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The Changing View of God’s Will – or Witches and Doctors and Priests, Oh My

The Changing View of God’s Will – or Witches and Doctors and Priests, Oh My

“You have no power here! Begone! – before someone drops a house on you too!”

Long, long ago there were healing women, women wise with the knowledge of herbs, of sound and smell and taste, of birthing and guidance and support. Their various mindsets are probably not ones that we can fully understand or inhabit today, although an undeniable hunger for their possible stories is evident in our fictions. History may be written by the winners, but speculative imagination is open to all.

Such women had an important role in small communities, until their role was re-interpreted. A strong patriarchal movement, armed with the authority of a monotheistic God, saw women with any sort of power as a threat. Their own stories cast women as inferior and sinful and subordinate to men. Women were no longer allowed to own their own land, and their bodies were to be thought of – and treated accordingly – as property. Powerful women, women with any sort of unapproved education, were to be disempowered: by making them seem subhuman (and/or superhuman), by cutting off ties to their kinship networks, and by casting doubts on their existential right to exist, such that communities would feel that it was wrong to “consort” with them. Women, and especially intelligent women, became the enemy (All our “wars” do the same thing – “othering” the human as less-than-human).

The outcast has power, too, of a sort, but after such events as the Inquisition and the infamous Witch Hunts, the burnings at the stake (how much worse than a crucifixion), the drownings of “water tests” and the like, much of the understanding and knowledge that might have been accessed later – through whatever methods of succession they might have had – was probably lost. Women seeking to reclaim the figure of the goddess, latter-day herbalists, Wiccans and witches, and all the overlapping seekers who blend them and other perspectives in their own attempts to balance the spirit, all have in common a yearning for the denied and nearly exterminated appreciation of the female principle, whatever that might look like. Because of this yearning, and the inherent oppositional and defensive position, there is sometimes a reversion to awkward and unfair gender binaries, but how can there be spiritual balance and integration and movement of all, even now, when male and female have been out of touch for so long and in such alienating ways?

I start with the ancient healing woman who became cast in the role of the witch because I don’t think we’ve come to terms with gender, knowledge, and healing. Our cures are poisons, our poisons are cures. It’s all in the amount, it’s all in discernment, it’s all in complexity. It’s hard to convey, and our stories are inadequate. Our mythos doesn’t function. Our logos is a weapon. And so, the vision of the ancient woman is a comfort to me. It carries things that cannot be conveyed otherwise, like music does. Like art.

Spiritual traditions, despite their wings of the horrible, all have a heart, no matter how it might be eclipsed, in the love and compassion that is the wellspring of all insight and communion. Every sacred book has its wisdom in this deep truth, no matter how its other pages may incite cruelty. It is the choice of each community and of each person to decide whether to take the paragraphs of the ancient libraries as an excuse for their dark side to oppress and to kill, or to read them as stories that illustrate the truth of the dangers of the human soul, in order to propel consciousness into a different space – the space of empathy, and discernment. Perhaps there’s more than one reason that you never hear the story from the point of view of the Canaanite.

Science and medicine have had moments of confrontation with religious communities – even when they have been members themselves. I think of Galileo, Mendel and Darwin – all of whom proposed understandings that seemed to undermine established teachings and were seen as a threat. On the other hand, the churches have had times of amazing institutional support – founding universities, building and supporting hospitals. The religious world is not monolithic of course, but eventually it seems that scientific discoveries are incorporated into religious understandings in some way – and the hanging sense that religious views don’t change is an illusion. The very existence of all the subgroups and diverse views among just the American protestant wing of the christian religion exemplify that, but even the more ancient religions include a spectrum of views, ranging across flavors militant, orthodox, literal, evangelist, conservative, scholarly, social-activist, meditative, welcoming. To me, the religious brand is less important than this kind of sub-grouping. From what I can tell, the fanatical haters are much the same across all religions, as are the compassionate lovers.

