Lately when I pray I ask that I be continue to be led through this journey back to God and back to religion. And he’s definitely delivered. I’ve realized some scary and shocking things about the evangelical fundamentalist school that I attended for pre-school through 8th grade.
Mainly, spiritual abuse.
I came across Elizabeth Esther’s blog the other night and I stayed up until three in the morning reading. I could not stop reading because it was like she knew. Her experiences are my experiences. While I’m not willing to go so far and say that I was in a cult (I attended the school but she was in deeper since her parents and grandparents were fully involved) I’ve realized that spiritual abuse did take place.
And after I turned off my laptop I cried. A lot. I went to my room and just sat down on the floor and cried because I realized that some of the things I considered to just be my own personality quirks are not actually quirks at all, they are scars from spiritual and, by extension, emotional abuse. In Elizabeth Esther’s words which fit perfectly: “I am often wary of people’s motives (which comes across as judgmental), I assume future rejection and often disappear into my life to pre-empt abandonment (this comes across as me not reciprocating in the relationship), and I have difficulty and anxiety about attending group functions (which comes across as being a party-pooper).”
The words ‘cult’ and ‘spiritual abuse’ sound so weird in my head. Maybe I’m still in the shock of realization but I’m not sure I could ever say them out loud. Nobody imagines (especially children) that they will have an experience with a cult or with abuse. And that right there is the problem. Our guard is down. Religion can actually be a very dangerous thing yet people in the Western world aren’t prepared for that fact. ‘Fundamentalism’ and spiritual abuse is something that happens to those brain-washed Muslims with brown skin, not Christians. Not in cozy suburbs. Not in my neighborhood.
Well, it happened to me. In a cozy suburb. And my parent’s aren’t even fundamentalists. It happened at school. Go figure.
Things I saw/experienced in a fundamentalist school:
• An unnerving fear of everything government, whether that be government agencies or government schools. The government was out to get Christians. Always.
• People routinely got up and shared their ‘testimony’ and asked ‘are you saved?’.
• Halloween was a holiday of Satan. It was not to be partaken of.
• If you were a girl, the idea of ‘biblical womanhood’ and being ‘a Proverbs 31 woman’ were supposed to be your highest aspiration. (Elizabeth Esther on this.)
• We were reminded that the rapture could come at any moment. I remember being scared, like Elizabeth Esther, that I would be left behind.
• Families within the congregation practiced discipline a la To Train Up a Child. My school actually made the news once because the administration demanded that an unruly child be spanked by one of his parents in their presence to make sure discipline was happening. The mother declined and brought the story to the news.
And that’s only the beginning if I’m honest. I’ve realized that my whole view of God and religion is warped by fundamentalism. I’ve actually slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve been approaching Catholicism in this way. I guess admitting it is the first step right?
I’ve got a lot more to write about my experiences with fundamentalism, but I just needed to get this out.
Today I prayed the rosary for the first time. You would think that as someone who is nominally Catholic the rosary would have been taught to me during CCD. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I think of my Grandmother whenever the rosary is mentioned because she always, even to this day, has one of those small one decade rosaries on her key chain.
Today being Monday I meditated on the Joyful Mysteries. I was struck by how the Joyful Mysteries are the essence of motherhood and the relationship between mother and child. While meditating I found it helpful to put myself in Mary’s position whether that was being visited by the angel, seeing Elizabeth, putting the baby in a manger in Bethlehem, presenting Jesus at the Temple, and finding Jesus at the temple. What an amazing strength it took to be the mother of God in the face of so much earthly uncertainty!
The effect prayer has on my life is profound. The key thing is that it reminds be to be content in this season of life and not always looking forward to a time when all the problems of this season will have passed. Prayer also reminds me that there are always challenges in life, that is our cross, but that I shouldn’t romanticize one set of challenges simply because I’m not facing them in this season.