A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis

white-dove

I rarely share religious articles, since I know many or even most of my readers aren’t religious, but I think this one is so important I couldn’t let it pass by.  I also think the truths described in it are things we all need to remember in these confusing and dark days of our nation, regardless of your belief system.  If nothing else, they will help keep you sane.

I’ve been growing increasingly disturbed and even upset by what I see happening not just in our government, but in many of our churches, especially evangelical churches.  The Founding Fathers were wise to demand the separation of church and state, not because they were all atheists (they weren’t), but because when religion and state merge, they tend to corrupt each other.  It’s not just government being protected from religion, but also religion being protected from government.   As long as churches stayed out of politics, they tended to stay true to the teachings of Christ.   But something dark and unsettling is happening within Christian evangelism and it’s way too serious for us to ignore, because, Christian or not, it affects all of us.

Dominionism is a growing movement within evangelism that claims to be Christianity, but is more like what would happen if Christianity was turned inside out and stood on its head.  It’s an authoritarian, intolerant, unloving, unforgiving, punitive, and sociopathic belief system which seems to be equal parts Old Testament biblical law and Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness.  It’s the Prosperity Gospel with an angry, narcissistic, and unloving God.  Christian dominionism is not actually a religion at all — it’s a fascist political movement which is to real Christianity what the Taliban or ISIS is to Islam, and like the Taliban, it hides its anti-woman, anti-gay, white supremacist, violent, and oppressive ideology behind a facade of “Christian” religion.

We are close to a rewriting of the Constitution (Constitutional Convention) by these sick control freaks.   The Republican Party and Trump’s cabinet in particular are infested with these zealots.   They cannot be reasoned with.  They will not compromise.  They will not back down.   There is nothing they won’t do to achieve complete domination over all of us and of the planet.   Their doctrine dictates that doing evil things is okay as long as the end result (Christ’s return and the rapture) is achieved.    These people believe they are prophets and apostles who have been anointed to be earthly rulers and have been given permission by God to oppress and abuse the rest of us who are not part of God’s ruling class.   There’s nothing biblical or remotely Christian about any of this.

The dominionist movement is aided and abetted by the Koch Brothers and other oligarchs (both American and Russian) who aren’t religious themselves but whose insatiable lust for even more wealth and power dovetails perfectly with what dominionists want (complete control).    If they ever do gain full control over our government or are able to rewrite our Constitution, we’ll be living a real life Handmaid’s Tale.   The Kochs, Mercers, and other oligarchs working in cahoots with the dominionists will be either be exempt from the oppressive and draconian laws the rest of us will be subject to, or they can just skip off to another country.

As I said in the first paragraph, I’ve been getting upset about this abusive belief system and the threat it poses to my freedom and my life, and the lives, rights, and freedoms of the people I love.    Some days I feel like they really are going to win and I start to get anxious and depressed.   So I’ve been praying a lot about it.

The following article feels like an answer to my prayer  — a reminder of what it really means to be Christian in these times and what is expected of us (because it’s easy to get confused these days with all the misinformation), and at the same time a manifesto against the heretical perversion of Christianity called dominionism.    I feel strongly that if Jesus were here sitting next to me, these words would be exactly what he’d say to me.

A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis

 

 

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I’m having doubts about Christianity.

bare lonely tree in black and white

I feel like my soul is lost in a snowstorm, and it’s because of the political situation.

The religious right is causing good people to leave their churches, or even Christianity altogether.    This is because so many churches, especially evangelical ones, have become little more than bullhorns for right wing propaganda that praise Trump as some sort of biblical hero.

Mainline Protestant churches and the Catholic Church have kept a healthy distance from politics, and if they lean any way at all, they tend to lean to the left and preach social justice, especially the mainline Protestant denominations.

The Catholic Church is awkwardly placed in all this.  While it’s always emphasized the importance of social justice and helping vulnerable populations, and is headed by a Pope (Francis) who appears to dislike Trump and is decidedly left-wing in his views,  the Catholic Church is still vehemently pro-life and is against artificial contraception (even though most Catholic women of childbearing age use it anyway).   It also considers homosexuality to be a sin and does not ordain female priests.   Many people have left the Catholic Church because they perceive it as being behind the times and out of touch with the needs of women.

