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Faith

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My Story with Fundamentalism

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.

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Grace

[I’m back from holiday in the Balkans. I was lucky enough to visit a pilgrimage site in Bosnia that was rather interesting and for which I’ll have a post up soon!] 

Today’s daily meditation on St. Paul is about grace: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made complete in weakness. After some reading and prayer I came to the conclusion that I’m not sure I know what grace is and what its precise place is in Catholicism. Another place this has come up for me is in literature. I’m starting to read Brideshead Revisited and from what I’ve heard it’s all about grace. Maybe the book will provide some deeper insight, but from what I’ve read on Brideshead it’s definitely a book that needs to be re-read in order to be understood. That being said, I’m looking to some other resources.

Some thoughts on what grace is from the Catholic Answer Forum:

But I think one simple way to think of grace would be as Gods’ love in action.

There are two kinds of Grace. To use Thomistic terminology, there is actual Grace and habitual Grace, but those terms have a different meaning than might be immediately assumed. Actual Grace doesn’t mean “real” as opposed “unreal”, it means “an act of Grace”, like God nudging your heart to accept Him. Habitual Grace doesn’t mean something we do without thinking, it means a persistant state of Grace (persistant states are called habits in this terminology).

So we have Graces which are movements by God on us (actual), and we have Grace which is the indwelling of God’s own Holiness and Divine Nature in our souls (habitual). Actual Grace isn’t “in us”, but is “done to us”, and it can occur at any time. Habitual Grace is aquired with Baptism. In order to be with God we need both kinds of Grace; we need God to move us with His action, and we need His Divinity to dwell in us (temples of the Holy Spirit). When we sin we cut ourselves off from His indwelling, but He can still act on us to bring us back to Him.

As for being born without Grace, yes we are all born without any Grace at all. That is the definition of Original Sin.

I checked out the Catholic Encyclopedia’s articles on grace and, um, I’m just trying to keep up! I understand the summary above loud and clear but all the other details are a bit fuzzy.

“Like St. Paul, our vocation is to respond to the measure of Christ’s grace given us in the particular circumstances of our own lives.” This talking about actual grace, right? So in essence, our vocation is to respond to ‘movements by God on us.’ Or is it talking about both actual and habitual since ‘we need both kinds of Grace.’ How do these two types of grace interact with regards to vocations? Is actual grace is the nudge towards the vocation but habitual grace the actual carrying out in terms of dwelling with Him in harmony with his plans for us?

Any help would be much appreciated!

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Hebrews 1:11

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

I’ve had a strong connection to this verse for a long time. At my Baptist school the graduating seniors got to have their life verse printed under their picture in the yearbook. I always loved browsing through and seeing which verses people felt strongly connected to. I didn’t stay on at that school for high school, but if I had to pick a life verse it would be Hebrews 1:11.

There’s something kind of mystical about this verse to me. I’ve been blessed to have a few moments in life where I definitely felt called by the Holy Spirit to travel down a certain path. To some this might seem a little strange. How could you know? Wasn’t that just you? After experiencing both, of feeling guided in certain instances and then in others left to make my own decision, I can say that there is definitely a difference, and it’s rather astounding.

I’m a big fan of Emerson’s writings. He is not Catholic, but I find his life and work very interesting.* He wrote that:

Our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual. Yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.

When I watch that flowing river, which, out of regions I see not, pours for a season its streams into me, I see that I am a pensioner; not a cause, but a surprised spectator of this ethereal water; that I desire and look up, and put myself in the attitude of reception, but from some alien energy the visions come.

And in those moments of discerning, the realization that I was hoping for these things to work out was not just because it was what I wanted, but also because it was what I was being called to do. There’s a beautiful kind of mesh that occurs in which I’d like think that these were things that I also wanted to do, but maybe, just maybe, the whole thing was totally the Holy Spirit guiding me. Isn’t that amazing to think about? That the Holy Spirit could guide us in such a way that we don’t even know because we think it’s our ‘own path to follow’ and then perhaps one day we will have the humility to see the truth: there are no such things as ‘my interests’ or ‘my life’ but rather there are merely ‘my God-given charisms’ and ‘my life according to God’.

Another verse I really like is Romans 12:6 which backs this up.

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

Every gift and charism we have was given to us for a purpose. It’s easy to look around and wish that you had other gifts or charisms, but it’s crucial to recognize that what we have been given has been intended precisely for us and it is no more or less important.

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*Which, of course, need to be taken with a grain of salt because he advocated a kind of pantheism.

Mass, Confirmation, and Ursula Ledochowska

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. 🙂

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The importance of prayer

Since I’ve started this blog I’ve been praying every day. Usually in the morning right after I wake up (and go have a pee!) and also before bed. I’ve found that on the days where I don’t pray straight away in the morning and leave it to a few hours later I get kind of cranky. Similarly, when I don’t go through my nightly routine and then pray before bed I find that I don’t sleep very well.

This past Sunday I found that I was really suffering from some anticipatory anxiety. I had this block of 5 hours where I was freaking out that I would never be able to find a job. Browsing job websites did not help at all. I’m worrying about something that is well over a year away. While yes, I am going to be done with university in a mere three days I have already committed to serving in AmeriCorps NCCC for 10 months starting in October. AmeriCorps doesn’t end until August 2013 and yet here I was having a mini-meltdown over my employment situation. Can you tell I’m a worry wort?

I think the whole thing had something to do with things in the news I’ve been reading lately. And while it would be nice to give up having to look at horrible things going on, my major depends on knowing what is going on in the world, even when those things cause some internal strife. Like how the suicide rate in Greece (which used to have the lowest rate in Europe) is rising because of the economic situation. People are killing themselves because they cannot pay their debts and/or afford the basics like food to eat. On the other hand, I was reading about how half of university students who have graduated since 2009 are unemployed or underemployed and how many cannot afford to pay their student loans.

Needless to say, I’m adding a new prayer into my repertoire.

Consoling Thoughts (for times of loneliness)

Dear Lord!
Make me remember, when the world seems cold and dreary and I know not where to turn for comfort, that there is always one spot bright and cheerful—-the Sanctuary.
When I am in desolation of spirit, when all who are dear to me have passed away like summer flowers and none are left to love me and care for me, whisper to my troubled soul
that there is one Friend who dies not
—-One Whose Love never changes—-
Jesus on the altar.
When sorrows thicken and crush me with their burden, when I look in vain for comfort,
let me remember Your words:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you.”
Amen.

Ask a monk

I emailed ‘ask a monk’ over at Catholic Exchange about the St. Basil Prayer a few days ago. Basically, I just wanted to know more about it from the Church’s perspective and I also asked to be directed to more prayers about the earth, animals, etc.

The response:

Thank you Amy for this beautiful prayer.

In today’s world where nothing seems respected anymore and the great Mother Earth to whom God has given us stewardship over has been neglected and rejected as sacred, this prayer comes as a breath of fresh air.

I think in getting this prayer out to as many as possible you can begin by sending it to as many as you can and ask that whoever you send it to, to share this prayer
with all who they know.

Social sites today such as Facebook is a good tool and so many other ways. I will help at my end and again thank you so much for your great interest in this beautiful world God has created and the glorious wonders of all life forms that He has made .

Br. Sebastian, OSB

I was slightly disappointed with this response, but oh well! I shall keep on searching.

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Doing the bare minimum

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.

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How a frum girl has brought me back to faith

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.

It worked.

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.

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