Nyssa's Hobbit Hole

Category: existential crisis (page 1 of 3)

Repost from 2012: The Fear of Death

As I noted and explained in my original “Fighting the Darkness” post, this whole ordeal has put my faith into a terrible period of testing and doubt.

I had seen so many signs that God wanted me to be friends with Richard, that God had brought us together so Richard could lead me into Orthodoxy and I could help his family.

But as I’ve already noted, I discovered that apparently God had brought me into friendship with a dangerous, violent narcissist and his malignant narcissist/borderline personality disordered wife.

I start thinking, “What if it’s all a lie and all religion is false and everyone who dies goes into nothingness, goes into darkness, vanishes forever?”  I don’t want to vanish forever.  I want my consciousness to live on.

Atheists don’t seem to realize that their message of “no Hell, no Heaven, this is all we get” is not the message of happiness and freedom they think it is.  They don’t seem to understand why more people don’t pound down their door wanting this.

Even John Lennon didn’t get it, writing those lines in “Imagine”–imagine there’s no Heaven above us, no Hell below us–as if it would somehow free the human race from its woes.

On the contrary, such a message brings horror and fear of death to most.  We want to leave this place and go to a better one, with no sickness or woe, where justice is meted out for the people who hurt others without regret and without punishment.

Where a poor little child whose last moments were of terror, molestation and murder, finds herself in a land of bliss, warmth, love and comfort.

Where we will once again see the smile of that long-lost mother, son, husband, friend, and not have them lost to us forever.

I want to live, I want to see what happens after I leave this earth.  I don’t want to lose myself forever.  I don’t want my consciousness to vanish into nothingness.  I don’t want to fall asleep and never wake up, in a place where even dreams cease.

I don’t want my dreams and the stories I played out in my childhood, to be lost forever.

This morning I had another dream of death, of terror at the thought of going into darkness forever.  I have these now and then.  One vivid dream took place at a cemetery during a funeral.

I am comforted by the teaching of classical churches that this is not a sin, that it doesn’t mean I lose my salvation, that it’s not even a sign of weakness.

On the contrary, I was told it’s a sign of a mature faith, as long as you keep in the church, keep doing the things you’re supposed to do.

Mother Theresa went through this for most of her life, as has been documented.  Other saints of the church have, as well.

I was even told that many priests have moments of wondering as they go through the service, “Is this all for nothing?”  In fact, it has a name: The Long Dark Night of the Soul.

But there are churches which would drive you further into spiritual despair by telling you that you’re gravely sinning by questioning, by doubting.  It’s yet another reason to run from those churches and into the arms of Orthodoxy.

 

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Repost: The long, dark night of my soul as I doubt God exists–because my spiritual mentor betrayed me

I wrote the following way back in 2011 as part of a story of narcissistic abuse.  It was on my old HTML website, though I don’t recall if the story was on- or offline at the time.  (I kept it hidden from the public for a long time as I worked on it.)  After I was put through long-term emotional abuse and mind-twisting by a narcissistic couple, I desperately needed to write it all down while I still remembered it, as a way to vent, make sense of it, and begin to heal.

The following was written a few months after my blog post Fighting the Darkness.  It’s a difficult time to revisit, but I have been assured that my blogging about this has value to others.  For example, most recently, from the blogger over at Jesus Without Baggage:

Nyssa, your post is heart-wrenching. I am so sorry for the pain you endured, but I know you are somewhat recovered from it. You said: “I was plunged into spiritual darkness and doubt.”  I really appreciate that you now do a great service to others in exposing and counseling regarding abuse from the narcissism you encountered….I hope more people check out your blog. —comment here

Comments like this help a lot on days when I wonder if I should just remove it all, if it’s just too embarrassing to admit that I’ve been manipulated by narcissists not just once, but several times in my life.  But then I’m reminded that others go through this as well and may need to read what I’ve written.

