Light of the World

The many names of the Savior and their symbolism are fascinating to me.  One of my favorites is Light of the World.  This is because I love light and hate the darkness.  Ever since I heard of people in the Twin Towers on 9/11 making their way IN THE DARK down flights and flights of stairs, I have tried to keep flashlights readily available.  I have one in my purse, one in the car, one next to my bed, and there is even a flashlight in my bathroom.  While this might seem to border on paranoia (and maybe it does) but since I live in Western Washington where we experience frequent power outages in the winter, it comes in pretty handy.

A More Permanent Darkness

When I was 10 years old, a friend of mine told me he had leukemia and might die.  At the time my family and I did not attend church.  I had no idea what dying meant, really.  One of the first things that came to my mind was that it was like going to sleep and never waking up-a permanent form of darkness.  I was horrified by that idea.  That was when my search for God began.

Christ is that light that saves us from permanent darkness.  Unlike my flashlights, His light is not dependent on batteries or light bulbs.  His is a constant and dependable source of light.

Everlasting Light

This week in my reading in the New Testament, I came across another symbolism of Christ as the Light of the World that I had not noticed before.  I might have missed it this time too if it weren’t for theInstitute Manual.  The stories from John 7 took place during the “Feast of Tabernacles”.  This was one of the “greatest and most joyful” of the feasts.  While their customs were different than anything we do today, I’ve read that it loosely relates to our Thanksgiving.

The festivities included, “On the temple mount, four large golden candelabras (also called menorahs or candlesticks) illuminated the temple grounds during dances and other festivities held late into the night and early morning. The golden candelabras, which were 50 cubits tall (approximately 73 feet or 22.25 meters), not only provided light for the celebrations, but they symbolized that Israel was to be a light to those who walked in darkness.” New Testament Student Manual

That is mind boggling to me–73 feet tall!  How tall is that?  I wanted to be able to compare it to something so I did a quick google search and learned that wooden phone poles are approx. 24 ft tall.  Suffice it to say 73 feet is ginormous. So imagine the surprise of the Jewish leaders, who were seeking to entrap Jesus, when He stood before these giant candelabras and proclaimed Himself to be “the Light of the World.”

It’s powerful, stunning and beautiful to me all at the same time.

 

Photo attribution: LDS Media Images

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The Believers

My therapist says that healing is like a coil, it may feel like we are going round and round (and round!) in circles, but hopefully that coil is vertical and we are moving upwards at the same time.  I like that analogy-like a spiral staircase.  I find that I’m on that spiral staircase in my relationship with Heavenly Father and Christ (as well as many other issues).  I feel close to them, then I feel confused, and distant, then something happens and I feel close to them again.  And round and round I go.  As part of my effort to be sure the staircase is ascending, and not heading off in any other direction, I’ve decided to focus on the stories of “believers” as I find them in the scriptures.  I hope to be inspired and moved by them.  I’m leaving out the people who were physically healed for this project mostly because their healing was instantaneous while ours is generally slow.)

In my reading last week, I learned about Nathanael (John 1:47-51).  Nathanael believed because Christ said, “Before that Phillip called thee when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.”  That was enough for Nathanael to proclaim Jesus, the Son of God.  I am so impressed by Nathanael’s humility (I think many people, myself included would be hindered by our pride and be a bit more skeptical.)  I’m also impressed with his faith.  This story reminds me to look back on all the ways that God has blessed my life, and really their are many.  If Nathanael could believe with just one comment, surely I can believe because I have been given much.

This week, I read about the Roman Centurion who came to Jesus to plead for his sick servant.  Jesus offered to come right away, but the Centurion wasn’t having it.  He said he was not worthy of such a visit, but asked that Christ only speak the words and He knew it would be done.  Christ was very pleased with him, and the servant was healed.

