Sunday, July 29, 2012

Terri instructs us all

Gianna Kali at Beyond Meds republished a post a couple of days ago in which she commends how sensitively Al Siebert talked to a newly arrived young woman in a psychiatric hospital and laments her own treatment at a different institution under similar circumstances, which is the norm today for just about anybody entering a psychiatric hospital and given a serious mental health label. Al Siebert listened and respectfully discussed the young woman's mystical union with God.

I have a friend I'll call "Terri" who was very much like this young woman, and so many other young men and women today who are sensing that there is a powerful meaning behind life and are struggling to know how live with this growing feeling. Always a very "good" child, when Terri entered her teenage years, she became religiously observant and found herself praying a lot. She also was convinced that she was a sinner and needed to do good works to atone for her increasingly agitated thoughts. This was quite a few years ago and Terri wasn't living in a Western industrialized country in any case, so she was actually encouraged by her admittedly alarmed family to continue her ritualistic praying with the hopes that maybe she would eventually find her vocation. Instead of ostracizing her, her family considered her passions perhaps a sign of something worth encouraging.

Terri spent the next few years refining her ideas of prayer, praying so much that she figured out that there was a right way and a wrong way to have a union with God. The right way is to start with silence, and to hold silence around you as much as possible, in order to clear the mind to allow God's grace to eventually penetrate the soul. She knew nothing about Buddhism or Eastern meditation practices. She focused her prayers on on the body of Christ. Make no mistake about it. Terri is odd by to our Western industrialized concept of what a person her age should be doing. She could get away with doing so little by today's upward mobility standards because she was living communally and her expenses were few. Her family was proud of her if they thought of her at all.

Over time, Terri perfected her ideas about prayer, which weren't just ideas, they were her lived experience. She sees union with God as a teachable process, informed by suffering and devotion.

She's very, very old now, and she even has a prayer about how to be old gracefully It involves not filling the air with idle talk at every opportunity or telling other people how to run their lives.

Luckily for  "Terri," her unusual proclivities weren't pathologized and forcefully treated as "mental illness,"  otherwise her story may have been very different. There are many versions of her fascinating internal life, but here is an official one.


  1. very sweet...I studied the lives of many of the mystics while getting my BA in Religious Studies...good fun...and it allowed me to never forget who I really was :-)

  2. If you, Chris, and others, lived in a different time or a different place, the path to self-awareness, though never smooth, may have taken a more humane route!


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