Dear Father…

dear_father_____by_tamingthetiger-d3iyrad
“Dear Father” by Taming the Tiger

I usually shy away from anything too spiritual or religious, because I do realize many of my readers are atheist, agnostic, or of differing faiths–and I respect their right to believe as they wish.   But today in church when the priest asked us to “add our own prayers,” I felt inspired to pray a particular prayer that has great meaning to me, for a myriad of reasons.   I would like to share it here, so maybe others can join me in prayer for these things that are so important to me.

*****

Dear Father,

You have created us all in your own image. I don’t believe you have left anyone out of your great bounty and the hope for eternal life, in spite of what some Christians and others believe.      I don’t believe that Christ’s death on the cross was a “limited atonement” meant only for a select few (as Calvinists believe).   I believe he died for us all, and offers all of us the chance for redemption and healing, no matter how hopeless things may seem.

PTSD, C-PTSD, and narcissistic abuse survivors.

God, please shower your grace and compassion on all victims of narcissistic abuse and all people suffering from PTSD and C-PTSD, that they may find comfort in your arms and be able to trust again, realize that there is still goodness in the world, and eventually, that they may find loving, healthy relationships and friendships that do not turn abusive.  Many survivors have turned to you when everyone else seemed to be turning away from them and rejecting them, and found that you were there and were listening.  But many, especially if they were rejected or scapegoated by their own families, are so damaged they have trouble trusting anyone at all, even You.   Please give them the courage to turn to you when things are at their darkest and it seems like they have no allies.  Please help them to trust you, and to heal from abuse, regain their sense of self worth and self-esteem,  and be whole and happy again. Please show them that what happened to them didn’t happen in vain, and that they are so much stronger than they realize because of the adversity they had to face.  Please let them feel the loving arms of Jesus Christ holding and protecting them from harm.  Guide them on the path to become whole again, and to use what they learned to help others heal, should that be your will for them.

Also, although anger is a necessary stage of healing (in order to leave an abusive situation or person), please allow victims who become trapped in their anger and hatred to be able to move on from it, because only then will healing be possible.   I’ve seen too many survivors who remain so mired in rage that they take on the traits of their abusers and acquire a victim mentality that does not allow them to move forward in their journey to healing.

As for myself, please don’t let me stray from the path you have set me on, which is beginning to be revealed to me. Please don’t allow me to become bogged down by envy, selfishness, or pride.   Don’t allow me to let my own will get in the way of what you have planned for me, for whenever I have forced my own will, it always turned out to be all wrong.

People with NPD, BPD and other Cluster B disorders.

God, please show these broken people who have made so many bad choices and act out toward others–usually because as children they were shamed for their own vulnerability by abusive caregivers or parents–that they do not need to rely on primitive defense mechanisms, abusive or aggressive behavior, or a “false self” in order to survive and be happy.   Please show them the beauty of their own inner vulnerability and that being sensitive can be a great strength and is never a weakness.   Please lift the scales from their eyes and show them that the things they have learned to believe about themselves and others are lies–and the truth is the opposite of what they have always believed.  Please remove the fear and shame  keeps them trapped inside cold, dark walls that separate them from their own vulnerability and the light of your grace.   If there’s a glimmer of their original soul left in them, please help that spark grow like a mustard seed within them and burn away the darkness that surrounds it.  Make them aware that their defense mechanisms are only allowing them to live the stunted, painful life of an emotional cripple, and that by jettisoning authentic feeling, they also jettison love, empathy and joy. With fewer people with narcissism and other “predatory” disorders in the world, there will be fewer abuse victims too.

In particular, please make my mother aware of what has happened to her (due to no fault of her own) and what she became, even at her very advanced age.   Even if it’s too late for her to be healed, at least remove the scales from her eyes and allow her the grace of redemption.

Our increasingly narcissistic society. 

Over the past 30 – 40 years, our western society–especially in America–has become increasingly cold, callous, lacking in empathy and compassion, materialistic, hubristic, and narcissistic.   Wealth and power are valued over compassion and love.   Individual achievement is valued over community involvement.   Greed and an “I got mine!” attitude is valued over altruism and compassion for the less fortunate.

Even families buy into this lie to the point of scapegoating family members who fail to “keep up” (or who are vulnerable or attempt to expose the family dysfunction).    Intolerance of those who are different, hatred, and racism abound.   Every day people die because they are the wrong color, wrong religion, or have a lifestyle that the Powers That Be believe is wrong.  Our society is like a huge dysfunctional family, complete with its narcissistic and abusive leaders, its golden children, and its scapegoats.  This should not be the case.  God,  please heal the hatred and fear that permeate our society and keeps people from being neighborly and charitable toward one another.  Please make dysfunctional families whole and healthy again, and give the scapegoats of both society and of dysfunctional families relief from their suffering and pain.  Make “the least of these” realize they are as worthwhile and valuable to you as the powerful ruling class who seems to have every earthly thing.