This story fascinates me because this is not what I would have expected from a Roman Centurion.  From what I have read Roman soldiers and their leaders were fierce fighters, whether it is fair or not, I’ve always imagined them to be–not nice people.  (As an aside, a book I’m currently reading is softening my heart by helping me see that they were undoubtedly affected by their surroundings.  The book is called The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How God People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo, PhD.  This book helps me understand why God is willing in some cases to even forgive murderers.)  What the Roman did is amazing for several reasons:

  1. Rome ruled over Israel at this time, so the Centurion could have made the mistake of seeing Christ, along with all other Jews, as his inferiors.  But he didn’t.
  2. He plead for his servant, who is also technically his inferior.
  3. Again he showed humility by saying he was not worthy for Christ to come to his house.
  4. Finally, he had enough faith to trust on words alone that his servant (friend?) would be healed.

No wonder Christ was impressed with this man!  This story is a reminder to me to be humble but also in those moments that I don’t feel worthy to ask for anything for myself, I can still reach out and ask for blessings for those I love.

 

Photo Attribution: LDS Media Library

Walk With Me

Dear Friends,

It’s been awhile, but here we are.  I’ve missed you.  I mean to say, I’ve missed interacting with you by sharing my thoughts and reading your comments.  What brings me back now is a class, a religion class, where I’m encouraged to share what I’m learning.  The class is on the first half of the New Testament.  As you may know if you’ve been here before, the stories about the Savior from the New Testament, and His teachings were a great comfort to me in a difficult time of my life so taking this class feels like coming home.  I’m really excited to study the New Testament in depth again, and I’d love for you to join me.

Something I really enjoy about this religion class is the tips on different ways to delve deeper into the scriptures, to truly drink from them, not just casually read.  This week the study skill I used was called: Lists.

“A list is a purposeful grouping that items are included in a list or excluded for a purpose. For a purpose like you make a grocery list and you make a separate list like a to-do list or a chore list or a homework list. A list implies that the things on that list are there together for a purpose. So the first question when you find a list is what’s the purpose of the list, what’s the topic, what’s the subject? What is the Lord trying to talk to me here? Another really good question to ask is does the list have an order to it? Are the things on the list being presented according to some ordered scheme, like chronology or hierarchy or process.” Dale Strum, BYU-Idaho

Lists are one of my favorite study skills to use.  It seems fairly simple, and it is, but somehow looking for these lists helps me see things I might have otherwise not noticed.  Sometimes lists simply help me bring things together that I love.  For example this list of Christ’s names thus far: Emmanuel: God With Us, Son of the Highest, and Word of God.  Each of those names could be a blog post on their own.

I also wrote a couple quick, fun (at least to me) lists.  Here’s one:

The Angel’s Instructions to Joseph:

  • Arise – take the child and His mother
  •  Flee in to Egypt
  • Stay there until you hear from me.

It occurred to me that at different times in our lives, we may have been given very similar instructions.

  • Arise-follow Him
  • Flee from sin and temptation
  • Stay there- be strong in the faith, keep the commandments

I really loved this list that I found in the Institute Manual:

Primary Audience

  • Matthew – Jewish People
  • Mark – Romans
  • Luke – Greeks
  • John – Members of the church

Wow, how did I never notice that before!

Do you make lists when you read the scriptures?  What lists have you found?

Til next time . . .

 

Photo attribution: LDS Media Library

My Personal Road to Emmaus

Oops!  I owe you a blog post.  If you are new–I post on Mondays and Thursdays (except for yesterday apparently.)  I have a good explanation though.  Seriously!

LDS Temple Washington, D.C.  public domain wikimedia
LDS Temple Washington, D.C.
public domain wikimedia

Yesterday was an important day for me.  I went to the temple for the first time in about three years*.  For those of you that are not LDS (Mormon) just think of it as a special form of worship.  Mormons go to church weekly on Sundays and that is a one form, but going to the temple is a higher form of worship.  You can read more about it HERE if you are curious.   For my readers that are members of the church, I just want to say–yes I had a current temple recommend all that time.

Why haven’t I been to the temple for so long and what changed now?  Great questions.  I’ll try to explain.

The temple had always been a symbol of peace for me.  A place where I could feel closer to God than at any other time–until the memories of my childhood abuse began to surface.  Then I was filled with such a sense of filthiness and shame, that the temple became a place of pain.  The last two times I had gone were so painful that it has taken me three years to return.

