Courage, Trust, and Openness

The way my angelus aspect stood behind my seated form mirrored the way the black armored angel stood behind [the Bow-Wielder]. I held the wood beaded rosary I had restrung. She held a shiny black beaded rosary similar to the one I had sent away.

“Years ago, you said I was a terrible Christian, and that I had to make a choice between devotion and survival. I chose survival, and with that choice, completed my apostasy.”

She answered with a silent nod as her soft and tender smirk mocked me.

“I’ve been chasing your ass ever since.”

She nodded again.

I pointed to the angel behind her. “How long has he been there?”

“There? Or here?” She did not try to keep her humor from her voice.

“Bitch, you know what I mean. I thought he was the guardian of the Lost Crucifix Rosary, but then he shows up in my office! And then he shows up in my room. And then he’s shadowing you! But you, yourself, are not Christian, so what the fuck?”

She idly walked her rosary through her hands, bead by bead, using a well practiced rhythm. “No. I’m not Christian. It can be argued that I never had been, and that I had been rebellious during the years that you were devoted. But… what makes a Christian? Your faith is stronger now than it ever had been before, and yet here you have [so many things] that a proper Christian should not.”

I gripped my rosary with impatience. My angelus placed her hand upon my shoulder as her silent advice. “Answer the question. How long has that angel been there?”

She stopped passing the beads and held the rosary still. “For as long as you have faith.” She held up a card with soft pastel hues on one side and a nun’s image on the other. “Question for a question. Are you in?”

The group exercise this quarter for the Rune Soup Premium Members is a novena for Saint Mary MacKillop. Chosen for reasons that will remain behind the premium membership paywall, those reasons actually sat comfortably beside me. And after looking her up for myself, and finding a version of the prayer that seemed targeted to address my current circumstances, I had been heavily considering joining in the group effort. The card bore this saint’s image.

“… Yea. I’m in.” My angelus aspect looked over my shoulder to stare at me in surprise. Across the indeterminate gulf, my black-hatted reflection deepened her smirk.

I swallowed my doubt and began to explain. “The prayer isn’t for anything that would shackle me. And unlike the previous group effort, doesn’t have any potential for causing mayhem in the immediate area. And besides… some of those words have very specific connotations to me. I will not be lying or speaking fraudulently when speaking them.”

She tucked the card into a side pocket. “Then I guess he’ll be sticking around , then. You’re holding faith in the promises, so the promises will be kept.”

I accepted what I could not change and brooded a bit. I asked her the question I should have asked in the beginning. She laughed and pointed out the damn obvious.

“See you in nine days, supplicant.”

She pulled her wide-brimmed hat over her head, ending the dream.

The wood beaded rosary had previously been restrung with hemp cord in a complementary color. The replacement cord cost more than the original rosary, which was originally assembled from significantly imperfect materials. All these imperfections combined is what made it alluring in the first place.

I had already completed my homework. I was going to follow the lead of a fellow from the RSPM forums and pray the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Glory Be before praying the actual novena for the first eight days. On the ninth day, I will pray the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Glory Be, then the four prayers included for the group exercise, the Novena itself, followed by the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and ending with a final Glory Be.

The only part I will not be able to act in tandem with the others is attending and/or sponsoring a Mass. There are alternative actions and I will wait to see how the first eight days unfold before committing to an action on the ninth.

Because I will be praying this on the rosary, using the crucifix pendant at the start of the routine, I will actually be praying three Hail Mary’s during each pass.

The first night, I surprised myself by realizing I had successfully forgotten the Lord’s Prayer, and had to look it up so I could record it for later nights. As I grew up Baptist(ish), I also had to look up the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. I found them to be very short prayers, but very compact in their meaning and very broad in their application.

I stared at the rosary in silence for a long time. The cold floor under my feet had become warm when I finally set action to desire. Hands moved to cross myself as if my last service was only yesterday, even as my voice broke and cracked as I recovered the rhythm of prayer.

The first novena ended softly, as the echoes of my prayer settled in the silence that cocooned me.

Before I spoke the second novena in the evening, some news from the day’s work broke open two wounds. I found myself deeply mourning a man I had only known by his last name and had shared only a few days worth of company, and mourning previously unacknowledged pain from the betrayal by a fellow premium member who decided mocking in public what was given in confidence was more important than holding trust.

By the time I prepared for evening prayers, I found myself utterly exhausted and unwilling to even lift the rosary, much less go through the gestures and read the half-memorized texts. If there was a time when I could use a supernatural infusion of “courage, trust, and openness”, this would be the time for it.

By the end of the second novena, I felt that I was not alone in my room, and that the other presence was not one of the usual suspects. There was a layer of peace settling around me. I accepted it, placed my tools away, and went to bed.