The following was written during the period of darkness, especially spiritual darkness caused by doubt.  Of course, atheists might say that’s just the way to enlightenment.  I still don’t know who’s right, since, despite all claims to the contrary, nobody really knows one way or the other.  Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night frightened that all that awaits me is oblivion.

But the experience that drove me into the darkness of 2011–that has, thank God, passed into the past.  It no longer burdens my thoughts, weighing down my heart with rage and grief.  I haven’t so much as seen these people on the street in a few years, even though they still live in my town.  Well, I see them in my blog stats.  I don’t see them at church, even though their church merged with mine, so I figure they must have found somewhere else, or stopped going.

But no, I don’t want to see them now, any more than I did back then.

Anyway, enough of the preamble.  Now for the repost:


From April 2011, The long, dark night of my soul as I doubt God exists–because my spiritual mentor betrayed me:

I have no interest whatsoever in reconciling with Tracy and don’t really care anymore what she thinks of me, because I consider her an abuser and a bully and the most horrid person I’ve ever known, and I believe she’s a false Christian.

As for Richard, this person I had dearly loved like a brother, respected, trusted and looked up to, this person I saw as a man of God, this person whom I saw as my spiritual mentor and guide, this person I supported emotionally through all his troubles while he lived with us, the person I told all my secrets to, has betrayed me and let me be verbally/emotionally torn apart like a wild animal.

Because of his connection to my spiritual journey, it’s been a struggle not to abandon all the things in Orthodoxy (or Christianity) that I associated in any way with Richard.

Because our friendship and his living here had seemed to be a direct and obvious answer to prayer, my faith in God has been damaged so much that I often doubt God even exists.

Because why would God answer my prayer with a curse, with an angel of light that turned out to be the devil?  The devil couldn’t have heard my prayer, because it was said to God by my mind, not by my mouth.

Two options rise up, both too frightening and repugnant to accept: that either

1) God did answer my prayer with a curse, or

2) God does not exist and it was all chance.

I keep hoping that one day a third option will make itself clear, but for now, I understand how even Mother Theresa could have gone through the dark night of the soul.

I knew the devil would try to get me out of Orthodoxy if I converted, as fellow converts speak of such things online, and he’d already been throwing various things at me, especially during Lenten periods.

But I had no idea he would do something like this that could sear me to my soul with a flaming sword, rip me away from the one whom I honored as the person who led me to the truth, damage me so much.

I had no idea that the person I honored as a man of God, had such crumbling feet of clay, would lead me to the truth and then be the means for shattering my faith.

I can only hope the following is true, taken from an earlier, more extensive version of the above Wikipedia link for “dark night of the soul“:

Rather than resulting in permanent devastation, the dark night is regarded by mystics and others as a blessing in disguise, whereby the individual is stripped (in the dark night of the senses) of the spiritual ecstasy associated with acts of virtue.

Although the individual may for a time seem to outwardly decline in his or her practices of virtue, in reality he becomes more virtuous, as she is being virtuous less for the spiritual rewards (ecstasies in the cases of the first night) obtained and more out of a true love for God.

It is this purgatory, a purgation of the soul, that brings purity and union with God.

From A Saint’s Dark Night by James Martin:

Even the most sophisticated believers sometimes believe that the saints enjoyed a stress-free spiritual life–suffering little personal doubt. For many saints this is accurate:

St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century author of “An Introduction to the Devout Life,” said that he never went more than 15 minutes without being aware of God’s presence. Yet the opposite experience is so common it even has a name.

St. John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, labeled it the “dark night,” the time when a person feels completely abandoned by God, and which can lead even ardent believers to doubt God’s existence.

During her final illness, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the 19th-century French Carmelite nun who is now widely revered as “The Little Flower,” faced a similar trial, which seemed to center on doubts about whether anything awaited her after death.

“If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into,” she said to the sisters in her convent.

But Mother Teresa’s “dark night” was of a different magnitude, lasting for decades. It is almost unparalleled in the lives of the saints.

 

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Just read something about being “truly Orthodox”….

