Peace and Anger in a Time of Christian Betrayal

I’ve probably been spending too much time on Twitter recently, it’s not the best for mental health. It’s hard to feel peace when you are constantly faced with misogyny and other kinds of prejudice users of the internet feel free to rationalise and verbalise as they troll threads on issues important to minorities. Two things in particular in this week’s news really affected me emotionally: 1. was a heartfelt tweet by American Christian Feminist author Rachel Held-Evans as she discovered yet another Christian male leader refusing to believe young women sharing their stories of harassment in the recent #metoo movement;  and 2. was the news report that the Sydney Anglican diocese spent $1 million of church money in support of the ‘No’ campaign for Marriage Equality in Australia — and only $5000 on investigating a widespread problem of domestic violence (including marriage rape) amongst clergy in that church.

Of course these kinds of news tweets bring out all the people who have something to say that has been said many times before — the Australian thread quickly and predictably turned into a ‘tax the churches’ thread; Rachel Held-Evans faced the usual ‘you lump all evangelicals together’ accusation as she wondered if anything she had been taught as a Christian child was true. I felt angry, and indeed, embarassed to see these Christians more concerned for a particular brand of conservative politics than women’s safety from sexual violence. It is sometimes too shameful to be a Christian in these times, when the so-called leaders in the church consistently and intentionally seem to miss the point, using their positions to hurt and discriminate and justify violence against women ?

Yet trolls were not the only ones present in the conversations that ensued on social media. What also came through was an immense solidarity — by the time I got to Held-Evans’ tweet some 346 people had already replied, and the tweets in solidarity continued to grow as I watched. What struck me in the in these two examples was this: the struggles of women for recognition and belief in circumstances of abuse of power are not separate from the struggles of the LGBTQI community. Why? Because LGBT people in particular are consistently painted as sexually deviant and immoral by these Christian leaders while at the same time the leaders support men in acts of sexual violence and even paedophilia against women and girls. This is what makes me angry, embarassed, sad, and actually — frightened.

I am a big believer in contemplative prayer and meditation. I think taking the time to connect with the Christ-presence dwelling within is essential in maintaining some semblance of peace in the stress of my work and life. Yet in this case, I think peace is not yet where I can go. I think there is also value in sitting with the anger, the embarassment, the sadness, the fear and contemplating those things.

When I sit with these for a while I think of Psalm 62:

How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.

Where, of course, in my mind the persons of prominence are women and LGBTQI people struggling to be seen and heard in their pain. The verses that follow can then be read in the light of my anger at this, especially…

Trust in God at all times, O people; pour out your heart before God; God is a refuge for us.

Despite the verses where the author ‘waits on God in silence’, this isn’t a quiet sending of thoughts and prayers. This a heart-wrenching pouring out of anger, fear, sadness, love, respect, desire for change. ‘Trust’ here isn’t a platitude for doing nothing, for waiting and hoping for some older white straight man to change his mind about his years of patriarchal privilege. For me the ‘trust’ here is related to the pouring out and the refuge.

Can I trust in God at all times even as I speak out against Christian betrayal and wrongdoing and misguidedness? Can I trust enough to put myself in the firing line, like Held-Evans and others? Can I take my refuge in God alone, knowing that I will be reviled and trolled and sermonised to by those who think they have the sole truth? Can I then return to a place of stillness and silence to recover, to wait for results, to gather myself for the next incident?

I think the answer is getting closer to “Yes, Lord”. What about you?

Kelly Dombroski is an academic and writer who also blogs at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com

Mindful Mess

My contemplative practice has long been influenced by the 15th Century mystic Madame Jeanne Guyon. She teaches a number of types of contemplative prayer in her books Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ and Union with God. Her starting point is that if, indeed, you have given over your life in some way to God, God dwells or abides in you. Therefore, prayer is a form of turning inward to connect with that divine presence. As you try to turn inward, you are often distracted by many thoughts, but one must gently and compassionately continue to return to the presence in our time of prayer — or indeed for Guyon, throughout the entire day. She often used a slow and savouring reading of scripture or the Lord’s prayer in conjunction with this.

