Loving Contradiction

“What women rightly long for is spiritual and moral initiative from a man, not spiritual and moral domination.”  ~ John Piper

We were members of a Lutheran church not far from our home that was undergoing a major transition, moving toward a more spiritually inclusive, contemporary practice. The pastor had returned from some mission work in Central America where he had experienced a transformative epiphany. He formed a men’s group and invited Hubby to join him. In addition, small home groups were established to encourage the personal development of the Holy Spirit within our congregation. We were traditional Lutherans – I was a traditional Catholic, practicing to become a Lutheran – and we were transforming into contemporary Christians. We were becoming comfortable with waving our arms in the air during melodic praise, vocalizing a random ‘amen’ when something poignant was spoken, and dictating prayers beyond those that had been written for us by saints.

*no disrespect intended here, simply pointing out that this behavior was ‘non-traditional’ for both of us.

Something inside of me was stirring. Occasionally, I experienced a deeply intrinsic ‘knowing’- a sensation that I was encountering a sublimate and perfect truth. It was as if I was looking intently into the eyes of love and acknowledging its abyssal source. Those moments were few and far between but they were intense and they pierced me. I was hungry for more and began searching for ways to satisfy my appetite.

Something was happening in Hubby as well. I can’t speak as to what it actually was but I saw an awakening in him too. I’m not sure what actually woke up but I know he was experiencing challenges. In many ways, it appeared he was having a spiritual revolution, a burgeoning emotional war, but it seemed to be drawing him closer to family, to me. I was not complaining. In my mind, the closer he was to God, the closer he would be to me, to his commitment of marriage, and of our home.

It was, that the Pastor responsible for this metamorphosis evolved a bit too much for the comfort of more traditional congregants and he was encouraged to find another flock to lead. He gathered those of us who had made the deep water dive with him and we formed a new entity; a church attuned to Scripture and spiritual growth more fundamentally than any other religious experience I’d yet had. I loved much about this church. I really enjoyed the fellowship, the music, the intimacy within our community. Hubby and I were both on the new board, leading home groups, and on different worship/leadership committees. We were busy. It felt great to be a part of something new and growing, in many ways, as we were giving birth to our daughter, we were also giving birth to a renewed faith and commitment.

Consequently, my prayers – frankly, all of my spiritual energy was being directed into making my marriage reverent. The Pastor’s wife guided us ladies in the art of submission. “It was God’s will”, she said, “that we submit our desires to our man. That we trust him to provide for us, not only in the material dimension, but also in the emotional. She explained that submission was about TRUST”. I was already suspicious about trusting my man. He had lied to me about smoking, he had let me down about quitting, he was suspect about why things had changed so dramatically… I was not very open to the concept of trusting. In fact, I was downright stubborn about it. In every single prayer I prayed, I sought guidance to find, honor, and embody submissiveness in the way that we were being taught. I struggled and developed impatience, frustration, and ultimately anger that I was being led to trust someone that didn’t feel ‘trust worthy’. I felt as though I was failing.

In the interim, I was reading the bible. Peter, Colossians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Timothy, and Matthew. They all reinforced the idea that if I was Holy, my husband would follow suit. I ‘heard’ that it was my job – in my submissiveness – to honor my husband and my God, regardless. There was an incredible conflict in my heart over this proposition. I was experiencing God in a way that felt comforting and beautiful yet the idea that I was to submit myself completely to my man in all of the things he asked of me was contradicting my heart. Our pastor tried in vain to help me settle this internal dispute but it just wasn’t to be reconciled. Ultimately, the banter in my mind was too much and I resigned myself to how I understood the concept of submission – just do what he asks.

Frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. I have control issues and the concept of total surrender was unable to take root in my psyche at large. Instead, I opted to surrender in the bedroom. His desires became the focus of my attention. If he asked me to wear high heels, I wore high heels. If he wanted to watch porn, we watched porn. If he wanted to talk dirty, I talked dirty. (Well, actually that part I had to practice… I bought Forum magazines to learn the proper vocabulary.)

What became the most problematic for me was the discrepancy in my own mind about what constituted ‘sin’ in terms of sexual behavior. On one hand I recalled the Catholic teaching that Rocky and I had participated in that taught whatever happened between a husband and wife and was consensual, was honoring your love for one another and therefore, honoring God. Then there were the thoughts about respecting women and the line that separated disrespectful behavior. Where was that line? And more thoughts about what was inherently authentic for me – as a woman. I didn’t have a broad repertoire of sexual interests necessarily although I enjoyed physical pleasure to be sure. I was curious about many things but experienced a very blurred line between the limits of my personal desire and the need for me to submit to desires of my husband which encompassed a much larger, comprehensive, and broad set of variables.

