The Ugly Suffering of Christina the Astonishing

I just read an incredible article by Kristin Valdez Quade about Christina the Astonishing: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/31/christina-the-astonishing-1150-1224

I have bipolar depression and found Christina’s name in an internet search for patron saints of mental illness.  I’m not exactly sure why we call them patron saints “of” mental illness.  I’m not sure it even matters, and Christina is not a saint anyway.  Not really.  She was never canonized and I’m pretty sure her cause isn’t up for consideration by the Vatican.

She was more considered a holy woman.  She could smell the sin on people and tended to avoid them.  Aggressively.  She is not an easy person to get behind or to have fuzzy feelings for, which Quade’s New Yorker piece highlights well.

I’ve spent much of my time studying what makes the supernatural world tick, and how it interacts with this world.  Why exactly do people get possessed?  What does it look like?  Do we even recognize it when it happens?  More often, people suffer from demon “oppression,” and that is certainly not easy to recognize.

It occurred to me that Christina the Astonishing was oppressed or possessed by a demon or demons.  But the part that really intrigues me is that the story goes that when she died that first time, she was given the choice by God to come back to earth to offer up her earthly suffering for the souls in purgatory.  She took God up on that offer.

She did suffer in her life.  But it was an ugly suffering.  She usually attacked the people who tried to help her, throwing their food offerings back at them, yelling their sins at them.  Demons can cause some nasty suffering.  It’s pretty characteristic, in fact.  They are mean and cause their victims to last out at the people around them.  Kind of like Christina did.

The Catholic Church has the idea of redemptive suffering.  That your suffering can be offered up to help others.  I’m fascinated by the idea that this suffering could possibly be demonic in nature.

What about you, gentle readers?  Have you ever suffered something that had a demonic edge to it?  If you’re Catholic, did you offer your suffering up as a sacrifice?  The answer to both of those questions for me is “yes.”

 

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Relaunch into The Inbetween

 

I’m relaunching this blog.  I’m relaunching myself.  I don’t live in Kansas anymore.  My little dog doesn’t either.

No, now I live out in “the cut” in western North Carolina.  I’ve never lived outside a city before.  It’s good though because I’ve always taken comfort in nature, and it’s oozing all over the place here.  I kind of feel like Yoda on Dagobah.  I live on a small lake.  A rivulet runs along the edge of the property into the lake.  AND I have a sink hole up near the road.  Except it may be a vernal pool, because I don’t remember it being there in the winter.  But if it’s a vernal pool, it has incredible staying power as we are on the declining side of summer and the pool is still kind of damp.

I’m betwixt and between right now.  I always have been, so that is really saying something.  I don’t know where this blog is going.  I don’t know where I’m going.  I mean, I’m getting a divorce.  But since I’m Catholic, what does that even mean?  Again, I don’t know.

Nature, The Universe, and God/Everything

I remember the day things started changing for me. I was in an Alanon meeting (a support program for friends and family of alcholics). I had been attending these meetings for some time without much effect, it seemed to me. I was still miserable, and I didn’t really understand why.

Anyway, that day in the group someone said something like, “You know, belief in a Higher Power is really the cornerstone of this program. You can’t really get anywhere without it.”

My heart dropped.  I had become an atheist in college and was still one in graduate school, which is where I was at the time. I knew I was supposed to have a Higher Power, but to be honest, I had been trying to work The Steps (they have those in Alanon, too) without it. Or sometimes I would say my Higher Power was Nature or The Universe or something.

It wasn’t working for me though.  “Nature” can actually be pretty cruel.  Ever see Wild Kingdom? They always show some poor gazelle being eaten by a lion or some poor wildebeest being eaten by a crocodile. And let’s be honest, life for humans can also be short and brutish even without being eaten by a river hippo.

And what about “The Universe?” That was too nebulous and cold. I mean, what did the universe care about me anyway? It didn’t seem to.

I knew deep down that I had no real Higher Power. Nope, just ol’ little me, all on my own.  And it wasn’t working out.

Then came the day that woman said that about absolutely needing a Higher Power. My stomach twisted in knots, and I made my way home in a daze. When I got out of the car, I looked around my front yard with its green grass and pink four o’ clocks spilling out of the garden. It was a beautiful, hopeful day, and I suddenly found myself praying. “God, if You’re there, I need to know the truth. If You’re there, please lead me to the truth.”

