Finding Spiritual Support

Video

by Pamela Richards

I have come to Quakers at the beginning of the twenty-first century, an age when the presence of traditional spiritual support is not as common as it once was. Spiritual support, like wisdom, rarely shows up when we are not looking for it. It is not that it does not exist; but the state of readiness to receive is prerequisite. There is a process of seeking, asking and knocking on doors that demands an openhearted curiosity. In seeking spiritual support, sometimes we learn to expand our community by traveling the paths of time. I have sought spiritual support in literature, in Scripture, with Friends who have passed on, from ancestors, and from Friends who have benefited from the wisdom of twentieth century elders.

In the story of Abraham, God takes Abraham to look at the night sky, and declares that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of the heavens. If an individual is represented by one star, I suggest our spiritual support system is represented by a constellation. This is how humans of all cultures have viewed the night sky—as connected in meaningful patterns that tell a story.  Every culture has its own sense of the meaning of these stories. Even though I live in a hilly city, I admit I am still a skygazer: I am drawn to any visible patch of night sky again and again, scanning it like the pages of a book, expecting it to spell out a story that will bring me a message from God. A moon? What part of the sky, how long after dusk, what shape? Do I recognize a constellation nearby? Looking up into the dark at night reminds me that we have all been tossed into the same sky, but not without connections: not without context. Seeking spiritual support is much like seeking the sparks of light that have been cast into our constellation with us. It is not to our own credit that we have experienced certain relationships or learned from particular Friends. It is a matter of God’s design, and a declaration of his glory.

Surprisingly, I entered my first relationship of spiritual support after I left high school and met my first Friend on the campus of a fundamentalist Bible College founded by my grandfather. I had known no Quakers growing up, and my initial introduction to Quakers had been through the writing of Catherine Marshall in the novel Christy. I felt a certain respect for the character of Alice Henderson, a nurturing and spiritually mature woman who the author contrasted against the more rigid, legalistic evangelists portrayed in the mountain setting of the book. As the granddaughter of a preacher and teacher of preachers, I already knew everything I wanted to know about their practices. It was the Quaker who intrigued me.

This summer, while I was visiting my elder and spiritual supporter Maurine Pyle, we visited a library where we were invited to select books to donate to prisoners. There I came across Christy, and I knew I’d like to ask Maurine what she thought of it. I suggested the book to Maurine, who cheerfully made a donation in exchange for a used copy of the book.  More than forty years after I had first read the book, Maurine pointed out the narrative description of a clearness process between Christy, the main character, and Alice, the Quaker. And now I could see that when I first met Maurine three years previously, I already had a prototype for the nurturing presence of spiritual support we found in our friendship.

Back in 1974 when I met my first Quaker, Richard Mullins, I do not know whether my initial reading of Christy had influenced, or prepared me for the experience of spiritual support we both gained from our relationship. It became a complex and multi-faceted friendship, but for the moment I will focus on the spiritual dynamics.

What characterized the relationship as one of spiritual support? I knew it was spiritual support, but not until re-discovering Quakers thirty years later did I learn a vocabulary to describe it. I began to recognize underlying patterns in my friendship with Maurine that reminded me of Richard’s style of listening, and I asked, and sought, and knocked. A seasoned elder, Maurine reflected all of my questions as she modeled the clearness process. She helped me recognize the underlying process of spiritual support that, by God’s plan, has been unfolding throughout my life.

First, I learned that in spiritual support there is no judgement. In 1974, I was in a clear state of spiritual rebellion against my mother’s form of Christianity that had brought me to that place, but Richard considered me in all respects his spiritual equal. Frankly, I felt like everyone else on campus treated me like a freak. They were being kind, but the underlying assumption was that I was the goat, and the rest of them were all sheep. I soon became irritated by the “salvation” scripts that some students resorted to when we were alone.

By contrast, in his actions and his conversations, Richard had even invited me to act as his spiritual support before I demonstrated a commitment to any sort of spiritual calling. It was such a relief not to face harsh judgement, I instantly relaxed in his presence. He simply believed that humans are spiritual beings, and that makes us all equal regardless of our stance toward spirituality. He modeled the kind of openness that showed me how to contemplate the possibility or, later, the reality of God without sensing the threat that triggered my rebelliousness.

