Pain and Spiritual Warfare

Huddled in bed not being able to move or tilt the neck without a sensation of sawing neck muscles, one’s attention is focused on that pain and that pain alone. The battle is not merely physical (though pain relief is in abundant supply if only mildly effective), but rather there is a battle in the soul to dispel darkness, dark thoughts, dark images from utterly consuming your psyche. Incessant is the pain and a reminder that sadness and gloom and disability may be all there is to reality. Happy thoughts are not reality so are not dwelled upon. Reality is here, now, in your neck, shoulder and deep within the sinews of your body: deep in untouchable places.

In my research into redemptive suffering I have stumbled upon a tangent I had previously dismissed: a preternatural source for my pain and suffering. I have read and listened to Father Vince Lampert, Father Gary, Father Malachi Martin to name a few. I had never even considered curses or dark forces possibly be partly a source of physical suffering. I have read detailed accounts of possessed people seeking exorcism who were exposed and experienced physical manifestations from some sort of malevolent force. I have read accounts of priest exorcists being thrown, punched, mentally tortured in the course of performing an exorcisms. Yet, never ever did I think at all that what I am feeling would bear any relationship to that.

I truly believe in good and evil. As a Mormon Christian I believe in Christ and God the Father who is the source of all good and divine. His enemy is Lucifer/Satan who in premortal times challenged God’s plan for humanity and sought God’s honor and power for himself. When rejected, Lucifer rebelled and took 1/3 of the host of heaven with him in battle. The rebellious were kicked out of heaven and sent to earth (yes, earth, not hell, according to scripture). Satan’s anger at this injustice was then directed at humans with the premise: hurt the child to hurt the Father. We though were given a precious, uniquely individual gift of free will or personal agency which neither Satan or God can control without our voluntary consent.

We humans also possess a physical body which seems to be coveted by Satan and demons. Yes, that corruptible, evil body as described by so many other Christian creeds has value, has something uniquely human according to Mormonism. How can something so frail, so animalistic have value? Christ said he never created anything temporal; everything has eternal significance –even our bodies. When I suffer from my incessant pain and maladies the body sure seems to indeed betray me. Yet, spiritually, my body as a place for my spirit and does have worth in the eyes of God. And Satan knows that. Why would the legion in the New Testament exorcism story ask to be translocated from a possessed man into a herd of swine? Even an animal body is preferable to nothingness.

So, how does this tie into preternatural influence upon someone’s health? Isn’t that superstition to blame unjustly a person’s suffering upon themselves or upon innocent others in some sort of irrational witch hunt and ignorantly denying natural causes for malady? No. There is a ton to be unpacked by all of this and no, I am not suggesting demonic causation for everything in some sort of paranoid rant. I am saying that after all psychiatric and all medical explanations with limits on their expertise and effectiveness—possibly, just possibly, could a spiritual component be related? Just related. Not total causation or paranoia. How would one then go about investigating that? How? Evil does exist and other people can wish you ill as much as they can wish you well. Satan’s mission statement is to destroy humans and their souls by any means possible: be it temptation, rejection of God, doubt, hedonism or thousands of personalized means. Any tool to break down a person’s will or turn it away from God at least. Extreme examples of persons being enticed to hand over their wills to Satan or evil would be the ultimate trophy.

But some very good people; saints included; Jesus included are also attractive targets. My reading of very holy Catholic saints reveal that their lives were not some sort of nirvana but rather fraught with frightful and even violent attacks by demons. I had always dismissed these stories as exaggerations of hagiography, but now…. Maybe there is some truth to them? These good people did not ‘merit’ evil through a sinful life.

Anyway, I am exploring evil’s influence on a person’s health. It seems according to exorcists and even Satanists say that curses may be real. Generational curses are those an ancestor took upon themselves in a blood or oath covenant to a demon or Satan (they go by other demi god names). That curses the family line with misfortune, infertility, mental issues, misery. Sounds way out there, doesn’t it? The Articles of Faith seem to counter that as the sins of Adam are not upon the sons of Adam. Curious. Is that only for the ‘original sin’ or for all oaths and ties subsequently entered into. In the temple we do proxy work which is good work, blessed work for that ancestor which affects family lines. Could there be the opposite? A curse that can be consecrated upon posterity?

What about individual illness? Can a generational thing be going on or could this be part of an attack plan by Satan to wear one down? Wouldn’t Christ intervene? Wouldn’t our temple blessings protect us? Should. Yet, temple covenants do not protect from other temptations or tragedy. We have our free will at all times to choose God or not. If we do not actively choose God then by default we are allowing a crack in our will or our armor of God to be open to other forces. And in my case, at this particular time, the enemy is pounding to enter…. Seeking any entrance at all.

