It only takes one mistake to mess up at least a day...often longer. I once spent about eighteen months trying to get back on balance after making an unwise decision. If we spend much time adding up the mistakes and missteps, we can become truly depressed. On the other hand, if we continually deny the fact that we have, or do, make mistakes, we end up living a deception that can cripple our growth...both psychologically and spiritually.
Recently, I spent a late morning/early afternoon watching the movie, "12 Years a Slave." It took me a few weeks to get to an emotional place to watch that movie. Human enslavement is the ugliest manifestation of hate and prejudice I can imagine...except for outright genocide. The further we get from the actual historical reality that the institution of slavery was a huge part of this culture's history, the more inclined we are to try to make it an historical footnote or something less than the horrible institution it was...especially as it was practiced on many southern plantations. This particular movie did not back away from the shocking and very painful realities of life as a plantation slave in the pre-Civil War south. I don't close my eyes often during a movie, but, when I do, it is because the scene is too gruesome to endure more than a few seconds.
"12 Years a Slave" is a must see movie, in my book. It grounds us in the truth of how we can abuse religion, people and circumstances to the point that it becomes a "new truth." I spent the afternoon...after seeing the movie...trying to piece together how I would survive twelve years being ripped from my family and thrown into a life-situation so harsh and hateful that dying would be preferable. To do this exercise, I had to "unwrite" the history we have written to justify this part of our nation's journey. I began writing it (in my mind) from the standpoint of one who actually lived it. It may be the hardest work I have ever done, and it took me several days to recover my balance, when I had completed that internal journey.
Why would I do such a thing? I have watched three "big screen" movies in the past month: "August: Osage County," "12 Years a Slave," and "Monuments Men." Each one of them explores deception and twisted truth: in a dysfunctional family, through institutional slavery, and through political tyranny (Nazism). I think I needed to do this, because I have found it all too easy to avoid the real truth by calling my scripted and culturally implanted morays and folkways "the truth." This isn't anyone's fault. My parents raised me with the best truth that they knew, but the truth with which we usually work is the product of our familial, cultural and educational conditioning. Most of our prejudices are ways of coping with our fears and low self-esteem. We often really do believe that we will feel better about ourselves, if we can somehow show that others are worse. It's a fairly common, but nonetheless insidious, methodology...and we really don't consciously know we are doing it.
The way we Christians often deal with all this is to find places in the Bible that justify our actions (theologians call this "proof texting"). Biblical literature is grounded in journeys into the deepest places of human experience; the encounter with God; struggle with ego and True Self; and the discovery of the fullness of life (also known as Salvation History....the Healing Journey, or Journey into Wholeness). However, one can get stuck in a place where our darkness gets confused with the light of truth. It is in such a place that we project our fear and self-hatred to justify actions that are not those of a loving, transforming God. This is explored at an uncomfortable level in "12 Years a Slave."
It is easy, in retrospect, to gather all of our current brokenness and project it backward upon history...sometimes rewriting the script to make it more "palatable." The near destruction of a people...the mass murder of 6 million Jews and the desecration of their culture...can seem inconceivable and leave us horrified at how humans could do this to other humans. We cringe at the enslavement of, and denigration of humans different in some way from ourselves...creating, in essence, a sub-human judgment on an entire ethnic culture. Yet, to actually put one's self in that place and possibility (of being the one who is enslaved or about to be killed in a death camp) can shatter the myth of being "saner" or "above" such possibilities.
This is going to be hard for me.
I am no stranger to self-hatred. I am no stranger to deep, internal fear: fear of failure, fear of loss, and the deep and dark self-judgment that can erupt into senseless rage...a projection of self-hatred onto those most loved. This started (it has become clear through years of therapy and spiritual direction) when I was about 12 years old. I didn't make that age number up. I now remember the day I awoke and, for whatever reason, found myself deeply worried. That anxiety gnawed at me and erupted into a fear that I had never known. As quickly as it emerged, it seemed to disappear...about eight or so months after it began. I settled into life, but ignored this seething fear deep within. I did not face it again...in its raw form... until almost 44 years later. By that time, I had done a significant amount of damage. During those years, a small thing would set off a charge way larger than the situation warranted. Words and actions would erupt that I tried desperately to "reel in" as they were escaping and then feel an almost instant, deep remorse.
I could justify this via the ego. I was a parish priest who "specialized" in working with parishes that had undergone experiences of deep conflict and turmoil. My work was high pressure. The hours and days were long. I would become exhausted. I would get anxious about failing. In short, I did not take very good care of myself. In the early days of therapy and spiritual direction, this was a handy excuse...and it was true. BUT, it could not justify losing control. I came to realize that seeking justification for actions originating from personal brokenness is, in true fact, a kind of "proof texting."
In 2004, I met a retired Episcopal Priest who is also a trained Jungian analyst. I also met a psychotherapist who was truly insightful. These two persons embarked with me on a healing journey that continues to this day (even though, since our move, I no longer see one or often talk to the other).
In 2007, I cried for a vision on an isolated hill in the center of the Black Hills, as Lakota mentors prayed for me. I cannot describe that four day process other than to say that what was deep inside was opened to the light.
In 2009, I spent three days with a group of men who supported me on a journey of self confrontation. To this day, I have no memory of how I moved through what can best be described as a rite. Like Jacob, I wrestled with my deepest self and, for the first time found the part of me known to God. It was a rebirth.
In 2012, I surrendered. That surrender of Ego that carries the filters through which we believe we see truth. It is that which St. Paul exclaims, "We see now through a glass darkly...then face-to-face..." The light of day dawned.
In the year 2013 and continuing now, the images of those moments of rage and the "vomiting" of that which I had consigned to the depths of my being, come to me in my dreams and pass in front of me in my contemplative prayer time. It is a reminder of the frailty of human psyche and the insidious power of projection...both inward and outward. I cannot undo what I have done; and in the moments where Ego gets a voice, I either wish I could have a "do over" or see myself as worthless. I let these images speak, and acknowledge their reality. In doing so...by naming them in that moment...they have no power. There is no darkness. It is, I think, what Jung meant by "making friends with your shadow."
Am I healed? Being healed is not like that...a finality. Life is a process. My internal enslavement is over. I seem to be in the 13th year. I want to go home...to the ones I love the most. Like Solomon Northrup, I have been on a difficult journey. I want to embrace what is now and what is to come.
Again, St. Paul speaks Truth. What we think wise in this world is foolishness to God. In the light of Truth, I can see the foolishness more clearly and step away more quickly. I am still me...always will be; but there is a truer me..the True Self...that is having ascendancy. The last element of the sacrament of confession is amendment of life. That is where I find myself. The Bible was never a finished product. It is still being written. The Spirit still broods over creation...and there is healing in Spirit's Wings.
Love and Blessings!