So why now?  Because I have at last come to a place (thanks to a lot of therapy and soul-searching) where I no longer feel the burden of shame about what happened to me.  Yes, the shame was very deeply rooted.  Getting rid of it was not simply a matter of someone telling me “it wasn’t your fault”.  Many people told me that, I simply couldn’t believe them.

And today?  Well, today was bittersweet.  I felt comfortable at the temple again . . . at last!  It felt like coming home after being away for years.  And yet, something was missing.

There is still a part of me that was there before that I have not been able to reclaim.   It’s like coming home, but one of the family members is missing.  What I mean is, I went to the temple and I felt at home.  I was grateful to be there and to feel some peace . . . and yet, I still don’t feel that I have completely reclaimed the closeness I once felt with the Savior.

I used to wonder if perhaps it was just me that felt this separation from God (after abuse or assault), but then I did a little research and studies show that it is quite common (just as feeling anger is often part of the grieving process.)  What I can’t find the answer to is why this happens.

I had always been taught–and I taught it myself–that the Lord never moves away from us, we move away from Him.  And as such, we can repent and move closer to Him when we are ready.    But this separation I feel from Him is not due to my own sins.  There may be some that will argue that my anger toward God was the sin that caused this, but I disagree.  I think that the Savior understands my pain, anguish, and yes anger, and He is NOT punishing me by withholding His presence.

There is a scriptural support for my theory.  In Isaiah 54:7, the Lord is speaking and He says, “For a little while, have I forsaken thee . . . ”

The first time I heard this scripture, I thought, “Aha! So you admit it Lord.”   Again some might say that the Lord had temporarily forsaken Israel because of their sins, i.e. they moved away from Him.  But there is another scripture that shows that sometimes we can feel distanced from God during our darkest moments, through no fault of our own.

That scripture is found in Matthew 27:46.  Christ was on the cross and called out, “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?”  Christ had done nothing wrong, and yet in one of his darkest moments, He felt alone.  In Psalms 22:1-2 KJV, we find these same words and more (perhaps some of you can relate to this, I sure can)

1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

I do not know all the reasons this separation–the jaws of hell–happens.  But I believe it is something like the road to Emmaus.  Remember in Luke 24 we read the story of two of Christ’s disciples who were walking down the road discussing the recent events of His death. How confused they must have been.  How heartbroken.  Then Christ joined them.  He walked with them and spoke with them about their loss, but the knowledge that it was Him was kept from them–for a little while.

I believe this is how it is for all of us who struggle with the jaws of hell.  We are not truly alone, Unbeknownst to us, He is there walking beside us, perhaps carrying us. And in time we will be reunited with Him just as the disciples were.

Now let’s return to Isaiah 54:7 again and read the full verse:

For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.

There is a song, My Kindness Shall Not Depart From Thee by Rob Gardner that uses this chapter from Isaiah.  It has been such a strength and comfort to me.  I want to share it in the hope that it will be for others as well.  (And yes, I have shared a different version of this before, so if you get that–familiar, but unfamiliar–feeling it’s probably not de ja vu.

Note: this is post is an example of what my book, tentatively titled:  Touching His Robe: Reaching Past the Pain and Shame of Abuse  is about.

* Clarification, I did go recently for my nephews wedding.  But that was a different situation.

Centering Prayer: Intro from Fr. Thomas Keating

One of the coping/healing tools that I have found very helpful is Centering Prayer.  So today I’d like to share some wisdom from Fr. Thomas Keating, whom I think of as one of my mentors.

Here is a repost about my experience with Centering Prayer.

The other day on the radio, I heard a country song– STOP– Side Bar — my daughter is going through a brief country music phase (let’s hope it’s brief). So I blame her for my few moments of listening to a country music station. Bleh. Something good did come out of it though.

So, I heard a song about a woman visiting her childhood home. Some strangers now inhabited it, but she talked about the bedroom upstairs in the back where she did homework and learned to play the guitar, and her favorite dog that was buried under the big tree in the backyard. She expressed the need to come “home” because perhaps that would help heal the brokenness that had occurred since she had left. I was touched by it. I thought it would be nice if I had a place I could go to, somewhere before I was “broken”.