I ask these things in the name of your son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Advertisements

God is my guide and mentor.

crossroads_book

I don’t like to get all religious on this blog, but once again, God led me to a small thing that’s exactly what my soul needs.  Just about a month ago,  I found a wonderful book of devotions in the Laundromat. Those have been so helpful and comforting to me.

Today, I decided to look at the books that were marked-down at the grocery store, in hopes of finding an entertaining novel to read.  Maybe something fun like a “beach” novel, something I could enjoy and then give away when finished.    I usually avoid “Christian” novels because they’re not usually very well written (and are sometimes too obviously religious, which I find offputting).  Be that as it may, almost immediately a book called “Crossroads” by Christian author William Paul Young (author of “The Shack“) caught my eye.  I picked it up and read the blurb on the back, and I scanned a few pages.  Well, well, well.  Crossroads seems to be a book about an egotistical businessman who apparently developed a narcissistic, cold personality as a result of some sort of horrible trauma when he was younger.   He doesn’t believe in God and is cynical, materialistic, and unhappy.   One day he suffers a brain hemorrhage and almost dies.   I won’t spoil anything else (and besides, I haven’t read it yet so I don’t know what happens) but it’s got to involve this protagonist’s spiritual transformation.

Wow.  I write about narcissism; it’s a terrible problem in the world today and lately there’s a big part of me that wants to help not only victims of narcissistic abuse, but the narcissists themselves (in some kind of professional  or spiritual setting and context, of course–I am no contact with all my former narcissists and plan to remain so).

Coincidence?  No, I don’t think it is.  Finding this book (marked down to just $4, which was exactly what I had on me in cash!) couldn’t have been more perfect for someone like me at the particular stage I am at in my healing.   I found it when I was picking up a few food items after mass this morning, during which I had become particularly emotional during the Eucharist and felt filled with the Holy Spirit.

How can I doubt God when things like this keep happening?  I know he’s leading me in a direction unique to me and that everything that happened to me was training for whatever it is he’s leading me to do.  At this point, I trust his judgment much more than mine. When I try to make my own choices without God’s guidance, I usually make terrible ones.

Suffering can create maturity in survivors

There are a few people in this world that astound me with their ability to find the silver lining behind every black cloud and these are the people who always inspire me to do better. Katie is one of them. You should follow her blog because it’s awesome.

Please leave comments under the original post.

Love’s table for abuse survivors

I can’t….I can’t not reblog this. OMG. This is like my life. I know these narcissistic yuppies of which Katie speaks.    The corporate and work world is swarming with them. They swarm wherever there is money and status. They swarm in churches too (though happily, not in my church). They look down on and judge those of us who have less, those of us who they took everything away from.

Where they don’t swarm and where survivors can find refuge:  natural places where you can be quiet with God and surprisingly, places of knowledge and learning, even among those who do not believe in God.    Places where we can explore our creativity and feed our souls and ask questions.  They stay away from those places where we are free to be who God meant for us to be, places where no one judges or looks down on us.  These gifts are worth so much more than some ugly, sterile McMansion in a gated community or tricked-out status foreign car.

Please leave your comments under the original post.

Happy Pentecost!

pentecost_1

Pentecost is a Christian holy day and is always celebrated exactly seven weeks after Easter Sunday. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ before He ascended back into Heaven (Acts of the Apostles 2:1-31). The descent of the Holy Spirit ensured that his followers would continue to spread his Word and convert others to Christianity. In the Catholic Church, Pentecost marks the end of the Lent (Easter) season. The Holy Spirit’s descent is often symbolized by a dove and a flame.

The Holy Spirit isn’t limited to Christians. Anyone can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. You simply have to be in the right frame of mind and be open to its presence. You can ask God (or a Higher Power if you prefer) to fill you with the Holy Spirit. For me, music, nature and writing are three things that open me to its presence. Today’s a gorgeous, sunny day, not too hot, so after church (Mass is going to be held outside this year), I think I am going to take a drive and just enjoy the beauty of nature during this beautiful time of year.

Spend some time with nature, or if the weather is inclement, listen to some music that inspires you while engaging in a creative activity. It could be anything that inspires you–writing, painting, singing, cooking, even doing a spring cleaning. Spend some time in prayer. Don’t dwell on the negative. Give your worries a break. If you can’t take your mind off your cares, ask God to help you focus on the positive and on his presence.

Here is a website that lists some prayers you can say today:

http://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Pentecost.htm

Finding meaning in life after narc abuse and in poverty

Katie’s life trajectory has been so much like my own it’s downright spooky, but I think God brought this woman’s spiritual wisdom into my life as part of my journey in recovery. Her blog has become one of my favorites.

This article was so triggering and upsetting to me I almost stopped reading it (because it was like reading about myself) but something (God, maybe?) told me to keep reading anyway, and I’m glad I did because by the end (as with all Katie’s articles), my soul was lifted up.

