As we commemorate the trial, suffering and death of Jesus at the hands of two institutions who turned away from him, I find that my own “crucifixion” has resurfaced to be examined and grieved again. I share this because I know I am not alone in having felt turned away and condemned by my Church (recovering Catholics, those raised Catholic, non-practicing Catholics).
The Church That Turned Away from Me
Copyright 2015 Lauri Ann Lumby
For the past eight years, I have been fasting from the Eucharist. To one on the outside looking in, I might be accused of turning away from my Church. The opposite in fact is true. It is the Church that turned away from me.
As a Vatican II Catholic, raised in a Vatican II Church, I have had a unique experience of Catholicism, markedly different from the generations that went before me. I never experienced the Latin mass or was drilled on the Baltimore Catechism. I attended Saturday evening folk mass accompanied by Kumbaya’s, Up, Up with People, and To Be Alive! Fish on Friday was reserved for Lent. Ecumenical dialogue was encouraged and instead of Heaven being the privilege of Catholics only, the pearly gates stood open to all who lived in love. I was brought up with a rock n’ roll Jesus Christ Superstar who in his humanness pleaded to be released while weeping tears of blood at Gethsemane and to whom we desired to “see more clearly, love more dearly and follow more nearly,” as he danced around us in rainbow striped suspenders, sporting a Superman t-shirt. Speaking out on matters of social injustice and working for peace; feeding the poor, clothing the naked and setting captives free was the understood responsibility of every person sitting in the pew. Divine retribution and punishment had been left on the editing floor of the Holy See – along with indulgences; and even the unbaptized had a place in God’s loving kingdom. The only God I knew was the God of love. Jesus came to know this love and taught us how to love and was set up as the model and example of how every Christian was called to live. We were called to be Jesus’ hands and heart through the unique charisms gifted to us by God’s Holy Spirit (sometimes even spoken of as a woman!).
This is the Church I grew up in and the Church that I deeply loved. Strengthening this bond was the mass that provided sanctuary and support for my inherently contemplative nature. Gothic arches, painted statues and stained glass windows serenaded by artistic soul. And the stand up, kneel down, bow and sit of Catholic choreography nourished my need for a spirituality that was as much physical as it was emotional and intellectual. Devotion to Mary satisfied my need for a Divine Mother and the saints became my superheroes.
If I love my Church so much, you may be wondering why I have been fasting from the Eucharist? What went wrong? In short, it seems I took what I learned about God, Jesus and our Christian call too literally:
- I believe in an unconditionally loving God, a Son that is both fully human and fully divine; the call to follow Jesus as an example of how to live my life and to be and do as he would in the world.
- I love God above all else, my neighbor as myself and I consider ALL of humankind to be my neighbor.
- I judge not (lest I be judged).
- I pray for my enemies.
- I try to forgive 70 times 7 times.
- I pray without ceasing.
- I feed the hungry.
- I clothe the naked.
- I give sight to the blind.
- I set captives free.
- And, I heal the sick.
In the end, it was the last three actions that caused my Church to turn away from me.
After eight years in Catholic school and an equal number of years in academic and professional education and formation as a lay minister and spiritual director, I was guided by God to study hands-on-healing and Eastern Energy Medicine (Reiki). Out of this training and experience, God guided me further to develop a protocol through which people found healing from the spiritual wounds that separated them from God’s love, thereby healing them of their sin. Right in line with Jesus’ teachings, right!? Apparently not, because the practices that I had learned and successfully applied were not “explicitly handed down by the Magesterium.” I was challenged and confronted, hateful emails and letters were sent. I was accused of every nature of evil. Local bishops, fueled by the fear of the vocal minority, challenged my work and eventually handed down a prohibition calling it “witchcraft and sorcery,” in spite of my attempts to reason with and explain things to them. Through this, I endured, but when I was attacked by a newly-appointed pastor for a course in “Christian Zen” that I was sponsoring, who claimed it to be “outside Catholic teaching” and who identified Eastern practices as “dangerous,” I broke. My heart was broken and my resolve with it. The Church I had loved and out of whose embrace I had come to know God’s love – the Church who had called me to continue the work of Jesus – had betrayed me. My gifts, my call, the unique way I had come to know God was no longer welcome. More than that, my ministry had been condemned as “dangerous,” “witchcraft and sorcery”….some even called it, “the work of the devil.”
On that fateful autumn day, I listened beyond the voice of the fearful priest, the self-appointed inquisition, and even the Vatican II teachings that provided space for the ecumenical nature of the work I was doing and the unifying discussions that might arise out of this work. I listened instead to the still, small voice of God within. God’s voice was not small that day. God spoke directly and loudly to my heart, “Lauri, you are my beloved daughter. I have placed my word within your heart. I have anointed you to be my servant. Who will you obey? Man or Me?”
Of course I chose God.
With God and the echoing support of Peter and the Apostles who similarly responded to the Church who turned away from them, “We must obey God rather than man, (Act 5: 29)” I handed over my keys and walked away. Buoyed by God’s eternal promise of freedom, I knew that I could more freely do the work God had called me to absent the on-going scrutiny of the Church and the fearful minority.
Some would suggest that in leaving the Church I have also left behind my faith. The opposite, in fact is true. My faith has remained intact, and in truth, has been fortified. I start every morning in prayer and meditation over the daily scripture. Jesus is my constant companion, teacher and guide. I discern daily the ways in which I am being called to continue Jesus’ work in the world. I have seen the clear evidence of God at work through me as I witness the profound healing experienced by those who have become part of my ministry, and I am continually amazed at how God works through me to bring people more and more deeply into love and more closely connected to their own gifts and vocational call in the world. I see the power of faith at work as I witness the empowerment experienced by those who come to me for counsel, attend my classes, read my writing and partake in my weekly services; and with each passing day my faith is strengthened and affirmed.
Regarding the Church, I wish I could say that like Lot, I never looked back. I find, instead, that I am more like Lot’s wife, forever gazing back in profound longing – grieving the loss of my home, my sanctuary, my community, my Church. Beyond my own grief, however, I weep for my Church. I long for the Church that I had come to know – one that is firmly rooted in the truth of God’s unconditional love and acting as that love in the world. I long for a Church that works for unity and empowerment of all humankind – regardless of their gender, beliefs, or sexual orientation. I long for a Church that is willing to set down its wealth and its power and get in the trenches with those who need its help – the hungry, the poor, the imprisoned, the fearful, the wounded and the broken. I long for the Church that takes Jesus’ example seriously by being humble, giving the seats of honor to those without honor and washing the feet of strangers. I yearn for a Church that supports people in becoming self-actualized, mature disciples – fostering the psycho-spiritual growth of men, women and children so that they can find the God they have forgotten in their hearts, discover their own unique giftedness and vocational call and become empowered in the fulfillment and use of these gifts in service to the betterment of the world. I long for a Church that recognizes the earth as holy and sacred and works to be a steward for the gifts God gave us so that all of humanity may not only survive but thrive. I cry out to the Church to work for justice – justice for all – not only for those who “are Catholic in good standing.” My heart yearns for a Church that welcomes ALL people to its table – inviting all to know the unconditional and infinite love that is their truest nature. This is the Church that I once knew and I often wonder what happened to that Church – or if all along it had really just been a figment of my imagination.
Lauri Ann Lumby, MATP is a published author, ordained interfaith minister, spiritual director and teacher. She ministers to a world-wide audience, most of whom were raised Catholic but who were also turned away by the Church. Lauri lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. You can learn more about Lauri and her ministry at www.yourspiritualtruth.com.