Never Again

I rose almost without realising it as she fell back, trying to pull her hands away from mine. I held on, even as she started to scream, until finally she jerked once more, and tugged free, staggering back onto the mats and landing on her backside as I stared down at her and she looked up at me. Her face was haggard, blue eyes fearful for the first time since I’d known her.

“So,” she said, recovering her frosty expression, “it’s you. You’re the more powerful.”

“You’re damned right I am.” I looked down at her, my expression now of cold fury, not unlike hers. “Look at you. My whole life you tried to keep me under your control. You had to beat me down. Cage me. To keep me from rising.” I looked at her with the ultimate disdain. “No more. I’m not a little girl any more, and you will never have power over me again.”

~ from Family: The Girl in the Box, Book 4, by Robert J. Crane

Yes, there’s a reason I’m loving this series of contemporary Science Fiction. I love the main character, Sienna. She may be a decade (or two) younger than me, but, well, I took a little longer to get to the same point. You will never have power over me again, whether your name is shame, or sorrow, or sin. I have been set free. Free indeed.

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you… whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone is enough.

~ Teresa  of Ávila

 

All Our Strivings Cease

‘… spend the remainder of your life only in worshipping God. He requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance of Him from time to time, a little adoration. Sometimes to pray for His grace. Sometimes to offer Him your sufferings. And sometimes to return Him thanks for the favours He has given you, and still gives you in the midst of your troubles. Console yourself with Him the oftenest you can. Lift up your heart to Him at your meals and when you are in company. The least little remembrance will always be pleasing to Him.’

~ Brother Lawrence, extract from his seventh letter to a friend, from ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’

When I am weak, then I am strong’ wrote Paul.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matt.11:28-30 NRSVA

Stop trying so hard. Just fix your mind on Jesus. ‘Whoever has God lacks nothing’, Teresa of Avila wrote, so why do we always think we ‘ought’ to be more, do more? Do I think I can out-do God? Ridiculous! When my gaze is fixed on Him, all the rest follows as effortlessly – and as incomprehensibly – as day follows night.

Thank you, Lord, for Your abundant goodness; may I never forget that Your grace is always enough. Amen.

EMDR: Enough

‘It is enough to know that it is He, the all powerful God, who has performed the work… It comes from God alone…’

Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle

EMDR again tomorrow. Feel a bit like a WWI soldier sitting in a trench waiting for the call to go ‘over the top’, Dulce et decorum est and all that. And yet I still have to be Mummy. What a peculiar juxtaposition. No wonder my therapist said I’d be glad when the 18 EMDR sessions are over. It’s like intentionally climbing into a car you know is going to crash at 100mph. It’s crazy. But it does work. That I do know. So I won’t give up.

‘Three times I begged the Lord for [the suffering] to leave me, but his reply has been, “My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.” Therefore, I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For my very weakness makes me strong in him.’

2 Corinthians 12:9,10 (Phillips)

Amen, I say. Amen! I pray that God will use all of it for His glory and I thank Him for His provision, everlasting gentleness and the gift of hope. I thank Him for the gift of my patient husband and for my boisterous children, who always make me smile. God is good.

Do Not Touch

When the New Testament was first written, it was written in Greek (not quite the same Greek as Aristotle and Homer and Plato and that lot, that’s earlier). Later it was translated into Latin and of course Latin was used throughout the centuries as an international language, which was all very laudable and whatnot except that ordinary people couldn’t read or write it and were forbidden to read the bible and stuff… and then Martin Luther came along and set the cat among the pigeons and this other chap called Tyndale did the unthinkable by translating the bible into English and Henry VIII… well, he had a bit of a god complex. And problems with lust.

Anyway… when I was a little girl I used to write plays for my friends to perform. Once when I was about 11 I wrote a Christmas play with elements from various Christmas-themed stories, including Narnia. There were Narnian shields (cereal box card covered in tin foil) for which I designed a coat of arms: the lion rampant and the Latin words ‘noli me tangere’.  ‘Noli me tangere’ is the Latin version of what Jesus said to Mary after He appeared to her in the garden following the resurrection (John 20:17). In English it means ‘don’t touch me’. These words seemed to be almost magical in their power, especially when combined with a sword and shield: Do Not Touch Me.