Comments have been disabled; please leave comments on the original post.

Spiritual girth.

black_choir
Soweto Gospel Choir

I used to marvel at gospel and opera singers when I was a kid. It seemed like so many of them, if not most of them, were fat.  To my young mind, this didn’t seem like a health problem, but a requirement for good singing. I imagined these singers’ big bodies to be filled with music instead of fat. Their big, powerful pipes would not have been able to make the sounds they did if they came from small, thin bodies.

On several occasions in the past, I’ve attended Black Baptist services and am always so impressed and moved by the gospel singers’ strong and powerful faith that they express through music, and the spiritual transcendance that infects the entire congregation whenever they sing. Their voices and harmonies alone can send the Holy Spirit into every spectator in the room. These big, soulful gospel hymns aren’t called “spirituals” for nothing! Even if you’re not a believer, you can’t listen to a Black Baptist choir and not feel their joy. Joy in spite of the harsh realities of racism, discrimination, oppression, grinding poverty, and a second class status in the white man’s world. Where does all that joy come from? Strong faith in the One who created them seems to be the only answer.

And while not all are, many of the singers with the biggest voices happen to be big ladies or men. I really think those big gospel singers need those imposing bodies to hold in the Holy Spirit that fills them with song, and then spreads to everyone who hears them. I call this “spiritual girth.”

Aretha Franklin started her career as a gospel singer and never gave up singing spiritual songs, like this big soul/gospel hit from 1968 (also recorded the same year by Dionne Warwick in a more subdued style).   Burt Bacharach wrote the tune.

Spirituality and therapy don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Holy-Spirit-10

More often lately, I’m feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit while at church. What this feels like is an opening of my heart and a warm surge of emotion. Sometimes I even get a little misty-eyed during the proceedings, especially after taking communion. It’s hard to put the emotion into words, but it’s a sort of reverent feeling and I always come away feeling energized and ready to confront the week ahead, knowing I’m not alone and God walks beside me every step of the way, no matter how tough things might get (and my life is far from easy!)

I’ve been getting similar feelings during my therapy sessions, and I know some of this is due to repressed emotions coming to conscious awareness. A lot of the emotion, though, I have to admit, has to do with transference–which are the strong feelings some clients develop toward their therapists that can easily be mistaken for limerence or romantic attraction (but in my case lacks a sexual aspect, which is good). In actuality, you don’t know your therapist at all (or at least you shouldn’t, beyond his or her qualifications and competence). The idealization many of us experience toward our therapists are our own projections and indicate primitive attachment has been achieved, and this can become a basis of healing as you learn to work through those feelings to connect with your own emotions and eventually develop healthier relationships with other people.

So what does any of this have to do with the Holy Spirit? Why am I talking about therapy and God in the same article? Well, because the emotions I feel in therapy are often similar to the emotions I have in church. The transference I’m currently experiencing is strong, very strong. When I was 22 I developed a strong transference toward a therapist I’d been seeing for about 2 years and I couldn’t handle it; I lacked the maturity to be able to work through the almost overpowering emotions that came up and they became too painful and I eventually left. That’s okay though; I wasn’t ready.

waldo,jpg
I couldn’t resist.

I’m a lot older and more mature now, and have learned how to be mindful and not allow my emotions to overwhelm me to the point of doing stupid things or making bad choices. In fact, I’ve almost become too controlled, since my primary goal in therapy right now is to connect more with my emotions, which due to complex PTSD, BPD and avoidant PD, have become almost inaccessible to me most of the time. Church and therapy are the two places where I feel safe actually allowing them to bubble to the surface a little bit.

But I’m still only human, and if I’m not careful, my transference toward my therapist could become inappropriate and while not likely to hurt him, could be damaging to me. Maintaining healthy boundaries and remaining mindful, while still welcoming and allowing myself to experience transference feelings toward my therapist can be a bit of a challenge.

So I had a sort of epiphany while praying this morning in church. Why not invite the Holy Spirit in during my sessions? Why not say a prayer just before each session, asking God to help me get the most out of therapy and thanking him for what I’ve already accomplished? Why not ask God to help me stay mindful but still able to experience the wonderful kaleidoscope of emotion that lies under all the fear and defenses I’ve built after years of abuse? God brought this particular therapist and I together for a reason. But he’s just a human being and imperfect like everyone else. I know this on a cognitive level, if not an emotional one. If he seems “ideal” it’s only God working through him; and it’s only me projecting my need for a perfect caregiver, a surrogate parent, onto him.

I also think that asking the Holy Spirit in during my sessions will actually enhance my ability to access buried emotions, and that’s my primary goal at the moment. I think that if I do this, I can get even more out of therapy than I have been getting, and will progress at a faster rate. so I’m going to try doing this this week and see what happens.
God and therapy don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Why I love liturgy.

A view of the famed Rose Window in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France.