For the second time in my life I heard a voice in my head say something very clearly: “Keep a journal.” And I knew what the voice meant. I was to keep a journal of all the ways God worked in my life.

You might ask, “How does that work? You didn’t even believe in God. How could you record the ways He was working in your life?” Good question. But it DID work. First, I started keeping notes about “coincidences” that occured. After that, I kept notes about answered prayers, mine and other people’s.

Amazing things started happening. The more I wrote these things down, the more they happened. It was truly incredible. I began to believe in prayer! In fact, I thought it was the new superpower in the universe!

In those early days when I was keeping the journal, small miracles started happening to me all the freaking time. And I started noticing them happening to others. Although frequently these other people didn’t recognize them as such. “Wow, what a coincidence,” they would say. Or, “that sure was lucky.”

But I started not to believe in coincidence and happenstance.  I mean, what was up with that oddly reassuring voice that told me to keep a journal?  And what about all this answered prayer I was recording?  My beliefs shifted to a living God, one who cared about me and about everyone.

As I said, that was when things started changing for me.  If you have a loved one who has or if you yourself have big doubts in God, try asking him to show you what you need to see in order to find the truth.  But remember that this is a powerful prayer.  My life changed radically after that.  And it wasn’t butterflies and smiley faces all the time.  I went through some huge changes and, let’s be honest, change hurts.  It was so worth it, though, and I would never consider going  back.

What about you?  Do you feel you are on a spiritual journey?  What are some things that have helped you along?

A Voice of One Calling in the Wilderness

As I was doing morning prayer today, a thought occurred to me.  I was saying the Canticle of Zechariah, which can be found in Luke 1:68-79.

Zechariah is the father of John the Baptist.  He was struck mute (made speechless) by an angel of the Lord (Gabriel) for doubting and basically asking for a sign or confirmation that what the angel told him was true.  The angel had told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would bear a child in her old age and the child would be special and be named John.  Since he and Elizabeth had not had any children thus far, Zechariah was doubtful.

He remained mute throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and was only allowed to speak after he wrote, in obedience to the angel’s words, “His name is John.”  After that, he began to speak, and filled with the holy spirit, to prophesy.  The words that he spoke are known as the Canticle of Zechariah, and are recited every morning by those who say the Liturgy of the Hours.

One of the sentences that he said goes like this:  “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.”  The child spoken to in this passage is his newborn son John, later to be known as John the Baptist.

But as I was reading this today I thought, I wonder if this passage doesn’t just apply to John the Baptist.  Maybe it applies to me, too.

Now, don’t think I’m some megalomaniac that sees herself as “the prophet of the Most High.”  No, I’m thinking mostly of the part that talks about giving people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.  I think we are all called to do that.  I mean, isn’t that the Good News itself?

I don’t know if we are in the end times or not.  But sooner or later Jesus will be coming again, and it is probably our job to make sure that people are ready.  Jesus will be the one to save everyone, but we can make His path easy and straight by preparing people, by telling them that Jesus is the one that can and will forgive their sins.

I find this message very comforting.  My sins will be forgiven, and thereby my soul will be saved.  We can argue, if we want, about whether we all need to go to Confession in order for our sins to be forgiven.  But I think we can all agree that our sins can and will be forgiven by Jesus.  That he is our Savior.

Personally, I like being reminded of this, so I go to Confession.  It is so wonderful to have someone remind me that my sins are forgiven and Jesus is saving me.  I wish I didn’t make so many mistakes and commit so many sins.  I wish I was perfect and didn’t need any more saving.  But there in the confessional, Father blesses me and reminds me that I am a precious child of God.  It makes me feel so good.  Why don’t I go to Confession every week?  I guess I just get too caught up in the world.

Hey, it is 3:30 pm on a Saturday right now!  I think I know where I’m heading…

Hey Jori, it’s Me, God

I always worry that I have an addictive personality.  Alcoholism runs in my biological and adoptive families, so I have a legit reason to worry.  Not to mention, I went through a serious drinking streak in college.

