I'm still having cult dreams. After twenty-five years, you'd think they would have stopped. But now that I'm exploring my spirituality in earnest - i.e. Christian spirituality, I'm getting shaky. Last night, I was back in a big Way meeting, leading it. I woke with a start - thoughts racing, heart pounding, short of breath.
I have to go in very small steps. Baby steps. There's so much I don't understand and so much I want to (I want, I want, I want….) Who is God? What is the nature of God? Why is there evil and suffering? Who was Jesus? I am a perennial doubter. Even if God came down and told me the answers to my face, I'm sure I'd still doubt. So, I'm having to trust my heart. And that's hard for one who always sought "answers " outside herself.
Yesterday, before the circuits in my brain overheated from all these theological questions, I wrote about taking responsibility for my actions in the cult. That seems to be the first step in recovery from just about anything. Look at AA's 1st step -" Admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable." You have to accept that you have a problem before you can tackle it. In this case, my anxiety is off-the-charts when it comes to Christianity because I'm so afraid I'll "lose my way" again. Naming the source of the anxiety helps. So does writing about it. So here's yesterday's post:
I was speaking with a friend the other day about centering prayer and she told me of a terrifying experience she had had many years ago when she was seeking to deepen her spirituality. She was reading many books on spirituality, under the supervision of a confessor and a spiritual director. But she started straying into the turbulent waters of the spirit - where good and evil clashed. She could barely articulate what had happened to her except to say that it took over her life and nearly destroyed her marriage. No one, she said, could relate to what she was going through, not even her counselors. She felt "over her head" in God and couldn't get her footing. Finally, she extricated herself from it - stopped praying, stopped opening herself to these spiritual forces, stopped going to church. She just quit and it took her over forty years to regain her footing.
"Not unlike your experience in the Way, when you thought you're doing God's will and you were led astray," she said.
"Was there ever a time when you felt it was wrong?" I asked.
"Oh yes," she said. "But I was under the direction of some very spiritual people and they encouraged me to continue."
So, there it was. Under the guidance of ignorant guides. Not evil, not like a cult leader, but misguiding, all the same. She gave up her free will to listen to them. Instead of listening to herself and her better judgment. That's the problem with religion. Often we think someone else knows better than we do and we give up our good sense.
Listening to her, it was easy for me to see my own folly in The Way. Sure, I knew what I was doing was wrong. I knew it was wrong to have sex with a married man. I knew it was wrong to allow myself to be used and beaten and abused. I knew it was wrong to deceive other people in the name of God. All in the name of God. And yet, I continued, RATIONALIZING that it was okay just because I was told it was. Brainwashing? Perhaps. That's like the joke - how many cult leaders does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer - only one - but the light bulb has to want to change.
I gave up my free will. I gave it up - no one took it from me. It’s much harder to understand a child who was born into a cult - how do they find their way when their free will IS taken over by a controlling adult system? And yet people DO find their way back to their center. How? BY LISTENING to the still, small voice inside. Cults do everything to make it impossible to listen - by controlling all your free time and never giving you time to think. Our busy culture can do the same. That is why "down time" in which you are with yourself, alone, is SO important. It gives you a chance to listen to yourself - listen to what you're telling yourself. Then perhaps we can hear what our personal God is telling us.