A view of the famed Rose Window in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France.

Back in April, during the Easter Vigil mass, I became a Roman Catholic. This came as a surprise to many people I know, since I’d spent most of my life as an agnostic and at times veered close to atheism. I’ve also toyed with Buddhism and Scientology (and I admit I still have a soft spot for Buddhism because it appeals to my rational mind, and that isn’t likely to change). Due to the recent charges of sexual abuse taking place in the Catholic church, this oldest and largest of all Christian denominations has become more criticized than ever, and probably rightfully so. I don’t think it’s the only religious organization that has been guilty of such behaviors, but I think it’s the most publicized. I’m also not ignorant of the fact that the Catholic Church has a bloody and often very un-Christlike history, especially during the Middle Ages, as well as being the wealthiest religious organization in the world and often full of hypocrisy. In addition, I do not believe that being a Catholic is the only way to salvation. Any Christian who has accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior in their hearts will get to Heaven, regardless of denomination (why did I almost spell that DEMONination?) and don’t necessary even have to attend church at all.

So why did I become a Catholic, you ask. Why did I join a church that’s so rife with its past of violence, and a present still full of intolerance, sexism, and heirarchy? The answer to this is complicated.

I was raised in a family that although nominally Christian, was basically agnostic. We did not attend church regularly (although I was sent to Sunday school as a young child), and holidays like Christmas and Easter were recognized more for their fun/materialistic secularity (gift giving, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, new Easter dresses and coats, etc.) than for the solemn events in the life of Christ they actually honor. My family regarded them as “children’s holidays” that adults indulged and that would eventually be outgrown. Although I was baptized Methodist (and I was surprised to learn my Protestant baptism was recognized as valid by the Catholic Church), we never became very active in any church and therefore were not part of any enduring “church family.” When church was attended, it was a sterile, secular affair, full of feel-good stories of God’s unconditional love, lessons about tolerance and social justice (nothing wrong with that, of course, but it wasn’t very religious nor fill me with a sense of awe or wonder), and very little that was Biblical or traditional. Services revolved mainly around the sermon, always a feel-good pep talk about God’s all-encompassing love and loving one another. All of this clap-happy, touchy feely reformed-Protestant stuff flew in the face of the constant anger, rage, loneliness, and discord that was constantly going on at home. Due to that, all the messages about positive-thinking and feel-goodness seemed insincere and meaningless, and didn’t address the very real problems in my family that made me feel so defective and different from everyone else.

For a short time–maybe one or two years–my father became fascinated by Christian Science, and I was sent to a Christian Science Sunday school. I was too young to comprehend the metaphysical beliefs they espoused, which basically preached that all that was material was an illusion, and only Spirit mattered (later my father would become active in Religious Science, a similar belief system that isn’t based in Christianity and overlaps a great deal with New Thought, part of the New Age movement). I couldn’t wrap my young brain around the metaphysical mumbo jumbo I heard on Sunday and I desperately needed something tangible to offset my growing feelings of dissociation from myself and the rest of humanity and from God Himself. I was filled with uncertainty about what was real and what wasn’t. Living on a diet of spiritual junk food, I was starving for emotional and spiritual sustenance. Although I coudn’t have put it into words, I needed to experience the Divine with my five senses.

holy_communion
How I envied these girls!

Enter Catholic school. In 5th grade, the bullying at the local public school became so bad that my parents decided to take matters into their own hands and despite their misgivings about the Catholic Church, I was sent to a Catholic girls’ school. My grades immediately improved and I found it easier to make friends with these girls than at the public school. My parents were surprised (and probably a little disturbed) that one of my favorite classes (and the one I did best at) was Religion. I didn’t become religious back then, nor did my faith in God deepen (I was for all intents and purposes agnostic), but I found myself always looking forward to the masses we used to have at school on religious days. Although the highly liturgical services confused me at first (knowing when to stand up and sit down, memorize the various prayers, etc) I found myself drawn to the orderliness and beauty of the Mass. It somehow seemed Godlike and was steeped in history that the Protestant services I’d attended with my parents just didn’t have. I envied the cool trappings of Catholicism (when the other girls were going through Confirmation, they got a new name and a pretty dress and I wanted that too) and longed to be able to take Communion with everyone else. I wanted a set of my own rosary beads. Today I know these things really don’t matter (I think whatever denomination you are–even if none at all–is a matter of personal preference) but at my tender age, these tangible things seemed part of some wonderful, sacred, mysterious and heavenly world I couldn’t be part of. Sitting there in my folding chair watching the proceedings, I always felt the presence of God and a benevolent, forgiving love I never felt from my own family, even though I had to remain seated during the communion. It was one of the few places where I could feel the benevolence of God.