Two years ago, I became Catholic, because of all the Christian religions, Catholicism had the most mystery and beauty, and I’ve always loved the liturgy. Although some Protestant churches (Episcopalian and Lutheran) also have a liturgy that’s almost identical to the Catholic one, I wanted the purity of the original one.   I also always liked the doctrine of transubstantiation:  the idea that the Eucharist is a real sacrament and the bread and wine actually turns into the body and blood of Christ, instead of being merely symbolic.

Catholicism is the oldest existing Christian religion, and I was attracted to all its rich and colorful history, both the good and the bad.   I loved the art, especially the serene paintings of Mary and baby Jesus.   I liked the saints.

I also was attracted to Catholicism because it was comforting to me.   Even though my family is not Catholic (my mother was but she left the Church during her teens), I grew up in a heavily Catholic neighborhood in New Jersey, and attended two Catholic schools between 5th and 10th grade.    Every Friday we attended mass in school, and I was so envious of the girls who got to take Communion, while I had to remain sitting in my chair.    I also was envious of all the cool stuff they got:  the lacy white Confirmation dresses, the Confirmation names (I finally got mine: it’s Catherine), the rosary beads.    I was given a set of blue plastic rosary beads one day at school (maybe they forgot I wasn’t Catholic?), even though I had no idea how to use them.  They were among my favorite possessions and I liked to finger them like worry beads.

During those years I attended Catholic school, it was like my home away from home.   I loved the nuns, who were always so serene and kind to me.    Things were very bad at home during those years, with both my parents drinking and fighting, and I felt unloved at home.   At school, that wasn’t the case.  A couple of the nuns treated me like loving parents, and I also had friends at school. Their families welcomed me as if I was one of them.   One girl, Lynn, came from a loud, big, boisterous Italian Catholic family.  Her grandmother, who spoke Italian, used to tell stories from the Old Country and they actually had a wine-making press in their basement where once a year they’d have a grape crushing party that all the neighbors were invited to.   Her grandmother used to cook a big Italian meal every Sunday after church.  What a contrast to my own home, where meals were a silent, stressful affair where my mother constantly criticized me if I wanted seconds and hounded me about my weight, even as a child.    When our dinners weren’t silent, they were interrupted by drunken arguments or either my mother or me in tears.

I’ve always been a spiritual seeker.     I dabbled in a number of different religions during my adult life, both Christian and not.    Still, I always found myself drawn to the Catholic church, and while I never seriously considered becoming one, on occasion I  would attend Mass and take Communion whenever I went.

I finally made the decision to become Catholic in 2014, and for a year attended RCIA classes at my local church.    At the Easter Vigil Mass in 2015, I was confirmed Catholic (my Methodist baptism, to my surprise, was accepted as valid).    I received my confirmation name of Catherine, and my  sponsor gave me a set of rose-scented rosary beads.  My father was perfectly fine with my Catholic conversion and sent me a crucifix.   It was one of the last gifts I would receive from him before he died in June 2016.

Overall, I like Catholic doctrine.  I like the idea of Mary and the saints, who are not actually worshipped the way Jesus is, but merely venerated and seen as intercessors (you ask them to pray for you, not pray to them directly).    I love the Sacraments, even Confession (penance), which to me seems like a way to unload.  It’s therapeutic rather than punishing or guilt-inducing.  At the same time, it keeps my conscience clear.   I always feel cleansed and relieved when I leave Confession (which is done in a small room facing the priest, rather than in a dark confession box).     The “penance” is usually nothing more than saying a couple of Hail Marys or Our Fathers. I always wonder why so many people are so turned off by this sacrament.  To me, it’s like an exercise for the soul.   More than anything, I love Communion.   After I eat my wafer, I really do feel different, as if Jesus is in me.   Maybe it’s a placebo effect of some kind, but I choose to believe it really is Christ’s physical presence, and that makes all the difference.

I like the fact that Catholicism is science friendly.  Many of the greatest scientists and academics in history were Catholic clergy.  I was surprised when I found out during the RCIA classes that in spite of the Catholic doctrine of original sin,  evolution is accepted (albeit God-inspired, which I’ve always believed anyway).   Most of the books of the Old Testament,  including the Adam and Eve story, are regarded as allegorical rather than literal (as they are in mainline Protestantism).   I’m not sure how that squares with the concept of original sin, but so be it.

