I have met so many people through my spiritual formation coaching, travels, and seminary who have the most painful tales of spiritual abuse and wounding by “the church.” Sexual abuse from weekly church attending relatives who after preaching fire and brimstone went home and violated the little ones they should have protected. The only witnesses were the terrified or those who chose to pretend it wasn’t happening. Others who were told by bible toting family members that God’s judgement or curses would fall upon them when they unknowingly dabbled in an “occult” practice such as Astrology, Ouija, or Tarot.
Then there are those who are picking up the broken pieces that are left from the hyper-faith or positive confession movements when they don’t understand why the things they claimed and proclaimed never happened. They were told it was a matter of “faith.” Statements such as “I don’t know why it didn’t work for you, it has always worked for me,” leave them bleeding and broken instead of held up during a time of need.
When miscarriages, cancers, or catastrophic accidents followed, they were left alone to question if they done something wrong to “deserve” it. It was impossible to see a God of hope through the darkness of judgment.
As if our loving God would beat and break someone for doing something without any awareness of the implications. It would be like a parent doling out the harshest punishment to our children for doing something we had never instructed them about. Never even mentioned or imagined.
As if our God is holding up a faith stick to see and whoever performs the highest, prays the most, claims the loudest, or speaks the most positively wins the prize.
And sometimes, they find their way to me through my spiritual formation, coaching, or travels. And I hurt with them as my own wounds now healed enough to effectively minister to others are also open enough to feel their pain. I don’t ever want my wounds to fully close.
There are seasons I allow myself to withdraw inward to my safe place with Jesus and forget how utterly painful the world can be. Closed up in my room with my bible and Jesus, I let him speak to the inner recesses of my heart. A planned escape into a silent retreat where God beckons from the chaos and confusion. I decided this morning it was time for that season, and my silent retreat is just days away.
It feels good forgetting. Even just for a moment. God lives in moments of time suspended by eternal threads of hope.
It was something that I was never able to do before as traumatic images and words followed me into the spaces that I tried to forge out of sheer will.
Sheer will produces nothing. The peace that comes from God, also must come through God – through the Holy Spirit, our comforter. I can speak up a holy tornado of tongues, multiplying into a diverse and neat sounding cacophony of angelic noise, but silence was something that wasn’t modeled in all my years of charismata.
Inner silence is necessary to the presence of God in the day by day pain of living out a history that isn’t always happy. His small still voice which can’t be found in the quaking of “demanding” prayer.
I found silence in the contemplative traditions and those who model it. I can’t help but feel its absence in many of the busy, noisy, feel good churches of today. I can’t help but wonder if the contemplative tradition was taught more in the churches would we see more healing, and in response to healthy disciples, more love, more peace, and less self-defense.
Healing takes place in the silent and sacred spaces. The places where God can speak to our hearts without shouting. Sometimes it happens as He uses a human vessel to help facilitate the confession of pain. When trusted images bearers listen to the story of Lament in a persons life they bring the presence of God into the sacred space. That’s what journeying together as a community is all about.
I facilitate a meeting between God and his person. A meeting that is filled with transforming and healing love. Once you have been touched by the restorative and healing power of our magnificent God you know you will never be the same. You don’t want to be – it’s like being born again- again. And again. And again. With each step further into being, another piece of stony heart is tendered into flesh.
I am thankful I had facilitators in the silence with me. I still do – especially when unknowing and unthinking others trigger the pain of the past and trauma rears up and tries to re-wound what God has healed.
For every kind word I have heard uttered in the name of Jesus I have heard as many unkind. The church is angry and getting angrier by the minute. Differences in doctrines, opinions, lifestyle, produce anger in a “I am wiser than you” kind of attitude. Everything from women’s roles to speaking in tongues, evolution to worship styles, and yes, political candidates – have become an opportunity for me to tell you how I think you should act or feel. I will insist that you vote- but really I am insisting you vote for my candidate. What other one can there possibly be? My doctrine is the correct one, my opinions the right ones.
All the while they are proclaiming the direction the country should take through the political process, world economics, immigration issues, constitutional laws, healthcare, and the myriad of other intensely complex issues that are required to make an educated guess at the best options – they are hiding behind words of the gospel message as the foundation for the absolute wisdom of God’s “truth.”
Many are willing to divide, judge and fight – ensconced behind a wall of self-interpreted scriptural principals. In the last few weeks I have had two Christians from polar opposite sides of the political spectrum angrily tell me that the “bible clearly states…”. I must admit that the conservative side of the spectrum appears much angrier as they fight for more self-maintained freedoms over otherness.
Then there are the beautiful places. The sacred places in church community where bleeding is met with as much care as if it were Christ’s – caught in a cup of tenderness, not covered over by a band-aid of cliches.
Where opinions are heard and hearts are held.
Dallas Willard said, “Kingdom rightness respects the soul need of human beings to make their judgments and decisions solely from what they have concluded is best. It is vital, a biological need. We do not thrive, nor does our character develop well, when this need is not respected, and this thwarts the purpose of God in our creation” (Divine Conspiracy, 1997, 175).
For many of us, our convictions go deep. I spent most of my Christian life leaning towards passive non-resistance.. It is murky for me, and deep. I have five members of the military in my family including sons and daughters, and a son who is in law enforcement. I couldn’t be prouder or sleep better knowing what they do – and the God they do it for. They understand my conscience and I understand theirs. It goes beyond “agree to disagree” to a mutual respect and knowledge of each others deep love for God, and making “judgments and decisions solely from what [we] have concluded is best.”
I can’t find that “out there” right now in the world of social media, news, and unlimited community. It is time for the introvert to retreat into the secret place of the most high with the the lamenters I am compelled to serve, and just be for a while.
Maybe when I get back, people will be listening to each other…
soaring towards the light, soaring towards hope.
The above painting by Kathy Self so perfectly captures my life. Transformed out of the cocoon of darkness into the magnificence of a butterfly, soaring towards the light; moving out of the darkness of a cult and hyper-faith, as God so faithfully drew me “further up, and further in.” Check out Kathy’s web site for other beautiful and reflective pieces of art.
(I apologize for typos – I really need a proof reader)