Many cradle Catholics remember negative experiences from their childhood about the Church and turned away from it as they came of age, but as someone who only knew it as a refuge from the harsh realities that took place in my agnostic home, I never developed those negative associations with Catholicism. I loved most of the nuns at my school. With one or two exceptions, they seemed so kind and compassionate, very saintlike–and they seemed to care about me in a way I never felt I got from my own family. Although I never talked about what went on at home, one nun in particular who seemed to favor me for some reason, guessed that things at home weren’t ideal, and told me to come see her anytime I needed to talk. I never did (for fear of what might happen if I “squealed” about the family to an outsider), but it felt good to know that she cared enough to reach out to me.

As I grew older I fell away from Christianity (not that I’d ever really embraced it much and knew next to nothing about the Bible or the life of Christ), and experimented with other belief systems, including Scientology and Buddhism, if anything at all. The Bible seemed to me like a book of ancient fairy tales with no relevance to my own life. I rarely prayed and looked down on churchgoing and religious people as ignorant and deluded. Although I never embraced full-on atheism (it was too depressing to think there was no afterlife at all), I thought that if God existed, he was pretty much hands-off and that everyone, other than the most hardened criminals and mean, cruel people, would get to Heaven, if there even was such a place. The concept of reincarnation made a lot more logical sense to me than the idea of heaven or hell.

But my soul was still starving and I think deep down I always knew this. Every once in a while, in spite of my doubts about the existence of God, I’d make time to attend a Catholic mass. I didn’t believe what they preached, in fact I thought most of it was pretty silly, but I loved the ritual and the order, and somehow always came away feeling transcended. I’d go take Communion (knowing as a non-Catholic I wasn’t supposed to) and feel somehow nourished. In a way I couldn’t explain, witnessing the reverence and beauty of the Mass, made me feel like part of something much bigger than myself and accepted for who I was, not (as in my FOO) expected to be someone I could never be.

I toyed with other Christian faiths, including Lutheranism and the Southern Baptist church. During the late 1980s, I attended a Lutheran church (and was confirmed as Lutheran) mainly because the man I married was Lutheran. The services were called masses and were very liturgical and quite similar in many ways to the Catholic mass, but they seemed watered down, somehow. For instance, the communion wafer was regarded as symbolic rather than being the actual Body of Christ. We never became deeply involved with the Lutheran church, and although we had our kids baptized Lutheran, we did not attend church on Sundays or otherwise do much to encourage their spiritual development.

When we moved to North Carolina from northern New Jersey, we were faced with culture shock–instead of having mostly Catholic and Jewish neighbors, suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by Southern Baptists who insisted we needed to be “saved.” Still looking for spiritual nourishment, I started attending services at the local Baptist church as well as Bible studies on Tuesdays nights. My kids attended 2 years of Vacation Bible School. I never cottoned to the hellfire-and-brimstone preaching though, or the literal interpretation of the Bible. I was especially turned off by the church’s conservative political agenda, that actually told us we were “going to Hell” if we didn’t vote Republican, as well as their dismissal of science. I decided to stop attending church there.

hellfire
Hellfire-and-brimstone preaching is a turn off to me.

A few years later, my daughter had a friend at school whose parents were Southern Baptists, and my daughter, age 9 at the time, decided to be baptized in their church. I was fine with that, even though I disagreed with the southern Baptist belief system, because it took the burden off of me to be responsible for her spiritual growth. I attended her baptism and was surprised at how modern the service was, with a pop-rock band that played contemporary Christian music rather than traditional hymns. Intrigued, I decided to attend a few more services, but I always felt like I was at a rock concert rather than at church. In spite of the emphasis on Biblical literalism, during the long, emotional sermons, I never felt my soul uplifted or any real feeling of spiritual transcendence. Although very different from the touchy-feely, heaven-awaits-no matter-what-you-do preaching of the liberal Protestantism of my childhood, this hellfire-and-brimstone preaching bookended by Christian contemporary music with the words splashed on a huge TV screen didn’t do much for me either. I longed for tradition, for history, for meaning.

I still occasionally attended Catholic masses, but never thought I’d actually become one. But shortly after I went No Contact with my ex (who freeloaded off me and mentally abused me for almost 7 years following our divorce and nearly bled me dry emotionally, mentally, financially, and spiritually) I began to blog. My mental and physical health came back first, and then I realized I was still starving spiritually. I needed God, who after all, had been watching and protecting me all the time I was in an abusive marriage and had shown me on several occasions how real He was. Last October, I decided to start attending Mass as well as RCIA classes (the classes you take to become Catholic). I had doubts about much of the doctrine (and truth be told, still do). I still wasn’t sure I wanted to become Catholic, but I thought I should at least take the classes and make an educated decision.

