Last week I spoke of struggle. This week I struggled. I didn’t know where to start after watching a show on Netflix I heard about on a podcast. Here’s a trailer for this cause of my cognitive dissonance (NSFF/trigger warning: not safe for faith):
You see, I always held out some openness to the idea of faith healing. I was never fooled by the charlatans on TV, but I have known people who have experienced what they sincerely believe to be healing through prayer. So I partitioned that subset of faith off as a mystery that I may never understand. That is, I knew it would be unlikely to draw me in because I couldn’t buy into the culture of charismatic spirituality, yet I was open to other’s claims to have experienced real spiritual events.
I went to a revival once. I’d been to charismatic worship services and seen people speak in tongues many times. However, this particular event was a travelling show by the people of the Toronto Airport Fellowship. My father had been to one before reported an openness to their legitimacy. This gave me some confidence about their ministry that it was sincere if the spiritual flash-in-the-pan of the era. I was invited to attend from acquaintances who had been. They even lent a car to this poor then-student to get out to the suburbs. Others I knew had also been and recommended it. So I went but with a caveat.
At this point, I was already well into my Anglican transition. I was a sophisticated Christian now. I had put childish things behind me. So if I was going to go to this thing and risk opening old scars from failed charismatic forays, it was to be on my terms. To be sure, I wanted to experience the blessing and was doing my best to be open to it. However, I refused to get caught up in some sort of musically driven frenzy. I felt that if God can heal, God shouldn’t need gimmicks and formulas. If these guys were legitimate, the Holy Spirit could heal me even though I hated their music.
Then the smoking the Spirit like a “cigarette” started. At some moment in the process, we were asked to put up our hand if we smoked. I was a closet smoker at the time since people can be so judgemental about smoking. It’s bad for you, I know. How could I miss the warning labels? But there were people I knew seated behind me and I didn’t want to deal with the judgement.
Needless to say, I didn’t put my hand up. However, I decided I would to still follow along. Then they told us to inhale the Spirit like a “cigarette.” I use quotations because these sweet innocent Evangelicals sheltered from the world were miming smoking a joint, not a cigarette. So we were supposed to be getting literally high on the Spirit as we mimicked the act of getting high on weed. I guess that’s pretty Pauline (Or Pseudo-Pauline if you prefer).
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the SpiritEphesians 5:18
To no one’s surprise, I did not receive a blessing that evening. Still though, I held out an openness to the experience of others. I couldn’t get my charismatic fix but others seemed to be able. To each our own.
Until, that is, I watched the above show on Netflix. Derren Brown, a magician, recreates a revival without belief. He is a self-proclaimed atheist but still put on a “show” like any revival complete with healings and slaying people in the Spirit. I was more affected by this hour long show on Netflix than the revival I attended. I was rocked. I had held onto some hope that different expressions of faith work for different people. Maybe I was called to litugical worship while others were called to charismatic worship. To each our own.
That openness is gone now.
The near-perfection in which this show was presented all but proves to me that faith healing has more to do with psychology than it does spirituality. It’s a tough pill to swallow but it actually confirms my suspicions of late. Medication does more for me than God ever did. Over the last few months, I’ve settled on a new raft of medication that has helped me improve my life more than anything else ever has. The things I hated about myself and begged God to heal are slowly diminishing as I take my meds and work hard to do the things I need to do for my mental health. I’m exercising, reading, writing, and yes meditating like I haven’t in decades. I’m happier than I’ve been in years all because I gave up waiting for God to fix me. I took matters into my own hands.
I’m sure there is a clever spiritualization of this experience. Maybe God wants me to grow and change by myself because it’s better for me that way. Maybe. Either way, the results remain the same: I am better because I am taking care of myself as opposed to waiting for God to. One of the things that’s helped me is working on my executive functioning skills. These days, if I’m an evangelist for anything, it’s for bullet journals. It’s a day-timer system that actually works for me. Check it out if you like. Or don’t. I don’t care. To each our own.
All this serves to confirm a working theory I have. People need stories and structure to build their life around. For some, charismatic worship makes their life richer. For others, bullet journals do. If it works, do it. This isn’t some kind of hedonism. Quite the contrary! Whatever structure and narrative you need to grow into a fuller human being is good. I suspect that if God truly exists, God wants us to be the best version of ourselves we can be. Maybe we find that wholeness in a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Maybe we find it on a weekly hike into the mountains. Or maybe we need to write a blog about our experiences to help us understand ourselves better. To each our own.
To each our own so that we can come more fully into our own.