This has been a time of digging for me. An unusual thing for me to do, to spend time praying and having visions about my emotional make-up. Most usually, this has always been spent on studying the nature of God.
Not me. Never me. And most certainly not or never on emotions. (I feel like a teenage girl about to go, eeeeuuuuwwwwww.)
And the thing about periods of personal spiritual growth is that I always, always wind up learning something huge about myself. It’s as though it is a time of turn-around, of about-facing and seeing myself from a completely different viewpoint.
And it’s always been about my relationship with God. And, for me, it always comes back to shame.
I can remember many times reading those I love, Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, even Mother Teresa, and finding in their writings their continuing awareness of their personal limitations. And I always want to cry out, NO! not you. You’re perfect just the way you are. More than perfect. Even better. Just right.
But they knew. They knew they were impatient. Or too quick to anger. Or felt essentially useless.
And every time I go messing about in it’s-time-to-increase-the-depth-of-your-soul, I always, always slam right into shame.
I’m old enough to know that in terms of my understanding of God, I am always wrong. In spite of that, there are things that I insist I am right about. Positively right. Absolutely right.
Ripping my heart apart, while an intensely challenging work, has shown me how certain I was about my history. My life story.
And, of course, now I get to see how wrong I was.
It’s all about intimacy, and the walls I have constructed to avoid experiencing certain expressions of it. Romantic love. Which it seems, reflects a very real aspect of our relationship with God. Intimacy with God. It’s still a baffling concept for me.
I mean, for me, either we are always, it goes without saying, in an intimate relationship with God or we are not. Doesn’t that make sense?
So I had my mind made very much up that I knew the touchstones of my spiritual construction. There was my first vision. At the age of three or four. I know this vision changed things for me, because I can still remember both the vision and the aftereffects.
I remember feeling emotionally removed from the world. I remember feeling as though I were walking on a different path than those around me. They were over there, I was over here. On my own.
I remember feeling as though my senses to the everyday world had been dulled somewhat. Colors felt muted. Voices softer.
On the other hand, my senses of God and his realm felt sharpened. Increasingly clarified.
I remember sitting in church and thinking how “black” the priest was: how his sermon was about everyday things, or about how bad we were, or about the needs of the church. Never about God, and how great and wondrous he was. Or about the love that God felt for us. From that time, priests always seemed to be in a shroud to me. Closed off from God by their seemingly endless list of petty concerns and obsessions.
So, because of these changes, I felt that it was at this time that my relationship with God had become locked in, as it were. At least emotionally. Because I certainly didn’t resist the feeling of emotional alienation from other people that I was increasingly aware of.
Point A, we’ll call it. Shall we?
Point B would be the death of my brother, Geoffrey. A time when I spun off into feelings of guilt (one of the first definitions of shame) for not grieving his death. For feeling, instead, relief that I was no longer part of his emotional support team and as such required to sit through his interminable conversations about our greatness and their (whoever they were that day) comparative ungreatness.
I thought this point in time was when I officially removed myself from the realm of intimacy. Of wanting to be close emotionally with another person.
But the thing about digging is that sometimes you find something. A rock, perhaps. An old shoe. Or, in some cases, a treasure chest.
A treasure chest of knowledge and wisdom.
So here I am digging about, chucking clumps of dirt about, flinging stones as though I were standing on the shore of a lake and watching them skip across the water, shaking out the roots of the grass that were growing in the cracks of my heart and tossing the grass on the compost heap of my life. Emotional housecleaning.
I wonder if there are worse jobs.
And what do I find? A series of excruciatingly painful awarenesses and memories. And down, down at the bottom (and by this time, I’m curled up on my bed wanting time to pass into the next century so I could be that far away from the process) is a voice. It’s the voice of my mother.
Inside I am feeling a churning. All the previous work had brought me to this point.
My mother is telling me about what I was like as a baby.
Over my crib every night someone would say the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Every night the words would wash into my heart and soul.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
On Earth, as it is in Heaven.
I remember how as a child I felt the love of God acutely. There was no question about it. I thought that that feeling had started with my first vision.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
At the moment, I am blessed with a spiritual director who knows what this feels like. He, too, felt the love of God as a child.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
My mother said that she didn’t know why, or even how, and the doctor couldn’t explain it to her, but my first words were the Lord’s Prayer.
For thine is the kingdom,
And the power,
And the glory.
She said I would say it along with her at night. And then, during the day, I would get about the house chanting the prayer.
Forever and ever.
And I saw, through the image that these words cast on my soul, how even then, even back then, I divided my world up into God and everyone else. And how I chose, even back then, between intimacy with God and intimacy with people.
And now that I’ve grown up and forced to evaluate the choices in my life I realize that those worlds cannot be divided. The love of God cannot be understood without knowing the love of man. Intimacy with God cannot be reached without knowing the loving touch of man.