If God’s will is understood as something that is so fragile as to be easily undermined by human knowledge, things get dark. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity” as the poet W.B. Yeats succinctly put it. Those who believe they are representing God’s will seek to impose it as though it required their assistance. In this view, there is suspicion towards the cosmos, and paranoia about non-members.

If God’s will is understood more as “how it’s going to be” regardless of human decision, free will and action, then that is not threatened by much of anything, much less by better understanding our universe and our own niche within it. In this view, there is trust in the cosmos, and acceptance of both our sufferings and our various beings – whether in the form of women, of doctors – whether in extending the life of the aged, or by treating addiction or depression or a heart condition, or using birth control to better plan for thriving families. How do we know God’s will isn’t for humans to learn to make better decisions? Jesus was a healer. There is no reason in this perspective not to try, and no reason to throw away the gifts that we have been given.

If people believe both these at once, or in a syncopated rhythm, then odd things start to happen. They sometimes take on the role of God for others. Preachers and politicians believe that they speak for God. Doctors become arrogant, scientists mistake the model for the reality, communities project both good and evil onto the “what is” such that they cannot accept either the strengths or the weaknesses of science and medicine and religion and politics. Science becomes another “faith” and scientific method is considered discardable – or science becomes a perfect totality rather than a self-correcting and evolving set of theories (narratives that attempt to explain replicable experimental results). Religion inserts itself as scientific description and loses the deeper truths of its narratives. Some people become fearful and defensive, others violent. Lies become more acceptable. Truths lose the “scene” in which they have meaning, and are used as weapons.

H.L. Mencken describes the “inferior man” as one who (among other things) lives in fear: “The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear – fear of the unknown, the complex, and the inexplicable.” Such a man – or woman – will always fear anyone that that is perceived as different. He/she feels others must be dominated, controlled, and forced to be predictable, to follow commands, so that his/her own inferiority remains concealed, even from himself or herself. I was careful here to include both genders, but…

It’s especially disheartening to me that many women can’t see the various attempts to put women back in the box for what they are, but I have hope and confidence because of the many women (and men!) who observe injustice and who work, each in their own way, to be themselves and to encourage others. I think that despite our regressions here, we will continue to move ahead – onwards and upwards. We could have been much more. Maybe we still will be.

In some ways, it all goes back to how comfortable a community is with the idea that humans are allowed to explore knowledge, to ask questions, and to act on their current understandings. Some seem complacent about having knowledge of good and evil – or at least their internal definitions of such are rarely questioned – but the return of the repressed haunts them. Who do they have to control to maintain their community? Are women who use birth control witches? Sluts? Good way to rein them in, but go big! Shouldn’t insurance companies control them? Shouldn’t employers tightly define coverage?

But why should an employer define coverage for a person on “moral grounds”? What a nasty mess. First of all – the implicit ideology that it implies – that the worker has taken the previous role of the woman-as-property – is about the best evidence for the reality of the class war (and the rise of the dominionist theocrats) that I’ve seen. Beyond that, if you know anything about the extremes of non-intervention against a fixed idea of “God’s will,” you are aware of the many deaths resulting from refusing blood transfusions, and from childbirth, and from replacing medical treatment with prayer, and – in extreme cases – all of the injuries and deaths resulting from various pathologies centered on delusions about what God might want someone to do or not do (assuming for a moment that all claims about God are not delusional or at least inadequate). All armies claim that God is on their side, after all, don’t they? As George Carlin noted, someone has got to be wrong. Could it be – ALL of them?

Suppose your insurance company or business is owned by someone who thinks that your health issue is a punishment from God, and that in his/her/their judgment you don’t deserve treatment? Do you honestly believe this wouldn’t happen? We can vote with our feet by not working for such employers – if we’re in a position to do so – not everyone is. Over half this country is currently living in poverty, or very close to it. The “job creators” are still much more likely to skim the profits off the top and take them off to the Caymans, or Dubai, or to invest in global pursuits outside the American economy. In America, consumer rights across the board is the only fair position. If a religious community doesn’t want members of their flock to use science – however the subset of “wrong” medicine and science is currently defined, let them convince each to their own conscience. Sure, some will be condemned to an early and perhaps unjustified death, but at least then it was their own choice.

