“Slain in the Spirit”: When You Fall Over, Because Jesus

animal, animal photography, avianReligious people often say that prayer makes them feel at peace. It’s not uncommon to hear a person of faith say they just “feel so loved” in God’s presence when they pray or go to church. But sometimes they take it a bit further. Some people act as if God is physically doing something to their bodies, and that’s what this post is about.

The Pentecostal church is perhaps most well known for practicing these things, but some Catholics have become very involved in these bizarre behaviors as well, and I had the privilege of hearing about them growing up.

Speaking in tongues

My mother swore up and down that my brother’s godmother could speak in tongues. Completely unintelligible language would spurt from her mouth in prayer sometimes, and my mother firmly believed her friend been given this gift by the holy spirit. I never witnessed this myself so I’m unable to describe how it sounded exactly, but from what my mother said, it didn’t sound like any language she had ever heard. This surprised me then, because my mom studied voice in college and spent a lot of time on foreign languages, so she’s familiar with a lot more languages than the average joe.

A believer would probably point out here that she probably studied European languages and maybe this one came from somewhere in Asia or Africa. But giving one the ability to speak a random language for no reason is not the holy spirit’s M.O. In religious folklore (the Bible), the holy spirit is supposed to have given this incredible ability to communicate with and understand people who do not speak your language. The story of Pentecost is literally about this happening. It’s not about someone standing and speaking nonsense syllables in front of a group of people who already all speak the same language, as I’ve come to understand seems to be what happened with my mom’s friend. It makes you wonder, what the heck is this woman thinking when she’s doing it? Does she know she’s faking? Or has she convinced herself of the lie she’s been telling her friends?

 

The Charismatic Movement 

This is, I’ve come to understand, not exclusively a Catholic thing.

I kid you not, maybe a year or two before I attended the Steubenville conference  I’ve written about in a previous post (which definitely shares some traits with this movement), my mother told me she was attending what’s known as a charismatic Mass, led by a priest whose masses were often so moving that people would be “slain in the spirit.”

I asked her what that meant. She said it’s when the holy spirit touches someone, and they are moved so deeply that they fall over. (Yes, like fainting.) I asked her if she had ever been slain in the spirit. She said yes, but only once.

If you click the first link under this heading, you’ll see that the Charismatic movement rose to popularity in the 60s and 70s in a variety of Christian denominations. I can’t help but wonder if the culture of the time had more to do with it than anything else. Religion had to compete with sex, drugs, and rock and roll after all. With some showmanship and emotional manipulation, I suspect the Charismatic movement’s appeal comes from the community that forms around it. Much as I experienced at Steubenville, there’s a sense belonging that comes with everyone in the room participating and having these strong emotional reactions to religious stimuli. We tell ourselves, for instance, we’re crying because we’re having this emotional encounter with God, but really we’re crying because other people around us are. It’s a social response manipulated to serve a narrative. The power of a crowd reaction.

Miracle healing also falls under the category of the Charismatic movement, and that’s its own can of worms.

I see the appeal of having not only a god you believe intervenes but one who interacts with you directly and gives you a damn superpower. But it’s simply not real; it’s a pleasant fantasy at best.

Have you had any experiences with Charismatic Christianity? How did that play out? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

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Catholic Superstitions and Extreme Prayer Claims

animal, art, backlightSuperstitions exist in many cultures, but I don’t think enough has been said about the very superstitious and bizarre things people do in mainstream religions.

A Catholic relative told me recently about something she’s doing to try to sell her house faster, and it reminded me of the many weird things I used to do as a kid, and that I saw my parents doing.

She said, “I haven’t had any offers yet, but my friend told me when she was selling her house, it helped to take a pot of dirt and get a statue of St. Joseph. You put the statue in the pot upside down, and then you put dirt over it, and he helps you sell your house.”

I’m very proud of myself for not laughing at her in that moment. Apparently, this practice is so widespread that there are “kits” for it, sold at various Catholic websites. Here’s one I found at discountcatholicproducts.com

st joseph kit

There’s even a whole website dedicated to this St. Joseph statue nonsense: https://st-josephstatue.com

My parents’ house is full of similar Catholic paraphernalia, and you can find many of these things in the homes of other devout Catholics too.

Scapulars – most notably the brown Carmelite scapular – may promise special priveledges to those who wear them and devote themselves to certain prayers and practices. This one, in particular, is said by some Catholics to keep a person out of hell.