There are still some doctrinal points I have issues with, and becoming Catholic hasn’t changed my feelings.    One is the literal bodily assumption of Mary into Heaven.  Also the idea that Mary was a virgin and remained so after Christ was born.  Since Mary was also human and not divine, I don’t believe she was conceived without original sin.

I also still consider myself pro-choice, although with limitations.   Actually, I’m sort of on the fence about abortion.   I certainly don’t think it should be used as a form of birth control, or that abortion is okay just because a pregnancy is inconvenient, but I also think there are times it’s the only viable option, especially in cases of rape or incest, if the fetus has a fatal condition and will die anyway, or if the mother’s life is at stake.   The Catholic position is no abortion for any reason, ever.     I can accept this though, because the Catholic Church is pro-life across the board: they are also anti-war, anti-death penalty, and have a long tradition of helping the poor.   There is consistency there and so, to me, their position is not hypocritical.

I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with birth control.  As for homosexuality, well, I have always had gay friends and my son is gay, so I just can’t condemn it.  Some of my favorite people ever are gay.     I also disagree with the Catholic position about women in the clergy, although this may change in time (my priest doesn’t really know why women are barred from the clergy and said there’s no Biblical basis for this other than tradition).

In spite of my issues with some Catholic doctrine, I never once regretted my choice, and until about two months ago, I attended Mass regularly.   But lately, I’m having problems with my faith.   Not Catholicism in particular, but with Christianity in general.    And it’s because of the religious right and the Trump administration.   My church has never taken a position either for or against Donald Trump, and in fact politics is rarely if ever talked about during the homily (sermon in the Protestant faith).   We are merely asked to pray for our leaders.

It disturbs me that so many Catholics (not necessarily in my church but in general) are Trump supporters.   The Trump administration also includes Catholics and I have a problem with that too.     Never before have I judged people based on what their politics are or which politician they support, but that changed this year.    Because of the politicization of Christianity and its growing association with the far right, Christianity in general has been giving me a bad taste in my mouth, and unfortunately that includes my own faith.

I still consider myself a believer in Jesus Christ and I still pray a lot (mostly for a strengthening of faith these days), but mention the word “Christian” to me and I recoil.   I am aware there are Christian leftists and a growing movement toward the social gospel, and that’s attractive to me — but the Christian right eclipses that.    I consider myself a “red letter Christian,” which means I focus on the words of Jesus himself that appear in the gospels.  Unfortunately, those lessons of love, charity, and tolerance are minimized or even ignored by the Christian right.   In this country, the religious right is a lot more powerful and a lot louder than the Christian left, and it’s turning many good people off to Christianity.   It seems that these days, the loudest and most powerful voices of Christianity belong to horrible people devoid of empathy or any true sense of morality or grace toward others.

So I find myself being turned off by the whole idea of Christianity, even though I know real Christianity isn’t like that at all.  I pray about it all the time, but the doubts still remain.  One result of this cognitive dissonance is that I haven’t been to church in almost two months.    I’m going to have to call my priest and set up a time to talk to him about these issues, but it’s hard to motivate myself.  I feel like a hypocrite attending church or taking communion again until this is resolved.   It’s actually occurred to me this is exactly the way Satan would get people to leave the Christian faith.  He would hijack the churches and fill them with heartless and judgmental authoritarians and narcissists.  He would corrupt faith by making it political.  He would use religion as a weapon of hatred intended to divide and create a culture of fear,  which is the opposite of what Jesus intended.    Good people who otherwise might embrace Jesus would reject Christianity altogether.

Maybe this is just a “dark night of the soul” — a spiritual crisis in which I’ll emerge with my faith stronger than ever, or maybe I really am “losing my religion.”   I just don’t know anymore.   I’ll keep praying, though.

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.

Little Miracles.

GodsGrace[1]

God keeps sending me all these little gifts and surprises that are becoming proof to me that he listens and cares.   I’ve written about a few of these before.  A few others are too hard to explain so I haven’t talked about them. Another one happened today, sort of a big one.

Katie from Dreams of a Better World blog and I have been having a lot of discussions (in the comments) about the nature of suffering and what it means.  She’s also written some excellent and moving blog posts about it.    A whole book could be written about this topic (and maybe has), but here’s the short version of what we both think suffering means.