The roles of doctor and priest and priestess and healer and witch are intertwined. Each uses psychology. There are placebo effects. There is authority, and there is scapegoating. Sometimes overblown claims about power take hold, and abuses are legion. But each also draws on the will of the wounded, the will to live, the will to heal.

Perhaps each could help the other because of this, if they ever would. If healing has physical and spiritual aspects, and if psychology helps, and if there are different constellations of knowledge with overlapping themes and recurring narratives, maybe science can learn to tell better stories, maybe religious groups can embrace the totality of the human to a better spirit, maybe there can be better integration, better education, better cooperation, to promote the general welfare for the betterment of all.

But the power corruption is deep, deep, deep. I don’t forget the witches burning, the lynchings and the attempted genocides, especially when I read the comments of our contemporary brownshirts, fascists, and inquisitors, our bigots, our smug self-righteous, our haters.

I stand against the haters, in the way of the statue crying. It is almost impossibly sad. The utter, utter waste of it. The ignorance and greed and insecurity that it represents is such a huge loss to us all.

We’ve all come a long way, baby. Women and men, of all religions and races and kinds. But the backlash is severe.

In politics, the framing is always about our choice – but the choice is deeper than who we think might be best at representing our country’s values or our interests. The choice is really much more about who we choose to be – given our scientific knowledge, our spiritual path, our understanding of the human, our hopes for the future. Do we bother to seek a deeper understanding? Are we more comfortable with being told who we are and what God expects us to do, or not do, or do we see the acts of questioning about our meaning and constructing our character as life’s continuing project? Are we arrogant and oppressive and destructive, or are we working alone and together to try to make our communities, our nation, and our world a better place for thriving? For…all…the people.

When the healers and the knowers and the questioners become the enemy, it’s a dark dark place to live. That’s why I light a candle, and write, and smell the flowers, and commune with the trees – in hopes that a slight echo might come back across the ethereal plane to give me strength. Perhaps in turn my little spark might help to jump the gap in our country’s synapses, and echo forward to our daughters and sons of the future.

Think deeply, and just as hard as you can. Appreciate. Pay attention. Ask questions. Love.

The Multi-faceted Goddess Prayer

The Multi-faceted Goddess Prayer

This most astounding of Goddess prayers is from Rob Brezsny’s book Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings– the latest addition to my wishlist. You may know Rob Brezsny if you follow his witty syndicated column Free Will Astrology. Thanks to sweet Nessa for suggesting it – I found it posted at Killing the Buddha.

Prayer for You

How do you get God’s attention? Try sweet talking his girlfriend.
by Rob Breznsy

This is a perfect moment. It’s a perfect moment because I have been inspired to say a gigantic prayer. I’ve been roused to unleash a divinely greedy, apocalyptically healing prayer for each and every one of you — even those of you who don’t believe in the power of prayer.

And so I am starting to pray right now to the God of Gods… the God beyond all Gods… the Girlfriend of God… the Teacher of God… the Goddess who invented God.

Dear Goddess, you who never kill but only change:

I pray that my exuberant, suave, and accidental words will move you to shower ferocious blessings down on everyone who reads this benediction.

I pray that you will give them what they don’t even know they need — not just the boons they think they want but everything they’ve always been afraid to even imagine or ask for.

Dear Goddess, you wealthy anarchist burning heaven to the ground:

Many of the divine chameleons out there don’t even know that their souls will live forever. So please use your brash magic to help them see that they are all wildly creative geniuses too big for their own personalities.

