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Moving Away From Religious Dissociation And Towards Wholeness. The August Beagle.

‘Jesus wept’ - John 11:35

“What is it about tears that should be so terrifying? the touch of God is marked by tears...deep, soul-shaking tears, weeping...it comes when that last barrier is down and you surrender yourself to health and wholeness” ― David Wilkerson, The Cross and the Switchblade

Hello dear ones, I have the ‘writing’ sign up on my door, iced decaf coffee to the side and the sun at my back as it gently falls through the studio window. All is calm. I’m anticipating this quiet moment with you as we exchange hearts and ramble through intrigues and beauty together.

I managed a bumper crop of flowers from the garden last week but the weather has been so very wet and windy, I’ve lost a few through rotted stems.

Apparently I’m a Hurkle-Durkler. To hurdle-durkle means to lounge in bed long after it’s time to get up. It’s a 200 year old Scottish term. I do have Scottish blood in me so I guess that makes sense.

Are you a paid subscriber? I shared some beautiful Snaps From Home last week of my visit to Polesden Lacey, I’ll have more next week from a trip to the Claydon Estate in Buckinghamshire. I’ve not seen such impressive high ceilings. It was also the home of Florence Nightingale’s sister Parthenope (some names need reviving). Florence lived here a few months every year for much of her life. But more on that next week.

I’m gradually getting my portrait and event photography back in business after a seven year period. I had to give it up in 2015/16 when my hubby was very ill for a prolonged spell. If you’ve tracked with me a while you’ll know I’ve been at a crossroads as to which direction to take following Home Ed retirement, Covid and leaving church leadership in Aug 2019. Everything that required my attention came together, or rather an end, all at the same time.

This period of transition has been akin to (use your imagination with my astrophysics here) the Big Bang but in reverse; streams of activity bursting into each other followed by a great nothing. As I’ve shared before, this newness, this second adolescence can feel daunting, cow-at-a-new-gate stuff. There can be many paths which present themselves and part of the trick in moving forward is a willingness to remain open while also knowing how to say no to the right opportunities.

I’ve been experimenting with some Ai presets for Adobe Lightroom this month. Ai technology doesn’t remove me from the creative process but reduces time consuming steps especially in large portrait shots such as whitening a dozen smiles, brightening 24 eyes, lifting shadows, defining eyebrows. These presets detect the subject for me and offer me a choice of effects, such as whether to play to light skin or dark hair, blue eyes or pale lips. Looking ahead I think this can save me a tonne of time.

Left: Unedited, RAW out of camera. Right: Using Ai presets and final edits by me.

 

Did you know I link every book, film, recipe etc in the Beagle? Where you see words highlighted, simply click the link.

 

Still life

Roses In A Blue Vase

I wish you could experience the lemon and citrus burst fragrance of these beauties. I played around with a composite background using an oil painting by Frederick Childe Hassam called The Rose Garden. I managed to get my backdrops up this week so was able to use the grey which allows me to lay composite layers on easily in Photoshop when editing.


I do love a grand arrangement but also love the simpler compositions such as this.


Still Life

Yellow Rose And Sweet Peas


Another clean arrangement with a clear focus. I love the manifold petal structure, the gradient tones and lip curl of the petal edges.


“Was there to be some healing after all? Was healing possible when grave damage had been done? Was wholeness possible when one had been horribly maimed.” ― Mary Balogh, Simply Love

Jesus Showed Us How To Be Fully Human:

Moving Away From Dissociation And Towards Wholeness.

*Caveat* When referring to ‘religion’ I’m referencing a cultish environment with narcissistic leadership. An organisation that presents itself as ‘Christian’ or within the context of being a ‘church’ yet deviates from the teachings of Jesus as shown in false doctrines, coersive behaviour and exploitative treatment of others. It was a ragingly hot summer day in Melbourne and the converted factory space our church had moved into was like a tin furnace. The clock had barely slipped into 10am and we were already sweating bullets. The praise and worship team fired up the stage urging us to fully participate (standing motionless was very suspect unless you had the countenance of one rapt in a heavenly vision).


We were hard into the third fast song, the drummer pounded against the gates of hell with each cymbal crash. There followed a loud thud and the walloping drum beat was silent. Those of us in the front row with eyes open witnessed one very red, bald headed forty-something, slumped across the drum kit.