The third day was spent trying not to throw certain coworkers into the nearest body of water. I was successful only because I didn’t want to taint the waterways with a sudden influx of lead weights. That inner peace can hurry the fuck up and manifest any time now.

As I prepared for prayer in the evening, there was a moment of stillness between the actions that preceded a working and the praying itself. Physically alone in a locked room, I felt the presence of others near me. I recognized the constant state of loneliness my life is steeped in at the moment, and marked the sensation as my mind trying to comfort itself.

I sat still as the presences continued to surround me in waves of pressure and ambiance. It took me a while to recognize where I had felt this kind of comfort before. A church body, when focused in prayer for a common goal, presses upon those within it like a wave lifting whatever is caught within it.

I was part of something again, but this time that something was not out for my blood. I felt small again. A minnow surrounded by the deep blue sea. A meal for anything bored enough to go after me.

It’s scary to be visited by sensations that evoke memories from my Christian years. Looking back on those years with what I know now, I can see how a skilled pastor/preacher/reverend is just another magician. And we, the congregation, were the stores of power he drew on. Sitting alone in the nearly dark room, I feel my face burning unsummoned tears as I reflect on the similarities and the differences.

I remind myself I am not bound. That I am not forced into participation or be subject to threats of… harm. That I am not abdicating control over myself, or tying new leashes to my throat and hands. That I can walk away from this “exercise” any time I want to. That the actions of individuals are not the will of the whole. And that the focus of the whole is not my personal subjugation.

I attributed my tears to weariness, dried my face, and with conscious deliberation, prayed the third novena.

There is a difference between bravado and bravery. I don’t think I have either. Bluster and shit-talking is my second to last resort for getting out of a troubling situation. If I can escape without being seen, noticed, or otherwise engaged, that is the best possible outcome short of not getting into trouble in the first place.

There is a difference between prayer and petitioning. The latter can be emotionless and completely detached from one’s core, while the former can only come from within. Language, tools, even body posture, can all be inconsequential compared to the strength and vulnerability required by true, fervent prayer.

It’s not the god I’m worried about, as that has already been settled. I imagine the saint would be cheering me on. I’d rather not get jumped by angels, please and thank you. I know I have changed, is it enough?

This afternoon, at work, I was introduced to a cohort that cut across employer lines. At the seminar, I listened to multi-decade veterans discuss matters that I was only beginning to experience. When talk came around to me, I spoke truthfully about being new to the industry and very new to my job role.

For some reason, I expected stony silence. I’m the wrong demographic, the wrong cultural background, the wrong education ladder, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

I was surrounded by those same veterans and given more education for my job role than I could write down in my notes.

“It’s okay to be new at this. What’s important is that you are willing to learn. You have access to a depth of resources that books will never capture. What is new to you, is something we have seen before, and we can guide you through the trickier issues. And if you do show us something new, then we all learn. You’re not alone, but you do have to reach out to us before we can help you.”

It wasn’t until I was sitting with the rosary in hand that the layered meanings of the chairperson’s words filtered through the hardheadedness of the day.

It’s okay to be new at this.

The beads feel warm in my hands. What I’m about to do isn’t the type of Christianity I grew up with, isn’t the type that left bruises on me, and isn’t the type that encouraged me to kill myself lest I cause others to sin with me. What I’m about to do is new to me. My personal motives for wanting to participate in this group exercise is new to me.

There are an uncountable number of others who are masters at what I stumble through, and who will forget more before their passing than what is written in all the books of the world. I will likely not join their ranks.

And that’s okay.

I have to have the courage to reach out, both to give and to receive.
I have to have the trust in myself to accept assistance.
I have to have the openness to admit when I don’t know and need to learn.

I bowed my head, and prayed the fourth novena.

I’m a day early. That knowledge sent me in a bit of a panicked twirl for a while. I started one day too early if I wanted to time the 9th day with Saint Mary MacKillop’s feast day on August 8th. I know how I made that error. Gordon White was recording the course video in Australia, and had made mention of what day to start the novena from his point of view.

I completely forgot that his time zone is seventeen hours ahead of mine.

I reconciled my clerical error by noting that Saint Mary MacKillop was Australian, so from her point of view, I’m actually lagging. But also from her point of view, I’m actually doing the thing and trying my best, so if that means I have an extra day to acquire courage, trust, and openness, well, that also is good.

I found myself dwelling on the topic of courage all day at work. Courage to stand up to clientele. Courage to stand up to coworkers. Courage to stand up to family. Courage to face my reflection in the mirror.

I think I’ve made mention how much of a coward I am.

Maybe one day, my waking self will have the iron-jawed tenacity and grit of my dream world self. Each day, I get closer. But by each evening, I am reminded how far away I still am.