Guide them to realize that they are all completely different from what they’ve been led to believe about themselves, and more exciting than they can possibly imagine.

Make it illegal, immoral, irrelevant, unpatriotic, and totally tasteless for them to be in love with anyone or anything that’s no good for them.

O Goddess, you who give us so much love and pain mixed together that our morality is always on the verge of collapsing:

I beg you to cast a boisterous love spell that will nullify all the dumb ideas, bad decisions, and nasty conditioning that have ever cursed the wise and sexy virtuosos out there.

Remove, banish, annihilate, and laugh into oblivion any jinx that has clung to them, no matter how long they’ve suffered from it, and even if they’ve become accustomed or addicted to its ugly companionship.

Please conjure an aura of protection around them so that they will receive an early warning if they are ever about to act in such a way as to bring another hex or plague into their lives in the future.

Dear Goddess, sweet Goddess, you sly universal virus with no f*cking opinion:

Please help all the personal growth addicts out there to become disciplined enough to go crazy in the name of creation, not destruction.

Teach them the difference between oppressive self-control and liberating self-control.

Awaken in them the power to do the half-right thing when it is impossible to do the totally right thing.

Arouse the Wild Woman within them — even if they’re men.

Dear Goddess, you pregnant sl*t who scorns all mediocre longing:

I pray that you will inspire all the compassionate rascals communing with this prayer to kick their own asses and wash their own brains.

Provoke them to throw away or give away all the things they own that encourage them to believe that they are better than anyone else.

Show them how much fun it is to brag about what they cannot do and do not have.

Give them bigger, better, more original sins and wilder, wetter, more interesting problems.

Most of all, Goddess, brainwash them with your freedom so that they never love their own pain more than anyone else’s pain.

Oh Goddess, you wildly disciplined, radically curious, shockingly friendly, fanatically balanced, mysteriously truthful, teasingly healing, lyrically logical master of rowdy bliss:

I ask you to give your unconventionally unconditional love to all the budding messiahs who read this prayer; love them with all of your ocean and sky and fire and earth.

Cultivate in yourself a fervent yearning for their companionship. Play with them every day. Answer their questions. Listen to their stories.

Inspire them not just to nag you for what they want, but also to thank you for the uncanny gifts you flood them with.

And if there are any pockets of ignorance or hatred these insanely poised creators might be harboring, any inadvertent idiocies that keep them blind to your blessings, please flush them out as soon as possible.

Dear Goddess, You psychedelic mushroom cloud at the center of all our brains:

Bless all the inscrutable creators out there with lucid dreams while they are wide awake, and their very own spin doctors, and solar-powered sex toys that work even in the dark, and vacuum cleaners for their magic carpets, and a knack for avoiding other people’s hells, and a thousand masks that all represent their true feelings, and secret admirers who are not psychotic stalkers.

Arrange for a racehorse to be named after them, or an underground river, or a boulevard in an exotic vacationland, or a thousand-year-old storm on Saturn or Jupiter.

Teach them to push their own buttons and unbreak their own hearts and right their own wrongs and sing their own songs and be their own wives and save their own lives.

Dear Goddess, You fiercely tender, hauntingly reassuring, orgiastically sacred feeling that is even now running through all of our soft, warm animal bodies:

I pray that you provide all the original sinners out there with a license to bend and even break all rules, laws, and traditions that keep them apart from the things they love.

Show them how to purge the wishy-washy wishes that distract them from their daring, dramatic, divine desires.

And teach them that they can have anything they want if they’ll only ask for it in an unselfish way.

And now dear God of Gods, God beyond all Gods, Girlfriend of God, Teacher of God, Goddess who invented God, I bring this prayer to a close, trusting that in these mysterious moments you have begun to change everyone out there in the exact way they’ve needed to change in order to become the gorgeous geniuses they were born to be.

Amen. Awomen.

Wow. That really charges my battery – how about you?