Every abused child wishes they could say those words, I’m sure. After reliving some pretty horrendous stuff in my EMDR session today I feel a bit like that little girl again, with her cardboard shield with its paper lion and Latin words. I feel like I’m fighting a battle with toys. DO NOT TOUCH ME.

Noli Me Tangere by Fra Angelico, painted 1408-1455.

Then this evening I read the following, and I felt God giving me an answer. It’s not an easy answer. It doesn’t change the suffering. But it does give hope:

…our Lord would have all men know that this soul is His own and that none may molest it, for it is all His.

St. Teresa of Avila – The Interior Castle

EMDR, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Mental Illness

My doctor psychologist lady tells me I’m holding back. She tells me I’m ‘blocking’: I am not letting the EMDR process move forward at anything other than a snail’s pace. Which is ok, she says, but I only have 18 sessions and then I have to go back on the waiting list if I need it again. So if I want to be seeing real improvements I have to allow her in, as it were… No, I don’t have to allow her in. I have to allow me out – the me that stays hidden, locked inside the vault. This tomb was created so that I could survive. If I hadn’t, I would have lost my sanity or, worse, lost my children.

It is the existence of the vault that causes the PTSD, because occasionally the vault is shaken, and occasionally, outside of my control, one of the terrible things hidden inside escapes and wreaks havoc, even if only temporarily. It happens often enough that they give it a name and call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is quite a polite-sounding name for what happens when your own head screams danger! danger! danger! because the man walking by looks vaguely like your ex-husband, or emergency! emergency! emergency! when you hear a certain type of sound that sounds a bit like something far worse. Mind you, I’m very good at hiding it. Abuse teaches you to hide your thoughts and feelings because they make you more vulnerable, so you become a master of disguise.

I think PTSD occurs because human beings are wired for survival. It took me time to figure that out. I thought I was weak and that that’s why it affected only some people. I don’t now. PTSD occurs when you have to push your emotions down in a hostile, sometimes life-threatening situation, in order to think rationally and clearly – in order to survive. It’s a great survival technique. The trouble is that you then have to be able to process the memories of those terrible events, because that’s what the brain does every night as you sleep, but if you’ve had to push it down far enough, and if you’ve had to push it down over and over and over in order to survive and continue to survive… well, then you end up with PTSD, because we’re not made for intense and unrelenting distress.

The past two days I have been giving what the psychologist said a lot of thought. She’s right and I know she’s right. I have talked it through with my dear Frank. I have talked, in less detail of course, with each of my children. It occurred to me that if I was diagnosed with a different kind of serious illness, I would allow myself the time and space for the treatment to work, and I would explain to the children what was happening (because they’re all old enough to understand) so that we could muddle through together because that’s what families do. So why had it not really occurred to me to do this for EMDR? Why did I think that my treatment and its effects were not ‘worthy’ enough to be given consideration?

I don’t think the fault lies solely within me. I don’t think it’s just me wanting to push through and just get on with it, because, as St. Teresa of Avila says in The Interior Castle, ‘getting on with it’ is just common sense. No, I think that our culture looks upon mental illness and its treatment with cynicism. Sufferers are often perceived as weak-minded or morally deficient, as malingerers or somehow less human. Our culture subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) degrades those with mental illness. They become objects of fear, scorn or pity, as if they’re no longer worthy of the same respect and dignity as someone with a ‘physical’ illness. Yet even Jesus experienced mental anguish:

‘In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him. But even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient. When he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him…’

Hebrews 5:7-9 (GNT)

Mental illness is a physical illness. If my brain doesn’t work properly because the neurons got screwed up by too much adrenaline, or if the brain’s hormones are too high or too low, how is that not physical? Who in this world can look into my malfunctioning brain and know what I am thinking or feeling? No one. Yet still the fear within ourselves makes us view the mentally ill at arms’ length. In the 21st century that is nothing short of a disgrace.