A former Orthodox-convert-blogger, who was quite popular (and controversial) in Net Orthodoxy in his day, then became Catholic, is now becoming Orthodox again–and I discovered he lives near me.  And will be coming to my church.  😀

I’ve been checking out what traces are left on the Web of his old blog, to see what the controversy was in the old days.  I missed it somehow.  Either I encountered his blog many years ago and forgot about it, or he wasn’t mentioned on the Orthodox forum I spent time on, or it was during the time I dropped out from Internet Orthodoxy (after the Richard/Tracy crap soured me on Orthodoxy for a time).

I only found his newly-revived blog recently by accident, through another Orthodox blog’s post which included a link to one of his posts.  And discovered he lives very close.

Anyway, I found this comment by 123 on one of his old blog incarnations:

More practically, one hasn’t started becoming truly Orthodox until you’ve had your heart broken by the Church or someone in it, until you’ve found yourself at a a level pervasively well below what you strived for, and then you’ve stayed put for a few years.

That’s not something converts are prepared for, they aren’t prepared for the real heartbreak of conversion, of failure in the spiritual life (in oneself and others), they aren’t prepared for that ‘abandonment’ on the other side of the awe one experiences the first few years of Orthodoxy.

Yes, Orthodoxy is Pascha, joy, joy; but it’s also the Cross, it’s also pain, suffering, and all those things in the hymns and the lives of the saints we assume are far off, past, poetic hyperbole, or metaphorical.

No, Orthodoxy really the dumps, too. And then there’s also Pascha once a year. All that talk of struggle, the fact that clergy and monks are shown truly falling to their deaths from the top of the Divine Ladder, that’s really what the spiritual life is about.

It’s when you experience and know that that the converts starts shutting up, it’s then that people start assuming you’re foreign and were raised Orthodox (they assume you have an accent because you never speak, and you start looking world-weary like an Eastern European, or like someone going through the motions because it’s all you can muster, and you can’t stop doing even that because it’s simply what you are, even when you’re bad at it.)

And this gave me pause, because that’s where I’ve been for the past 4 and a half years.  Staying put in Orthodoxy even after discovering that my spiritual mentor and idol (Richard) had feet of clay, that he was an abusive narcissist and enabler of abuse.

He’s the one who broke my heart, and he (at least in name) was Orthodox.

And here I am, often going through the motions, wondering how much of it is true, yet still here.  Too stubborn to leave, even though it is common for converts to do so.  According to 123, that makes me “truly Orthodox.”

And I get to see someone who also has had my doubts and frustrations, leave and then return.

 

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Jeff Dunn’s “Playing God with Tornadoes,” and trying to hold to faith when filled with doubt

I have written in Existential Crisis and Despair: Loss of God and Friendship and Trying to explain the wreck of my faith to a worried husband, how my faith has been sorely tested, unlike ever before, in the aftermath of the loss of my “best friend”-turned-Judas.

In Jeff Dunn’s Playing God with Tornadoes, I read:

In the BBC production of Shadowlands—the story of C.S. Lewis and his wife—Lewis (known as “Jack” to his friends) is coming out of the church where his wife’s funeral had just finished. The parish priest is walking with him and says,

“Faith, Jack. It is faith that sustains us in times like these.”

“No, Harry,” says Lewis. “This is all one big mess, and that is all there is to it.”

For the people in Moore, Monday’s tornado doesn’t come with a gift-wrapped explanation. It is one big mess, and that’s all there is to it.

That is about the only way to describe things that otherwise make no sense. We seek to understand things that are incomprehensible when we really need to trust our God. For people like Piper and Robertson to try and reduce God to an explanation that will fit in a sound bite or a tweet is idiocy.

My friend Vic is no theologian. But he knows the God of life and death, and knows that Jesus, the creator of all things including tornadoes, holds all in his hands. Vic didn’t go to find an explanation; he went to find someone who needed help.

This was written about the Moore tornado and other tremendous tragedies.  You can also apply it to emotionally devastating events in your life.