Our Thanksgiving Prayer

Our Thanksgiving Prayer

Dear Lord and Lady – the mediators –

And to the Sweet God above all gods –

We thank you for this meal that we are here to enjoy together.

We pray for those who are sick, lonely, afraid, and in need – that you may send them strength and comfort.

Protect us from domination and destructive intent – and help us to combat it in fairness and love.

Help our leaders to remember, and to honor, the well-being of the people – all the people – everywhere in the world.

We humbly ask that you provide what we need for our souls and bodies and minds to grow and be well.

Help us to attune to that sweet spot of thriving – between order and chaos – as we navigate our world.

Forgive us our shortcomings, and help us to forgive those who hurt us.
Help us to be mindful, loving, patient and kind.

May we dwell with the Spirit, in gratitude, and with brave and compassionate hearts.

Amen.

The War Prayer

The War Prayer

Disgusted by the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the then-current Philippine-American War, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) wrote The War Prayer in 1904. It was considered too sacrilegious and provocative for the times. Twain agreed to bury it, but wanted it published after his death (“I have told the truth in that… and only dead men can tell the truth in this world”). He died in 1910, and it was published in Harper’s Monthly, November 1916. I have always found this to be a very powerful piece of writing, and this animation adds a new resonance to how I have imagined it in my mind’s eye before.

Take a few moments. Read. And watch – if you like.

The War Prayer by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJsZCpp8hR4[/youtube]

Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation.

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsoJ-WJZGXM[/youtube]

Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.


And then, try reading To the Person Sitting in Darkness.

Satire – the fusing of truth, anger, and irony – is an important genre for us to relearn. We have become too literal, and too superficial. We need more writers like Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Some people don’t even get Colbert and Jon Stewart. Wikipedia has a list, but I think they must define satire too broadly. Top comedians are less satirists than court jesters. Not to say that jesters cannot be satirical, but it’s just one tool in their bag of tricks.

For me, true satire is a little like a koan. You have to play with perspective, and performatively evoke an ethical sense in the other. You know it’s satire when literalists cannot grasp the dynamic: That’s when they will object! … or join up!

From a Current Jehovah’s Witness

From a Current Jehovah’s Witness

Once in a while, I receive a non-hostile email from a current Jehovah’s Witness. Why would a Jehovah’s Witness write to me? Well, sometimes just because of a simple desire for a safe place to vent, or because something that I’ve written has resonated, or because they don’t really feel that they have many – or any – other options. There really isn’t anywhere to go – without fear of reprisal – for caring spiritual counsel within the organization.

JWs who write to me as part of a spiritual exploration, questioning and/or crisis usually do not want to share their thoughts on these matters with others. They are justifiably afraid of the repercussions if a fellow JW were to discover their communication and report it.

I am deeply honored by this kind of contact. It is the most significant validation I could possibly have and I am well aware of the level of trust that is required. It tells me that at least sometimes I’m on the right track. (Thank you.)

I hold as sacred the confidentiality of those who wish to remain unidentified for this reason. Often these communications are held between that person and myself.

In this case, I have permission to post this in an edited version. Names have been deleted and a couple of other details have been changed to protect the innocent. Thank you for allowing me to post it; it is my hope that this will also help others.

I came across your website today after looking for news reports about the Follow the Christ convention I recently attended, and read your blog concerning it with immense interest. I am writing to you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in crisis. I am sure you receive many emails a day from people with problems, and I may be just one more! I am feeling quite nervous but I don’t feel I can talk to anyone about my feelings and concerns with regard to my faith (yes, as you know, asking questions is discouraged). I really identify with your position and cannot ignore my doubts anymore. Your blog really hit home with me.