During our deeper conversations, we were present for one another, but more than that, we were both in the presence of the Light. I sensed, as he told me the more difficult parts of his story, that he had more to bear than I could help him with. I began reaching out for a higher source of strength. I found myself praying for my friend as he spoke and in the silences, listening for God to speak his wisdom to us as well. I sensed Richard was doing the same for me. This is a practice of spiritual support some have called “deep listening.”

In the Jewish faith, ten members—called a minyan—are required to be in company to experience the presence of God in worship. By contrast, one of the teachings of Jesus says, “Whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there am I in your midst.” Of course, it cannot be denied that God touches us with His presence at times when we are otherwise alone—but that experience can be so overpowering that in the moment, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend the meaning or purpose of His presence. The value of processing such an experience with a supporting Friend in the light is that it gives our experience more depth, exposes more levels of meaning, opens more potential, and affects both of us in profound ways. The fact that it only takes two to usher in the presence renders the Light more accessible, more portable and more consistent in our lives. Sometimes it takes a fellow stargazer in our constellation to help us discern which way the cosmic wind is blowing.

Deep questions—about ourselves, about the nature of God, the meaning of suffering—surfaced, requiring a response not from the mind, but from the source of wisdom within. Sometimes the answers were incomplete, simple statements of not-knowing, but answers were not the point. The questions served as a gateway to a state of openness. In turn, dwelling in a state of openness suspended our expectations, opening the way for potential in any direction. I later learned that the process of opening to unexplored potential is sometimes called “clearing space.” It is an attitude essential to the path I am currently called to, the windblown state of responsiveness to Spirit which some call “As way opens.”

Pamela Richards is a member of Community Friends Monthly Meeting in Cincinnati, and Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting.  She joined the Society of Friends in 2013.  She has sought out experiences of mentoring practices of Friends such as deep listening and eldership. New to traveling ministry, she has also had the joy of supporting Friends in traveling and writing ministries. Like many of us who have undertaken a study of their ancestry, she has recently discovered long-forgotten family roots among Quakers.

Editors’ note: What Canst Thou Say? is happy to share this, the lead article in the May 2017 issue. It is published here as a teaser. There is much more in the print version which will be mailed in the next few weeks and in the web version, which will soon be available on the website <whatcanstthousay.org>.

The Journey to Joy: Slogging My Way to The Transformation High

by Mariellen Gilpin

The story of my thirty-year journey to joy has to begin in a sordid, sad place. I met my first psychiatrist upon admission to the local hospital. Without any preliminary question and answer session, he abruptly ordered me onto the examination table and somewhat roughly gave me a pelvic exam. There was something about the way he stared intently at my private parts. I came to the hospital confused and disoriented. Desperate for help, ready to trust the doctor. Now I was politely, silently angry: The problem is in my mind, not my crotch! The trauma happened only once in the four years I worked with him. But that once was enough to leave me frozen in shame, humiliation, and powerlessness.  I only began to recover when I learned from other women, including one who sued him, that I was not alone in having been subjected to what amounted to medical molestation. I was not alone.

Whenever I met with him, I reported whatever I was doing to help myself. He chuckled like an evil uncle and indicated many of his patients had tried that very same thing, and failed. He seemed to find their failures funny. I did not enjoy my mistakes. The consequences were always awful. They were not funny.

It seemed whatever I said, he always prescribed still-higher doses or still more pills. Each pill had its own side effects, and so there were more pills to deal with the side effects of the other pills. And, of course, multiple pills made it hard to track which side effect was caused by which combination of pills.I was so medicated I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, let alone think through what caused my mind to derail and how I might learn to stay on track. Or draw the conclusion that this doctor did not want me to get well. Or that I could choose to go shopping for a doctor on less of a power trip. My sessions with this doctor came to a stop because I wanted a better insurance plan, rather than a better plan for getting well.

The new doctor, more than likely caught between genuinely wanting to help me get better and protecting his medical-fraternity brother, suggested trying a different medication plan, which he described to me and sent me home with a book to read. I had been in the first doctor’s care for four years, and was so indoctrinated by his No hope! No hope for you! that I told the new doctor I needed to think about it. What I really needed to do was decide to risk hope. I had hoped, and failed, so consistently. Each failure seared my wounded soul. To choose to hope was to choose to risk still another failure. What I spoke of to friends and family was the potential side effects of the new medication regime. What I really was doing was summoning the courage to choose hope.