I read an excellent post from Ann Voskamp today. She could have written it just for me at this exact time. Praise God for His provision! How can I be anything but thankful for today? Here’s an excerpt. I pray it blesses you as it did me:

Dear Thriver

I once held a bird in my hand.

No one else could see it, but I felt it. I felt it’s heart thumping hard and afraid.

It happens– there are ways to look fine on the outside…. and no one knows what you’ve really survived.

But honestly? You didn’t just survive, so let’s toss that myth right at the outset.

The way you keep walking? You may be wounded. You may be hurting. You may be limping. You may feel alone and overwhelmed and an unspoken broken — but you’re no victim. And you’re not just a survivor. You’re a Thriver.

You may bleed but you rise.

Yeah, it may not feel like it — but you are seen… how you just keep keeping your chin up and living brave through the hurt and how you keep taking one step out of bed and another step through the door — and how you keep scaling mountains by relentlessly taking steps forward.

But I wanted you to know — your wounds are seen and it’s okay… 

To read more click here, it will open in a new tab.

Reblog: Results of Almsgiving, Fasting, and Prayer

One thing that strikes me with many revered writers is that the English used in translation is quite complex. I had to look up ‘concupiscible’ and I have a good vocabulary. Yet I don’t think that the writers necessarily intended to be obscure. There are many people for whom the phrasing and vocabulary of such writers just goes too far. It’s beyond their intellectual understanding, but I don’t think that that in itself excludes them from understanding the spirituality, quite the contrary. It’s not as if our intellect can ever be anything but puny compared to God’s!

I had a go at paraphrasing what I thought St. Teresa of Avila was trying to say in a post yesterday, just a couple of paragraphs. I imagined explaining the ideas to my daughters, who are themselves bright girls with vocabulary beyond their years (11 and 9), but the biggest challenge would be to paraphrase it enough so that my son could grasp it, or something like it. He is 15 but has autism and receptive language disorder. His language skills are that of the average 7 year old, at best. He has taught me that good communication is in the ability of the *communicator* to explain a concept as simply as possible. Sometimes, of course, the writing has to be of a certain level, but many times writing is needlessly obscure.

I am glad God gave me my beautiful boy. He teaches me about Himself through my son. The boy has a way of seeing things in black and white, and with an inviolable innocence that is at once challenging and compelling.

Contemplative in the Mud

Almsgiving heals the irascible part of the soul; fasting extinguishes the concupiscible part; and prayer purifies the mind and prepares it for the contemplation of reality.
Saint Maximus the Confessor

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Lent: Prayer and Meditation

Cornish Daffodils – Happy St. David’s Day. Spring is in the air!

‘As most certainly the way to please God is to keep the commandments and counsels, let us do so diligently, while meditating on His life and death and all we owe Him. Then, let the rest be as God chooses. Some may answer that their mind refuses to dwell on these subjects and… this to a certain extent is true; you know that it is one thing to reason and another thing for the memory to bring certain truths before the mind. Perhaps you may not understand me, possibly I fail to express myself rightly, but I will do my best. Using the understanding much in this manner is what I call meditation.

Let us begin by considering the mercy God showed us by giving us His only Son. Let us not stop here, but go on to reflect upon all the mysteries of His glorious life, or let us first turn our thoughts to His prayer in the garden, then allow them to continue the subject until they reach the crucifixion. Or we may take some part of the Passion, such as Christ’s apprehension, and dwell on this mystery, considering in detail the points to be pondered and thought over such as the treachery of Judas, the flight of the Apostles and all that followed. This is an admirable and very meritorious kind of prayer.’

The Interior Castle ~ St. Teresa of Avila

Addendum: The following is a paraphrase of the above in more accessible English (I imagined communicating the same ideas to my daughters).

The best way to show our love for God is to try very hard to keep His commandments and do what He teaches us through the bible. As we do this, we can also give thought to Jesus’ life and death and everything He did for us, and we can think about how our lives can and should be different now that we belong to Him. Don’t worry about trying to achieve more than this, though. Let God show you where to go and what to do next. I know some reading this will be thinking that they find it hard to keep thinking about these things, which is fair enough. Our minds don’t always stay focused on what we’d like them to stay focused on. However, when we do make use of our hearts and minds by thinking about these things in this way, this is what is meant by ‘meditation’.

