Chelsea Roff: Death, Transcendence, and the Longing for God

A few years ago, in the midst of what might be called a “spiritual crisis,” I found myself writing a lot of poetry. I was depressed, disheartened, questioning everything I’d been taught about life, death, and all my esoteric notions of spirituality. I needed to articulate the whirlwind running through my mind, yet the only words I could manage to purge onto paper were poems.

Looking back through my journal the other day, I found this piece:


I notice I’m talking to myself more.

Or maybe it’s God I’m having these deep, existential conversations with?

Sometimes I think Great Grandmother Roff’s genes are finally methylating in the deep recesses of my brain.

Maybe these conversations are signalling my descent into the lunatic’s abyss.


I tell the emptiness about the great plans I have for my life

As if this feeble mind of mine has some prophetic wisdom to impart

Ha! As if I — a silly sack of self-replicating cells — am in on some grand plan for the universe

As if I’ve somehow managed to transcend the walls of my own heart.


And another:


Today I peered into the walls of my chest and witnessed a few cells in my heart die.


We don’t think about this part of life do we?

The massacre of the old to make room for what’s being born anew?

There’s a genocide going on within the bud of the spring blossom.

This rebirth word — it hides the truth.


My heart, it didn’t pass on peacefully.

No, death doesn’t take things with gentle hands.

It wretches life from your innards with a cold, hard swoop.

It says, come on girl… you call yourself a wo-MAN?


In the wretching, I fell. On hands and knees

I surrendered, hands reaching for a childish God

And alas, when no one answered my woebegone call

I turned inward and saw… this was all.


It’s interesting to look back. It’s heartbreaking to read the desperation between the words — the yearning for answers, the need for refuge, the longing to know that I — that we — are not alone.

Human beings are seekers. We all long for answers to those timeless questions… Who am I? What am I here for? What happens when I die?

Now, years after I etched those longings onto paper, I’m not any closer to having answers than I ever was. But I no longer reach toward some hollow, supernatural notion of an animate universe to subdue my fears of the unknown. I don’t need to quell my hunger for answers with beliefs that the universe is conspiring in my favor. I don’t need to imagine a wise guy in the sky, some invisible ether bringing my prayers into manifestation, or an Eden-like paradise where my deceased friends and family members are waiting for me to join them. But I understand — oh, how I understand — those who do. When you’re lonely, afraid, desperate for reassurance… God, the Universe, the Great Mother, whatever you choose to name it… believing that “it” is out there may feel like all you have.

Sometimes I still pray. Sometimes I still talk to myself at night, almost pretend that there’s someone there to listen. The process of prayer — of getting quiet, seeking clarity, listening to the inner voice that emerges — is one I still cherish, though no longer with any supernatural belief attached. Now, prayer isn’t so much about reaching for someone or something transcendent and eternal, but an act of listening and noticing what comes to the surface. I’ve let go of the need for certain answers to those existential questions, embraced the fact that there’s beauty and value in the act of questioning itself. I’m more at ease with the fact that life will bring suffering — and if I have faith in anything, it’s the knowledge that it will pass.

Originally published on YogaBrains.

photo by: Hamed Saber