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Brown scapular

 

Relics – these are some of my personal favorite freaky Catholic artifacts. There are 3 classes of relics. A third class relic is an article that the tomb of a saint has touched. A second class relic is usually an article the saint wore or used. I had a 2nd class one for Blessed Kateri, and it was a minuscule scrap of turquoise fabric, so small it was barely large enough to make out the color, encased in a shiny metal relic-holder. First class relics are usually a tiny bone fragment, supposedly from the saint him or herself.  Apparently, Catholicism does not promote or really allow the buying and selling of relics in most instances, however, it is permitted for a Catholic to buy one to “rescue” it and bring it back to Catholic use. This loophole, when you think about it, creates a market where non-Catholics sell to Catholics. As a result, “relics” may or may not actually come from the saint in question, and need to be vetted. This article on Forbes has more information on the sale of relics. Granted, this is from 2008, but a search online for relics today does list some eBay results, so they are definitely still being bought and sold.

 

Prayer cards and prayer candles are also common Catholic paraphernalia, and people like my parents tend to collect a lot of them over time, as they each pertain to a different saint. In Catholicism, different saints are patrons of different things. For instance, St. Lucy, usually depicted holding eyeballs on a plate, is the patron saint of the blind. So if a family member has vision trouble, prayers to St. Lucy for her intercession (in other words, for Lucy to go talk to God on your behalf) are a very normal behavior. You might bring a relic of St. Lucy to someone getting eye surgery if you should be lucky enough to have one, or you might light a St. Lucy prayer candle for them.

 

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St. Lucy

 

When you read into some of the saints’ stories, you kind of have to wonder how people can believe this stuff. Even the Wikipedia page for St. Lucy currently points out that there are several different versions of her story circulating.

 

Novenas are another type of prayer that sometimes come with extreme claims. When a family friend from church was out of work, my parents prayed a special novena (9-day prayer) that was supposed to help her magically find work. This is a common practice you can see recommended on Catholic forums, with people often completely attributing their success to the prayer.

Then there was a special prayer my family always said to St. Anthony while we looked for lost items. (St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items and lost souls). I can’t write the prayer here because it’s in a lost Italian dialect that’s not a written language, but the only part of it I knew the English translation for was the beginning, where it calls to “St. Anthony, naked.” Not sure why naked is in there, (and who’s supposed to be naked, St. Anthony, or the person praying?) but my family and I would run around the house searching for our cell phone, or missing report card or baseball game tickets, reciting the prayer over and over. When we eventually found it, we’d yell, “Thank you St. Anthony!” As if our searching had nothing to do with it turning up.

Do you have any stories about weird superstitions or religious practices? Feel free to share them.

As always, all opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

My Secular Wedding

just married_signWedding planning proved to be far more time consuming than I ever imagined, but I’m back, happily married, and planning to return to blogging now that I have actual free time.

The wedding happened recently this summer, and it was completely nonreligious. I was still somewhat worried going in about how my family would react to the lack of religiosity. God was not mentioned even once in the ceremony, and our officiant happened to be a woman (we didn’t specifically look for a female officiant, she was just the person we happened to like best after we talked to a bunch of local officiants). We generally tried to be ourselves in every aspect of the wedding planning from food to music. We had a “first look” and took some photos before the ceremony. We also finally said “fuck it” and moved in together a few weeks before the wedding.

I have no regrets. The wedding was beautiful, and generally a good time. If you are considering getting married in a nonreligious ceremony despite having religious family and friends, my advice is, if you are out about your non-religiousness, go ahead and have whatever wedding you want.

Contrary to my fears, I’ve had no complaints about the lack of religiosity, even from the most religious people who were there. The comments we received were wholly positive. Our family and friends appreciated how personal the ceremony was, and I think it was a treat for some of them to experience a wedding outside of a church setting. We were told our ceremony was beautiful over and over again, and I think for the relatives who don’t know us as well (we had some slightly estranged folks come), the personal touch made it that much more special. One aunt actually came up to me afterward and said she loved that we were married by a woman rather than a man.

The ceremony was short and sweet. My parents both walked me down the aisle. The content was about us as a couple. Our officiant talked about how we met and said some generally pleasant things about love and marriage. She talked a little about the tradition of wedding rings, and she kept it light yet personal. My husband’s brother read a quote from Bob Marley. My cousin gave another reading about love. I’d say the ceremony took 20 minutes maybe, including the time for the procession, which I really appreciated because it didn’t drag. We didn’t have to stand for a crazy long time, and our relatives didn’t seem bored since we didn’t have to listen to an awkward homily or participate in an hour of sit-stand-kneel -communion-kneel-sit-stand as you do in a Catholic wedding.