Here are some ideas to get you started: first, think about God’s great mercy when He gave us His only Son. Then move on, considering all the amazing things in Jesus’ life. Another way to begin might be to think about Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested, then you could imagine the actual arrest and Judas’ betrayal and how the disciples all ran away. Thinking about these kinds of things in this way is not only a type of prayer but a very beneficial kind of prayer.

Any thoughts on either the words from St. Teresa, or on my paraphrasing?

He Knows Best

Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.

A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)

The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’?…”

Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever…”

The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”

He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”

“I have no husband,” she said.

“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough…

“…the time is coming—it has, in fact, come… It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God… That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?”

extract from John 4:6-30 (The Message)

Jesus points out the woman’s unmarried-yet-living-together state, but He doesn’t condemn her. He doesn’t focus on the negative, He focuses on what He has to say to her. His gift to her is more important than what she has done or who she is. Given the 21st century Church’s penchant for accusatory finger-pointing, particularly regarding ‘sexual sin’ (I don’t know what else to call it, hence the inverted commas), it is interesting that Jesus doesn’t say more to this woman. Why is this interesting? Because Jesus certainly had plenty to say to those who did adhere to all the rules, e.g. the Pharisees, especially those who liked to show themselves as morally upright, righteous and worthy. Jesus had plenty to say to them and about them. But yet He says not a lot about this woman, and she seems to see something in Him that even His disciples don’t see. In this encounter Jesus implies that sin isn’t a list of tick-boxes. Instead, He speaks of the living water of grace. Grace is a state of being, not of doing, and it flows only from Him.

‘Indeed, we may often work and search until we are exhausted without finding as much as a pool, much less a springing well.

Therefore, sisters, I think it best for us to place ourselves in the presence of God, contemplate His mercy and grandeur, and our own vileness, and leave Him to give us what He will, whether water or drought, for He knows best what is good for us.

St. Teresa of Avila ~ The Interior Castle

On a personal note, I’ve had a few weeks’ break from EMDR, but I start again tomorrow. I’m not looking forward to it. Still, as St. Teresa says, I leave God to give me what He will, whether water or drought, because He knows best. I hope this post is helpful to anyone else who is struggling, whether it be with sin, or circumstances, or illness… this is my gift to you today: God is always good.

Examine Yourself

‘…we please our Lord by self-knowledge…

and by realising that we possess nothing but what we have received from Him.’

from The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila

I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.

John 15:5 (Amplified)

How many are my iniquities and sins…? Make me recognise and know my transgression and my sin.

Job 13:22,23

Examine and test and evaluate your own selves to see whether you are holding to your faith and showing the proper fruits of it. Test and prove yourselves [not Christ]. Do you not yourselves realise… that Jesus Christ is in you…?

2 Corinthians 13:5

If we realise more fully that Jesus Christ is in us, and if we recognise our faults in order for Him to root them out, would we progress towards His likeness more readily?

Fiery Darts

‘Fiery darts’ is how Paul puts it. Abba Anthony described being tormented by demons while he was in the desert. Teresa of Ávila talks about snakes and reptiles and ghastly creatures prowling and snapping. On these days, when my nights are filled with nightmares and general nasty stuff, I wake to the ugliness of unrelenting flashbacks, a barrage swift and sharp, just like those fiery darts. They claw at you. I can even smell the ‘event(s)’.

 

When I went to the Celebrate Recovery conference in 2012, the founder of Celebrate Recovery, John Baker, spoke of those so broken that the only thing they respond to, the only thing they can do is to sing songs of worship. Here again is another paradox, another moment when God turns the world on its head. I remember that Thérèse de Lisieux says that, although we are so small, we possess a God-given dignity. She also wrote:

 

‘My will is to endure, by Love,

The Darkness of my exile here’

 

So then, it is love that makes me choose to get up from this table, to do the things I need to do, in love, for my family. And I will lift my head and sing praises. Because God is good. And God is always.

 

Thérèse looking pensive

Thérèse looking pensive

You can read more about Thérèse here: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/meditations-on-little-way-epilogue-dark.html