what you want. All I know is that I am well, and I dance like the lepers and the rest of the healed.
I’m still unsure whether the Biblical narrative is true and how worship fits in life, but I am open to exchanges and will continue to be. Our world is being destroyed, and I have a strong urge to bring heaven now. I wish heaven upon everyone.
Stay positive and I hope to have a great conversation with you someday.