The new doctor gave me a range within which I could self-medicate, and introduced a brand new concept: I could learn to manage the illness. In the nearly 40 years since, I’ve worked with six other head doctors, seven internists, and one oncologist. I interviewed each one before I agreed to work with them, thanks to that first head-doctor. I am prepared for the probability that any doctor is likely to be a bit of a nutcase. My real question is, Is this doctor ethical? Can I trust my body and my mind to this person who by nature of his profession will have a power relationship with me?

***  Fast forward now about three years. My medication regime had stabilized, but I continued to hallucinate at about the same rate as before. I was not really getting better. I joined a 12 Step group for mental sufferers called GROW. GROW encouraged members to work with their doctors to reduce their medications, even get off all psych meds. My husband encouraged me to try. I was taking enough pills that I was a dingaling. It would be so wonderful to be able to think again. But the hallucinations—I wanted no more of them than I could help, and every reduction I’d tried in the past increased their number and intensity. First, I needed to reduce the hallucinations, and then try reducing the medication a trifle.

I had been advised by my GROW friends not to converse with my voices, because engaging with them encouraged the pattern to persist. The problem was that my hallucinations woke me up from a sound sleep with an audible whoosh at about two a.m. Why out of a sound sleep? Why at two a.m? Why that whoosh? I had no idea. The workings of my once-good mind no longer made any sense to me. But the pattern was totally reliable: the whoosh, a pause, then the voices, and pretty soon I was conversing with them. What I had to do, I decided, was find a way to distract myself immediately upon hearing the whoosh.

The idea was daunting: choosing a different response when I was both half-asleep and also too drugged to think—I couldn’t have been much more vulnerable. How was I to change a thought-habit when I was in that condition? Something that caused me great grief and shame was that one of the voices I heard was “God.” When I called out in my anxiety and bewilderment to God for guidance, and Fake God provided advice that invariably turned out badly, it wasn’t hard to decide the voice was not the real God—in retrospect. Hindsight might not be 20/20, but it was better than what came to me in that split second after calling out to God for guidance. Somehow, I decided, my concept of God was faulty, that I could be hoodwinked by Fake God so easily. I wanted a better relationship with God.

In GROW we learned to hope for one another until we could hope for ourselves. We were encouraged to memorize bits of the program, so they’d be available in our moments of need. At the close of every meeting, we recited together a prayer called the Act of Surrender. I decided the prayer was a pretty good model of what a right relationship with God could be. I undertook to memorize it. It was fairly long and complicated, especially when I was trying to memorize it with half a brain. As I memorized it, a plan began to develop. The moment I heard the whoosh, I would throw all my attention to reciting the Act of Surrender. I would distract myself from Fake God and at the same time, work on building a better relationship with Real God.

When I talked about my plan in GROW, a leader suggested I also memorize and think about another GROW saying: Resume quickly without fuss. The next time I heard the whoosh, I didn’t start the prayer or switch my attention in time. I reported at the next meeting and was encouraged to believe I’d get it started more quickly next time. And I did. The old thought-habit was decisively derailed. It was as if the whoosh turned a somersault in its eagerness to leave my mind.

I was overcome with joy. There was reason to hope. I knew I had many mistakes ahead of me—about 20 years worth, as a matter of fact, before I learned how not to hallucinate. There were lots of opportunities to practice resuming quickly without fuss. But my strategy had worked that once, and would again. I’d try to learn from my mistakes and refine my strategy. When I’d piled up enough successful derailments of the sick old thought-pattern, I could be completely free of hallucinations.

Over the years, I’ve thought and prayed a lot about addiction. I’ve come to view those sick thought-patterns as a form of behavioral addiction, because addiction can be anything we do over and over because we want to feel better, even though we know it’s bad for us. That’s why we must choose not to fuss at ourselves when we make still another mistake: fussing makes us feel worse, which makes it harder to avoid the faulty thought pattern next time. The old short-term feel-better reward is always followed by mid- to long-term awfulness. What seems to work for me is replacing the short-term feel-good with a longer-term choice for happiness. It’s very hard to do at first, because we know what the short-term reward will be. We won’t like the downside, but since we’ve never tried the choice with the longer-term reward, we don’t know how it will make us feel. If we’re used to eating chocolate when we’re depressed and decide to go for a long walk instead, what we’re most aware of at first is the chocolate-deprivation. The short-term joys of the long walk are subtler: the smell of the fresh air, the bunnies and birds along the way, the enjoyment of feeling our blood moving. Because the immediate rewards are subtler, we may not notice we’re rather happier several hours later. I had the benefit, however, that my voices always had a truly awful and fairly immediate downside. When reciting the Act of Surrender stopped the whoosh in its tracks, the sense of joy and relief and hope was much more immediate.