There is so much I could explore and maybe later blogs will. Mormonism does not have a good theology of evil. We do not really explore the tricks, techniques, and destructiveness of this very real power. I get it, we really need to focus on the light, of God, as only through Christ’s power and authority can the real presence of evil be banished. We do not have anything like Catholic exorcism or protestant deliverance prayers. I have had to study this on my own. Surely, we must never dwell on evil as that curiosity is itself an opening. Yet, we need to understand this very formidable enemy to motivate us to keep close to God, to discern situations that do have direct and indirect evil involvement. [And when I say evil I mean true demonic presence and not merely a flippant “I don’t like that/you” feeling]. The scriptures are replete with admonitions, warnings, and encounters with the devil. I am blown away by just how much is written in holy scripture about the devil and how to overcome him. May write a subsequent blog about this as well.

I know from personal experience recently that the tools of active religious life [not mechanics of church activity without active engagement] are critical to maintaining a shield of protection. And paramount is a real testimony of Jesus Christ. I, and all the exorcists, have found that we humans are helpless to confront demonic power on our mortal strength. The supernatural power of evil is real, it is superhuman. We MUST call upon Jesus and invoke his power and authority which even demons must obey. To me, this just shows our utter reliance of Christ to navigate this life. Not because I am terrified, paranoid about every little bump in the night has demonic origins. Rather, this is a partnership in a much grander scheme of things. God wants us to choose His side but we cannot be forced to choose Him. We must be tempted and tried as part of this mortal experience. I personally think that we gain some experience with evil so that we can discern it from God and goodness as did Moses. Moreover, that experience will be called upon later perhaps acting as angels for others battling evil. And for sure we know of the great and final battle wherein we will all be enlisted.

In the here and now, for the chronic pain member, realize that despite the actual source of pain be it natural or partially preternatural, you are in a very sensitive state. Again, not saying that all illnesses are demonic in origin. Easier would be to give up. To allow your spiritual life to succumb to despair and darkness. Despite what whispers into your ear that you deserved this; that God hates you and that is why you suffer; that this will be with you until the end of your life with no let up in sight, recognize that the Deceiver will use this to his advantage. You may be in agony physically but you do not need to be in agony spiritually. Keep close to the Lord by listening to or reading scriptures daily, pray continually, ask for divine assistance through God and His angels to sustain you, get priesthood blessings, wear the temple garment as a shield and a protection, have the sacrament even if you cannot get to church—have a priesthood holder give you it, listen to conference talks. Fill your home, your room, yourself with light. Darkness despises light.

 

Sing Your Own Contemplative Part

It has been about a year since I posted on my blog. I lost interest in posting. Of course I should write no matter what but my own confusion as to my relationship to the LDS church and to contemplative life has me on a personal journey that this blog captures.

April 2017 General Conference featured wonderful talks. I especially enjoyed Elder Holland’s talk about expressing your unique voice in God’s choir. Each person has his/her own voice that God, the creator, fashioned to fully harmonize with all his other children.   Maybe my voice is indeed to be a contemplative. A voice of silence and solemnity amid the raucous of the world. See, I feel immensely drawn to the life of a hermit, a monk, a contemplative a opposed to the typical daily emptiness or superficiality I see in other LDS wrapped up in the world of their families. But, you know, God probably has just as much need for quiet as for bustle. However, last night challenged my hope for reconciliation.

Time Out for Women is a Deseret Book sponsored event featuring inspirational speakers and singers part of a feel good gathering.   There were about 800 sisters in attendance. Deseret Books had set up tables with books and trinkets for sale. Other LDS oriented clothing and food storage vendors also participated. I look for any familiar faces but recognized no one. I sat half way back on the aisle by myself. I was still raw from having to euthanize our 13-year-old Labrador on Monday. The speakers introduced themselves—cheerful and upbeat as the screen flashed with photos of their families with the resultant crowd responding with “awws”.

After an hour I became bored by the event.   With no living children to brag about, I felt so out of place.   I think the event should have been called Time Out for Mothers rather than for Women. At the break I sat on the couch taking in the buzz of moms calling home. How many of these perky moms had to hold their daughter for a lethal injection? How many experienced the deep sobriety of motherhood?   Very poignant for upcoming Holy Week.

I was feeling very alone so I walked towards the adjacent mall figuring where to spend at least another hour while my husband attended a baseball game across the street.  Emerging from the restroom, I looked across the street through large glass windows that faced a catholic church with double spires. Between the spires was a pale full moon. THAT is where I wanted to be. Surely the church would be closed at 8pm on a Friday night but to my astonishment the thick wooden double doors were open.   Like a moth to a flame I walked deliberately towards the church.   Entering, I found I was absolutely alone.   I found a side chapel with a few pews, an alter and covered statue and burning votive candles. The statue later I learned was the Pieta had been covered entirely by a violet cloth in preparation for Holy Week.   In the peace and quiet I poured out my heart to God, to Mary, to Christ, to anyone who may listen. In the stillness I felt that THIS is where I belonged.