To my surprise, I found that Catholic doctrine isn’t very different from what I’ve always believed anyway. The Bible is held as important (more important than many fundamentalist Christians believe we do) but much of its content is not not interpreted literally and therefore doesn’t fly in the face of centuries of scientific discovery and achievement. Yes, we are saved by grace alone (all Christians are), but works are also important and are tangible evidence of God’s grace. Sacraments (communion, confession, etc) give tangibility to God’s grace although (I don’t think) they are necessary for salvation. Confession is not a punishment; it is an opportunity to unload to someone else and makes you feel better afterwards (very similar to a 4th step in a 12-step program). Although I had my doubts at first, I’ve come to believe the Host (the communion wafer) does actually become the body of Christ, due to the glorious, transcended way I always feel after partaking. I do feel like my soul is being changed for the better, even though it’s not a Saul-to-Paul-like sudden conversion full of fireworks and drama.

I admit I do still have some issues, mostly having to do with the Catholic church’s stance on social matters such as abortion and homosexuality, as well as the fact that priests still must be male. I don’t think the Pope is infallible either (he is just a man), but I understand the reasoning behind having a Pope and I happen to like the current Pope anyway. I don’t venerate Mary and the saints, although I have utmost respect for them. Veneration isn’t the same as worship, anyway. Only Jesus as God is worshipped so there’s nothing un-Christian there, a far as I’m concerned.

rosary_beads

Because of my doubts and personal proclivities, I’ll probably never be the “perfect Catholic” or “perfect Christian” but that’s okay. I pray that God keeps working on my soul to cleanse it from sin and I’m willing to believe anything God wants me to believe. I’m willing to turn my soul and my life over to the Creator. Whenever I’m at mass, I feel part of a vast family and something glorious, beautiful and so much bigger than myself or all humanity. I feel accepted in God’s kingdom and have begun to fear death and the future less than I used to. The tangibility, beauty and order of the liturgical tradition–the memorized call-and-response prayers, the communion procession, the incense, the swelling organ music and the singing, the kneeling and the standing, the Sign of the Cross, and all the rest of these “silly rituals”–makes me feel that God is a tangible, real thing, someone who is RIGHT THERE and that I can see, hear, smell, feel, touch and even taste. The traditional hymns with their pipe-organ and piano music and the ancient prayers imbue a sense of mystery and history into the services that neither liberal Protestantism or fundamentalist pop-rock sing-alongs do for me. And I love the Bible readings too. I’m beginning to feel that the messages in the Bible do have meaning for me personally. The orderliness and ritual of the mass is regarded by some as mindless, dull and lacking spontaneity (and to some extent I can understand this view), but I find the repetitive and predictable aspects such as the call-and-response prayers and chants to have an uncanny way of eventually filtering down from my mind into the deepest part of my heart, in a way a hellfire-and-brimstone or feel-good, prosperity-gospel sermonizing can never do.

Before becoming Catholic, I toyed with the idea of becoming Eastern Orthodox, a religion which, if anything, is even more liturgical and steeped in ritual, history, and tradition than the modern Catholic church (and is somewhat more liberal in its stance on women’s rights and birth control), but finding a sizable Orthodox community here in the Southern United States is a huge challenge to say the least. I did actually attend one Orthodox mass about five years ago (my son’s Kung Fu teacher was Russian Orthodox and invited us to attend his church), and although it was incredibly beautiful (and the food served afterwards was delicious), the feel of the Orthodox mass was a little too “foreign” for my taste. Anglicanism (The Church of England) also has a rich liturgical tradition (please see my Christmas post “O Come All Ye Faithful”) but again, is uncommon here in the southern US, and it’s still Protestantism anyway. I like the idea of being part of the oldest and largest practicing Christian community in the world that has such a rich and colorful history (even if at times in the past it wasn’t especially Christ-like). I feel proud to be a part of that. Although I know the trappings and ritual are more a matter of personal preference than salvation, for me they make an abstract God seem more real. Coming from such a chaotic, unpredictable background, the order and predictability of the liturgy is food for my soul. My adopted religion may not be the only road to salvation, but it’s the only road for me. Thanks be to God.

Millennials and liturgical Christianity.
As an aside, the Millennial generation, although largely turned off by religion, are, when drawn to religion, are converting to “high church” (liturgical) Christianity such as Anglicanism, Catholicism, and the Orthodox church. They are a generation that (like me, even though I’m not a Millennial) longs for a sense of tradition and connection with history that’s lacking in the evangelical, fundamentalist, and liberal Protestantism or New Age or atheistic belief systems they were raised with, all of which largely ignore or dismiss 1800 years of Christian history and tradition.

Further reading:
Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-millennials-long-for-liturgy/
Millennials are Seeking Tradition, Sacramentality, and Liturgy: http://www.catholicvote.org/millennials-are-seeking-tradition-sacramentality-and-liturgy/

Spiritual crisis.

sun-breaking-through-dark-clouds

I’ve always hesitated about getting too religious on this blog, since people of many different faiths (or none at all) come here and I don’t want to alienate non-Christians or atheists. But there’s no possible way to write what I’m about to write without at least acknowledging the presence of God (good) and Satan (evil). I will be referencing God because He plays such an important part in what happened to me this morning, but prefer to use the term “evil” or “forces of darkness” rather than Satan or the Devil. It’s all the same thing.