Today I understood that courage to be open must be met by the courage to remain closed. To be open to people does not mean to grant them access to parts better kept private. As much of a grumpy old bitch as I am, one would think I had learned this lesson early. Some boundaries must be tested. Some boundaries must be upheld.

This waking meditation on the theme of courage surprised me. I did not expect these thoughts to be my companions for the day. In keeping with the dedication to the exercise, I have not performed any unnecessary workings, dabblings, or other questionable actions during this novena. That I have not encountered [the Bow-Wielder] is not surprising. That I have not encountered any other of the usual entities, is.

This fails to frighten me.

As the day draws to a close, and the hour of prayer approaches, I question my plans for the ninth day. It was my intention to make a donation to the Saint Mary MacKillop Foundation as my “devotional act”. But the extra day and my nascent bravery has me considering actually attending a mass on the 8th.

I considered how similar bravery is to bravado, as I bowed my head and prayed the fifth novena.

For someone who had worked so damn hard to refine the swords of thought and direct the force of will to walk away from anything spiritual or mystical, to leave behind the idiocy of religions and be free from the chains of those who would proclaim themselves shepherds of the soul, I have ran away so vigorously that I have ran headfirst back into it.

My visions have deepened. Layers of nuances braid themselves to obscure the important from those who hate it, but hold captive sparks of understanding for those who need such seeds.

With the resurgence of the visions have resurfaced deep fears. I was not given guidance, assistance, nor shelter during my Christian days. I was exploited by my elders and pastors as long as my visions didn’t call out their sins, and later condemned and urged to harm myself “in penance” when my visions did. Gaslighting by family made an easy game of crushing what little of my mind remained after those decades.

My recovery has not been easy.

So now I have dreams again, and now I am engaging in Christian mysticism again, and now I am facing those very things that were the reason for, and the reason how, my being driven into madness. But now in those dreams, the symbols for my fears are directly telling me to challenge them. To confront them. To confront my fear.

This was the unintentional theme of my thoughts for the sixth day of the novena. Courage, trust, and openness are more than key words to write a several thousand word post on. My “path” is leading me back into the same Christian mysticism that was used to justify destroying me, with the added “sin” of not being Christian.

To do what I feel I will be “called” to do will require physically placing myself in areas and positions that I had been driven out of before, and mentally and spiritually placing myself in modes and states where I had been torn to pieces before. But this time, I won’t be thrown blind and bound into hostile waters.

This time, I have help. This time, I have oversight. This time, I have others, physical and otherwise who have figuratively and literally given me markers that I can hold on to when I am afraid, that I can have as the last memory in my sight before donning the seer’s blinding headdress. But having the markers are not enough. I have to trust the markers and what they represent.

The rosary is a marker of faith. The prayers of this particular novena is a marker of faith. I look on the fifty-nine chipped beads that have a combined weight of a deep sigh, reflect on how healing the damage sowed by spiritual abuse is coming about by becoming spiritual again, bow my head and pray the sixth novena.

“I hope I’m not keeping you up, Keri.”

“Of course, not. I have other knots to untie and you’re helping me not lose my mind over it.” Of course, she was keeping me up. But this was important and worth chewing on extra coffee grounds in the morning.

Even though you know a particular thing is coming, the actual strike against your psyche that thing inflicts could crush you no matter how well prepared you thought you were. She was still reeling from such a circumstance.

Time zones work against us. Her late evening is my too-early morning. Asynchronous communication had been our primary means of contact with the occasional waving at each other via chat apps.

“I don’t want to keep you up. I know it’s late there.”

“It’s not midnight, yet.”

It truly wasn’t. As the conversation continued to add lines of text and emoji to the log, I realized this was another expression of the theme of openness for the day. This was the openness that comes behind closed doors, that is hidden by inside jokes and private understanding. That this limited venue where only her and I filled a shared space was boundless between us.

Earlier today I went and did a thing I had been desiring for years, but had not followed through because it went against an ideal I had been clutching to myself for the wrong reasons. Doing the thing created a boundary even as it transgressed another. But before I could mark off these new limits, I had to be open to the idea of accepting these new limits as my own.

To be open, then, is to have the understanding of when to say ‘Yes’, and when to say ‘No’.

“I have to have a smoke, be back in a bit.”

“I’ll be here when you do.”

The timestamp reminds me I only have twenty minutes left in my “day” to be able to say with integrity that I prayed the seventh novena on time. I retrieved the rosary and found myself asking Saint Mary MacKillop for an extra dose of understanding and openness. I am not a comforter by nature. I am not the soft friend who holds you with kid gloves and offers isolation from whatever thorn pricks at you.

I am the person who will give you the tools to pull the thorn out yourself and the alcohol to clean up after.

