Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fear in Process

It has been interesting to observe my struggle with these Fear posts. The issue rather took over my thought life and I couldn't think, read or write on any other topic. When I finally posted early in the month, it was with great relief and release… until a few hours later when I started to fall apart:  feeling the fear almost as a physical thing trying to crawl back into my joints and tissues and cloud my mind.  A few detoxification therapies (salt baths, herbal preparations, meditation) helped to keep the relapsing to a minimum.

Since then I've been increasingly freer spiritually but less able physically to function. A couple mornings after my last post I woke up with a chest cold, something in my gut, and intermittent loss of executive brain function.  By the end of the week, after continuing with the detox protocols, the cold became a residual sneeze, the intestinal distress became a skin rash, and the mental incapacity returned to my usual sense of humor and spontaneous sermonizing. What I really think is going on is a working out of the tension between shedding these old no-longer-needed fears and shame and tribal taboos that turned what once was protection into toxic habits. The taboos are struggling to stay in the old "safe" patterns of thinking and behaving while the liberating freedom wants to grow up into the Light.

Distressing and inconvenient as it is to be working out this salvation during my family's second busiest month of the year, I consider this reaction, this physical struggle in my body, to be proof of my spiritual healing progress. Healing happens from the inside out, from above to below, and from most vital to least important. So to move from spiritually stuck in my fears (before this series) to mentally spinning my wheels (the process of writing the posts) and then to physically manifesting internal-to-external symptoms is definite movement in the right direction.  Although I have to say, my husband asked if I couldn’t just get an exorcism to drive all the demons out at once so he didn’t have to watch me go through this anymore.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Shaking Like a Wet Dog

Someone recommended Dallas Willard’s books to me with “[I] keep thinking of you as he's dealing with a lot of the same concepts/issues.  He agrees that a lot, if not most, of the ways modern "fundagelical" Christians read/interpret/understand the bible and put it into practice have nothing to do with what the bible is actually saying.  He has some interesting ideas about what he thinks it is actually saying, that seem pertinent to your search.”  So I browsed Google Books version of The Divine Conspiracy and checked The Great Omission out of the library.  I thought the first book wasn’t too bad several months ago when I browsed it but didn’t find it inspiring enough to search it out at the library.  The second I’ve had here at the house long enough to read three other (big, fat) books between reading attempts.  Today I forced myself to read more than a couple paragraphs and got as far as page 15 before I slammed it shut in frustration. 

Now you have to understand that I read faster than anyone I know and generally will read every book I pick up cover to cover—from intro, preface, and acknowledgements, to endnotes, and bibliography.  I even read books I thoroughly disagree with just for the pleasure of mentally arguing with the author on every point.  For me to have such difficulty with this book is hugely unusual.  And frustrating because I think (from what I was able to read) that I would actually agree with him that Christianity is a commitment to a life lived on Jesus’ model and not just some fire-proof ticket through the Pearly Gates. 

I just can’t get past his language.  The intro and first chapter that I struggled through are peppered with words like
obedience, need, must, and command; trigger words for me.  Worse, the presentation of why we “must” follow Jesus' “commands” in “obedience” made me feel like there were a lot of shoulds, oughts, and if you’re a true Christian you will.  To be sure I didn’t slight poor Willard, I just skimmed the pages again and he actually doesn’t say “should”, “ought” or delimit Christian-hood, quite.  Perhaps I’m too sensitive—having been beat over the head with the Christian stick too often—but I just don’t think I’m going to be reading any more Willard books any time soon. Maybe there’s a Cliff Notes version I can skim?

Okay, breathing deeply, shaking it off…

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fear and God IV: Suffer Not the Witch to Live

The religious teachings of my family disallowed for the paranormal. As if being told the horrific old testament stories as literal history from my infancy wasn’t gruesome and damaging enough to a sensitive psyche, the punishing and judgmental God who ordered genocide, child-killing, and the wholesale slaughter of those whose cultural and religious practices marked them different also commanded the brutal execution of those who practiced witchcraft and spoke to the dead.  Anyone who performed paranormal acts or who had extrasensory knowledge but wasn’t specifically sanctioned by God was to be killed.