This morning I had a wake up call from God. Like so many other times when God knocks me upside the head with the truth, it hurt–a lot! But ultimately, it proved to me He hasn’t given up on me yet and has shown me the way to get out of the spiritual mess I’ve gotten myself into. But when He’s not pleased, He definitely lets you know. It’s my own choice what I do with this information.

As many of you know, I’ve been struggling with depression, lack of motivation, and strange dissociative episodes, where I often feel as if I’m out of my body. My “muse” seemed to have gone AWOL without any warning. I couldn’t figure it out, and thought I was having some kind of mental breakdown or a relapse into the numb depression I was in before I started to blog.

I didn’t realize until this morning that what was happening had little to do with my mind but a lot to do with my soul. Now when I look back at everything, I can’t understand how I didn’t see it, but Evil has a way of sneaking around and convincing you it’s Good when it’s the worst thing imaginable. Evil wants your soul and will do anything it can to get it, even convince you that bad is good and good is bad, and have you questioning your faith, if you have one.

I felt like God was very far away. I prayed, but half-heartedly, and no answers were coming. It was frustrating. Had God played a trick on me, or maybe didn’t even exist? Or maybe God just didn’t like me very much.

For weeks, maybe several months, my efforts at writing new blog posts felt forced. I felt that I was losing interest in narcissism and would have to take this blog in another direction. At the same time (and this is VERY insidious!) I found myself reading a lot about dark subjects, just because I felt drawn to them somehow. Yes, I admit it: while I want to be a good person and walk on the side of what’s good and right, there’s always been a part of me that’s attracted to darkness, even though at the same time I feel repelled by it. In fact, it’s much the same kind of “attraction” I’ve always had to narcissistic men–both attracted and repelled at the same time. I know it’s bad, and know it’s bad for ME, but rationalize to myself why it isn’t that dark or why it’s okay for me to be drawn closer to it. I thought I could delve into dark subjects as a sort of “spectator,” without getting really involved. I rationalized to myself that I wasn’t offending God because I wasn’t actually engaging in these activities. The power of the demonic is in its insidiousness. The way it sneaks up on you.

false-prophet
Evil can masquerade as “good.” Be careful.

Last week I posted an article (which I removed this morning due to its content) about the use of psychedelic drugs as therapy for Cluster B disorders and PTSD. The article was at best irresponsible and misleading, and at worst potentially destructive, even…evil. But at the time I wrote it, I had somehow convinced myself it was okay as long as I prefaced it with a “disclaimer.” It never occurred to me that although I never would take such drugs myself, even as therapy (for the record, I don’t do any drugs and rarely even drink), that someone else might be convinced to do so, and find themselves in the midst of something they would not be able to handle or even in the ER! They could also find their souls in jeopardy.

That might sound dramatic but let me explain. In spite of my unhealthy obsession with dark things, I’ve shied away from anything involving the occult ever since my bad experience using a Ouija board at age 17. The occult scares me because I believe it’s possible to attract dark forces or spirits when engaged in it. Psychedelic drugs scare me too, but I find their effects (including their effects on me in the past, which were always negative) strangely fascinating. But when you take a psychedelic drug, you’re altering your consciousness and this often involves something called “ego death.” When ego death happens, people tend to dissociate quite badly. At high doses–or on strong psychoactive drugs–you lose your sense of yourself and forget who you are, where you are, or even that you’re human. At the same time your cognition remains intact. It’s at this point that many people either freak out and have a bad experience–or enjoy the experience and begin to think of themselves as “like gods” since they feel like disembodied pure consciousness and “see” things that are unbelievable in the context of the material world.

Several things can happen, and none of them are good. You can have a psychotic break and never “return,” you can “come back” believing the lies you’ve been told (that you’re “like a God” and can do anything God can do), or an outside entity (most likely, a bad one) can enter your body when you’re in this vulnerable state. I do realize some people claim to have had enlightening and even humbling experiences, and that may be the case for a few, but I think it’s the exception rather than the rule, and even then, you may have been deceived by dark forces. Some say that because psychoactive plants grown in nature and God created these plants, that they must have been put there by God for humans to use to achieve enlightenment. That may be the case but I doubt God wants us all tripping to know Him. They may have been given to us as medicine, meant to be dispensed by a doctor. We can’t know why they exist, but I have no business encouraging anyone to use them recreationally or as a method of self-therapy. There are too many risks and too many negative outcomes. It’s opening a Pandora’s box to the unknown. Just because you’re curious about what’s in that box doesn’t mean it should be opened. Personally I think psychedelic drugs are a form of sorcery (and I even said so in the article this post is about), and sorcery isn’t anything I want to get involved with.