Yes, I still feel broken in so many ways. There is hope though. I had a really great month which included Christmas. Since my oldest son is 18 and looking forward to leaving home this summer, this was our last Christmas “as a family.” I am grateful for that reprieve. The drawback, and I suppose in comparison it is a small price to pay, is the disappointment I felt at coming back to the pain. Still it did give me hope in a future where there is less pain and sorrow than this place I’m in now.

While I can’t go “home” to some physical place with healing memories, I have found a few things that give me “coming home moments”.

The first is contemplative or centering prayer. I’m LDS/Mormon so this has really not been a part of my faith tradition, but I see no conflict with it.  Centering Prayer is a form of meditation with the goal of bringing oneself closer to God. I think of it as the “listening” portion of prayer. It is a mantra-based meditation. I’m really new to it, so likely not the best person to explain it, but I’ll try anyway. If it peaks your interest, I’ll share a couple resources at the end of this post.

First, I want to clarify, when I say “meditation”, I don’t mean deep thinking, I mean meditation in the Eastern sense of attempting to clear your mind of thoughts and be still.  I start with a short “traditional” prayer. Much like the way we begin church meetings with prayer. Then I sit quietly and focus on my breath and repeat with my breaths a “sacred word” that I have chosen. The “sacred word” is whatever you chose. At first I used, Atonement, because I wanted to emphasize being one with God again. Later another idea came to me and I am using that now. I want to keep my new word sacred, something that I only share with God, but you get the idea.

During Centering Prayer you try to keep your mind quiet. As you can imagine, that is difficult to do as thoughts creep in and before you know it, you are in the middle of a “mental paragraph” before you remember that you were meditating and return to focusing on your breath, and your sacred word. That’s OK  I heard a story of a woman who went to a retreat for Centering Prayer. After one of the sessions, she approached the leader and expressed her feeling that she had failed because she got distracted about 80 times. He said, “How wonderful, 80 times of returning to God.”

Father Thomas Keating who has taught and written books about Contemplative Prayer recommends two sessions a day, 20 minutes each. I have not been able to make that much time in my day yet. And in fact I don’t dare. It is hard for me to sit quietly. Quite frankly, I am afraid of the repressed emotions that will use that time to come forward. This is not unique to me, Fr. Keating talks about this sort of thing happening in his seminar “Contemplative Prayer” (available on CDs). My therapist is encouraging of my meditation practice. He says if I can only start with 5 minutes at a time, that is fine. It’s a start. And so I do.

So far, I have found it to be amazingly refreshing and soothing. So much so that when I am in public and I start to feel stress or anxiety, I will take a couple deep breaths and repeat the sacred word to myself and it helps. It is powerful, and it is more than relaxation.  I have used relaxation techniques before that were helpful, but didn’t affect me in this same way.  It’s hard to explain how it works, different people have different ideas about this.  I will just share how I understand it.  I believe that I lived with God before I came to earth, I don’t remember it, but my Spirit does.  When I meditate, I believe it is a way to connect with my Spirit, that part of me that remembers God.  It is like reaching towards the Divine within myself and at the same time reaching toward Heavenly Father.

Another way I have found to come home is another form of meditation called mindfulness. I feel even less adequate to explain it, except to say that we live much of our lives either thinking about the past, or the future, mindfulness is about being in the moment we are in. And again in a way that is difficult to fully explain, I find it very healing as well. Though I had been introduced to the idea before, my interest really began with a book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. It has really been influential for me.  Another proponent of this form of meditation is Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has a PhD and works with patients, teaching them mindfulness to help with chronic pain and stress reduction.

Women, Food and God is about compulsive eating, and Jon Kabat-Zinn uses it to help people with chronic pain. The Buddhists and some Christians (myself included) use it as part of their spiritual practice. And so I wonder, is there any part of our lives meditation doesn’t affect in positive ways? My experience so far is no. It is truly a form of coming home and working to heal the brokenness.

Here are some resources if you would like to learn more:

Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth  I love this book.  I found it immensely helpful and healing.