I haven’t read Job since college, when I read it after breakups as well as for class.  But the lesson is the same as in the above quote: Being betrayed by my spiritual mentor, discovering his violence (also here and here) and the criminal charges against him for choking his child, is one big mess.

I just don’t understand it, how this could happen as the response to my prayer for a friend.  But I’m told to trust God anyway…..

 

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Trying to Explain the Wreck of My Faith to a Worried Husband

There is one very frustrating thing which made me glad, in the “old days,” to have Richard to talk to: Richard understood spiritual searching and questioning, while my husband seems to see every question or exploration I make into theological issues, as the sign of the End of My Faith.

For example, the questions I had about such things as Hell, who goes there, is it eternal, all led me to Orthodoxy–but along the way, he seemed to think my questions would lead me to atheism.

I held certain theological positions based on my Nazarene upbringing, which got him asking how any Christian could believe that way.

Those positions, by the way, also led me to Orthodoxy, because the search I started to show him I was not a heretic, led me to discover that many of the things my dad had taught me, were very similar to Orthodox beliefs.  (This is all related to the Harrowing of Hell and the meaning of Old Testament sacrifices, could Old Testament pagans be saved, that sort of thing.)

Ever since at least as far back as 2005, I’ve had occasional doubts that the supernatural and God even exist.  We have all sorts of evidence, yes, but where is the proof that cannot be explained away as hallucination, brain malfunction, lack of sleep/food, or other natural causes?

Then I found “The River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros, and that doubt vanished for quite some time, as I finally found the pearl of great price, the evidence that God was not a stern judge, and that Hell was not filled to the brim with good people who happened to be Buddhists or Muslims instead of Christians.

No, I can’t call a sweet, pious, loving Muslim woman, truly evil and depraved just because she happens to believe in Mohammed instead of Christ.

In Orthodoxy, I found prayers being answered as I prayed during Divine Liturgies and asked for the prayers of the Theotokos and saints alongside my own.

The doubts did resurface at times; I remember asking Richard about these questions during this time.

But friends I’d made over the years had drifted away, as they tend to when you change churches, or change jobs.

In one situation, I kept inviting to parties a friend with whom my other friends had problems.  My main group of college friends and I were still close via e-mail, but we were scattered around the state, too far to see each other often.

My husband and I would try to make new friends, but it just wouldn’t work out.  He no longer did stuff in the SCA, because he kept having arguments with people, and our son was a toddler, making it more difficult to do much in the SCA.

As for another group of friends, he had a falling-out with one, the husband stopped coming to the gaming group as well, and the other couple had work schedules which did not work with ours.

So I was desperately lonely.  I was starting to get to know people at my new church, but I’m shy and introverted, so it is always a struggle, and I was alone because my husband did not want to be Orthodox.

During Divine Liturgy one day, I prayed for a friend.  It was in my head, not something that Satan could detect, because he can’t read minds the way God can.  So it seemed a safe prayer that only God could answer.

A few months later, God seemed to provide this friend, as Richard moved his whole family to my city.

Richard and I had been friends for a couple of years, meeting on an Internet forum and also talking on the phone, so that I trusted him, believed in him, thought we had connected on a spiritual level.

He was my spiritual mentor, the one who led me to Orthodoxy and helped me every step of the way with my questions, who explained various parts of the faith to me.  He was the one to whom I spilled all the private details when my dad left my mom for a short time.  I didn’t even tell my college friends what I told him.

And now he was moving to my city.  A friend again at last!  An answer to prayer!  And for quite some time, it seemed that God had predestined us to be friends, that we were meant to help each other, bless each other.

…Which is why my faith has been so sorely devastated since Richard turned his back on me and betrayed me just two and a half years later.

More and more evidence keeps coming out that Richard was not at all what he claimed to be.  That he hasn’t reformed from his young and wild “evil” days as much as he claimed.

That he was keeping things from me,  deceiving me.

That he would convince me his liberties were all platonic, but I would be treated otherwise for believing and trusting him.

That he was a violent person, not just past violence which he claimed to be defeating with the tools of Orthodoxy, but was still violent and dangerous.