Recently a gym-friend, a long-distance runner, talked about the runner’s high. She’d run and run until she was exhausted, and then her runner’s high would kick in, and she’d run almost effortlessly the remaining distance. She explained that hormones called endorphins were released to create the runner’s high. She ran to achieve the distance, always, but the runner’s high helped her get there.

When I remember my first success at un-choosing listening to voices and that moment of joy, I know I was transformed. I may have experienced a transformation high. Whatever hormones may someday be discovered that cause the transformation high, I can assure you the transformation high is instantly addictive. Any and all obstacles to happiness and wholeness I now view through the lens of the transformation high. How can I change myself? How can I get that high again?

I run my life now as much for the transformation highs along the way as for the actual overcoming of the obstacles. I think it may be fair to say that my happiness today is basically a continuous state of being high on transforming myself.

Never Ending

by Anne Scherer

( dedicated to those who have died by gun violence)

And now Germany

in the wake of France,

breaths away

from Orlando, Minneapolis, Dallas, Baton Rouge

and more, more lives

dead upon dead upon dead

Why?

How much more, before we are broken

violence wreaks

beyond the imagination

Cries heard around the world

will it ever end ever,

When?

Anne M. Scherer

July 23, 2016

Across the Rainbow

by Anne Scherer

Across the Rainbow

( In memory of those who died in Orlando, Florida at Pulse)

Joy into sadness. It happened so fast!

I was dancing…now

crawling through broken glass.

Pain, panic and fear fill a once-safe place

hundreds crying in darkness

I hear, but cannot see

 

no breath

 

I’ll meet you on the other side, one day

join hands in solidarity

across the rainbow.

Anne M. Scherer

June 20, 2016

The Mystical Closet

What Canst Thou Say is sponsoring two gatherings in 2016. The Western Gathering of Friendly Mystics in Berkeley, California was already held in February. The epistle from this gathering is on the WCTS blog <quakermystics.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/mysticsgathering- epistle-berkeley-california-february-4-7-2016>.

The second is the Fourth Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics scheduled for September 30–October 3, 2016, at the Cenacle in Chicago. We are planning a weekend of sharing our stories, as we have done in the past three years, followed by one day of extended worship and worship-sharing. Deadline for registration is June 30. To increase your interest in coming to this gathering, we present the following essay by Janice Stensrude currently in production to be published in the August issue of What Canst Thou Say?

The Mystic Closet by Janice Stensrude

I arrived at last June’s WCTS retreat in a physically vulnerable state, at the tail end of one of those undiagnosed, just-feel-lousy illnesses that my mother used to call “the epizoody.” As if the stress of standing upright were not enough, the powerful exercises in naming ourselves mystics and exchanging blessings opened the floodgates of my consciousness. It was as if a backlog of messages had been waiting for a channel to open, and now they came pouring out in a deluge. Some of them came as waking thoughts early in the morning, others just appeared in my consciousness during my daily routine, and one flowed from my pen one morning as I began to make my daily journal entry: Coming out of the closet is more than freeing ourselves. We are also freeing society. We are servants of the moral growth of humanity. I was stunned with the clarity and simplicity of the message.

I had made a list of continuing themes I had observed at the First, Second, and Third Gatherings of Friendly Mystics. At each of these, the issue of whether to tell others of our mystical experiences—and who those others should be—had been a hot topic. And now, it seemed, it had ripened to receive spiritual intelligence.

I had to hang out with other mystics to learn that what I considered a spiritual matter is thought by many to be a mental-health matter. Jean Roberts, a WCTS founder, had been advised to check herself into a treatment center, where the goal was to talk her into believing her mystical experience was a sign of mental illness. Psychologist and WCTS contributor Jennifer Elam, in her interviews with one hundred people with mystical experiences, found that Jean’s experience was not unique. Jennifer recommended that we should be cautious in sharing our mystical experiences, choosing our confidants carefully. One very important thing has happened since Jennifer’s research study: the psychiatric profession has not only officially removed mystical experiences from its list of mental illnesses, but also recognized spiritual counseling as a psychotherapeutic specialty.