Eyes nervously darted back and forth from leader to pastor, singers to other musicians, what to do, what was happening? Was he having a holy moment, had God gotten a hold of his rhythm sticks or, was he in fact . . . dead?


My closest friend was leading the worship at the time, her lips sang out, “Shout to the Lord”, but her head was screaming, “Call an ambulance!”


She was caught in a moment of cognitive dissonance.


I still struggle to find the words or psychological unpacking of what transpired in the following thirty minutes or so.


The lead pastor motioned rigorously to keep playing. A couple of ushers scuttled along the back wall to the collapsed man. He was moved to the floor as ‘I feel the Spirit move’ rang out in renewed force, some in faith, most in fear.


Genuinely, no one knew what to do. The church’s brand of theology had taught the common sense out of most of us, their leadership style beaten us into quiet submission and buckets of self-doubt. Their doctrine didn't allow for sickness, weakness, negativity or even death. These were an embarrassment, faith failures.

As we continued as if nothing untoward had happened the back door to the stage opened. Blistering sunlight burst its way into the darkened auditorium and with it a pair of paramedics armed with a stretcher. After some checks and removal of the ‘modesty blanket’ they carried him out through the same small back door and into the ambulance.


A leader took to the mic, calmed the congregation and encouraged us all to war in tongues.

Listening to my worship leader friend later that day she shared how bad she’d felt having to keep going, it went against her every instinct. She felt guilty for appearing not to care, ashamed for not stopping and going against the leader. She’d felt so weak and powerless.


This is what they had created in us. When any religion requires compliance it produces an internal disconnect, a dissociation of sorts.


What is dissociation?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), dissociation is generally defined as a disruption or discontinuity in:

  • consciousness

  • identity

  • memory

  • perception

  • emotion

  • motor control

  • behavior

According to mind.org.uk ‘Some people may dissociate as part of certain cultural or religious practices.’

A false toxic religion survives on compliance. A false toxic religion promotes an internal disconnect, severing the natural bond with our instincts, feelings and intuition.


If you haven’t seen the Duggar documentary Shiny Happy People this gives you a glimpse into the extremes. Sadly these kinds of radical teachings or diluted aspects of them have seeped even into other mainstream denominations.


We were in a Word of Faith ‘church’. As new believers we thought all churches were the same. We were swept away by the energy, the promises, the dynamic leadership in their Hugo Boss suits. This picture of positive, flourishing, enigmatic faith was in stark contrast to the stuffy, outdated preconceived idea we’d had before going.


We were love bombed, welcomed and celebrated and soon put into leadership.


Very early on we’d had some misgivings but they’d been brushed aside by leadership. We “didn't understand the workings of the Holy Spirit”. We were too green to comprehend how God “moved and manifested”.


So we learned to be quiet.


Abuse and exploitation thrive in a controlled environment where we cease to question and push back, when we distrust ourselves and dismiss our God-given alarm system as giving faulty data.

The biggest factors that caused my inner guidance system to fail:

  1. Self-doubt caused by a knowledge gap.

“What do I know, I’m just a __________”

  1. Other people’s behaviour or opinions.

Group think - ‘monkey see monkey do’.

  1. Subtle, skilful and systematic manipulation used against us by people in positions of authority who abused our trust.

I didn’t rush the stage that day and call an end to the farce because I didn't feel like the ‘expert’ in the room. The leaders were the ones calling the shots, it wasn't my place to determine what was happening.

I also didn’t spring to action because no one else did.

Influences on my ability to trust myself:

  1. Experts.

  2. The group.

  3. Insecurity.

Another factor which needs noting is that of learned acquiescence: Passive assent or agreement without protest.


In the cultish environment you learn that speaking up isn’t encouraged. At best it might be met with condescension, at worst either demonisation or ostracisation.

What happened that day was just one incident amongst countless others that highlight the disempowered state religious fundamentalism can bring you into.


I’ve looked back many times and pondered how we got into that situation. There had been red flags from the outset. What was it that drew us in despite the warnings? Were we predisposed to exploitation due to personality, personal trauma in our backstory, or were we simply young and naive?


Why did we ignore the inner guidance and stay despite that gut feeling?