That he complained that his wife abused him and the children, when he himself turned out to be an abuser, beating one child mercilessly when she was little, then choking her to unconsciousness when she was 9.

That he was using me for my generosity.

He threatened my husband.  He turned on me.  He threatened me and has been stalking me online for months, when he knew very well I wanted him to go away and leave me in peace.

His cruelty has been unbelievable.  I never would have expected this from him.

How could God answer my prayer with a curse?  If, indeed, there is a God?  I suppose a deep question which I barely dare to admit even to myself is, not just how could Richard betray me, but How could God betray me?

This wasn’t the only thing that brought it back up, however.  On June 9, 2009, I watched the movie The Seventh Seal; it explored the same feelings I had about death, that we can’t really be sure what will happen, that we are afraid of the void, of going into emptiness.

I e-mailed Richard about this, since I could safely talk to him about these fears.  I know from this e-mail that those feelings had been stirring again in me already in 2009.

But the true test of faith did not come until Richard’s betrayal more than a year later.  Then everything just fell apart.  Then I no longer knew what to believe.  The first time I wrote about this was Fighting the Darkness.

My husband and I have discussed this before.  I try to put his mind at ease, try to explain that in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, this is called the Long Dark Night of the Soul.  I try to explain that saints have gone through this, that Mother Theresa suffered from it for 50 years, that it’s actually considered a mark of mature faith to go through this and yet keep at the faith rather than just chucking it all and becoming an atheist.

But he keeps bringing it up again and again.  He just doesn’t understand the constant questioning of an intellectual, that not only can I not help the constant questioning and analyzing my brain does of everything, but that I don’t want to.

If I were to lose all these constant questions and thoughts and the drive to research, I would lose what makes me creative, what makes me comfortable with my own company, what leads me to write and draw and lose myself listening to music.  I would feel lonely without my thoughts.

But he thinks I over-think.  He thinks I should be like him and just ask a question for a few minutes, resolve it and not think about it anymore.

But I don’t want to be like that.  It seems that if I became that way, I would lose my drive for life.  What would keep me going if not those endless questions and searches which keep me looking for answers?  Just day-to-day drudgery of housework, exercise and getting my son to school?

Yesterday, my husband became very concerned yet again, wondering how I could be so comfortable with questions and doubts in my head that never go away completely.  But this is what I live with.

Without those questions, I still would be a fundamentalist Nazarene who believes that dancing, alcohol, and going to movies is sinful, who believes that Catholics are not Christians and doomed to Hell, and various other beliefs which I have long since examined, found wanting, and replaced with Orthodoxy.

It’s kind of funny that he talks as if I have any sort of control over this.  I don’t.  God made me with a brain that always questions and thinks and reads and contemplates.  Even in elementary school, teachers noted it.

And these thoughts have been with me since at least 2005, have been with mankind forever.  I also see them in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a work which my fellow Orthodox converts online love to talk about.

He wonders how I can just accept this if it leads to losing my faith?  But I can’t be scolded or argued into reassurance or an ending of questions.  That would just be denial.

It’s not my choice–It just is!  I can no more stop the questions than you can stop the tide from coming in.

And no, it has not led to loss of faith or atheism.  It has, rather, led to a period of spiritual blackness, where I hold onto the Church, hoping to one day be led back into the light of certainty, hoping that there really is an afterlife and I won’t just blip out of existence after death.

I don’t want to end.  I want to see what comes next.  I want to go to Heaven and find that Richard wants to make peace with me there.  I want to see if mankind ever goes past the moon.

I want to know the truth about religion, rather than just dying and knowing nothing, not even that religion is false–because if religion is false and there is nothing beyond the grave, none of us will ever know the truth, because when we find it, we’ll be dead.

And the simple fact of the matter is: If in any way Hubby can explain to me how God can answer my desperate prayer for friendship with a curse, giving me a couple of narcissistic sociopaths who destroyed my faith in humanity and God, and still exist, still be a loving God–then sure, I can stop doubting….

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