I struggle on a day to day basis with being seen. It is easy to hide behind a mask of humor and wit. I don’t really give out a lot of what is really going on with me to people I interact with on a daily basis at work, or even with friends. (They few friends I have left, that is.) In my first post I gave an outline of my exposure to God and spirituality. My most recent encounter before Catholicism ended quite painfully. To put it simply, I belonged to a new age cult. More succinctly a cult of personality. Now, don’t freak out too bad. It was not a cult that required you to give all your money. There wasn’t any purple kool-aid waiting to be distributed. That would have actually made it easier for me to recognize what was going on, and the need to run. This was, for me, much more insidious. Together, we practiced what is loosely termed as Native American Spirituality. I discovered this group and this way to pray after a suicide attempt. Though labeled Native American, it has an undertone of New Thought and 12 step Recovery. I do not consider 12 step groups a cult, for the record. However, when a religion is infused with other elements it becomes diluted, hodge podge, essentially new age, and foundationless. The group has no Native Americans in it. There are a few Native Americans, some of historical importance, that visit. That is about it though. When I encountered this path, I was spiritually wounded and broken. The leaders promised a connection to God through service and prayer. Sounds wonderful, right? It was to an extent. Praying in a sweat lodge pushes boundaries of comfort. Through that, insight became more clear to me. Coming out of the sweat lodge, I was reborn. I went to two sweat lodges every month for about 10 years.
I spent 4 years as a student of our groups spiritual leader. It was a committment I made to learn more about me, to heal my brokeness, and to help others heal. During that 4 year period I would show up twice up month before others in the group. The studentship was service oriented. I brought some water and food every time. In the hours prior to the sweat lodge, my job was to build the fire, cover the lodge, and do other things to prepare so people could come and pray. I was the fire keeper. I tended the fire that heated the stones for the sweat lodge. Lodge usually lasted about an hour, then we would eat, clean up, talk about our experiences and go home.
We also attended Vision Quest ceremonies twice a year. Each VQ was 10 days in the wilderness. I quested every year for 6 years. At VQ a “quester” would be ritually purified in the sweat lodge. Then taken to a dedicated, “sacred” spot in nature. This area was usually 3×3 meters. The quester had a blanket, a tarp, and “sacred” prayer instruments. The quester was left in this area for 1-4 days to pray. No food, no water. The leader checked on the quester at dusk everyday to make sure they were doing ok, and offer a small amount of guidance. Occasionally there would be a small amount of water or piece of fruit left. There are some obvious metaphors for Christ’s fast of 40 days and nights here. This was actually my favorite ceremony. I like being alone with God.
There are other ceremonies we participated in. I will save those for another post (maybe). My point is I was heavily involved. I created a spiritual foundation with a group that itself had no foundation itself. The group didn’t make promises it couldn’t keep. It delivered experiences in adversity to connect people to their feelings. That in and of itself is powerful. To be aware and fully present and connected to what is going on in the moment is something very tantalizing to the broken spirit.
So what happened? As I became more aware, I became more aware. I saw that there was no foundation. I saw the catch-22 or “the hook”. I saw the cultural appropriation. I saw that, while people did receive some spiritual truths or insight, the main benefactor was the group leaders ego. I saw the double standard of openness and tolerance…unless it was in regards to Christianity. As I continued to see, my torment grew. I was not happy. I had no peace. I was living a lie. It took me 8 months from that moment to fully remove myself from the group. Only one person really interacts with me from that group now. I’ve known her longer than anyone there. In fact, she introduced me to that way of prayer. I love her fiercely and pray every day now that she is safe, and that she would hear God. The others think I am judgemental and crazy. They do not speak to me at all. After being heavily involved for 10 years, it has left me with no friends or support. I go to mass three to four times a week. I haven’t really made any connections with people yet. It is hard for me to do. I have a friend at work who is Catholic. I talk with her as often as possible. We have lunch once a week, and it helps some. I am very lonely though. I am sure things will shift once I begin RCIA. I will get to meet others like me who want to become Catholic. Until then, thank you Lord Jesus for my friend Debbie, EWTN, this blog and www.awestruckglobal.com.
Thanks for listening to me ramble today.