A spiritual block

April 17, 2006 | Background, Spiritual Dry Spells | 8 comments

My lack of posts is partially due to the fact that I am easily overwhelmed by day-to-day life with a toddler. But the biggest reason is that I’m suffering from a sort of spiritual block, kind of like a writer’s block.

After I wrote that post about suffering and read up on the issue I realized that understanding God’s role in suffering requires understanding Christian doctrine and all its nuances. I found John Paul II’s letter on suffering and all of Jennifer’s posts on the topic very interesting, but often waaay over my head. I’ve found the same thing with most of the books I’ve read on Catholicism and Christianity.

As a person who went to church on Easter for the first time ever just yesterday, has never been to church with her parents, only attended Sunday school once or twice with friends, didn’t live in a house that had a Bible until a couple years ago and didn’t even know who this Jesus person was supposed to be until around high school, there is just so much I don’t know. And it’s really overwhelming.

I read something about why Jesus had to die for our sins and the author casually mentions something about a “new covenant”. (There was an old one? What exactly is a covenant, again?) I read something about joining in Jesus’ suffering and the author casually throws out the concept of “grace”. (No idea what that’s about). Another author mentions in passing the good news that Jesus conquered death (didn’t the pre-Jesus Jews believe in an afterlife?) and that his resurrection means that we’ll be resurrected (how do we get from A to B on that one?) All of these concepts are so elementary, yet so over my head. [I list these examples to illustrate a point only — I don’t want my kind readers to spend too much time trying to explain this stuff to me via this post. I’ll clarify my questions and re-post them individually later.]

So I find myself at a standstill right now, and often slide back into my old atheist mindset since that’s what’s comfortable for me. All the books and info I read to try to deepen my faith assume that the reader has some sort of basic knowledge of Christianity and the stories of the Bible. (It might be because I usually read Catholic authors. For some reason their doesn’t seem to be a lot of Christianity 101 type stuff by Catholics. It’s either heavy Catholic theology or apologetics aimed at Protestant converts.)

So anyway, if I’m quiet on the spirituality front for a while, that’s why. I feel really overwhelmed by what I don’t know and don’t understand right now. And I get frustrated when I look around and see that SO many other people totally have a handle on this. I don’t usually think of myself as an idiot but, man, I’ve been trying to understand how Christ’s death on the cross conquered sin and evil and death for like five months now and just cannot wrap my mind around it.

I’m going to go hit the books (probably starting with cardboard picture books aimed at toddlers since that appears to be my level of understanding) and possibly toss out a few questions to you readers, and hopefully I’ll one day get this stuff figured out. Wish me luck. Or, better yet, pray for me. 🙂

8 Comments

  1. John

    Hello Jen-

    I think everyone has these spriritually arid times more often than most would think. I know I have. The key to working through them for me is to keep praying and remember to ‘not be afraid’. That last part can be the hardest.

    Good luck keeping up with the toddler! I have the theory that they have so much enenrgy because they drain it off the parents!

    May God bless you,

    John

  2. Anonymous

    Hey – We will.

    Good luck with the kids, it’s pretty hectic raising toddlers. I have two.

    And don’t be afraid of taking that “leap of faith” (for lack of a better term) Alot of people approach salvation like it’s an unsteady bridge overhanging an Abyss.

    Take care !

    – Matt

  3. Lori

    Jen,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and I have always felt a connection with you. I also walked the path of converting from atheism to Catholicism. Just yesterday marked the beginning of my 8th year as a Catholic.

    I’ll try to keep this coherent, but I’ve been dealing with morning sickness all day…so I may not be able to continue my train of thought if things start coming up!

    It IS immensely difficult to come into the church from a position against God…mostly because more converts enter the church from other faiths, particularly christian ones. I still get pretty weird looks when people find out I was an atheist, because people just don’t know how to relate.

    In my first RCIA program, it was on a Catholic college campus, and they spent a whole bunch of time on things like “draw a picture of what you thought God looked like as a child, and then draw a picture of what you think God looks like now” (very much aimed at students who just hadn’t been confirmed.) I ended up leaving that program for another because I just wanted BASIC QUESTIONS ANSWERED!

    So, I have a few suggestions for things that you might want to check out, and then a few words that get me through my periods of doubt/spiritual dryness (which I still have, from time to time, 8 years later)

    First, try the Journey of Faith program by Ligouri publications. They are little four page leaflets that come in four components: Inquiry, Sacraments, Lent, and Mystogogy. This is what I used in my second RCIA class, and it was great…very simple points, simple answers. And it looks like it is less than $20 for a whole set!