Maybe the reason it was all received so positively is that weddings are celebrations, so our guests came expecting to have a good time. Then again, maybe people who disagreed with the way we did things just kept it to themselves. I’m fine with that too. I had a wonderful time.

For those of you who followed my posts in the past year or so, few and far between though they were, I have decided to change my last name after serious deliberation. Now I’m getting ready to start that crazy process, so there’s that.

If any of you have wedding stories, secular or religious, feel free to share them in the comments.

Happy thinking,

Nancy

 

 

Christian Blog Says Close Friendships Are Bad

brunette, fashion, friendsI’m still Facebook friends with a lot of my former homeschooling friends and acquaintances. Sometimes they share articles and posts that I have a hard time not saying something about, so I write about them here instead.

Someone I knew from a homeschooling organization shared this post in all seriousness with a comment that went something like, “Yes! This is me! This is extremely important.”

In short, the post she shared argues that friendships that get too close can be a problem. I think what the author is trying to say is that God should be number 1 in a person’s life, and friendships can become such a big part of one’s life that a person can rely on the friendship in times when he or she should turn to God.  But the way she goes about saying it sounds a little different. At the beginning of the post, she gives examples of friendships in which women are so close to each other that they can’t imagine making decisions in life that would put that friendship at risk or make it more difficult for them to spend time together.

I understand how that could potentially hold someone back from making big life decisions. But none of the friendships she gave in her examples sounded toxic to me. They sounded like close, sisterly bonds. Like women offering each other their unwavering support and companionship as partners for life in a purely platonic way. The way this post nonchalantly devalues human relationships is something I haven’t even thought about much in relation to religion, but I suppose when your goal is to be in this supposedly incredible relationship with your creator, if you compare that relationship to human friendships, you’ll end up devaluing those human friendships in the process.

I do understand where this is coming from, at least to a point. God is supposed to be number 1 in a Christian’s life. Anything that distracts one’s focus from God is considered an idol or false deity. As a kid, I was told these were things like television and video games.  I always thought for adults a major false idol was often money. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Christian make this point about friendship before.

This post literally discourages people–especially women, if you read between the lines–from having best friends. I sincerely hope that most women who read this don’t take it to heart.

According to the post, there’s a reason these too-close friendships are forming these days: it’s because LGBT people exist, and are being acknowledged by the community at large.

The disintegration of the family and blurred lines of gender and sexuality have left our society with less and less stability. What can you rely on if your sexual preferences continually change and marriage and family relationships become increasingly unreliable? Under these conditions, friendship becomes crucial. In fact, the world’s model BFF is, by all accounts, a functional savior — someone who rescues you from the instability and trials of life, someone with whom and to whom you belong, who is committed to you “forever.”

So um–because LGBT people are gaining awareness and rights, straight people suddenly started becoming best friends? I highly doubt that the prevalence of close friendship is a development of the last 50 or so years.

After that gem about how LGBT people somehow fit into this, the post seemed to discuss these close “friendships” in ways that don’t exactly sound platonic. For example, in the list it includes of 15 ways to know if your friendship has gone too far, 5 of them sound like they’re describing something a bit more serious than even best friendship:

  • Do you experience jealousy when your friend spends time with others? Do you feel a sense of possessiveness toward her?

 

  • Do you prefer to spend time alone with your friend, and are you easily frustrated when others join in?

 

  • Do you have frequent sleepovers, often preferring to share the same bed?

 

  • Do you operate like a couple? Do others see you as inseparable?

 

  • Are you more physically affectionate toward this friend than other friends? Are you physically affectionate in a way that makes others uncomfortable?

Not gonna draw any conclusions about the author from these, but seriously, this is uncomfortably homoerotic for a clearly homophobic blogger.

The conclusion of the post killed me, though. This is some sad stuff. She writes:

A Christian friend understands that, ultimately, she has nothing irreplaceable to offer you and that you have nothing irreplaceable to offer her. Instead, you can link arms together with the goal of pushing each other toward the wellspring of Christ.

Can you imagine how you’d feel if your closest friend said something like this to you? Rather than say that human relationships are good, but a Christian’s relationship with God is greater–a point most Christians would agree with, and that up until now I would never expect anyone to take to this extreme–this post says that human relationships are replaceable. I guess grieving people can rest easy now. Their loved one can be replaced like a dead goldfish.

