criticism and confession

One evening a couple weeks ago, Tim and I relaxed in front of a recent sci fi movie (which I won't name -- but spoiler alert for reading further). Afterward, Tim categorized it as belonging to a trend. This trend involves people seeking aliens, but the twist is the aliens are us. I noticed the same feature in the new X Files series (we just saw the first episode), only, the movie we'd watched made the idea positive, while in X Files the revelation of humanity carrying out alien activity was a dark development.

How like my pondering journey this is. As obsessed with truth-seeking as Agent Mulder, ready to lift off into space if ever I could (yet I'd likely lose my lunch in orbit), I've been alternately enraptured and enraged by recognizing we are not (nobody is) alone. Something views me from a different plane of existence. Is this dimension of which I'm so ignorant the natural world of plants, animals, earth/space/time? Is it the chambers of angels, the dominion of God? Perhaps somehow it's all of these. I wish to understand.


But I'm engaged here and now, in traffic and on the computer, with the broken blindness of mankind. From early childhood, my psychology has found a way to cope with other humans. I fear them picking, probing, bullying, ramming me -- and of course it's been only rarely that someone has physically or even verbally abused me, seeing as I grew up in a grove of kindness -- but those outside my shelter; well, I've experienced hurt myself, or I've watched those I love maimed by some of their thoughts and internalizations. These dark inner ideas mainly have come out as criticisms, words that are supposed to never hurt me but are only another form of hurled sticks and stones.

I learned a way to cope, analogous to Jack London's "law of the wild": Eat or be Eaten. I learned to criticize first. Mostly inside myself rather than out loud. But mostly all the time and with everyone.

This way of reacting to other human beings, this learned (and imitated) defense system, takes a lot of time and energy. A lot. First I must analyze the other person crossing my path and imagine what they've done, are doing, or may do that offends me. Then I have to deal with my whole self in reaction, often in justifying blame. This habitual process may be instantaneous or drawn out, but it's always draining.

No wonder I lose out on what I'd much rather be doing: studying reality; putting the evidence I've discovered/been given to the test; seeking to draw near to the Ultimate.


As clearly as I'm seeing my criticalness today, I have only begun to become aware of it due to an amazing gift: the Orthodox Christian mystery of confession. For nearly five years I've practiced speaking my failures aloud to God in the presence of an ordained witness, my priest. And it's really something.

Like the Old Testament practice of animal sacrifice which prefigured New Testament confession, I have "killed" the bull (I've first repented in my heart), and now I drag its carcass to offer up. Like the old sacrifices, this practice isn't for God's benefit; it's for mine. Over time in confession I hear myself repeating things, such as anger and more anger. I yelled...I swore...I criticized.

Five years in, I can finally see something new regarding my sudden choice to study the Orthodox (made during a prayer I breathed, repenting of -- what do you know -- anger, in which I was flabbergasted to recognize this church might contain something real). The new thing involves my grief over losing my friends, the people I shared ideas in common with for eleven years. I've felt like they rejected me -- not because anybody said anything to me about what I chose, but because I imagined their rejection, their criticism of me as a person.

But today I recognize the alien, the criticizer, and it is me. Before I became Orthodox, I thought critical things about people who, becoming Orthodox, deviated from my views. When I took that same turn, I was hurt by my assumption that others were thinking the same negative things about me. Whether anybody was or not doesn't matter now; I forgive them if they were. It's easier to forgive the complexities in another person than to be cleansed of self-inflicted pain, the soul-destroying type.

This pain is eased at last, though, by help (and, so help me, I believe this fully now) from another dimension: the creative space of goodness where hearts and minds are revealed; a Personal, rescuing reality comprised of love and freedom.

Comments

Fresca said…
I really, really relate to what you write here:
"I recognize the alien, the criticizer, and it is me. Before I became Orthodox, I thought critical things about people who, becoming Orthodox, deviated from my views. When I took that same turn, I was hurt by my assumption that others were thinking the same negative things about me."

When I first started to write for publication––even though it was minor, non-creative nonfiction (essentially extended encyclopedia entries)––I was in an agony of fear.
I wondered, Why was I so anxious?
Why did I feel so vulnerable?
It's not like the books I worked on would even get reviewed.

Finally I realized it was because *I* myself was so judgmental--I had been taught in academia to be critical--unforgiving, even!--of people who made mistakes in print.

As you say, the criticizer was me.

I expected the same treatment.

Blogging has been liberating and healing:
in the dozen years I've been blogging, no one has been anything but supportive.
If people don't like what I write, they simply don't read me--which is how the Internet works, eh?
How freeing!
People don't bother to criticize, they simply ignore me.

In this calm backwater of anonymity, I gained confidence in my writing, dropped my habit of harsh criticism (of self and others), and gained fellow feeling with other bloggers.

At my best, this is how I see other writers (and myself) now--as fellow souls who bravely dare to expose their tender selves in words.

[Of course there are plenty of self-important bullies who use their words to bludgeon others. That's a different matter.]

Anyway, I'd say, for me, what you call "the creative space of goodness where hearts and minds are revealed" has been the blogosphere!
Isn't that funny? I mean, there's certainly a lot of problems on the Internet [like there are lots of problems with anything involving humans :) ], but for me it's mostly been "comprised of love and freedom".

And you've been part of that goodness, Deanna, for which I thank you!




Fresca said…
P.S. "Battlestar Galactica" fits in Tim's category too: The aliens are us!
Though, really, the ending of that show was so muddled, I didn't really buy it, of care... But still, it fits the category.

I wonder what the recent sci-fi movie you were watching was.
E-mail me?
deanna said…
Fresca, before I email you with the mystery movie title, I want to respond. Your connection to criticism of published writing and then in the blogosphere is wonderful. It's cool that you recognized a problem in your understanding and were helped through it to freedom via blogging.

I've been considering writing a post about the blogs I'm appreciating today and why, because, yes, they're still out there [the truth is out there].

I'm still coming to appreciate "the calm backwater of anonymity" that is blogging; at first, I did it seeking writerly attention. Now I'm okay with people not reading if they're not interested (which is really where I've come to be at concerning people's interest or lack thereof my faith journey).

I love this: "At my best, this is how I see other writers (and myself) now--as fellow souls who bravely dare to expose their tender selves in words."

Yes, there are lots of problems with anything involving humans, be it Internet blogging or the Orthodox Church. My term for the trouble is the fallen/corrupted state of things, and my joy is in my belief that we're created to want to work through the problems, to find the way through to goodness. Stories and movies (fantasy and sci fi being a big part of my experience) so often include pieces of reality-seeking. Yay for continuing to seek to find this way.

I never made it to the end of Battlestar Galactica, but I've heard about it and had forgotten. Interesting...