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.
Each day through learning more about Catholicism I am continuously amazed at how much either
A: I was too young to understand at the time.
B: The level of influence my Baptist (i.e. fundamentalist) school I attended had on me and my subsequent conflation of those beliefs with all of Christianity. (Evolution is wrong, the devil is a living breathing creature that wanders around and actually attacks people, Jonah really did live in the belly of a whale, etc.)
C: Part of me also feels that it isn’t just A & B but also the way Catholicism was presented to me in CCD. Since I was attending a fundamentalist school, I had a lot of questions on the differences between the two branches, but the teacher I remember in particular (who worked for McDonald’s corporate office) never really wanted to talk about fundamentalist assumptions (perhaps he didn’t know?).
Anyway, it is through learning guided by individuals like Fr. Robert Barron which is really helping to bring me back to the Church and I really couldn’t be more grateful for the work that he does which is easily accessible online. I’m heading to 8 a.m. Mass tomorrow at Westminster Cathedral. This will be my first time at Mass in a long time, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve even planned out my outfit like it’s the first day of school or something!
• • • • • • •
I recently asked in the Catholic Answer Forum whether I would need to go through RCIA in order to be confirmed. Just to be clear, I have no problem having to do this it’s just that I’m not going to be settled and having a ‘regular’ parish to attend for the next 18 months, so having to wait that long and having to do 9 months of classes seems like forever away! The good news is that since I’ve been baptized, had First Communion, and went through CCD (i.e. I’m definitely a Catholic, not a convert), Confirmation shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I might have to take a class or just have private instruction with a priest depending on the parish.
In the spirit of ‘I’ve definitely decided I want to become religiously observant again!’ I’ve been shopping around, so to speak, to find out who I might want my patron Saint to be.
• • • • • • •
This is Ursula Ledochowska.
[It] is not enough to pray, Thy kingdom come, but to work, so that the Kingdom of God will exist among us today.
Holiness does not demand anything great, beyond the ability of the person. It depends on God’s Love; every daily act can be transformed into an act of love.
Of course the latter is very important to me, as it is the same sentiment that has inspired this blog’s tagline: Cheerfully striving for holiness through the little things.
The former is, however, something I’ve been thinking more and more about today. We have this overwhelming sense of ‘But I’m a good person!’ in our culture, do we not? I guess I’m starting to see this as problematic because I think the majority of people would agree that being a ‘good person’ involves some sort of selflessness, such as almsgiving, giving your time to those who need it, advocating for social justice, which can essentially all be summed up as serving others.
But if we were to ask ‘What are you doing to serve others?’ after every proclamation of ‘But I’m a good person!’ what would we end up with? For sure we would end up with loads of people who are really and truly serving others, but we would also end up with a lot of blank stares. I’m not saying these are bad people in any way I’m merely challenging this idea that we can be ‘good people’ whilst only striving for the bare minimum in the things we don’t do (Well, I haven’t murdered anyone, so I’m a good person! I don’t steal therefore I’m a good person! etc. etc.) Okay, that’s a start, but the vast majority of people on planet earth have never murdered someone.
Let’s set the bar a little higher and, while not completely ignoring what we don’t do, give some precedence for what exactly we are doing.
As you can tell, I’m liking this St. Ursula a whole lot. 🙂
No eulogy is due to him who simply does his duty and nothing more. –St. Augustine
I must confess that doing the bare minimum is something that I have struggled with over the past few years, but is something that I am determined to rectify. Falling prey to living in the moment and hence doing the bare minimum on certain things in order to have time for other things can happen to the best of us.
Where do faith and religion come in?
As St. Augustine implicitly points out above, the bare minimum is usually not best. In some cases it may be, but in the vast majority of cases it is not. I know when I’m at my best and, um, I haven’t been there for quite a while unfortunately.
Live in this world, but infuse your actions with a meaning and purpose that transcends it. –Allison Josephs
And in the spirit of doing my best, I’m off to get studying for an exam on the politics of the Middle East.
I was anxiously heading out the door for an afternoon exam and suddenly this feeling came over me. If I would just say the ‘Our Father’ my nervousness would mellow out.
I said the ‘Our Father’ all the way to my university. Walking down the street, sitting on the train, and waiting to cross the street. I was praying.
• • •
While sitting on a step waiting to be signaled into the exam room I noticed a girl sitting opposite me. She was cursing loudly, something rather commonplace when it comes to exam time. She wouldn’t stop. Her voice was filling the hallway.
• • •
A frum girl walked into the hallway to check the seating chart. I noticed her immediately by her clothing. Skirt covering the knees and layered top that covered her elbows. She sat down and chatted quietly with someone from her class.
After a few minutes she took out a holy book written in Hebrew and started going over what I can only assume was a verse or a prayer. She closed the book and began to get ready for the exam by taking out her pens.
• • •
She made me realize what has been missing. Something about this girl just spoke to me. I wanted to be like her.
I don’t want to be the loud, cursing girl who hasn’t prepared. I used to look like this frum girl not that long ago, after all. I had attended a Baptist school and been to Mass. I used to dress modestly. I used to have radical faith and hope.
• • •
I’m making my way back. And I’m eternally grateful to the frum girl in the hallway, whoever she may be.