As I contemplated the notion of a mystical closet, I began to see connections in my reading and my personal experience. One such connection was Sam Proctor’s memoir, My Moral Odyssey. Sam was an African American educator and minister, who held numerous government posts, beginning with his 1963 appointment as Associate Director with the Peace Corps in Africa and culminating with his service as Special Adviser to the ethics committee on recombinant DNA research during the Carter administration (1977–1981). His academic career included stints at Virginia Union University, Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, Rutgers University, Vanderbilt University, United Theological Seminary, Kean University, and Duke University. In other words, Sam was a hard-working, well-educated, well-connected, and high-profile public figure.

Consciously, with forethought, and with the strength of his pacifist convictions, Sam Proctor used his notoriety to strike at the heart of racism. He wrote that he made an effort to circulate in the white community to give white people the opportunity to change their stereotypes about the black race. He would talk about his college-graduate siblings, most with advanced degrees. His speech was articulate, even elegant.

I’ve moved in and out of unfamiliar territory most of my life. My earliest adventure was at the age of five, when I put on my Easter dress, packed my cardboard suitcase and set out to see the world. My mother played along until she realized I was not pretending. It would be many years after that before I traveled very far from home, but I was discovering other worlds by befriending and accepting friendly overtures from people with backgrounds different from my own.

At the time that I made the decision to move to Australia, where my younger son lived with his young family, I was volunteering my administrative expertise as the only white person in an African American community organization. “You are one white woman who will be missed,” the organization’s president told me when I announced my plans to move. Ten years later I heard an echo, when I was drawn into conversation with a middle-aged black woman, a resident in the nursing home where my brother was recovering from a series of strokes.

Louise had murdered her husband, and her schizophrenia diagnosis was the only thing that had saved her from the Texas death chamber. The nursing home, for her, was a sort of half-way house between the mental hospital and the assisted living facility, where she would have her own small apartment, with the medical supervision to ensure she took her medications. She lived in a semi-conscious state, speaking slowly, and dragging her feet when she walked. She told me she was a retired military officer and grew up in a prominent local black family.

“We’re related to the white Meriwhethers,” she said. “Everybody knows it but nobody talks about it.” We had a long conversation while I waited for my brother to return from a therapy session.

“It was nice talking to you,” I said, when a nurse interrupted to say my brother was back in his room.

“I wish all white people were like you,” she responded.
After that, we always spoke when passing, and she bummed cigarettes from my brother in the outdoor smoking area. She even borrowed a few dollars from him once, which was paid back a few days later as promised. I guess we weren’t white anymore, just two of the very few people who spoke to her.

Though white Australians looked like white Americans and more or less spoke the same language, I soon became aware of cultural differences. My years in Australia advanced my knowledge of “others,” and my volunteer work took me to remote Native Australian communities where exchanging stories of children and grandchildren and the love of colorful skirts were the threads that connected me to the women I met.

I had always thought of these wonderful experiences as broadening only my own horizons, until I recently perceived a similarity between my forays into foreign situations and Sam Proctor’s interactions with white society. While I was getting a chance to have a look at their way of life, they, too, were having a chance to glance into another world.

I have come to see that closets come in layers. I was born into the closet of my family and emerged into a larger society one room at a time.

I think about my gay friends who each have a story about coming out of the closet, first into the gay community, later venturing out the front door into the greater world . . . which led to my thinking about us coming out to each other as mystics. How many of us will walk out the front door into the world after we’ve ventured out of the closet? Do we need to?

I remember years ago reading about a young man whose life goal was to make positive changes in elder care. After achieving his degree in social work, his first job was in a large retirement home. After a few months, he saw that his long hair—which he had grown throughout his college years—was interfering with establishing rapport with his elderly clients. He made the hard decision to cut his hair. To him, it felt like pretending to be someone he was not; but after some soul searching, he concluded that he was not willing to postpone communicating with his clients in the hope that they would eventually abandon their bias against young men with long hair. He chose the closet.

Times have changed, but Jennifer’s advice to carefully choose our confidants still holds true in many cases. The American Psychiatric Association may have created a new diagnostic category that describes “Religious or Spiritual Problems” as “nonpathological,” but everyone is not yet willing to accept spiritual phenomena as healthy human activity. Not too long ago, a young mystic, who shared her experiences with a member of the clergy, was referred for an exorcism. As a community of mystics, we must continue to support those at every stage of the journey . . . including those who choose the closet.