I experienced a rather continuous flow of antagonistic chatter in my mind. Internal criticism and chiding coupled with self-talk that pushed for conformity and compliance so that my marriage could be free of conflict. In the end, I consciously moved myself into compliance via the least resistant avenue. I convinced myself that I was working to be a better wife even if it meant that I was not listening to my inner voice. I found myself focusing on meeting the needs of others over my own once again and persuaded my heart that it was in the name of my faith.

Day by day I was actively engaged in promoting the vision of myself, of us, and of our family as blooming Christians, moving closer to God in our tithing, being prayerful, and committed to building the Church. Night by Night I felt a contradiction tugging at my soul.

Catholic Guilt

It’s necessary for me to take a post and go back a bit. One of the fundamental pieces of me that I’ve yet to write about is faith. What I currently believe and practice is the consequence of a tremendous evolution through the years and integral in the way that I have viewed myself, the world, and the challenges that have presented in my life.

Like the post I wrote about my dad, it is impossible to truly know or understand me unless you have perspective about my faith. I’ll begin to draw the picture here and then attempt to integrate it more into the ongoing discussion.

I was baptized Catholic at the age of 5 or 6. My mother converted and I’m not quite in focus about the details but I know that my Grandmother’s great friend was the mother of a priest who rose through the ranks of the Scranton (PA) diocese and was present at all of the important events of my religious life growing up. I always felt special because he was there, even as a young Bishop.

Growing up Catholic – as any Catholic knows – generates guilt. It begins – I think – with confession at the age of 7. In order to receive your first communion, you must attend confession where you ‘confess’ your sin of the week. Now come on … We were taught about sins… sins were ‘bad’ things. It implies that every week you are bad – in some way. (No wonder we are all screwed up). Keep in mind – this is what I HEARD which, may be a bit different that what was said yet I am not the only Catholic child that received this message – I assure you. So – I grew up believing that I was innately bad. F*** original sin.

I was a fair weather Catholic. We went to church when it was convenient and then my parent’s   divorce really made it complicated because it made everything ‘bad’. My mom stopped going to church or practicing faith in any way for the rest of her life. My dad was more deeply connected to his Catholic roots and found a progressive church – some really progressive  Christian brothers – and received an annulment (even with three living children) so that he could marry my stepmom – an extremely devout Catholic. By the time I was 16 – I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

However, I was still deeply entrenched in the mentality that in order to be loved and accepted by people who mattered to me, I had to be a ‘good’ Catholic girl. Basically this meant that I taught Sunday school, grabbed a bulletin so that I knew what the Homily was about and then sat at Denny’s and drand coffee until church was over – then told my parent’s that that I had gone to Mass. So, this “good Catholic girl” was lying about going to church and racking up the guilt/shame cards by the decks!!

I was caught by the way… one of Dad’s clients noticed me by a picture that my “proud Dad” had shared and the client was like “oh yea, she’s a beautiful girl…. I see her at Denny’s on Sunday mornings all the time!” … Busted! Liars always get caught.

At 19 I was a part of something called SAGE – a movement of self discovery and awareness, very “New Age” kind of stuff that was before the whole New Age movement. I can’t guarantee my memory is completely accurate here but the essence of the experience is key. It was about SELF AWARENESS and AUTHENTICITY.  About letting go of pains and wounds, forgiving others, and cultivating LOVE in daily life. I fell in love with the presentation of those principles in harmony. I wasn’t yet aware of my own abandonment wounds to truly reach any deep issues but it was really impressive for some of the older adults who shared. I felt honored to be a part of their experience. I became really close with some of the people who shared the SAGE experience – an entire family of loving individuals who were more of an impact on my life than they probably ever knew.

I also believe strongly in things that are considered paranormal; spirits, out-of-body experiences, etc. In my BR (before Rocky) life, a friend and I were sitting up late one night – cold stone sober – talking about possibilities and spiritual potentialities. Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the room environment and we both noticed a circulation that grew from barely noticeable to almost person size. I stared in disbelief and realized that I was NOT ready to experience anything significantly different than what I currently understand. I looked away and it went away. Really – it was the late 70’s but we were clear minded – completely.

Rocky and I were married in the Catholic Church. On the ‘wife’s application’ there was a question I had to answer and certify that I would “submit myself to my husband” – there was nothing on the husband’s application in like. I’m not sure it is like that today – in 2016 – but keep in mind I am accumulating attitudes about spirituality that I am using in consideration for how I ultimately construct my faith. The Catholic Church is beginning to wear on my tolerance.

In its defense, Rock and I went to a couple’s seminar at our home parish on sex and marriage. It was now 1982ish and as is perceivably customary of the West Coast, progressive ideology was presented. We were taught that what happened in the bedroom between a husband and wife that was consensual and experienced in love was acceptable by the church.  Oh. Thank. God. I was immediately relieved for all those times that the missionary position just didn’t cut it. Thank you Church – for approving of my sexuality.

This is the foundation that the rest of my spiritual development is based upon. Some might argue that it is flawed but ultimately, it was strong.