I was brought up in the faith, much like yourself, and my parents got divorced when I was 14. Dad was disfellowshipped as a consequence, and I wasn’t allowed to see him until he was reinstated (over 2 years) which helped me slide into depression, and when I questioned this, I was given a Watchtower reference to cuddle up to, and deal with it. Real comforting. I never got a ‘shepherding call’ from the elders regarding any of this, not even from my uncle who is also an elder. In contrast, I was visited by the Circuit Overseer when I started seeing a girl in High School who wasn’t a Witness, who attempted to barrage me with scriptures and ‘reason’. I thought this was a real double standard – being offered no support when I was in dire need, conversely being slammed when I put a foot out of line.

My mother, a stalwart Witness, taught me to keep a humble attitude and accept all of this, assuring me it would all work out in the end. It is only now that I’m 23 and I’m starting to see all the damage this system causes to people, myself included. I have deep-seated self worth issues, and constantly wonder if I’m going to make it through Armageddon because I feel like I keep screwing up. It’s a constant cycle.

I look around at brothers and sisters in the Kingdom Hall, wondering if they all live in this same constant fear, all the while keeping a firmly fixed ‘kingdom smile’ (which to me sometimes looks slightly disconnected and delusional) to ensure everything appears to be just fine.

Honestly, I could go on and on. I just really needed to get some of this off my chest and talk to someone, and I really appreciate your reading my rant! I am still attending meetings, but I seem to be finding more and more excuses not to go. I know I will have to make a decision eventually, but it will be quite a gradual process I think… I guess I feel like I’m in no-man’s land right now, neither here nor there. I would really value any thoughts or suggestions you might have, and would love to hear about your experiences too!

Again, I thank you for considering what I’ve written here, I feel like weight has been lifted from my shoulders just writing about it.

I look forward to your reply! Regards,

My reply:

You are exactly right that the process of expressing your feelings has value in itself! You might think about keeping a (well-hidden) journal (perhaps a password-protected file on your computer).

The main thing I want to express to you is that you matter. You are not a stamped-out robot off some assembly line. You are a unique person – the only one of you in the entire history of the cosmos. There is nobody else exactly like you. (I know that might sound like a Mr. Rogers song, but what of it?) You are special. Millions of potentialities and synchronicities and actualities combine, moment by moment, to construct you. You have a mind, a body, a spirit – all of which are changing imperceptibly, all the time. The universe plays with you, and earth is your home and your school. As Alan Watts used to say, “the earth peoples.” To some extent, you can choose your direction, your flavor, your habits. You look, you see, you interpret, you act, you think.

Trust yourself. Listen to your heart. You sound very intelligent to me. You sense the wrongness in the air. The self-worth problems (yes, we all have them – it’s one of the most destructive aspects of the group) are hard to overcome. You may find that you bounce back and forth between feelings of worthlessness (you’ll never measure up) and an overinflated ego (self-righteousness, superiority to non-JWs).

Explore the possibilities in-between – the aim is to find your balance point. For myself, I have found that a focus on something else helps a lot for self-integration. Work on yourself, but also help others. Work on a project that you really care about. If you paint or do karate or play the piano or build things or sing or have any kind of skill like that where your mind, body and spirit have to learn to meld together seamlessly in order to do it well, you will see what I mean. Cultivate that. Practice it. Pay attention to the way the habits form and draw on that process of mind/body/spirit memory on other occasions.

At this point, I would advise that as you feel the desire and/or duty and/or pressure to attend, you continue to try to get what spiritual help you still can from meetings and so on. There are some good things, here and there. I don’t recommend a big public break anyway, unless it becomes unavoidable.

While you’re at meetings, though, pay attention to your own perceptions about what “doesn’t fly.” You have identified a lack of meaningful spiritual counsel, heartlessness and lack of compassion, fear-based worship, aggressive intervention for rule-breaking, the fake, fixed smile, so on. Notice more. You don’t have to react, just observe. Pay attention to how these things make you feel about yourself and others. Think that through a little. In the privacy of your own mind, replace what you are observing with more caring, loving alternatives. Actively imagine – and visualize – what it might look like, feel like, if your imagined alternatives were the reality. Change the look on someone’s face, the tone of voice.