Anyway, the other day I was doing Evening Prayer, which is said around the time of sunset (getting earlier and earlier!), and I started craving brandy.  I mean, really craving it.  I have a big bottle of brandy with plenty left in it, and I suddenly stopped saying my prayers and was mentally going through my refrigerator and cabinets looking for something to which to add the brandy.  (Man, just talking about it now is making my mouth water.)

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(This is not a picture of MY brandy bottle, needless to say.  My brandy is cheap and run of the mill.  This picture is merely to make you wish you had some brandy right now, so you can understand where I’m coming from.)

I said to myself:  “Maybe I could add it to some tea and lemon, make a hot toddy.”  “Do we have any eggnog left?”  “What other holiday drinks are made with brandy?  Time to pull out the Bittman!”  (“The Bittman” is how my friends reference the cookbook “How To Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman.  They are academicians and complete nerds.)

But then I kind of backtracked and began to wonder if my whole quest for brandy drinks was good and proper.  I mean, it was only 4:30 pm. after all.  Plus, what if I do have an addictive personality and this leads me down a path to a binge?  Moreover, here I am doing Evening Prayer, and I’m thinking about brandy instead of thinking about God??

You see, I was raised Protestant, but converted to Catholicism in 2008.  And growing up in the South, I was surrounded by Baptists, even though I happened to be Methodist.  The Baptist prohibition against drinking sunk in kind of deep.  So even though I do drink alcohol, I feel guilty and conflicted when I do.

Not knowing what to do, I turned to God for an answer.  I sent out a silent plea for a response and waited.

Silence in my soul.  No response.

I sighed and decided that I should just finish Evening Prayer and decide later about the whole brandy thing.  So I found the last sentence I had read, and moved on.  The very next sentence said this:

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The Very. Next. Sentence.

It is from I Peter 5:8, and the whole thing goes like this: “Stay sober and alert.  Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

It was so striking that it put a bit of fear in me.  So I’ve purposed to stay sober and keep alert.  Not that I was a really big drinker before.  Sure I had that little incident when the Royals were winning, but now I’m on the straight and narrow!

I probably won’t be a teetotaler in the future; I don’t think that alcohol is evil.  But I do think my days of drinking to excess are officially over.

Deathbed Litmus Test

I am most interested in the Really Big Questions.  Aren’t you?  I mean, do you ever wonder what you will think about on your deathbed?  That is, if you are lucky enough to have one and don’t just get hit by an out-of-control metro bus?  I think about this often.  The deathbed, not the bus.  Hopefully I’ve got my priorities straight on that one.

*pauses to think about her priorities*

Anyway, I often ask myself when confronted with an issue, “Will this be something I care about when I’m on my deathbed?”  You know what?  The answer is always “No.”  I was wondering why that was, and I think it is because in the course of everyday life, things come up that are often trivial.  They seem important.  But as my husband’s shrink asks, “Are they really important?  Or are they just urgent?”

Almost always the thing that is staring me in the face is screaming, “I’m important, damn it!”  But upon reflection, I realize that it is simply “pressing.”  That is a good word.  Everyday life presses in on me.  It wants me to scramble to accommodate it.

On the other hand, the Really Important Things, the things that I will indeed care about on my deathbed, rarely rear their heads in such an showy fashion.  They like to hide.   And then one day, when giving something the Deathbed Litmus Test, I start to wonder “Well then, what WILL I care about?”

I’m only 43 years old, and yet I can’t sift through everything that has happened to me.  It’s too much.   However, I think I can start to understand the important things when I think back to other people that I know that have passed away.  What did they talk about on their deathbeds?  What did the people around them talk about at that time?  See, this parting of the veil allows all the trivialities to slip away.  The eyes of the dying open onto a different place.   Everyone involved seems to understand at that point what is important.

Unless you can get stuck with a smartass like my husband in the room.   He (and his brothers, too – y’all admit it, now ) asked his dad what the winning lottery numbers were.

I guess they figured that since he was in between the worlds, he would have some kind of supernatural knowledge, and hey, why not use that?

You know what dad said?  This was the day before he died, and he was in and out of consciousness, but he clearly said, “6,2,6,2…”  He kind of trailed off and was smiling  broadly to himself.  We were all kind of surprised.  What in the world just happened?  Were these really the lottery numbers?

It turns out that indeed they were.  For him at least.  They  were the month, day, and year of his wedding.