Have you encountered anything like this before? I’m curious, and a bit concerned that these ideas might be popular among some groups.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Elizabeth Warren Speech: Muslim Ban is About Religious Tests

Image result for women's march protest

Click this link to watch Elizabeth Warren’s speech about the executive order this weekend. Some highlights:

“President Trump’s order has nothing to do with security. …This order is not about terrorist threats. This order is about religious tests. And the United States does not impose religious tests, period.”

To understand what’s actually in the executive order, check out John Green’s video.

This executive order, to put it bluntly, serves to bolster the far-right extremists who feel threatened by the presence of religious others. It’s an entirely fear-based move, and there is no reason to believe it will do anything real to improve safety in this country. What it will do, though, is separate families and keep refugees from getting back on their feet.

We must fight this. Call your representatives and urge them to fight the executive order. Click here to find out who to call and how.

I called the representatives for my area and had 3 different experiences. One had nobody in the office at the time (it was after business hours) but allowed me to leave a voicemail. Another had a full inbox, so I jotted down their number to call again. A third actually still had someone in the office even though I called around 6:15 PM, and he assured me that my representative had put out a statement against the executive order and even called it what it is: religious discrimination and a ban on Muslims. I highly recommend that you write down your thoughts before calling so that you are ready to speak your point clearly. This really helped me not freeze up too, since I don’t exactly make this kind of phone call every day. I don’t really have the time to protest right now, but I can make a few phone calls and you probably can too. I especially urge you to call if you live in a red state. Let me know how it goes if you do!

Also, if you attended any of the many protests of the past few weeks or even called about a different issue, I’d love to hear about it too. The one thing keeping me going is seeing the strong reactions of people nationwide. We won’t stand idly by while the president legislates harmfully. To everyone from the protesters to the lawyers working for free to help people affected by this executive order, thank you for fighting for the true spirit of the United States.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Pope Emeritus Benedict tells Catholic Priests to “face East”

Priest Holding HostiaA friend of mine shared this article on Facebook in all seriousness, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the headline alone. Here’s the headline and a link to the article:

“Pope Emeritus Benedict reiterates call for priests to ‘face East’

Yup, it says exactly what it sounds like it’s saying. Benedict says, “In the liturgy’s orientation to the East, we see that Christians, together with the Lord, want to progress toward the salvation of creation in its entirety.” The article describes this step as an “ecumenical instrument.” Basically, it’s a way of unifying the [Christian] worship traditions of the East and West. This does not appear to be a mandatory command, but it is a serious recommendation from a man who is well respected by the Catholic community as a whole.

In Catholicism, the word ecumenical refers to efforts to promote unity between Christians of different Christian worship traditions, and does not include reaching out to non-Christians. However, I see a bit of tension in the ideas of this article–and this is what made me laugh. I can’t help but think to myself, from the headline alone, “Seriously, in what religion does prayer orient towards a specific direction?” Sure, there are probably some Eastern Christian Churches that do this, but come on now, where have I heard this before? Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about Islam.

As Catholics tend to do whenever they’re suggesting a new tradition, they have to make it seem like it’s just an old thing they used to always do, and they’re just going back to their roots (here, they talk about the Latin rite, which yes, did have the priest facing away from the congregation).

But I don’t think that’s what’s really going on in this situation. The question to ask is always why go back to the way things were? The Catholic church is very good at staying the same despite the many valid reasons there may be to change. I think, ultimately, it has to do with the way Catholics see themselves interacting with other religions, particularly Islam.

I see genuine tension right now as Catholics realize how quickly the Muslim world is growing. I think Catholic leaders are afraid of having people abandon their rigid religion for a more extreme, more rigid one. They’re also afraid that their religion isn’t growing fast enough to compete with others. They’re dealing with the fact that the Muslim world is having more kids than the Christian world. Just google birth rates in Europe and North America and compare them to birth rates in the middle East:

us-birth-ratesaudi-arabia-birth-rate-chart

birth-rate-italyiraq-birth-rate

Granted, these are from 2012, but seriously, there were more than 4 births per woman on average in Iraq while Italy, home of the ultra-conservative, anti-choice, anti-birth-control pope and cardinals and other old white men, has 1.4 births per woman. I suspect the anxiety over this is just all the more reason for Catholics to continue crusading against abortion and birth control-heck, even pulling out is a no-no in Catholicism. (I’ve probably shared this three or four times by now but Monty Python anybody?)

