This comment appeared after a post on Spiritual Sounding Board, Emotional Chaos after Spiritual Abuse. This shares the more personal experience side of arts, beauty, creativity – and healing. See the article for the concerns “Refugee” was talking about.
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I thought about your concerns, Refugee, and had some thoughts …
For about 6 months while I was deciding on leaving a very traumatizing church situation and afterwards, I woke up with a start at 2 or 3 am *most* nights — with nightmares, drenched in sweat, on the verge of screaming. Really horrific. And it took months more to gradually recuperate from the stress of it all.
I am more convinced as time goes on that the ABCs of arts-beauty-creativity are essential for many of us to regain our sense of identity. (I wrote about that recently in a comment at The Wartburg Watch. See link at bottom of this comment. It’s kind of technical, but it’s what came out in the moment, so there it is, FWIW.)
So, in seeking out a church to attend, my gut intuition was that I should try somewhere that was low-demand and had upbeat worship. (I suspect the Holy Spirit often speaks and leads through the gut as much as through the brain!)
Since I worked at a seminary at the time, I sought out some very grace-oriented friends who were preparing to serve as missionaries in Brazil, so they brought me with them to Sunday evening services at the Brazilian Baptist Church. The worship was as joyful, exuberant, and emotive as you’d expect from Brazilians, and like typical Central and South American cultures, the service was more event-oriented than clock-oriented. So no worries, low stress, friendly people, talk or chill out, it was all okay. And for those who didn’t have Portuguese as a first language, they provided someone who translated both the gist of the songs, and the sermon. It watered that need for ABC to counteract all the over-theologized legalism that had nearly killed my soul.
I also listened to certain kinds of music that I found particularly soothing – not because it was “easy listening,” but probably because it mirrored the roller coaster of emotions I’d been going through. Art that imitates life, as it were. So, I don’t know how many times I listened to the entire soundtrack to the stage musical of *Les Miserables* or particular songs on particular days.
When another grievous ministry meltdown happened about 6 years later, it was the epic storyline of *The Lord of the Rings.* Not kidding … I must’ve watched the entire trilogy a minimum of 50 times a year for the next few years. I don’t know how to explain it rationally, but maybe it’s just a learning style distinctive that, for some of us, we externalize the bruised feelings and embrace hope by entering into a metaphorical “valley of the shadow of death,” perhaps even surprised at dawning horizon at the end of the journey. Maybe in some mysterious way, it is a form of liturgy — the work of the people being the story of God’s people.
I found solace in hope-filled theology about suffering and being surprised by God’s providence in writings by and about J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, and another guy who went by initials: A.J. Gossip. (Yes, really.) This quote was passed on to me by a seminary student about 15 years ago, and it’s stuck with me all these years:
“A basic trouble is that most Churches limit themselves unnecessarily by addressing their message almost exclusively to those who are open to religious impression through the intellect, whereas … there are at least four other gateways – the emotions, the imagination, the aesthetic feeling, and the will – through which they can be reached.” A.J. Gossip (1873-1954)
(P.S. it’s the only gossip we’re allowed to pass along, I am certain, without it being sin.) I’ve pondered that piece of Gossip a lot, and believe it holds a key in why churches that overemphasize intellect tend to end up gnostic, perfectionistic, and legalistic. In other words, abusive. They don’t care about God’s people as whole people, and don’t connect with us holistically.
So, there are some thoughts that came out of spiritual practices that made a significant difference for me over time. There were other things, but these all relate to that ABC/arts-beauty-creativity core that got lost in naughty gnostic churches where everything was about “right” theology and rules – and left out the heart of faith from those other gateways God created in us, with which to worship and enjoy Him forever as men and women, girls and boys all created in His image.
Refugee, I truly hope your escape from such damaging church experiences does not stymie your sojourn with Jesus or with His people in the long run. Praying you find some kind of situation that fits how God uniquely created you to enjoy Him and His involvement in your path forward in the Way of Jesus …