I cried over Lucy’s death. Mother Mary of the Pieta knew about death as her dead son draped across her lap. She understood the sorrow I was experiencing.   Forty minutes passed in a spiritual communion when a tall young man named Brian, came through and explained regretfully that he needed to lock up as he proceeded to escort me out through a side door.

My happiness had been there in prayer and quiet and not in a room of sisters who could care less about me.   Christ knows me. Christ calls me. Calls me to a contemplative life. Yet having heard about the amazing sex slave rescues of the LDS speaker, how does a contemplative life “DO” anything? It sure sounds like a self-centered, passive life to others but like the Heavenly Choir has all sorts of sounds, perhaps this is my sound. My role seems to be a contemplative. To be a prayer specialist. Perhaps God wants me to ‘sing’ solo for him? Could this be why my physical strength has been taken from me? Why my incessant physical pain keeps me home and in bed the day after any excursions? So I have nowhere to turn but to HIM?

This is the start of Holy Week. I have kept the Lenten fast and look forward to taking each day and treat it as Holy.   Christ died for each and every one of his children so that we may be reconciled with God the Father.   Our spiritual debt has been paid by the only one who could answer the law of justice with an “an infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34: 10)

A Life of Prayer: getting started

How does one adopt a contemplative lifestyle? There are many ways to live a consecrated life. In this posting, I will discuss the initial steps I took to get started.
 

First, consider how dedicated to prayer you wish to be. You could start with a minimum of twice a day (morning/evening). Then, as you develop that routine, add a mid-day prayer. The prayers need not be long, drawn out activities. What is important is to establish a prayer line to God. I wish to adopt 7 times a day as do Cistercian contemplatives which works out to about every two hours. And before you say, that cannot be done with work and schooling, I did exactly this while working full-time plus attending grad school full time. I MADE time waking early, during breaks, during walks or even during swimming. Prayer can be anywhere as long as the mind can be directed to God. Right now, I am managing 4 times a day (morning, mid-morning, noon, and evening) but I hope to increase that.  

 Second, incorporate reading the scriptures into your daily routine. This is not about marathon reading. In fact, lectio divino (mindful listening and pondering) can be done in a verse or two upon which you will ponder during the day. Some call this ‘meditation’ but another way to consider it is ‘ruminating’ on the word of God. It is amazing how much more meaning and memorization can occur with this technique. Moreover, scripture study may involve listening as in mp3 or online. Sometimes, hearing the Word brings a different perspective that reading does not.  

 Thirdly, return to song and psalm. Reciting a psalm or singing a hymn (hopefully related to the scripture verse of the day) just adds that much more to the daily routine. The psalms were meant to be sung, or at least chanted. There is every kind of emotion in the psalms: from sublime love and worship to anger and desire for revenge. All that reflects the human experience. Now, I am not a singer by any stretch of the imagination but I know that God delights in song so I do my best. After all, this is about a personal relationship and there is a lot of divine forgiveness given for my song.  

 I know all this may sound daunting to a beginner, but it is not meant to be mastered immediately. This is discipleship and requires persistence and patience. Once you make prayer, study and song a habit you will reap the sublime rewards of such discipline.

Growing the Good Seed Despite Illness

Since my last posting I have been battling ill health and pain. I have not felt much like writing .   Feasting on the scriptures and offering prayers have carried me through.

In a weakened state I have pondered what use my body is. Did you know that even if you are suffering, the word of God can still take root? Imagine that. What the natural condition makes desolate, God makes fertile.

I was reading the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon.   Alma, a preacher, came across a few disenfranchised Zoramites. A group of poverty-stricken people denied access to the synagogues. Instead of feeling depressed about their status, Alma “beheld [them] with great joy; for their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in preparation to hear the word. “Alma 32:6

Poverty had made these people open to hear the truth of God’s word, God’s gospel, because poverty compelled them to be humble. Sickness is a form of spiritual poverty that may compel some to become humble. Of course, Alma reminds us better would be to be humbled by the word rather than be compelled by external circumstances.   However, either way, humility opens a door.

Alma 32 is called the discourse on faith but really it is about the word of God – described as a fertile seed.  “Now if ye give place to that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that it is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, ye, it beginneth to be delicious to me’ . Alma 32:28

So, to take hold of the word, to plant it, and experience its growth is the beginning of understanding and enlightenment.   The verses continue to expound upon the signs of a good seed. It sprouts and brings forth fruit of its own likeness. Of course faith parallels the development of the seed. However, whereas the seed goes on to produce the tree of life and the fruit ‘which is sweet and above all that is sweet’ (vs. 42), faith if allowed to maturate fully becomes knowledge and not faith. It can overripen, if you will.