Mormon Matters: The Kingdom of God is Within You–http://mormonmatters.org/2012/12/17/144-145-the-kingdom-of-god-is-within-you-believing-it-trusting-it-accessing-it/   In this podcast Dan Wotherspoon interviews two LDS men who have a meditative practice.  This podcast and Geneen Roth’s book both resonated with me, partially because what they talk about is similar to things I have learned/experienced through therapy.

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Keating is available on CD (I borrowed it from the library) It is an a recording of a Seminar he gave on the topic.

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault I am reading this now, I haven’t finished, but I am enjoying it so far.

Jon Kabat Zinn– He has written so many books on Mindfulness it is hard to know where to begin, but he is next on my list of “must reads”.

Forgiveness: What it IS and ISN’T

The Voice Within by Neil Crosby CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr
The Voice Within by Neil Crosby CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr

I often get quite annoyed when the topic of forgiveness comes up.  I am afraid this leads people to the false conclusion that I don’t believe in forgiveness.  Actually, I think it’s a beautiful thing.  What I object to is what I view as our culture’s misunderstanding of it.  To illustrate, here is something I wrote awhile ago, in a fit of frustration:

I am not Dorothy.  This is not Oz, and forgiveness is not a pair of magic ruby slippers that will take me home. Why is this concept so hard for people to understand? Maybe I am the one that does not get it.  Perhaps having a happy childhood where you feel loved and secure gives you the power to believe in fairy tales, unicorns and four-leaf clovers. People talk about forgiveness as if it is Aladdin’s lamp–just say “I forgive” and peace will instantly come into your heart and all your troubles will fall away.   I forgive okay?  I forgive a thousand times over if that will make the pain go away.  I will do it. I FORGIVE So why don’t I feel better?

Therein is my frustration.  Now let me illustrate how it can be beautiful.

When my mother died, I felt angry, very angry.

I’m tempted to tell you why I was so angry so that you will see my point of view and not think I am a heel.  But I’m going to resist. It’s all behind us now, no point in rehashing it.  I hope you will trust me–I’ll leave it at that.

Remember the movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze?  I imagined something like that, my Mom’s ghost watching me and I ranted and raved and told her all the things I couldn’t tell her when she was alive.  The day before I left for the funeral, I spent time in therapy ranting some more.

Then Wednesday, I got on a plane to fly home.  As I sat there contemplating the days ahead, I made a startling revelation.  I wasn’t angry any more.  All the anger, i.e. the pain–was gone.

I want to make this point perfectly clear . . . I did not consciously “let it go”. It let me go.  I simply didn’t feel the anger and pain anymore. I think what happened was that all my life, I felt a need to protect my mother.  I couldn’t tell her how I really felt.  So when she died, I finally allowed myself to feel the anger and let it out.  Because I did that, the anger was resolved (buried feelings don’t die). At last, my anger was gone, the pain was gone, and I felt peace.

And because I felt peace, I forgave my mother.

This is how (in my saner moments) I always thought forgiveness would happen. Exhibit A is my post Forgiveness is Not a Magic Bullet.  In that post, I shared a story from the Old Testament about David, Nabal and Abigail.  In short, David and a group of men were working for Nabal protecting his sheep from highway men (robbers) for a pre-determined fee.  However, when it came time to pay the fee, Nabal pretended he had never made the agreement.

David gathered his men and made a plan to march on Nabal’s house and seek their revenge.  While they were on the way, Nabal’s wife, Abigail met them on the road.  She gave them everything that Nabal had agreed to pay them, and then asked them to forgive HER.  David and his men accepted her offering.  In this story, Abigail is a “type” of Christ.  Like Abigail, He comes to us, and heals the wounds that other’s sins have caused us and then asks us to forgive Him.*

Notice that the debt was paid, and the wound healed, BEFORE forgiveness was requested.  This is how it happened for me.  I could not heal until I worked through those feelings.  Denial based forgiveness does not work.  I needed to have the freedom to express my feelings and  work through them. Then I could see the gifts that the Lord has given me to replace what I had lost.  Peace filled in the empty space where anger used to lie.

Forgiveness IS a beautiful thing.

Photo Attribution here

*Many thanks to author James Ferrel who illuminated this scripture for me in his book, The Peacegiver.