After I prayed the seventh novena, I looked up at the screen and saw my friend’s message that she had returned. When I had not immediately answered, she began to leave further messages that I should just log off and go to bed.

“It’s still not midnight yet. And you’re not the boss of me.”

“And what will you do in five minutes when it is midnight?”

“Remind you it’s not midnight in the time zone behind me, and keep going.”

Sometimes being open hurts. Make sure it’s hurting for the right reasons.

Not all of my fears are rational. I am aware that statement holds true for the majority of the human race, but when it comes to facing those fears that literally make me weak, that fact is not comforting.

It only enrages me more.

I believed for years that my irrational fear of churches and sacred spaces was because of my “demonic” bloodlines. That my ancestry was attempting to keep me from the pure and the holy.

I understand now that my fear was because of the physical, emotional, and psychological abuses that took place in such “sacred spaces”. I still quip that I had the Devil beaten out of me, and when he left, he took my faith with him because nothing so pure should be in such filth as what I endured in the name of Christ.

Here is wisdom: Understanding, and being able to act on that understanding, are two different things.

Earlier in the day, I expressed my fear of churches and my understanding that it is time to confront said fear. After posting, I spent the rest of the day literally shaking in my seat as I pulled up maps of Roman Catholic churches in my area and searched for one that offered Mass after work on Tuesday. My prayer schedule was a day off if you took it from my time zone. The novena would end on Monday, but Tuesday was Saint Mary MacKillop’s feast day.

I understand now that I needed to be out of “sync” with the group effort on this exercise. This wasn’t about “classwork” anymore.

Courage and openness had been demonstrated in nuanced layers already. Now was a lesson on trust.

For all I intellectually knew about the physical structure of churches… for all of Mother Mary’s assurances that I would be insulated from warring angels… for all of God the Father’s declarations about being made clean…

I was afraid.

There is only one way to test the promises I had been given, and that was through an expression of faith.

I set my calendar and alarm for Tuesday evening accordingly, and with tearful eyes and shaking hands, bowed my head and prayed the eighth novena.

Nine days ago when I read the details of the group exercise, I thought to myself how quaint and… (ugh) cute… the idea was. My challenge at the time was not what if I “encountered God”, or what if my beliefs were shaken, but what if someone else decided to use my posts to wipe their digital ass on. I wasn’t concerned about angels pushing spiritual boundaries. I was concerned about people respecting digital boundaries.

For that reason, I spoke very little about my joining the endeavor, both in the Rune Soup Member Forums and my own corners of social media. This post became a running diary of reflections and experiences as I prayed the novena, however because I did so with intent of making it public once completed, there are nuances and scenes that will forever change my gait but will not be recorded here.

I will admit to an ulterior motive for joining this particular group exercise. My personal path, though apostate still as ever, is leading me back to Christianity through a different route and for a different reason than I had encountered it before.

I need to be comfortable with the symbolism, the prayers, the motions, and even the belief systems, not for myself, but for those I may have to help one day.  There may come a time when I would have to pray out loud for a devout Christian, to their god, and mean it, even though there is no redemption from that god for myself.

(Again, I refer to details that I will not expound on.)

If I can get through nine days of simple prayer, then I may have a shot at integrating [the Bow-Wielder aspect] and healing myself that much more than I was before.

After all, it’s only words, right?

Here I am, on the ninth day. The rosary is in my lap. In lieu of attending a mass specifically for Saint Mary MacKillop’s feast day (August 8th, tomorrow), I will be donating to her foundation tonight after prayer with the desired purpose of “Indigenous Scholarship” as informally agreed upon in the Rune Soup Member Forums.

I am sure my usual cynicism about giving money to devouring and corrupted institutions like the Roman Catholic Church will kick in tomorrow.

Right now, I’m just trying not to cry.

“Courage, Trust, and Openness” were Saint Mary’s themes, and by hell, have I been slapped in the face with all three. What started off with the adult equivalent of a playground dare is not going to end tonight with the click of a mouse button.

I’m serious about attending Mass tomorrow.

I have to go tomorrow.

I’m just not sure why.

It is about confronting an irrational fear. And it is about honoring one of the few saints I can get along with on a personal level. And it is about making peace with my past.

But it is about something more, that I can’t quite identify just yet.

And all that I know for sure, is that if I don’t go, then I won’t find out.

I will admit that I have intentionally avoided the Rune Soup Forums since I began the novena. I don’t know how others are faring. I don’t even know how Gordon White is faring, and he’s the one who instigated all this!

The architecture of the church I will be going to is lovely if the website pictures are true to the form. Somehow I don’t think I’ll see a single brick of it.

I don’t think I’ll be there to see wonders.

I think I’ll be there to see me.

I resolve to follow through, pick up the rosary, bow my head, and pray the ninth novena.

See you in church.