The good seed’s success is dependent upon soil condition and nourishment. “if ye nourish it with much care it will get root , and grow up, and bring forth fruit.” Vs. 37   Within a sick person’s body, one may wonder where is any good, healthy, nourishing soil?   It lies within the heart or the spirit. As long as the spirit seeks God as the body seeks water to quench thirst, there will be fertile soil where the word of God can take root. Watering and nourishing are only partially fulfilled by one’s Will. The word of God provides the physical materials. Our spirit merely needs to apply faith that is so light that even the frail can carry.

Even while in pain, one can exercise ‘diligence and …faith and …patience with the word.” Vs. 42   And harvest and feast upon ‘this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.’ Vs 42   All of which can foreshadow death and heavenly rewards of partaking of the Tree of Life.

Within the limitations of chronic illness, we always have access to the word and can till the seed and watch it blossom within our spirits. Perhaps on occasion savoring the sweetness of the ripened fruit.

No Strings Attached

My beautiful and playful Birman cat, Bella, has recently developed an interest in a metal cross which I had been given. She has even fished it out of barely open drawers to play with it. She is fascinated by the shiny metal and the black string that moves when I pull it from her paws.

Reflecting on her persistence to ‘play with Jesus’, I wondered how easily she is lured by shiny objects despite those objects come with strings attached.   This week I have been more than usual preoccupied learning a new skill for a hobby.  Some of my prayer times had been missed because I was so distracted.  Yet, the ‘string’ attached was a slight waning of my inner spiritual light–ever so slight yet perceptible.  A personal ‘course correction’ was needed.

“God Alone” is inscribed above the entrance to a monastery.  I have adopted that call to mean “God First”.  Prayer before Pinterest.  Scriptures before social media. Do I come to Christ with strings attached? Ties of worldly interest and obligation?   Yet Jesus has no such ties when it comes to me.   He said, ” I stand at the door and knock”. Do I respond by saying, “just let me finish this email”? Or do I drop everything and welcome him in?   I recall the bells at a monastery announcing the times for prayer as though gentle knocks to put God first.

What are the shiny distractions in my life?  What spiritual strings are attached to those?  What are the gentle knocks that exist or that I can create to put God first?  Questions for all of us to ponder.

SEEKING GOD

Why would I spend my time seeking God? As some sort of intellectual exercise? To test whether God exists? To escape my personal problems? To avoid ‘reality’? None of these. Simply love.

I have a strong desire to draw closer to my Creator. God, my creator and Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ my redeemer and advocate. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3 To know is not merely a matter of belief, of faith, though it may be at the beginning of the journey. Rather I am suggesting experience no matter how fleeting with The Divine. Knowing in a way that cannot be expressed through reason nor even expressed in words. William of St Thierry expressed it well, “Reason cannot see God, except that he is not…”. Pennington, A School of Love.   Pretty deep stuff but, really, open to all who seek.

As with any journey I start with the guidebook: the road map and rule book if you will. Those would be the Holy Scriptures: The Old and New Testaments, and additionally for Latter-Day Saints The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. Our church Sunday School curriculum this year focuses on the New Testament so that will be much of the basis of my personal scripture study.

Next I will seek out the wisdom and writings of modern-day apostles and prophets to frame my journey within the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  In addition, I will consult former and current contemplatives from the Cistercian tradition and consider incorporating certain practices into my life as a lay person. I feel that my physical limitations preclude activity typical to Latter-Day Saints ie children and family life is the focus. My life situation, however, suits the life of prayer akin to contemplatives.

In the coming weeks and months I will be simplifying my worldly activities, social media involvement, downsize material possessions, and create a home environment of love, beauty and simplicity.   At the same time I will increase consistency and frequency of prayer and scripture time. Sounds idealized and impractical. Not suggesting to pull up a dumpster and toss the entire contents of my home into it (though attic stuff could probably qualify), and live on bread and water for the rest of my life. Merely saying that as I mature I feel I can live with less stuff and fewer worldly commitments. Moreover, physical impairment limit activities I can do with any regularity.  So why not turn limitation into a spiritual journey without limitations? We are all invited to “…lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better” Doctrine and Covenants 25:10

 

Without God, life would end at the grave and our mortal experiences would have no purpose. Growth and progress would be temporary, accomplishment without value, challenges without meaning. There would be no ultimate right and wrong and no moral responsibility to care for one another as fellow children of God. Indeed, without God, there would be no mortal or eternal life.

Robert G Hales, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “Seeking to Know God, Our Heavenly Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ” Ensign, October 2009.