But maybe Benedict has managed to break the cycle of thinking about birth rates and babies. If that’s the case–and I suspect it is–he’s trying to give Catholics something in common with people from one of the largest religions in the world. It’s symbolic and does nothing to address real-world issues facing the Muslim world like the Syrian refugee crisis and, you know, ISIS, but I mean, it’s cute.

This is the best Catholicism has to offer, and to me, that’s hilarious.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

The Bizarre Halloween Controversy

creepy, graves, gravestonesEvery once in a while as a kid, I’d encounter other children whose parents made mine look lenient and laid back. There were only a few instances like this in my childhood, but when they did happen, they were always a surreal surprise. Halloween was one of those instances.

My parents never expressed any qualms about “letting” me celebrate Halloween by dressing up and trick-or-treating. Their only stipulation was that I couldn’t wear “dark, evil costumes.” Basically, anything dead or supernatural in an evil way was off limits. No sheet ghost costumes or horny devils for me. I didn’t usually find that terribly limiting. Over the years, I went as a fairy, a surgeon, a wrapped present, and Padme from Star Wars.

In high school, it was a big deal that after years of begging, my mom allowed me to dress up as a witch. (The reason she let it slide was primarily that I wanted to go as Elphaba from Wicked, who’s technically not an evil character.)

I thought this was pretty strict. Until I heard about my friend’s parents.

I didn’t really encounter this much with the Catholic kids I knew, but some of the kids I knew from other forms of Christianity were completely forbidden from celebrating Halloween. I remember trying to invite a friend trick-or-treating and being told she wasn’t allowed to celebrate Halloween AT ALL. No costumes. No candy. No jack-o-lanterns.

Years later, while I was in college, I used to tutor kids at an after-school program at a local church. Halloween was coming up in a week, and one of my classmates asked if she could bring in Halloween themed treats to celebrate: lollipops decorated to look like ghosts. The woman running the program said it was OK, but my classmate was still a bit anxious. On the ride back she said, “I just want to respect their faith. I know some parents are really not OK with Halloween.” All this after she was told it wasn’t a problem. Clearly, for this classmate, Halloween had been as controversial a subject as Harry Potter was for me growing up.

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While, again, my Halloween experience wasn’t terribly restricted, there was still this restriction on “dark, evil” costumes, and the more I think about it, the more I think I know why.

I wasn’t allowed to watch the Halloweentown movies as a kid because there’s a scene in the first one that briefly features a pentagram. My mom saw it and freaked out. It’s a kids’ movie on Disney Channel, but according to my parents, it could lead me to “the occult.”

I don’t see a lot of people talking about this, but Christianity supports belief in many supernatural creatures. Catholicism is just as guilty of this as other denominations because Catholics do believe in possession by spirits, and Catholic priests can and do perform exorcisms.

My parents have believed in ghosts–yes, dead-people-roaming-around ghosts–for as long as I can remember. Case in point, when we moved from my old house to our current one, they found out that the family that lived here before us had lost a daughter very young. I don’t know how it happened, I just assumed it was to some kind of illness. My parents swear to this day that they saw the little girl roaming around the house as a ghost. They went to a priest for advice, had the house “blessed,” and the ghost “left.” Part of the process of getting rid of this ghost was naming the little girl. I think they named her after a virtue like “Hope” or “Grace” or something. Anyway, she’s “gone.”

If you believe in this stuff, then it’s a scary part of your reality. It’s supernatural. It’s hard to understand or control, so you want to protect your children from it, the same way you’d try to restrict their viewing of violent or sexual images. So you ban things that talk about it, except from a Christian perspective. C.S. Lewis is as overtly Christian as it gets in his supernatural stories, so The Chronicles of Narnia are OK, but Harry Potter? It paints a pleasant image of magic and witchcraft. What if it makes children try to get involved in this “very real” thing?

Fortune tellers and psychics were always off limits for me when I was growing up, not because they’re scams, but because those people “could be communing with evil spirits.” I was told as a child that if I were to touch an evil object owned by a psychic, I could become possessed by a demon.

Yep, demons. It’s incredible my parents don’t have shotguns filled with rock salt.

Were you allowed to celebrate Halloween? What are your thoughts about the holiday? I’m especially curious about how you feel about the holiday in relation to religion.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy