—detail, painting, acrylic on canvas, Cat Charissage (c) 2015
Hello dear friends,
Happy Solstice and Full Moon! Yes, I know it was yesterday, but I’m behind on a lot of things these days! I’ve returned from my training with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her intensive The Heart of the Wounded Healer: Walking in Two Worlds as a Way of Life. Travelling is very difficult for me — I was so appreciative of my own bed, and of my comfortable lazyboy chairs dotted around my home.
The training was the first of a five-year series of trainings. While the five-year series that I completed with her last year, The Mysterium, was based on Jungian psychoanalytic teachings, this new series, Wounded Healer, is explicitly concerned with helping ourselves and others live a full human life WITH the spirituality included. Among other things, Dr. E. deconstructed many traditional religious practices, separating them from both superstition and exclusive relation to a particular religious tradition. We then learned the value of these kinds of practices in the full expression of both our humanness and our relationship with Mystery.
It was so worth going; it leaves me with a bit of a personal challenge, though. Dr. Estes is fully comfortable with using words such as “Creator” or “Source without source” (which I quite like). I, however, am still finding my language when it comes to that Mystery many of us call “God”. Absolutely everything I am about is concerned with this Mystery and our relationship to/with that Mystery, yet I am not comfortable using traditional religious language because that language has been historically used not only to help and educate, but also to control, oppress, and obfuscate. While Dr. E. is interested in recovering the treasure in that language, I am not comfortable using religious language unless I define almost every word to be clear that I’m not advancing the controlling and oppressive subtext that I believe has tainted most of it. And that, of course, does not lead to smooth narrative!
I hope, with time, openness, and much reflection, to either discover or create that language. Stay tuned!
In reference to my last post, New Moon Wonderings: Have you never doubted?, I want to share with you an article I wrote several years ago in response to a friend who was deeply distressed when she no longer felt any answers to her prayer. Since it is rather long, I will publish it in three sections over the next week or so. Please contact me with any of your thoughts and ideas.
With much love,
Praying When God is Silent, Part One
I have heard from some of you about one of the most poignant and difficult of life’s experiences: when God does not answer prayer, when God is silent. At first, people bring this up to me in roundabout ways, because you know that I’m not a church goer, that I do not profess any creed. Yet you also know that I used to be a devout Catholic Christian, so much so that as a young adult I spent 3 years in the convent, formally studied theology for 7 years, and have bookshelves groaning with the scriptures and wisdom literature of the world. I seem a mismatch with my evangelical Christian and LDS friends, so when you tell me of God’s silence I know that you are suffering deeply and that your questions are not some idle intellectual exercise. I do bear witness to your pain. I, too, know God’s silence.
There are many ways that people have responded to this situation, but some of these responses have not been helpful to me, nor, I doubt, for you: “This is God’s testing of your faithfulness.” “God does not abandon us, so if you don’t feel his presence, then who moved?” “Are you harboring some hidden sin that needs to be repented of?” These responses seem to only blame me for my suffering. Yes, we must examine if and how we might be contributing to our own pain, but once we know we’re truly doing our best, what do we do now?
Some other responses to those who don’t feel God’s presence are kinder: “God is molding you in the dark; you may not see his hands on the potter’s wheel or his intentions, but don’t be concerned, for he is here.” “God is our father, and just as parents cannot always fulfill their children’s desires but still love and guide their children, so God is doing so for us.” “Sometimes God is silent, but he is there, just as the stars, though not visible during the daylight, are still shining in the heavens.”
Many are comforted by some of these responses. Others are only left confused. I have known only God’s silence for many many years. One of the responses to God’s silence that is never voiced in Church circles is an obvious one, to me anyway: “Well, maybe this is evidence that there really is no God at all. Maybe the atheists are right, and my previous religious experiences were only the result of indoctrination, wishful thinking, or psychological projection.” While rarely voiced, I know that many people are secretly tortured by this thought.
You may think I’ve wandered from my stated topic of praying while God is silent. I want to encourage you, though, to go ahead and face all the discouraging and frightening thoughts that niggle in the dark corners of your mind. God — if there is a God at all — is love. That immense love that we call God is certainly big enough and strong enough to take any questions our minds can dream up; immense love can understand our frustration, our fear, and our anger. And even if our worst fears turn out to be true and there is no God in the ways that we have been told, if God is only an imaginary friend, this exploration of our deepest questions is of value, for there is not time wasted when one asks sincere questions and seeks to find true answers. This is prayer.
(Part Two will be published later this week. Thank you for reading.)