But Spirit took my hand and issued a challenge I will not soon forget: Coming out of the closet is more than freeing ourselves. We are also freeing society. We are servants of the moral growth of humanity—just like my gay friends . . . and like my Sister in the Spirit, who shows her mental illness to the world. Servants of the Moral Growth of Humanity: what a fine-sounding phrase.

When an interviewer marveled at how good Gloria Steinem looked as she sailed through her fortieth birthday, Steinem replied, “This is what forty looks like.” Is it your turn to say, “This is what a mystic looks like, sounds like, walks like, lives like”?

Janice Stensrude was living in Perth, Australia, when the neon vision of “Christ is the answer” sent her walking up the steep incline to the local Quaker meetinghouse. Since returning to the U.S., she has attended Live Oak Friends Meeting in Houston and Galveston Friends Meeting on Galveston Island.

God Is My Plumber

By Mariellen Gilpin (Supplemental to the August 2015 issue of What Canst Thou Say?)

On Sunday morning, very early, it was below zero outside the bathroom window. I was getting ready to go to worship, starting with a good hot shower. I was still pretty groggy, but I became aware that something about the sound of the water splashing in the tub wasn’t right. I looked down. I was standing in three or four inches of water. Tub drain was stopped up. I did what I knew to do — I checked for hair in the drain, and I jiggled the flapper that controls the plug. The drain remained plugged. In the interests of marital bliss, I refrained from waking up my husband. I finished my shower and continued to get ready for my long day at the meetinghouse.

I told my husband when he got up, shortly before I left for meeting. When I returned to the house a little before suppertime, I learned he’d spent the day alternately researching bathtub drains online, and trying various things to free the drain. No success. First thing on Monday morning, he would call the plumber. At bedtime, I peeked in the tub. It was still full of water, but after all of my husband’s various efforts, the water was now a whole lot dirtier.

I woke up about four on Monday morning, and lay there relaxing and saying my prayers. The tub drain was not weighing on my mind, although I hoped my husband, who recently had had a lengthy hospital stay, would not be weighed down by his responsibilities as family handyman. Shortly, I realized God wanted to do the praying. I invited God to pray through me, commenting that I didn’t know who or what was being prayed about, but I was thankful for the opportunity to be the vessel of God’s prayers. There was an unusually strong Flow of prayer-energy. Suddenly I heard the bathtub draining. I trotted into the bathroom. The tub was now empty, except of course for the very dirty ring left behind. I said to God, “I never realized You healed tub drains!”

I was ready to leave for the gym when my husband appeared in the kitchen. I reported that the tub was no longer full of water. Astonished but gratified, he hurried to the bathroom and turned on the tub faucets full force. Yes, the water did drain out perfectly well. He hurried to the utility room to check if there were a pool of standing water beside the tub outlet. No, the crawl space was entirely dry. He grinned from ear to ear, but he was also puzzled. There was no way the drain might have thawed itself free on that frigid morning. Had something he’d tried the day before finally worked, and if so, what?

I felt duty-bound to tell him everything I knew. I ended by saying, “I’m making no claims, but I am reporting the sequence of events!” Then I left for the gym. I reflected as I walked downtown, whether I knew of any precedent for the possibility that God included drain-clearing in His miracles. There was the parting of the Red Sea…and before that the Big Bang…so it seemed clear that clearing a tub drain was probably not a major undertaking for the Lord of the Universe.

 

Legion: An Epistle to the Gadarenes

As he stepped ashore he was met by a man from the town who was possessed by devils. …
For Jesus was already ordering the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Many a time it had seized him, and then, for safety’s sake, they would secure him with chains and fetters; but each time he broke loose, and with the devil in charge, made off to the solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied.
This was because so many devils had taken possession of him. And they begged him not to banish them to the Abyss. —Luke 8:27, 29-31

Legion’s Healing by Catherine Waisvisz

Centurion atrocities splinter my mind

pierce my heart, infect my soul

Tormented I tear off my clothes

my chains

everything my chains

Embracing homelessness

I seek shelter with the dead

my eyes and skin feasting on their rest

the cool tombstones as balm

welcome oasis to my senses

Still my last chance dark horse

plunges on

to crash and burn with me on it

 

I tell you this with only screams

You seem to already know

Naked and raw and unwittingly

I communicate without words

You are not afraid of catching madness

You do not run in fear as others do

Somehow your presence calms me

I want to linger here

Cool catacombs are waiting

shying horse with blinders on

confusion wakes a choice to make

escape or test this balm

 

