We are each gifted with a personal identity in the image of God our Father. We are an icon of God.
We are marred by our human tendency to sin, our concupiscence.
We are each born with weaknesses and even as we grow up we may be marked with wounds and scars that further those weaknesses.
At the same time these wounds and scars make us stronger, prepare us for life with others, and help us grow in God’s image. In our weakness God’s grace can supply our needs.
These needs, also determine our susceptibility to temptations, those directions in which we can more easily fall.
All of these are human processes; we are fallen, but nothing prior to this can be called our fault or our choice. This is all the environment, and our pre-mature interactions.
We become what we learn, though.
Those weaknesses become the ways in which we might self-medicate, self-soothe, hide from things we don’t like, and defend ourselves from both abusive interactions and also troublesome but necessary ones.
At this point we start to make choices: do I lash out when I get threatened? Do I retreat into isolation and find ways to imagine revenge? Do I create an interesting cover story to make up for an absence? Do I obscure my intentions for my actions?
At this point, also, temptations begin: yes, you should lash out. Yes, you should break off interactions. Yes, you should tell that lie. Yes, you can do that… it’s easy. These ideas do not come from within you but from outside.
It is here the sword and shield of spiritual warfare must become involved.
The scars and wounds which allow one to be more susceptible to one kind of temptation than another are not our fault. The temptation itself is likewise not our fault. But the choice to act on it at all is a fault.
A demonic voice can only lie, telling you what is a wound is no wound, telling you what is a lie is actually “your truth”. The voice can obscure reality but cannot trigger action: this last step is yours.
We need spiritual warfare at every point here
Some sins lead us only away from God. Some sins draw us deeper into themselves. They become repeating patterns of their own. The demonic no longer needs to trigger these steps for you trigger them yourself. You no longer need to make choices, for the choice was made long ago and you are only continuing to follow it.
The deeper and more and meshed in the lie you become, the more it becomes your reality. You begin to think this is you, this unmade, continually repeating choice. Eventually you invest so much in this artificial reality that your own self gets lost.
You are alone. People no longer relate to you but rather relate to this lie, this artificial reality. You’re not relating to them anymore for they too are covered in artificial realities. The lie has isolated you.
When you come before God, if you do at all, you are convinced that even then you are this lie. Until you are not relating to him he struggles to relate to you. He loves you.
If it were possible you would cease to be you. Your identity as an icon of the Living God would be entirely lost. But that’s not possible. You’re still there. You may be covered by layers of repeated actions. You may be distorted by layers of lacquer and paint. These were not on the original icon and they’re not part of you. Removing them will feel painful.
Yet removing them is exactly what needs to be done. You cannot do this. You must submit to God to have this done. Only the original painter can restore his work.
The voices will tell you this really is you. The idea of pain will run through your head at every moment. Fear will make you stop. You must hear your inner heartbeat. You must see the glow that comes from the original image shining from beneath the lacquer. These things are not you.
You know this. You have always known this. The reality is being yourself is much more work than being this lie. You want to be yourself, but it’s a lot of work. This is where spiritual warfare is necessary.
At every turn cry out to your father. At every turn cry out to the Son and the Holy Spirit. At every turn cry out to our lady and all the Saints. At every turn cry out to Saint Michael the Archangel to defend you in battle. At every turn laugh at Satan. At every turn strive for Holiness. At every turn it is you resting in God never alone, never again.
When my Grandfather, Kenneth Richardson, passed away in 2002 he had left a request that I sing a song at the funeral. I had sung at funerals for my late Brother and my late Grandmother. I had sung at my sister’s wedding. So, this was not a surprise. Grandpa had an odd sense of humor though. And so his request was at once both moving and also, for folks who know me, humorous as all get out. For he asked me to sing a song by Miss Patsy Cline.
(Honestly, I prefer this one by Johnny Cash.. so…)
The song was Life’s Railway to Heaven.
Life is like a mountain railway With an engineer that’s brave You must make the run successful From the cradle to the grave Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels; Never falter, never quail; Keep your hand upon the throttle, And your eye upon the rail.
Blessed Savior Thou wilt guide us Til we reach that blissful shore Where the angels wait to join us In God’s praise for ever more.
The song goes on (for several other verses) to talk about troubles with tracks and storms and hairpin turns. In the end there’s a trestle across the River Jordan and the Union Depot in heaven where the Conductor, God the Father and Jesus say, weary pilgrim welcome home. And I kinda choked up there at the funeral and all Grandpa’s Baptist friends said, “Amen” and the song ended.
The problem is the song is too linear. Grandpa was rootless: born in Manitoba, moved to Michigan, lived in San Francisco, served in Panama, and was a hobo riding the rails during the Great Depression. He never really stayed in any one place very long. He didn’t even start going to church until after my Grandmother died in 1984. Knowing that, and knowing that I’m Grandpa’s spiritual son as well as blood relative. My presentation is called
Life’s Tilt-a-whirl to heaven
I was born on 29 August 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia. My name at birth was William Earl Bailey. That is, Bill Bailey. I had 35 years of people singing to me (including Patsy Cline) before I ditched the moniker in 2000. Grandpa approved of my choice saying, “He got tired of people singing tt him!” I had been named for my father, whom I never knew (he left when I was 1), and my mother’s Grandfather, who – being dead – I also never knew. Grandpa Richardson was really my father is as many ways as I can think of until my Mom married my stepfather in 1974.
If you’ll picture the states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida there are there 10 different street addresses I had before 5th grade. In my entire life there have been 48 different street addresses. I’m 53, so… the level of change is pretty consistent.