I can’t help but think of Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge, which may have been a psychoactive plant of some sort. Look what happened to them (and all humanity) after they ate from it! God specifically told them not to eat the fruit but they did anyway. We can’t know why it was put there if they were not to partake, but He must have had his reasons. They listened to the serpent instead who told them it was perfectly okay and not to listen to God. They fell for it and their disobedience led to the Fall. No, I do not believe this was a literal account of creation (I think it’s allegorical) but the message there is still very clear: there are some things God does NOT want us to do, and it’s not for us to question His reasoning. It could be that the answer would be too overwhelming for us to handle.

say_that_meme

It fills me with shame now to think that in posting that article last week, I was doing the same thing the serpent was doing in the Garden. Even with all the disclaimers and admission that I’d be too afraid to undertake any psychotherapy using psychedelic drugs, that article was still incredibly irresponsible to say the least. I can’t believe I even wrote such a thing, never mind actually posting it! But the dark forces can be very convincing and even hypnotic (much like a drug–or the serpent) and while engaged in activities that are more pleasing to those forces than to goodness (or godliness), you literally can’t see what you’re doing or why it’s a bad thing. Evil literally becomes “good” and that’s the lie the dark forces wants us to believe.

I now know why I’ve been feeling so depressed and dissociated. My soul was being pulled between good and evil. Being pulled in two opposite directions, I couldn’t “move,” hence the lack of motivation and dearth of new ideas. It also explains the strange out of body experiences and inexplicable sense of foreboding and panic attacks. These are all symptoms of soul sickness. Someone on another blog has said I seem very confused, and it’s true. I am very confused and have been for some time. The dark forces use confusion to disorient us and make us more vulnerable to their attempts to win our souls to their side.

I want to do what’s right; I want to please God, but at the same time I do find dark things alluring and seductive. All my life I’ve been surrounded by evil, and stayed with a very evil man far longer than I should have. I finally escaped, and found God, but the dark forces still want to get their hooks in me and this was their attempt to do so. I’m not strong enough to resist those forces without God, especially taking my background into consideration. If I deliberately dabble in things (and this includes even reading excessively about them) I’m leaving myself wide open to go down a very negative spiritual path.

This morning I saw a comment about this blog on someone else’s blog. The comments were not positive. The drug article was called out as being “evil.” I never thought of it that way, because the last thing I want to be is evil, but I immediately realized this person was right. I don’t want to post things that could be seen that way or could harm someone’s body, mind or soul. But that article WAS very dangerous and suddenly it was like my eyes were opened. I almost felt as if I’d just woken up and seen things as they really were. I saw myself in the mirror and the reflection wasn’t pretty.

My first reaction was extreme. I felt such overpowering shame (similar to what Adam and Eve must have felt in the Garden when they covered their bodies) that for a moment I was VERY tempted to just take down this whole blog and disappear. But suddenly I felt God’s presence and another thought entered my mind–Repent. Retract the article (as well as others that have been seen or may be seen as irresponsible or damaging to ACONs or disordered people, or ANYONE for that matter) and publicly apologize. I knew that God was giving me another solution because He knows that blogging has brought me to Him and didn’t want me to destroy the gift He’d given me to heal myself. To take down this blog and disappear would be the coward’s way out. It’s the way I have handled so many other things in my life when I handled things badly or hurt someone unintentionally. But God doesn’t want us to be cowards. He wants us to take responsibility for our mistakes, to own up to them, even when it’s embarrassing.
I was wrong. There’s no other way to justify what I did.

Many people might think doing such a thing a public retraction and apology would bring more shame than just disappearing. But ironically, I felt relief and gratitude. Gratitude that God had NOT turned his back on me (as I’d feared) and still has a plan for me. A year ago he was working on my mind; now He’s working on my soul, and the lessons you learn are so much harder. God is endlessly patient with us. He knows we’re human and will mess up sometimes. I messed up big time. I asked for forgiveness but I knew that the feeling of relief and gratitude meant He’d already forgiven me, as long as I never do such a thing ever again.

And God does perform miracles too. Several small (or not so small) miracles happened following my eyes being opened this morning. I could have felt hurt by the negative comments on that other blog, but somehow I didn’t–because I knew that person was right. I didn’t feel depressed today, and I felt inspired to write this article. I realized how much I WANTED to write it. I couldn’t wait to get home to write it. I haven’t felt this excited to write any blog post in months! I just knew that it was what God wanted me to do, and God always knows what we need even when we don’t.

When I got home earlier, there was one other little miracle waiting for me. This:

succulent_flower

A single bright pink flower on a succulent plant in my kitchen that has NEVER bloomed in the three years I’ve had it. I never noticed it until I got home, and suddenly there it was! I felt God’s presence and knew this was Him letting me know I’d made the right choice and was pleased. So I uttered two words: “Thank you.”

I know there will be many more spiritual crises ahead of me. I’m far from perfect and never will be. But I know if I stay close to God and stray less than I have over to the allure of darkness, I may have fewer of them and find I’m a whole lot happier in general.