Friday, May 31, 2013

Questioning the faith: how to have a spiritual discussion without taking up the whip

Triggers of the past week summed up quickly: Rejection and invalidation. Anything that scratches deep into my ever present insecurities and leaves me feeling weak, vulnerable, or attacked.

While my most recent marriage is over I am struggling to reach closure. I need a lot of patience and understanding, but both frequently seem hard to come by. There have been a number of things in relation to my core values and my faith base that have been shaken. Those variables are now slipping about in order to again find solid foundation.

The good news is, I think God finds ways to speak to me to comfort me and to soothe the lingering hurts. 

The bad news, it's not from my family. Sure, my kids are completely on my side. But issues with my mom and my step-dad have gone sour again. Up until this point they seemed to have changed their approach, were treating me as a competent adult and were offering support. I'm beginning to understand that our relationship will and can only be on good ground if distance is maintained. And painful as it is, G—, my longtime counselor from the North Country was correct: my mother will never be the kind of parent that I need. 

I was mistaken in believing that fact had changed, and I left myself wide open for the same treatment that had prompted closing communication last year. Life went from difficult, what with anxiety attacks triggered by visiting with my parents last weekend, to a complete shutdown when my mother called claiming that she wanted to be a listening ear and then ground insult into injury yesterday.

This post isn't about proving an argument, so I'm not going to swing my bat directly at our disagreement. But there are certain considerations that I believe everyone should take when discussing spiritual differences.

First, if you have offered to be a sounding board or to listen when you know someone is troubled, becoming openly combative or judgmental of that person and their struggle is low. It is the worst form of betrayal. 

Second, in matters of spirituality one must understand that belief is a very deep and personal action. It is powerful in its denial of all tangible reason or rationale and its embrace of things unseen. For that same reason it is also incredibly fragile. Even if two people "share" the same faith base, their experiences are separate and sacred. While I would never argue that one shouldn't share his/her belief, use of those beliefs or interpretations of scripture in a mode of dominion, bullying, control, or to circumvent the experiences of another is evil. As Latter-Day Saints we frequently call this Bible bashing. The same can be done with other scripture/text/talks. If you want to help someone struggling, especially someone who hasn't left the faith or who is mulling over issues integral to their core values, listen. If you don't agree, you don't need to say as much. If you believe the validity of your faith, and especially if you believe in direct spiritual revelation, just listen. If you are discussing issues with someone of another faith be sensitive to their response if you feel like sharing your experiences. Sometimes just listening will open doors later down the road to share more.

Third, sometimes you may think you've got it all figured out and that the person you're listening to is off in left field. Keep it to yourself. In my experience different insights come to different people in different layers and at different times. You might say that there are many paths. There are certainly many different scriptures, sometimes contradictory, and many interpretations. That is the problem with conveying spiritual ideas and experiences through written word. Language is not always an adequate mechanism of transferral. I believe that is why religion of all sort is fraught with symbology and ritual. These things touch our minds and teach in ways that words cannot. Left field eventually meets up with right field. Pretty soon you realize we're all playing the same game of baseball.

Fourth, insisting that someone is wrong invalidates that person's spiritual experience and brings into speculation whether they are capable of handling their own relationship with the Holy Ghost. Basically, you are calling into question the active presence of the voice and promptings of the Holy Ghost in someone else's life. You are denying that person's relationship with the Holy Ghost. You are questioning the Holy Ghost's ability to lead someone through whatever struggle they may be experiencing. That seems to me to be incredibly shaky ground for standing.

Fifth, the Holy Ghost teaches better than any human. I had 23 missionaries before I chose rebaptism. I can tell you which ones didn't bring the Spirit and which did. Most of the time, the Holy Ghost worked most effectively when the Sisters would sit and listen to me talk, working through my own griefs and trials with little interruption beyond a word or two of love and encouragement. Those who "preached" when I needed love often shut the mouth of the Still Small Voice.

Sixth, I chose rebaptism only after the Holy Ghost had retaught me the gospel, and reordered the programming I'd been raised on with His understanding of truth and spiritual perspective. It was only then that I was ready and that the Holy Ghost moved me toward the ordinance.

I don't have everything figured out. I would never claim that. Nor would I claim that all the answers for everyone in every situation are found in written form. Spiritual journey is about listening, about opening the heart, about trusting in the Atonement, in leaning not on personal understanding but pondering and allowing all those on their individual path to be lead to the Gate.

Sheep follow. Don't be the one found with the whip in your hand.

God hears my pleas when those who claim to listen fail. He sends comfort. He has given me mountains and feet and ears of my own to hear the call.

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