God doesn’t cause us to suffer or make bad things happen.  He isn’t a big bully in the sky. But he allows those things to happen and asks us to trust him when life looks hopeless.   He uses those things so we learn to lean on him, and then he will begin to show us in small ways that he is there, and that increases faith.

What happened today seems like a dream, but I think it’s the beginning of a spiritual awakening…maybe.   Time will tell.  I know I’m changing, and they are all good changes. I don’t think these changes would be happening without God and the reason why things never changed before, was because I wasn’t ready to trust him or lean on him yet.  I was still too proud and too suspicious and untrusting and skeptical because of my past. But you need to lean in completely and just let go. But that came later.

You reach a spiritual low that can go no further, in our cases caused by prolonged abuse, and one day we realize we must fight to survive.   But we’re so weak and beaten down, how can we fight?   But we do.   We get angry at first, and rage and pound our fists against the walls and at the sky and maybe at God himself.  But soon the angry fires burn themselves out and are replaced with a sort of openness.  I can’t explain this openness but it happens after the anger.  It’s like you’re empty and waiting.  Waiting for what, you don’t know.   You’re exhausted.

If you’re a writer, you start to write. Katie and are both write and that’s the tool God has given us to draw us closer to him, and to help us make sense of what happened to us. So we started blogs. For someone else, it might be art or music. Creativity is very close to spirituality, and it is given to us through grace.

That’s when God steps in.

And then everything begins to change.

Getting back to the conversation Katie and I were having in the comments about suffering, I decided to go to Mass today.  I never go on Saturday but something told me to go today.  The homily was about–

You guessed it.  The nature of suffering and how God uses it to humble us and mold us into who he wants us to be. 

I couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t possibly be a coincidence.   I felt my heart open.  Wiping away tears, I looked up at Jesus on the cross and whispered thank you.

After a lifetime of not knowing what I was put here for or what I wanted to do, and not being passionate about much of anything,  the clouds are finally beginning to clear and some kind of plan is coming together for the rest of my life, and it’s nothing I could have ever dreamed up myself.

Whenever I tried to make choices without God, I always made the wrong ones and was back to where I started or worse.   But now, I’m finally starting to see the path that God has laid out for me, because my faith is growing.  And it’s the little miracles like what happened today  that are helping with that.

 

 

Changes.

changes

I never used to be able to relate to “positive thinking” statements.  They seemed trite and shallow, as if they were made up for other people–people with normal lives, normal families, normal incomes, good jobs, who didn’t suffer from mental illness, who hadn’t been abused by almost everyone they had known, and who had an actual future to look forward to.

Dying slowly.

When I was with my narcopath ex,  I really didn’t have a future.  Not if I’d stayed with him.  I was slowly dying a long, excruciating death–a death by annihilation of my spirit. His abuse was effecting my body, my mind, my emotions, and my soul.    Pictures of me taken when I was with him compared to pictures taken of me now show the toll the relationship was taking on me.   I looked older 3 years ago than I do now–and my depression showed on my face in every picture, even the smiling ones.  I was overweight and miserable. Even my hair looked depressed, dull and without shine. When I was told to “just think positive” I felt nothing but rage and frustration.  How could I even hope to have a better life, how could I even hope to ever be happy?   A smiley face meme, a “thought for the day,” or “inspirational” coffee mug just wasn’t going to do it for me.   And those things can be shallow and trite, but that doesn’t mean that a positive outlook is forever barred from me.  It doesn’t mean I can’t still find happiness.

 Cynicism and bitterness.

Even if I hadn’t been abused, by nature, I’m a depressive sort of person.   As an INFJ, I think deeply about things and feel them even more deeply.    I’m a worrywart who tends to see the glass as half empty.  I catastrophize and ruminate and obsess and worry about almost everything.  I get upset when I hear about wars, murders, shootings, racism, sexism, injustice, unkindness in general, and most of all, the abuse of animals and kids.  Or  the abuse of anyone for that matter.

I see all the trappings of success–big houses, late model cars, vacations, the latest this or that–and feel depressed because those things will never be mine.   I wasn’t invited to be in the Club.   I feel victimized and alone in the world.  I used to think God hated me.   I almost became an atheist–but not quite.   I always felt *some* kind of presence, but didn’t think that presence thought very highly of me.  I even thought that my purpose for existing was to be an example to others of what not to be.  I felt like I was held in contempt and condescending pity by everyone.  But what I didn’t know was I was projecting my own sense of self-hatred and hopelessness onto whatever Higher Intelligence was out there and everyone else too.    The internal voices instilled in me by my emotional abusive upbringing echoed down the years and contaminated any ability I had to find joy and meaning in life.   I became bitter and cynical, and turned up my nose at “happy people,” assuming they had no depth at all–but was it really just because I envied their ability to feel joy?

Slouching toward heaven. 

godareyouthere

When I finally went No Contact with my ex, things began to change.  Not a lot at first, but for the first time ever, I felt some hope and even fleeting glimpses of joy.   I started to blog. Writing down my feelings about what happened to me helped me make sense of them.  Through blogging, I found a community of others in a similar situation.  I no longer felt so alone.  Blogging was the best sort of self-therapy I could have hoped for.    A talent for writing was the one tool I had that began to help me be able to lift myself out of the mire.

Eventually, this got me to the point of wanting something more–an actual relationship with God.  A lifelong agnostic, I began going to church and decided to become Catholic.   I started to pray a lot more (I call it “talking to God,” which sounds friendlier).   My faith was shaky and fragile (and still is), but I kept plugging away, asking God to give me the ability to trust him and to give me faith.   If I couldn’t trust other people, it was especially hard to trust an entity I couldn’t even see.    Sometimes I felt like God wasn’t listening and had doubts that he existed at all.   But God was always someone I could turn to when no one else seemed to care.   I had no choice!   Over time, I felt myself beginning to change from within.  I began to appreciate the things I had more, instead of feeling resentful and envious of others for having more than I did.   I’ve even had a few of those rare transformative moments of  gratitude and happiness so profound it brought me to tears.

I am grateful.

I may not have a lot, but I have what I need, and that’s a lot more than many.   I don’t live in the best house in the world, but it’s a nice place to live and I like its cuteness and coziness.   I don’t drive a late model car, but I have one that’s reliable and gets me where I need to go.   I don’t come from a big loving supportive family, but I have two wonderful children who I have a good relationship with.   I can’t afford to take real vacations, but I have a car to go on short day trips.  I live in a beautiful part of the country, even if I’m jaded and don’t appreciate it as much as I used to.  I can sit on my porch and see mountains and trees and flowers and see the night sky.  I can hear birds singing outside my window.  I don’t have to look outside my window and see a back alley full of broken glass and hear sirens and people fighting all night.  I don’t love my job, but it pays for what I need and there are a lot worse things I could be doing.   I have two wonderful cats.  I have writing ability.  My blog is doing well and is not only helping me, but it’s helping others too.  I have a wonderful, empathic therapist who almost seemed to drop out of the sky at just the right time.  Lately, I’ve been finding myself thinking that my glass is half full instead of half empty.  That’s God changing my attitude in a really big way.

It’s not a smooth road.  I still get triggered and go back to my old thinking patterns.  I stil have days where I feel hopeless and unloved.  These attitudes are so ingrained in me that removing them sometimes feels like performing a skeleton transplant.  But all I have to do is lean on God and tell him I can’t handle it myself–and things do begin to look better. God is working on me, changing my attitudes, and people have said they’ve noticed a difference in me.

Big changes, bright future.

gulf_coast

I have a very strong feeling that God is planning a major change for me in the near future–a change that would give me a whole fresh start and more choices than I’ve had.   It looks very likely that in the very near future, probably before winter (my least favorite season–I hate it!) sets in, I will be moving to Florida to join my son.   I won’t be living with my son; I will have my own place.   He thinks he can get me a job where he works too.   I will be living near the beach.  I can watch the sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico every night if I want.   While I love the North Carolina mountains, they don’t speak to my soul the way the ocean does, not even after 23 years of living here.   I grew up in coastal New Jersey and New York and used to hit the beach every weekend in the summer since it was no more than an hour away from where I lived.   The ocean is in my blood. Here where I live now, getting to the beach requires planning a vacation or at least a weekend getaway since the closest beach is a five hour drive away.   I never have enough funds to do that though.  I haven’t seen the ocean since 2008.   That’s far too long.

I have no ties to North Carolina. There’s nothing left for me here–no friends, no family, no pressing commitments–so I won’t have any misgivings about packing up and leaving when the time is imminent.   I’m trying to get my daughter to come with me, because I think she needs a change too.  There’s nothing left for her here either except her dad, but he is a toxic person and her relationship with him is a codependent one.  She may not want to leave him though. She feels responsible for him.    But when and if she decides enough is enough (and I’m praying she does), the invitation to join me and her brother is always open.

I think that this move will change my life in so many positive ways.   No, of course it won’t be perfect, but I will be living near my son again, I will near my beloved ocean again, and I can make a fresh start in a new place, free of all the ghosts of my abusive past I still associate with where I live now, and which continue to haunt me at times.   I imagine myself in my little house or apartment, or sitting in front of the ocean, listening to the waves and the gulls, finally writing the book I keep saying I’m going to write.   And I’ll thank my Heavenly Father every day for presenting me with such a positive life changing choice.   I never felt like I had choices before.  Now I think I do.

Why God has waited until now, I don’t really know,  but it’s probably because I wasn’t ready.   I wouldn’t have appreciated it.  Maybe he wanted me to appreciate the things I already have first, before blessing me with new opportunities.    Now, when I see positive thinking memes or inspirational quotes, I actually pay attention.   Yes, they are trite and can be shallow and annoying when nothing else of substance is being given, but they do seem to have more meaning now.  Is that because I feel like God is finally smiling down on me so I can relate to them better, or is it because I’ve changed enough to pay attention?

Little gifts.

God shows up at the strangest times.  Earlier today I was at the Laundromat, and as I waited for my wash, I found a small devotional book called “Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There,” by Ruth Graham.  It was sitting right there on the table, on top of a bunch of advertising circulars.   A few years ago I would have left the book there.  Today I took it home with me and said a small prayer of thanks.  I know God left it there for me on purpose.  I’ve realized he is always trying to show you in small ways how much he loves you, but if you’re not paying attention you won’t notice.    If you open your heart to God and just talk to him, like you’d talk to your best friend or a loving parent, your heart will begin to change and your faith will grow stronger in tandem with that–and then it’s possible your whole life might take a turn for the better too.  It’s so simple–how did it take me so long to see this beautiful truth?  I feel in my bones that the last half of my life is going to be when the harvest comes in–a harvest rooted in the pain of my past.

Is there a reason why we suffered so much?

student_teacher

One last thought.   There’s an old Buddhist proverb: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”   Everyone who ever touched my life has been a teacher to me. Yes, even the narcissists.   Maybe especially them.  If it weren’t for them, I would not be who I am today.  I don’t think I would be as deep or as spiritual or value empathy and kindness as much as I do.   I don’t think I would have the same sort of relationship with God.  Many of the most spiritual (not necessarily religious–that’s a different animal!) people I know came from abusive backgrounds.   They suffered terribly and carried that heavy spiritual load all their lives, then finally turned to God because there was no one else.  In pain there comes much wisdom.     Maybe God allows some of us to experience more adversity so we learn to lean on him instead of other people–and then when we learn to trust him, he finally blesses us with people who can help us and love us unconditionally.   No, we should never have been abused by our narcissists.  It definitely wasn’t fair.  But out of that kind of adversity we can learn so much about ourselves, about human nature, and even learn to help others who suffer like we did.   And that is my greatest wish now–to help others heal.

God answers prayers.

After posting my article about my fear of death yesterday and praying a lot about it, I came across a wonderful website called “Jesus Without Baggage.” I’ve never seen another site like it and I’ve been on it now since last night, just reading and learning. I can’t get enough.

I never thought I could reconcile my inability to believe in a judgmental, angry, legalistic God with a belief in Christ, but now I think I might be able to, all because of this website. It answers questions no one else has ever been able to answer before and addresses concerns I’ve had for a long time that “reading the Bible” only made worse (mostly because of the way it’s been misinterpreted and misrepresented by legalistic, narcissistic preachers and church leaders in order to exert “control”).

If you’re like me and want to have a relationship with Jesus but are completely turned off by fundamentalist Christianity, this is the site for you. I truly believe God answered my prayers by bringing me to this site so I want to share it with my readers too.

https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/

Even more interesting, the topic at mass today was “God is Love.”

I’ll be posting a new guest post in a little while.

The ultimate dissociative experience.

thanatophobia2

Death isn’t something I like to think about, much less write about.  In fact, it’s my biggest fear (outside of the death of one of my children).  Oh, I know all the pat arguments and rationalizations that it’s not so bad–death is a part of life, death is nothing to be afraid of, if you’re a good Christian you will go to Heaven and there will be no fear, nothing at all will happen so there will be no fear, even the idea that death is beautiful.

I woke this morning, as I often do, thinking about how much I fear my own death.  I think this is a little obsessive-compulsiveness on my part, and probably something I should talk about more in therapy.   The mental health field has a name for the irrational or excessive fear of death: thanatophobia.    So far I’ve only talked to God about my phobia but I feel like He isn’t listening.     People in my age group (50’s) say they’re beginning to come to terms with the prospect of death, but so far, for me, that hasn’t happened.  I get more scared every year.

Maybe death terrifies me because it entails complete ego loss–it’s the ultimate dissociative experience, and as someone who has had massive panic attacks usually instigated by dissociative experiences (feeling out my body, feeling like things are dreamlike or unreal, etc.) it would be natural for me to be afraid of what it might feel like.   It’s like someone who had a bad drug trip and is mentally unstable to begin with being slipped some acid when they’re unaware of it–and never being able to return to reality.

I don’t like to write about death, because even thinking about it too long makes me extremely anxious.  But I need to write about it, and need to talk about it with others, and maybe find comfort in the fact that others have the same sense of trepidation and worry.  Maybe I’m not alone in my fear of death and dying.   So I’m going to plow on. Writing about it surely can’t hurt.

thanatophobia

I’ve been told by many Christians that, if I am strong in my faith, that there is nothing to fear, because I can be sure of my place in Heaven after I die.   But this makes things even worse for me, because I do have doubts in my faith and I am not at certain I am going to Heaven, or even that there is a Heaven.   No matter how much I pray for perfect faith, I can’t seem to make my mind rid itself of its many doubts.   There are just some things about Christianity I can’t make myself believe or at least not question.  Again, maybe it’s my obsessive-compulsiveness.   As someone who is afraid to trust anyone and is hypervigilant, it’s even hard for me to completely trust God and not worry about what will happen to me after I die. I look at others–even narc abuse survivors who should be as hypervigilant as I am–who seem to have attained perfect faith and I marvel at this. How do they do it?

Although it’s hard for me to believe that if I question Christianity or what the Bible says, that God will send me to burn in Hell for eternity even if I’m otherwise a good person (that seems like a terribly cruel, narcissistic God to me), how do I know for sure God isn’t like that?  Maybe God is really that cruel and narcissistic, but in that case, why would I want to even spend eternity in Heaven, trapped there with sanctimonious, self righteous, insufferable believers? (I’m not saying all believers are like that, but I’ve met more than a few who are).  In that case, maybe Heaven would be more like Hell.     But Hell…well, I definitely don’t want to go there.

But Christianity is only one way to look at the issue of death.  Let’s face it.   No matter how sure you are in your faith, whatever it is, none of us really knows what’s going to happen after we die.   What if the New Agers are right and what happens is you look back and see yourself lying on the hospital bed, pavement, or whatever, see your own broken, bleeding, or used-up body there, and then watch as they pull the sheet over your head?  What if you are swooshed at light-speed down a long tunnel toward “the light” and meet angels and see otherworldly landscapes and other inexplicable things?   Or what if you float around the earth as a disembodied spirit, revisiting your friends and relatives you left behind?   People who have reported NDE’s (near death experiences) have said that at some point they become aware they have died (that’s usually when they “come back”) and most say it’s very disorienting and even scary at first, because their bodies just aren’t there.   All of these things, no matter how pleasant others have said they are, strike terror in me, because they sound like dissociative experiences that you can never escape from.   I’ve struggled with episodes of dissociation my entire life, but no matter how terrifying they became, I always knew I’d “return” and the experience would probably only last a few minutes.   Does something happen after you die where you’re no longer afraid of such things, or do you just learn to deal with it?

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Maybe this is true, but I wish I could believe it.

What if the atheists and existentialists are right and nothing happens after you die?  What if you simply cease to exist?   While I find that prospect extremely depressing,  it actually causes me the least anxiety.   Eternal sleep and unconsciousness doesn’t seem so bad to me.  If you’re aware of nothing, well, there’s nothing to be afraid of or get depressed about, is there?  But I still don’t like the idea that this life is ultimately meaningless.   What is all the struggle for then?

Reincarnation doesn’t seem so bad, and actually does make some logical sense to my scientifically-leaning brain, but it flies in the face of being a Christian.   I don’t know of any Christians who acknowledge that reincarnation is a possibility after death.  But why couldn’t it be? As a Catholic, we believe in the concept of purgatory, a place of purification (not punishment) after death.  But no one can explain what purgatory might be like.  Maybe living additional lives is what purgatory actually means?   Again…we just don’t know.

'It's not that I'm afraid of dying, Doctor... It's just that I don't want to be there when it happens!'

‘It’s not that I’m afraid of dying, Doctor… It’s just that I don’t want to be there when it happens!’

Maybe we just go back to wherever we were before we were born, and have amnesia for this life. Or maybe it’s like eternal dreaming (that doesn’t sound too bad). Again, we don’t know.

Besides the inevitable experience of death, which seems bad enough, I’m terrified by the prospect of dying.   I’m in my 50’s, and figure I might (realistically) have about another two or three decades of life left.   To someone my age, that doesn’t seem so long.  Twenty years ago was 1996; thirty years ago was 1986.   That means that in that same amount of time, going forward, I will probably be leaving my body permanently, but before that, I may well suffer either unbelievable pain or a few moments of sheer terror.   Few people just die peacefully in their sleep or just suddenly keel over while out on the golf course (that’s the way a 90 year old great uncle of mine died).   Most suffer first, either for months (as in a long illness) or a few seconds (as in an accident).   I’m terrified of both.  I know there’s no way to get out of this life alive, so the inevitable is going to happen, and there’s not a whole lot of time left before it does. Even worse, each year time seems to hurtle forward twice as fast as the year before. What seemed like “a long time ago” to me twenty years ago now seems like the blink of an eye.

As someone who tends to overthink everything,  I probably think about death and dying way too much.  I know I should just stop and enjoy life while I still have it.   But the more I try not to think about it, the more I seem to.   It’s like that game where you try not to think about an elephant.  I pray about this all the time but it hasn’t helped very much.    I just keep feeling guilty because  no matter how hard I try, I can’t embrace my Christianity with perfect faith.   I have no guarantee I’m going to Heaven.   I keep questioning everything and then I worry about going to hell.  Or being eternally dissociated, which to me would be hell.  Or just worrying about the intolerable suffering that will precede my exit from this planet.    Maybe I need to talk to my therapist about this because it seems like it could be a form of undiagnosed OCD.

Further Reading:
My Fear of Death

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.

Yes! I’ll have money soon!

Some of you probably know that for about a month, I’ve been without a drivable car.  I’ve been fortunate enough to be allowed to use the company car, but obviously this can’t be permanent and I’m limited as to where I can take the company car.

A few kind people sent small donations to my car fund (thank you very much to those who contributed!) but the GoFundMe was a bust and I took it down.

I’d been worried about my tax refund (I worry myself into a frenzy every year) which my daughter and I filed together (since she lived with me much of last year).   I had no reason to worry, because it’s more than I expected and should be enough to put at least a good down payment on a decent used car and might even be enough to purchase a used car upfront, if I’m careful.   I’ll be using my 2001 Ford Taurus as a trade-in or I might try selling it on Craigslist first.  It’s got several great things going for it: new tires, a new transmission (rebuilt last year), and an amazing sound system (I will miss that!)   Between the money I get from the car, my tax refund, and the little bit I’ve been able to save from donations, I should have enough.

I was a nervous wreck before DD and I left for the tax preparer, but I came away feeling great because the news was actually good (it always is).   I don’t know why I drive myself insane over this every year.   I waste so much time just worrying and fretting over everything.  Worry flies in the face of faith; if you have enough faith you don’t worry.

After we left the tax preparer’s office, DD and I celebrated by having a late lunch at Waffle House.    I wouldn’t let her take any pictures of me, but here’s a few of her enjoying her meal (and her phone).

rowan_13016 rowan_13016_2 rowan_13016_3

   Worry is useless, because if what you worry about never happens, you’ve worried for naught, and if it does happen, you lived through it twice. — Unknown

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.

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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/