    Second, have you read “Did Adam and Eve Have Bellybuttons” or “Did Jesus Have a Last Name” both by Matt Pinto (the second one is also by Jason Evert) they are written based on questions by teenagers, and I just started the second one (my MIL gave it to me for Easter, but does think I’m a little strange at 26 asking for a book aimed at 16 year olds!) and both of them are very good, and simple enough for those of us with less catechisis! Those are probably my favorite easy sources. I’ve also heard good things about “The Complete Idiots Guide to Catholicism” (or whichever one has the orange cover…I can’t keep dummies and idiots straight!) but I haven’t read it, so I can’t know for sure.

    And here is the thought that keeps me going when times get tough…

    “I believe in order that I might understand” -St. Anselm

  4. SteveG

    Jennifer,
    For starters, the arid/block periods are common to all believers, so please don’t get discouraged by that. We work through them and usually come out stronger on the other end.

    Here is a link to the book I beleive Lori was talking about…
    Catholicism for Dummies

    …I haven’t read it either, but have heard very good things about it.

    Finally, I’ll offer a web resource that I hold near and dear to my heart. It is, I think just what you might be looking for. It’s a Home Study course I discovered years and years ago (when first exploring Catholicism).

    It starts at the beginning, and takes things step by step through the basics of the faith and if memory serves it’s at the level you are talking about.

    Home Study Service

    Beyond that, my advice is to stay the course. Continue just as you have been. Keep asking questions, keep struggling with the terminology, keep seeking answers, and bit by bit the puzzle pieces will begin falling into place.

    A light will go on here, an illumination there, that will make sense of a bunch of things you’ve read all at once.

    It may take longer for you with your background, but if you keep plugging away, it will come.

    By all means, please ask even the most basic questions here if need be and I am sure the solid crew of commenters you’ve gathered will be happy, willing, and able to help.

  5. Christine

    Jen,

    I can’t add much to the advice you are getting here. But I will add that I will put you on my prayer list. There are resources available, and you might even want to start with children’s stuff (Auqinas and More has the old Baltimore Catechism for somewhere around $5, and Seton has a lot of resources for elementary religious education. See http://www.aquinasandmore.com/ – specifically the homeschool area – and http://www.setonbooks.com/ for their websites.) If I were you, I wouldn’t be ashamed at reading the kids’ books, because I learn new things all the time homeschooling my girls – one in second grade and the other in preschool – and I’m a cradle Catholic. Besides, you can use them with your kids, too. (See? We can rationalize!)

    Seriously, though. Do check out the homeschooling religious ed books (my site has a link to a homeschooling resource site with more information on texts) because they can really explain things well and then build upon them. And also keep in mind that you are on people’s prayer lists. I’ll say a prayer for you right now.

    Be not afraid!

  6. KathyJo

    Jen, have you read any of C.S. Lewis’ books? He wasn’t Catholic, but you might get some basic understanding of Christianity from his books– in particular, Mere Christianity. Miracles is another good one which presents a logical argument for miracles. I know he also wrote one on suffering, though I haven’t read it yet and can’t remember the title. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of every one of his books that I’ve read. And as a former atheist himself, his way of viewing things may be beneficial to you.

    Blessings, Jen. I will be praying for you. And one thing I’ve been reminding myself of lately is that part of the fog right now is hormone– not faith– related. :}

  7. Amy Caroline

    Jennifer,
    I know how you feel, believe me!! I didn’t know half what I do now until I started homeschooling my kids. Their books taught me soooo much and deepened my faith considerably. Can I recommend the Baltimore Catechism books? They are aimed towards kids, but I learned a lot from them and you can pass them on to your kids too!
    As for life with a toddler, oh man, I can relate. My two year old is killing me. We weaned him from his pacifier and boy is he making his not so happy feelings known about it! And being pregnant on top of it… oh joy…
    Take care of yourself. I love your new blog too!
    ~Amy

  8. Jennifer

    Your quest for knowledge and understading are truly blessed! Pray to the Holy Spirit to increase your desire for it.

    I don’t think this is a spiritually arid time for you at all, actually–what sends you back to these books and to the internet is the fire of the Holy Spirit–Christ wants you to know and understand Him.

    You are moving straight toward the heart of Jesus and your resistance is natural. What kind of faith would just accept blindly?

    Blind faith is actually not encouraged at all in Catholicism. St. Augustine warns against it.

    Keep questing–and remember–mystery and paradox are at the center of our faith and will never be fully grasped in its entirety but we catch momentary glimpses–this is what is meant by grace. Completely undeserved glimpses of Christ in our everyday life–a sudden sureness a brief feeling of all enveloping love–a sudden burst of happiness duirng an early spring morning walk.

    These are the graceful breezes that make that incredibly difficult task of belief easier to take on.

    Easter blessings! You are so bright and inquisitive–and I’m so struck by your easy apprehension of the fact that atheism is an easier default position than belief. This in itself tells me that you are being touched with fire and understanding.

    Keep writing–your struggle edifies more than just yourself…

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