One of the dangers of these forms of prayer and meditation is that we start to see all our thoughts and feelings as ‘distractions’ from the peace that comes when we are ‘truly’ in union. But what I have learned more recently is that these times of slowing down and connecting inward often bring out big and difficult feelings, feelings that should not, really, always be pushed aside in favour of ‘peace’. It may be that our spiritual work is in fact to pay attention to these difficult feelings in order to become more self-aware and thus, I think, less likely to externalise these difficult feelings through unhelpful behaviours.

In recent times, I have been using a number of different contemplative practices in combination to do some of this work. At the moment, I am often beginning with short periods of mindfulness — often timing up to 15 minutes on the insight timer app, which has a nice bell at beginning and end (I also set up ‘wood block’ sounds every 5 minutes to remind myself of what I am supposed to be doing as my mind goes off on tangents quite easily). During this time I pay attention to my breath, body, mood, obsessive thoughts and so on. Often difficult things come up here: my shoulders are tense and hurting, I’m thirsty, I am angry or resentful, I am feeling lonely. This helps me decide what to do next, if I am so lucky to have a quiet time longer than that (which I often can now my children are older, and I am getting up earlier on my own).

So next might be some reading (recently, Henri Nouwen) or some journalling. I’ve worked hard in the last six months or so to get really honest in my journalling. It’s difficult to see my difficult feelings written down in actual words, and I feel very self-conscious. For example, feeling jealousy or envy seems facile and immature to me and I have trouble admitting even to myself when this is bothering me. But journalling can often spiral into self-loathing, so I do try to then make time for prayer after this.

I have recently been more influenced by Cynthia Bourgeault’s teaching on centreing prayer, as well as using a centreing prayer guided session on insight timer as well, led by Maria Gullo. This form of prayer, for me, is more of a restful awareness — a deliberate sitting in openness to God and gently and compassionately  returning to focus with a ‘sacred word’ when we notice ourselves getting distracted by the shopping list or the self-loathing or the stress. The idea is that the word acts as consent for God to work in you. This, for me, balances out the going deeper with journalling and mindfulness, allowing a period of letting go, of not being responsible, of allowing things to just be — and also to be different, potentially.

One of the things I have worried about alot in recent times is that this spiritual practice is not based on bible reading. But at this point in my life, I have read through the bible so many times that it was in danger of becoming a meaningless rule based task, with the same interpretations of the same passages, and no transformation  or growth in my own Christian walk. Yet at the same time, I can see that allowing God to work more deeply in my emotions, thoughts and mess is absolutely the right place to be. I feel deep gratitude to have been lead into this place of acceptance, to the friends and church people who have led me here, and to the Daily Marinade community for supporting contemplative practice in Aotearoa New Zealand, the bloggersphere, twitterverse and beyond.

Kelly Dombroski writes at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com

A common brokenness

… the sources of our suffering becomes the source of our hope…

Here’s what struck me from this passage from Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved: living with and leaning in to our dependencies becomes a way of connecting with our dependency on God. I have read similar ideas many times yet when I get in such an obsessive/dependent state as he describes (so good to know someone else does this), I can’t yet automatically go to this idea, rather I just experience shame and, depending on the strength of the usually unreciprocated attachment, acute embarrassment. I get attached to people in the way he describes and lose sight of myself…I fear I am too much and also not enough.

 

But I find I can trust Nouwen and the 12 step ideas he draws  on in the passage in this photography … openly confessing our dependencies whether material or emotional is part of spiritual growth, and leads us toward understanding our dependency on God. I have noticed that the dependencies I have leaned into and acknowledged have produced vulnerability, which produces spiritual growth.

So here’s to embarrassment, awkwardness, dependency and brokenness. Indeed, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven — a kingdom of shared brokenness and openness, where no one is placed above the other, and where we each give comfort according to our capability and take comfort according to our need.
Kelly Dombroski blogs as www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com.