Take note of the truly kind people you know and have known there – appreciate them. If you feel moved to do so, praise individuals for specific things. “That was a kind thing to do, helping her out of the car.” They rarely hear authentic praise, and it helps you too. Don’t limit this to JWs, either.

If you pray, pray more. If you feel comfortable talking to the God they have named “Jehovah” – do that (I never was, but that’s just me). However you address God, think about love – and reach in – and reach out – to love.

Orient yourself toward a god who truly loves you and would never want to hurt you (or anyone else). Imagine a love that is so big that it encompasses everything that could ever be, and yet a love that is so unique to you that only you can tune in to its meaning for you. Imagine cosmic arms comforting you, holding you, telling you that it’s all going to be all right. All our words about God are metaphors anyway – use what you can from your own archetypal imagination until it feels like God should feel, until it feels right.

Whether you imagine the metaphors of kingship or fatherhood or motherhood or a protective hen or a quiver through the strings of the cosmic dance, you’ll know it when it feels right. Think of tuning in a station on an old beatup radio. It’s not a matter of “creating your own God,” but of stumbling around until you start to get a glimmer of what a God that is Love itself might be like. Listen for the deep centers from which the spirit of love speaks within you.

Learn about what humility really means (and trust a bit less in the “traditions” of these men in Brooklyn). But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were. There are many helpful, loving things that you have learned, too. Build on what rings true (hold fast to what is fine and caring and good). Silently let the destructive aspects start to flow over and around you – harmlessly. Picture them just sliding off of you.

These are things to help you start to turn fear (or anger or helplessness) into something more constructive that will help you find your own way, whatever that might be. These things I am suggesting may seem small, but small habits start to grow and flower in their own way. Some small changes along these lines (explore others too) will be good preparation for you to step into your own path with authenticity and integrity. Research. Think. Feel. Explore. Be kind.

My own experiences are buried in comments and posts. You can read some of my poetry here, and there is a long page of advice to “recovering JWs” here.

I am deeply honored to hear from you. If any part of what I’ve written seems “off” to you in any way, please disregard it. Everyone is a little different, and what helps one person may not be at all useful for another.

Would you mind if I posted a version of this letter to the blog? I would not mention your name, and I could delete any part of this that would in any way identify you. If you like, resend the letter, taking out any part that you don’t want me to post. And if you are not comfortable with my posting any of it, that’s perfectly fine too.

In any case, I’m here for you. There are others, although I would advise some discretion. Some are very damaged, and will be for a long time, maybe always. I’m among the more fortunate ones. I think my curiosity and love of reading went a long way…

Thank you so much for replying so quickly to my email. I have read it over and over, you don’t know what it means to me that someone has taken the time to help me with what I’m going through! And if I may say so, you have a beautifully eloquent style of writing, a pleasure to read! I take a lot from what you have written. You may post a version of my letter if you wish, I only ask that my name is removed. I think I may email you again in the future, and for now wish you the best. Kind regards,

I have some idea of what it means – still just trying to be the caring friend I wish I’d had. I don’t invoke discourses of blessing easily, but I must admit that I do feel blessed (and healed) every time someone out there seems to be hurting a little less because I could help in some small way.

It’s a form of service that returns threefold … or tenfold … or (a) manifold.

(I have a pretty good idea of who might be laughing each of those.)

{{{grins}}}

We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. ~Herman Melville

A Prayer of Saint Theresa

A Prayer of Saint Theresa

From my dear friend Shi:

Saint Theresa is known as the Saint of the Little Ways, meaning she believed in doing the little things in life well and with great Love. She is also the patron Saint of flower growers and florists. She is represented by roses. May everyone who receives this message be blessed.

REMEMBER to make a wish before you read the prayer. That’s all you have to do. There is nothing attached. Prayer is one of the best free gifts that we ever receive.

*******

Saint Theresa’s prayer:

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

*******

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