Monday, December 22, 2014

The Redemption of Fantasy Addiction

Here is another quote that struck me recently:

"Just imagine what Mary was actually saying in the words, 'I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me' (Luke 1:38). She was saying, 'I don't know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen.'
"She trusted so deeply that her waiting was open to all possibilities. And she did not want to control them. She believed that when she listened carefully, she could trust what was going to happen.
"To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God's love and not according to our fear.
"The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control."
---Henri Nouwen, from "A Spirituality of Waiting: Being Alert to God's Presence in Our Lives", Weavings, January 1987
What struck me about this is this matter of our imaginings:  "The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction."

I live a very interior life by personality. As with all personality types, this means I lean toward specific strengths and weaknesses. And certain weaknesses can lend themselves towards even addictions and interior pathologies. I have had my own experience of this when it comes to the life of my mind. From a very young age, I learned that I could escape emotional pain by constructing an imaginary world that eliminated problems I could not change and provided saviors I otherwise did  not experience. This is a coping mechanism, a self-generated sort of mercy that serves a frightened child. But addiction arises when no other mercy emerges to move a soul from "coping with" to "dealing with." Mix in layers of religious ideas in accretion to this basic coping addiction. Compound it with a strong intellectual bent and a weak social bent. Yeah, you have a mess.

Among other things, one ends up with elaborate mental constructs about God that don't so much take the reality of a personal God into account, while never denying Him and while in fact crying out to Him regularly in desperation. One also ends up with severely contorted and intensely felt passions about other people and what they could and could not, or would and would not do for one. It is like living in a completely invisible but completely impenetrable bubble of Saran wrap, blocking a vital connection with reality.

And I lived this, on varying levels, for many years of my life.

Today it is easy for me to look back and see the work God has done in freeing me of all this. It was  during a most painful spiritual trial, when God seemed farthest from my cries, that I became aware of a distinct lack. It's hard to put into words, but that old place where one version of this coping mechanism had always kicked in was as if a lump I had had all my life on my arm or my leg was suddenly not there. I could feel its absence. And thinking about it couldn't make it come back. It was astounding. It was this kind of indisputable interior evidence that showed me God was active in me profoundly even though I otherwise felt like I was breaking apart.

But back to the quote, which reminded me of something I've blogged about before in this post called We are Saved in Community. It was a dream that I had which became part of the interior "catechesis" God gave me during the time I was becoming a Catholic (when I had really no human being to reliably teach me). In this dream, a voice asked me what I would like to eat, and I asked for a slice of pizza. "Is that all? Just a piece of pizza?" The voice seemed to want to stretch my imagination a bit. So I thought about it and changed my request to a whole pizza: large, and with lots of toppings. See, I was working my interior fantasy thing to its limit, to the wildest desire for myself that I could muster. But then in the dream, the voice seemed a bit disappointed with "my wildest," and asked me if I was going to insist that it had to be that. "No," I tentatively answered, but I was confused, because the voice seemed to want to know what I wanted. Why did you ask if you didn't want to hear my idea, I thought. Then in the dream my grandfather appeared carrying a huge container of homemade beef stew, and suddenly I was aware of an enormous banquet table set for many and stocked with all manner of delicious and lovingly made homemade food.

Now the point of what I learned from this, and the point of which this quote reminded me is that God actually is interested in my being aware of my imagination, my fantasy, my desires, my predictions, my earth-bound desires simply so that I can understand how tremendously transcendent and enormously good He is. So that I can begin to comprehend how far beyond my comprehension His love for me runs. How wide, how long, how high, how deep is the love of God. How far beyond my puny human power of desire His ability to fulfill me goes.

Sometimes my tendency is to waste a lot of energy on condemnation of what my mind dreams up to express my desires in life. But Nouwen here teaches me that my attitude should not be condemnation but surrender. I'm really not wedded to my request for a piece of pizza! But God wants to rouse my longings for what He knows will truly satisfy me. God is Reality; the mental world I wanted to construct was a feeble cry for Him to save me. 
And now I see He is here. He longs for my cry, and He personally steps in to save me.

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