Would I have actually have risked my life to continue seeing the spiritual world I saw?  Did I come to block from my vision the spirits, the auras, the “ghosts”, because I knew I risked spiritual annihilation?  Would I have been stoned for a witch, if not literally, then metaphorically with punishment, shunning, and prayers for my release from Satan’s grasp? 

Oh, yes.  I’m sure of it.  The struggle with writing this post has been to recognize what it has cost me to live for the last forty-plus years in denial of my ability to live in the thin places—seeing what others can’t see, knowing what no one told me, feeling emotions that aren’t mine, knowing events that haven’t yet happened. 

God doesn’t work that way anymore, I was told.  God doesn’t give visions, send prophecies, or work miracles (unless it was the occasional answer to prayer for the ill or overwhelmed).  There is no such thing as a “ghost”.  Only Satan uses these tricks in this modern day. The unspoken corollary was that if I kept insisting that I saw, heard, knew, changed things, I must be under the influence of the Evil One.  

From at least as early as three years old, I was dreaming prophecy.  By four, I was confronted with the unspeakable truth—that I knew what my parents said couldn’t be. My parents, well-regarded as godly people in our community, my father a pastor, assured me that my dreams were “just dreams, they’re not real”, that “there’s no such thing as ghosts”.  My mother tried to prove false my dream about my babysitter’s injury after a car accident.

I dreamed that the doctors had put an eye in the back of her head at the hospital.  My mother took me to visit when she returned home.  The babysitter’s mother answered the door with “but she DOES have an eye in the back of her head now. Come, see!” We entered and the woman lifted the hair on the back of my babysitter’s head to reveal a line of heavy black stitches in a shaved spot still bloody and swollen.  It did look exactly like a large closed eye. The proof my mother had hoped to demonstrate instead proved her wrong and my dream the truth.

In that moment of screaming hysteria, I knew that I was evil.  It was much easier to believe in my own evil, bolstered as that belief was by church and family teachings on the utter wickedness of the human heart and the moral depravity of all mankind, than to accept that my parents and the fundamentalist evangelical church might be wrong about God.  According to them, the God who was so wholly Good could not abide Evil, anyone who persisted in evil must be wiped from the face of the earth. 

For the rest of my childhood, I prayed for forgiveness, for salvation, to be relieved of this terrible burden of sin. Lying in my bed at night, I developed long rituals to hold the Fear of God’s wrath from consuming me.  I became convinced that while God may despise my evil self, Jesus loved me.  I sang to myself through the night “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”.  After all, the Bible had convinced me of my terrible evil, I clung to any assurance that kept me from the Hell I so obviously deserved.  Not that it was much of a salvation, I experienced hell every night in the dark while I wondered if tonight God would let Satan have me.

Despite my best efforts, though, if was clearly apparent to me that God had not delivered me from my visions, my clairvoyance, my empathic knowledge.  I was still plagued by the evil. By nine I was horribly near-sighted, much more so than genetics might allow, I believe I was struggling so hard to avoid seeing the unacceptable that I was becoming blind. I tried my best to keep it to myself but things just seemed to leak out when I was talking to people.  And they came in my dreams.

Fear and God III: Fear, Addiction, and Abuse

I’ve been giving Fear a great deal of thought since I started this series.  For years, I’ve wondered why I was so tortured by fear as a child.  From as early as I can remember until as late as my mid-twenties (coincidentally, or not, around the same time as I began leaving behind my fundamentalist explanations of spiritual reality), I was daily or almost daily wracked with terror, a nameless dread: mind-numbing, heart-pounding, palm-sweating, tooth-clenching fear. The too-scared-to-cry, too-terrified-to-scream kind of fear. Being alone, in crowds, in bed at night, waking in the dark, speaking to people, the rare movies we saw, stories I heard from teachers in school or at church, all set off this incapacitating fear, both in the moment and in the memory.  Only escaping into books, cartoons, or music allowed any solace, any surcease albeit very limited.