Am I God’s Orphan?

Kristen Rice - CC BY-NC - Fotopedia
Kristen Rice – CC BY-NC – Fotopedia

Am I God’s Orphan?  Did He push me off the train, or just turn away and leave me?

For a long time, I lived with those kinds of questions.  I would drag myself to church with my family each week, but often things that were said there only increased my pain and anger. I spent a lot of time crying in the bathroom.  It was no one’s fault that subjects like forgiveness, adversity, and family were so painful to me.  It just was.

Thanks to the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, on the stages of grief, it is commonly accepted that people who are suffering from grief will go through a period of being angry at God.  Studies have shown that it is also common for survivors of sexual abuse and assault to feel angry at God.  However, I don’t think this anger is as commonly accepted.

Because survivors don’t feel the anger will be understood or accepted, we don’t talk about it.  For example, I’ve been blogging about my journey toward healing for a couple years now, and I haven’t talked about being angry with God except during those times when I felt closer to Him.

Why are we so reluctant to admit we are angry at God?  I suppose we fear being judged as having a lack of faith, or maybe we simply feel guilty.  We tell ourselves, “God is perfect.  Who am I to be angry with Him?”  But we aren’t perfect and so we get angry.  And that’s OK.

I was very angry with God for a long time.  The biggest point of contention was “Why did He let this happen?”  Yes, I have heard and read many answers to the question about why God allows bad things to happen to good people.  But none of them felt very satisfactory to me when I was in the most pain.

My reasoning was this–you tell me that God is my Heavenly Father, and yet what good earthly Father would allow His child or his daughter to be sexually abused or raped?  Again I heard many answers to this sort of question–all directed toward adults, but how do I explain it to my inner child?  Or in my case, my inner children?

When I turned to my church for answers, the most common response was “forgive”.  Grrr.  I came to think of forgiveness as the other four-letter “F” word. Forgiveness IS an important and beautiful principle, but it is not the first step on the healing journey.  Telling a survivor to forgive prematurely can actually increase their shame and anger toward God.

When I looked to the church for answers about why these things happen, the most common message was “God gives us adversity to help us grow.”  No doubt I have grown from this experience, but God did NOT give it to me for that reason.  God does NOT give us abuse, assault or murder.  They are a result of free will or agency, other people’s sins.

So what is the answer?  I did find answers to these questions about God.  I have resolved the anger and shame that kept me apart from Him.  I admit I still have flashes of anger.  It is really hard for me to sit in a church meeting and listen to people talk about how God has blessed them, and how they know He will always protect them.  Even when I am not angry with God, I see things differently.  And if I am angry, I think, “Why hasn’t He protected me?  Am I God’s orphan?”

The good news is there are answers to these questions.  I believe the answers I have found will help others who are hurting. so I am writing a book about it.  That is not meant to be a teaser, just to say there is hope…but the answer is too long for a blog post, or even a series of blog posts.

The point of this post is to say if you are angry at God, you are not alone.

I get it.  He gets it.  Don’t let anyone increase your shame and anger by asking you to forgive prematurely.  Forgiveness is a process.  It may begin with a choice, but it is a process.  God understands your pain, your shame and your anger, including your anger toward Him.

The first step resolving the anger is the same step you would take in any relationship.  You need to talk about it.  One of the best things I did was talk to Heavenly Father about my anger.  I remember the first time.  I walked, I cried and I ranted.  I held nothing back.  I couldn’t keep it in anymore.

When I was done I expected the proverbial lightning strike–not really, but I did expect to feel guilty or ashamed.  I didn’t.  I felt better.  Actually I felt a lot better.  The feeling I had was very clear, God was not displeased with me at all.  I felt quite the opposite.  It was as if He were saying to me lovingly, “That was a very important step, Leslie.  So glad you are back.”

If you are hurting and angry at God, I want you to know He understands and He cares.  He weeps with you.  Remember when Lazarus died, and Mary and Martha were upset with Jesus.  They said, “if you had come sooner, our brother would still be alive.” Did He chastise them for their anger?  No, He felt their pain and wept with them.

Your pain and anger are heard.  You do not weep alone.