I think every person caught in a toxic relationship has asked the same questions. I feel they’re important, but what’s also vital is how we move forward.


What have I learned from this? How can I move forward in new trust yet with discernment? How do I learn or relearn, to trust myself?


Quite serendipitously I was on my monthly mentorship call this week with Paul Scanlon, who shared about Intuition. At the end of the session he shared these helpful tips towards regaining self-trust and that of the Spirit’s guidance. Depending on your faith journey you can call it intuition or the Holy Spirit.

Can you remember the last time you had that feeling? Maybe you knew not to trust the guy being over friendly, or the sound coming from the washer. Maybe the doctor said one thing but you just knew in your heart it was something else. Did you hear a frightening story but felt it was of no consequence, or maybe your friend said one thing to your face but the uneasiness in the pit of your stomach told you otherwise? Possibly on impulse you took a different way to work and discovered later there’d been an incident on your usual route. Or maybe you felt an inner nudge to go talk to that person and from it a friendship grew or a business connection made.


That feeling is what we need to reconnect to. Call is your spidey sense.


I’m no mental health expert, I‘ve no background or formal training in psychology but this has been my experience. I’m curious to keep unpicking how the wrong kind of religious influence can negatively affect my soul, my sense of self and personal agency, but most importantly my relationship with God and my ability to trust the Spirit.


Jesus shows us how to be fully human. He did not suppress his emotions or dance to the tune of other’s wishes. He stood by Truth and spoke as he felt. He wept, he laughed, he was tired, he was thirsty and hungry. He had compassion, he carried sorrow, he was burdened by grief. He was moved with anger. He suffered. Jesus scorned and had joy. Jesus napped. Jesus needed space from people. He used harsh words with the religious elite. Jesus loved. He did not deny his humanity but rather embodied it fully. Jesus did not deny his emotions but felt them fully, purely.


Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour John 4:6 They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. Psalm 69:21 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” John 11:33–36 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the Scripture), “I thirst.” John 19:28 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full,” John 15:11 For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame . . . Heb 12:2 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Matt 23:23 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Isa 53:3a

Imagine if Jesus had been led by the will of other men rather than the will of the Father? Imagine if he’d never been moved with compassion, shed a tear for us, steered clear of the diseased and forgotten. Imagine if ego had conquered intuition and he’d succumbed to the temptations in the wilderness.


Of course I’m exercising great imagination here as none of those things were ever going to happen. But how often do we brush aside our gut feeling and push down the prompting to do something counter to popular belief? How often do we fail to allow God to fill us and give ourselves over to a wholeness in our humanity and thus actually walk in the Spirit?


I believe some of you reading today already know to do something. You already have a prompting in you.

So what happened to the drummer?


About twenty minutes later he strode back into the service, red faced, beads of sweat running down his head. The ripples of astonishment moved across the crowd. We jumped to our feet, clapped, cheered, cried. He pumped his fists like a rockstar and someone got him onto the mic. By his account he’d revived not far from the venue and had sprung himself from the ambulance before running back to the church. It was a miracle! The band struck up an appropriately energetic song, the people praised, prayed and cried some more. There were no thoughts of his possibly having heat exhaustion or the lack of air-conditioning in this Australian tin shed. We’d never put the dots together that a little hydration and a cool environment had soon put him back to rights. If we did, we pushed that reasoning aside. Who needs reason when a miracle has occured. And if there was a reason no one dared utter it.


I know there are beautiful, Jesus-centred faith communities out there. Are you a part of one? Somewhere you feel known and loved, somewhere you serve, where you’re challenged in your spirit, where there is an atmosphere of grace? I’m still looking for that safe haven, I’ve got my antenna up and I’m open to it.

If you have any good resource recommendations for re-entering a healthy faith community and what that looks like drop me a line, I’d love to hear about it.


Further links for consideration on spiritual healing:

 
“True belonging and wholeness are found in how we relate to one another and our neighbour in love.” Rohadi Nagassar, When We Belong
 

Poetry (a blessing)


IN THE LEAVING

A Blessing


In the leaving, in the letting go, let there be this to hold onto at the last:

the enduring of love, the persisting of hope, the remembering of joy,

the offering of gratitude, the receiving of grace, the blessing of peace.


-Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

 

Listening to