When I studied for my degree in psychology, I saw in myself the symptoms of the abuse victim but I couldn’t identify anything that constituted abuse—of course, we only considered physical and sexual abuse that were fully remembered; the idea of repressed memory of abuse never came up in class and I’d never heard of spiritual abuse until quite recently. I have so many recurring hang-ups about sex that my husband has more than once questioned whether there was any incident in my history that precluded my ability to relax (a significant inquiry since he does have such incidents in his history).  A few years ago, a friend who is psychic and a hypnotist saw in me the energies of abuse and, under partial hypnosis, I even created for her a recovered memory.  The “remembered” account never happened but the psychological conditions that set the stage for the “memory” are devastatingly real.

A friend of mine in college participated in an alcohol intervention for her sister, my first exposure to the ideas of addiction, 12 Steps, and the co-dependent alcoholic family system from a perspective other than Sin, Moral Depravity, and Lack of Faith or Willpower.  Her story felt familiar but I didn’t understand why.  Years later, I described my family of origin to a shrink friend as “like alcoholics but addicted to God instead of drink.” She nodded knowingly and replied that there is nothing more deeply damaging than when the soul gets caught in addiction. She shocked me because I had never really considered that I had sustained soul damage from my family’s religion.  I promptly shoved those thoughts back under the rug of my unconscious.

But, still, I didn’t understand the source of these terrible fears. Even my friends who had lived with alcohol dysfunction and sexual molestation weren’t tortured by fear the way I was.  Surely there was some horrible event in my early life to which all this anxiety was post-traumatic stress.  The things I needed to see were staring me in the face, pointed out to me by friends; I even stated them to others, but without acknowledging the crucial relevance.  Even now that I can admit the relevance, I can only look at my fear from the corner of my eye in quick glances.  To stare my fear right in the face, to admit that I had reason to be afraid for my very soul, is more courage than I seem to have. 

I have been writing this post for weeks, it has consumed me.  I can’t write on any other topic. My virtual trashcan is overflowing with aborted attempts, stream-of-consciousness scraps, false starts and tangential leads.  I can’t read except escapist trash. Every conversation with friends turns to the Fear in my childhood.  Obviously I am struggling to bring to consciousness something that has been long denied.  These old wounds have festered under the surface of my awareness for so long that even the healing is frightening and painful.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fear and God II: Does Fear Beget Wisdom?

"Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...."

How often does the bible juxtapose wisdom, holiness, and the general good with fear? In particular, fear of God? What exactly does that mean?  Many of the biblical references are clearly meaning fear of God’s judgment, retribution, and punishment for sin or wrongdoing. When we “put the fear of God into” someone, in our English idiom, do we not mean that we inspired that person to “follow the straight and narrow path” of right action for fear of otherwise incurring “the wrath of God”? Is there a reasonable interpretation of “fear of God” other than living in terror that by some action we might incite the vengeful deity to send a lightning bolt our way?

As a child, I understood fear.  Deeply, experientially, from the depths of my soul, I understood fear.  Nightmares and anticipation of nightmares kept me from sleeping, panic attacks and constant anxiety during the day.  Fear of social or academic missteps at school, fear of being seen by Dad’s parishioners as less than perfect, fear of God noticing the anger I harbored in my heart against being condemned from the moment of my conception.  I lived constantly in a state of hyper-vigilance against my inherent wickedness.  Always in a state of fight-or-flight terror without being able either to fight (against whom? Was I to take on God himself?) or flee (where could I go? To the ends of the earth, God will follow me).  I understood these questions from a very early age, even if I could not articulate them.

If fear is the beginning of wisdom, I should have been the wisest person on the face of the earth. As clearly as I knew I was afraid, I knew that I was not wise. Again this enormous dichotomy between what I knew and what I was taught.  Is it any wonder that I could not reconcile the Christian God with a Divine Love?

Later, in my teenage years, I suspect when the New International Version was reissued and the new word reverence replaced fear in many verses, a church teacher told me that the whole idea was not fear that begat wisdom but respect.  It made a lot of sense at the time but now I’m not so sure that the replacement was merited.  Often the context of the phrase “fear of the Lord” is clearly describing a sense of dread, a concern over punishment, a turning away from wrongdoing—perhaps these connotations can be related to respect but the more obvious word to use would be fear

Regardless of whether the original writers of all those fear verses intended to promote actual fear or respect, I still carry the scars on my psyche from our usual understanding of “fear of the Lord” and if those scars led to the development of any wisdom I now possess, it was much too high a price to pay.