Okay, so there's a way to manage anxiety and stress through mindfulness meditation and centering prayer. But what about God? Where does love fit in, one reader asked. (BTW, thank you, dear reader, this is just what I've been asking, too.)
I'm not sure I have the answer but I'll relate an experience I had recently. I had been praying faithfully every morning, centering on my "sacred word" and following my breath. My new twofold path.
Then, one morning, I felt like I was coming close to the fire. You know, like Moses coming upon the burning bush. The fire turned into light, the light turned into love and love turned into…..fear. I went to work and anxiety hit HARD. Anxiety soon gave way to depression and I was a wreck for the rest of the week. I stopped praying and hit the refrigerator, consuming as much comfort food as I could (my dysfunctional way of coping.) I was utterly baffled. What happened?
Then I saw Sandy, my spiritual director. I shudder to say that because, as a former cult member, anything that smacks of spiritual guidance is a great threat. But I had met her at a low-key retreat last September in which we played with clay and found our center. I have been poking at the edges of my spiritual quest for years, unable to commit to anything but hungering all the same. Sandy, a Methodist minister, saw that and we connected. I've been seeing her once a month ever since.
I told Sandy I had become fearful during my prayer. Not just fearful. Terrified. The closer I got to God, the more panicked I became. I was sure She was going to betray me (I use masculine and feminine pronouns interchangeably as I do not believe God has a gender.) My whole being felt unsafe, threatened with annihilation. What was it?
The more Sandy and I talked, the more it dawned on me that these were the same feelings I had as a trauma survivor. And my trauma had been in the cult. The Doctor, who had dubbed himself "The Man of God," had used me in the name of God. I equated him with God. That's the most devastating damage of cults. They ravage one spiritually, usurping the Mystery and turning a man into an idol. Now, here I was, back on my spiritual quest and the buried memories of the trauma were resurfacing - not the trauma of sexual and physical abuse but of the spiritual abuse. I was sure that God was going to betray as he had before - only that "god" was a man, Victor Paul Wierwille.
Once that became clear to me, that I was mixing up my gods, my anxiety vanished and I was back on track. I'm reminded of Paul Tillich's words at the end of his book "The Courage to Be:" "The courage to be is rooted in the god who appears when God disappears in the anxiety of doubt." On this new spiritual journey, which has only taken me twenty-five years to get to, I am embracing a new God - one of love and goodness and light A God who does not betray or abandon. God the ocean. Kris the pebble. I haven’t gotten to the father/child part yet. That's more trauma to work through. But the goal is there and so is Love. I'm trusting I'll be led into it the way a flower unfolds in the sun. Not something I can rush or push. Just another part of the journey.