You reach out and touch me

a spark in my body slowly spreads

infused with heat I fear torture

Your presence commands I remain

I boil, then simmer, then cool

relief sweeps over my brow

The catacombs can wait

I am not abandoned now

I notice I have clothes on

how or when was lost in the haze

buzzing crowds’ clothes keep them warm

my warmth comes from your love

Epistle to the Gadarenes from the Apostle Legion by Mariellen Gilpin

Dear Friends,

You have heard my story many times, but I now record it before I die, so that your children’s children may also know that Jesus healed me, and also all that Jesus told me during our conversation apart from the rest of you. Jesus told me to tell you all he did for me. He healed me not just when he restored me to my right mind, but also many times afterwards by his words to me that afternoon. While the rest of you feasted, I feasted on Jesus’ words, and I have carried them in my heart all these years.

It was Jesus who gave me my new name, God-Never-Gives-Up-On-Me. He gave me my new name not only to tell the world God healed me, but also to encourage me. My new name would remind me always to choose sanity when that legion of bad memories, the ones we called devils, rose up to torment me again. It was Jesus who told me, “You have received a miracle of healing, but miracles always require maintenance. I am here now to instruct you how to maintain the miracle you received this day.”

In the first place, he told me, the memories will return. “The memories are yours—yours to deal with in better ways than howling in the tombs and cutting yourself with sharp stones. Don’t try to obliterate the memories with drink and drugs,” he told me. “You’ll feel better in the short run if you drink, but the memories will slip out sideways in your drugged stupor. They will corner you when you are least able to take care of yourself. Keep your mind sharp even when it hurts.”

Jesus also told me, “You will always be sorrowful that the Roman legions killed, raped, stole and drove into slavery everyone you ever loved and cared for. Every time the memories of your family’s screams come to you, filling you with shame that you could do nothing to save them, remember your name is God-Never-Gives-Up-On-You. Walk into those memories in the presence of God. Don’t run away into drink. Walk toward your memories. Listen to them kindly and love them. They are part of you. Love your memories. Pray that your memories might know God’s love for them, that they might have everything they need. When God loves your memories, God is also loving you. Put your hand in God’s hand, and walk with God into your memories.

Jesus assured me, “God will reward your courage and faith in facing your memories lovingly. It won’t happen overnight—maintenance of a miracle is a lifelong choice—but it will get easier. The periods of peace and love between the memory-episodes will get longer, and the bouts of self-loathing will become shorter and less intense.” He said, “Memories come when they come, but try not to trigger them unnecessarily. Don’t sleep in the tombs,” he told me. “When you remember your loved ones and your heart aches, plant a tree. Look forward, not back. Do not become a pillar of salt, filled with angry, despairing tears of pain.”

Jesus told me the best thing I could do to maintain God’s miracle was forgive the Roman soldiers. It couldn’t be a cheap forgiveness. I had to walk into the memories in God’s presence time and again. I had to know exactly what needed forgiving, and I had to pray for insight each time I walked with God into my memories. God would reward me with insights. I had to understand my own part in the perpetration of the abuse. Jesus told me to work for compassion for my enemies. “Pray to forgive, but don’t rush yourself. One day you will know—not that forgiving them absolves them of responsibility for their actions—but that it is time to lay down your burden of anger and resentment. From the bottom of your heart, pray to let the burden go.”

Jesus promised me that when I let go my hatred of the enemy, God would reward me with forgiveness of myself. Like rain on a parched garden, my burden of shame would someday produce an abundance of fruit: love, peace, truth, wisdom—and compassion for self and others. After the long night of misery, Joy will come in the morning. It wouldn’t be that the memories go away entirely, but despair would betransformed into joy like a fountain.

That first healing made me love Jesus. All my healings in the years since make me love him more and more. The last gift Jesus gave me was you, my Gadarene Friends. Jesus asked me to love you into wholeness, teach you what Jesus taught me, lift you up with the courage, faith, hope, and ways to love self and others that Jesus first gave me. Jesus healed me, not once but many, many times, and I love Jesus. My love for him washes over me and flows out into love for you. Serving and loving you is my meaning now—you, and Jesus. My cup runneth over.

Blessings upon you,

God-Never-Gives-Up-On-Me, Formerly known as Legion