Generic Protestant (1964 – 1978)
My spiritual journey was just as crazy. When we were growing up Mom always took us to the closest (protestant) Church. My first religious memory is singing “Jesus loves me” in the Presbyterian Church in Fort Gaines, GA. This would be about 1967 or so. My second one is in Warner Robbins, GA, listening to a TV preacher on Saturday Morning in that devotional moment that used to come on the air right after the national anthem. And he was telling me (age 6) I’d go to hell if I didn’t pray this prayer… so… I did. I remember that deeply and profoundly, asking Jesus into my life, more out of fear than anything else, but still, sincerely doing so. My third religious memory is a Sunday school class where we were building a model of Solomon’s Temple out of sugar cubes and royal icing. I wanted to eat the thing when we were done. We did everything from Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of God, to Free Will Baptist, non-Denominational, etc
After I stopped needing Mom to drive me to sunday school, my religious life became a little bit more predictable, but only just.
Methodist (1978 – 1981)
I was baptized in the Methodist Church in 1978 by Pastor Jim Lowery. My stepfather was my Godfather. (He and Mom have been married nearly 45 years now…) Pastor Jim and I began to explore ideas of ministry and, like a lot of pastors dealing with a young man in that projected line of work” the question was “do you want to work with the youth group/”
Episcopalian (1981 – 2002)
I discovered the Episcopal Church in High School, 1981. It was pretty. And it was glorious. I discovered monasteries, Mass, Mary and all the things that High Church Anglicans have that Catholics (at that point) seemed to be giving up.
My first year in College I went to a non-denominational Christian college. Here my increasingly Catholic-minded faith was often attacked. Day One involved the RA asking why I had a crucifix over the door… the result of this attack was that I become rather far more “high church” that I might otherwise have become. This was furthered by the local Episcopal priest giving me a key to the church to come in and hang out any time with my friends: I did study halls, and that turned into Bible Classes, and hymn sings… it was an odd Freshman year.
There was some discussion of ministry here, and I ended up working with the Youth Group again, in the parish and on the diocesan level, finally on the provincial and even national level. I did diocesan Summer camp every year for nearly 10 years: two weeks out of every summer working with kids caught between childhood and a faith crisis. There were romances and educational moments, death, illnesses, and all the drama you can imagine. It was also wonderful to run down the hill every morning and ring the Angelus to call folks to Morning Prayer. I spent most of those years as default sacristan and church geek as well.
I had a falling out with the Episcopal Church in College so I ran away. I did so over sex and “not really believing any of this”. And I became a Newagey Pagan. When I came back to church about 10 years later, I was rather shocked to find out no one else believed any of this either and we are all just Newagey Pagans together, albeit more liturgical and we did talk about Jesus more than your average pagans. This was hard on me, coming back to Faith as an adult, to find out I was the odd guy for actually believing things like Resurrection and Incarnation.
Orthodox (2002 – 2016)
A lot of more-conservative Episcopalians, deciding we needed to go be really Christian somewhere, left and became Orthodox. A lot of folks were doing so: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, etc. When I left the Episcopal Parish on Potrero Hill in 2002 and went to the Orthodox Parish on Russian Hill, I honestly didn’t look at the Catholic Church. I would have seen that many of the things that “Catholics seemed to be giving up” after Vatican 2 were actually very present. I missed that cue, though, and became Orthodox.
(I also ran away from the Orthodox Church a little while over sex. And then came back. Because “you have the words of life… where else can I go?”)
Two things happened to me in Orthodoxy. I began to take my faith very seriously: discovering that this guy, Jesus, wants the whole shebang. He doesn’t want a pious hellion who can go to church, teach bible, and then go home. He wants everything: my politics, my sex life, my diet, my prayer life, my work life, my social life, my social media (this became a thing by this point). Somehow, in all of that take-over, I ended up serving on the Parish Council and then being President of the Parish… an honor I was in nowise worthy of. And discovering that I could pray by singing (in the choir) and that I was ok as a layman.
The second thing that happened was I went to a monastery. In January of 2016, after 6 years at a job I was laid off and, discovering that I was debt free and had no obligations (other than my cat), I went to an Orthodox, Benedictine monastery in Colorado.
That didn’t last, and, although I like to say I “discerned out” the real issue was I needed to be serving people and hiding in a monastery praying the office, as wonderful as it was, was not the answer. I mayhap have been able to deal with the internecine incivilities of monastery life if I had been also serving folks, but we were brutally, starkly alone, at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. And cold. So I came back into the world.
One of the novices last year (Br John) commented on the Benedictine Vow of Stability, which I would have had to take: a Benedictine Monk is expected to die in the monastery where he takes his vows. Dominicans, to the contrary, are rooted in the brotherhood and very mobile. Although it was a good-natured jab from a Dominican Novice to a former Benedictine Novice, I nearly started to cry remembering the terror that made me feel in Colorado.
When I left the Monastery in August 2016, I knew where I had to go. And I was in a Catholic Parish (in Columbus, GA, near my Parents) before the month was out. The sermon that Sunday was about praying a daily rosary and going to daily mass.
According to the Catholic Church, the Orthodox are a strange species of Catholic, just not in communion with the Pope. So I could have taken communion quietly and gone to confession as needed, and never had an issue. But I needed a commitment to a community so, after I found a job (back here, thank God), I was standing at St Dominic’s within 24 hours of getting off the airplane. Tim says, that three days later I had moved in.
The tilt-a-whirl finally stopped, I pray. And I got off. My confessor knows I’m prone to a mental spin every now and again, but all in all, though stuff spins from time to time, the cross stands still and, by God’s Grace, I always reach out and hold on.
And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story.