A few months ago, I learned that Dr. Scott Miller (one of my favorite clinical writers and thinkers) wrote a memoir about his 2-year experience on a Mormon mission. In the next breath, I jumped on Amazon to order my copy. I initially encountered Scott Miller and his associates’ work in 2009. Around this time, my frustrations with the dogmatic nature of the leadership surrounding my primary therapeutic modality of practice, EMDR therapy, mounted to the point that I almost abandoned it as an intervention. Then, I heard Dr. Scott Miller speak at a conference and I found his whole view of our psychotherapeutic professions to be refreshing. His willingness, like Dr. Saul Roszenweig before him, to make comparisons between religious devotion to a certain faith denomination and zealous devotion to a school of psychotherapy impressed me.
Almost immediately into reading The Book of a Mormon, my understanding for why I admire Scott Miller so much deepened. I was impressed, in the first pages, at the way his tone did not come across as anti-faith. Indeed, in speaking of those who engage in practices like going on missions as an expression of faith (or doing what they believe to be the right thing), Miller writes, “No one who goes through such an experience merits scorn or ridicule, much less disinterest. They deserve our empathy. This is what I hope to achieve by revealing the real life and strange times of my own mission experience.” As someone who worked for a pretty conservative parish within the Catholic church for 2 ½ years following my undergraduate education, I was asked to do things I didn’t really believe at my core. However, the church had me believing that their way was the right way. As a girl who wanted so desperately to do the right thing, I followed suit. I felt Miller’s extension of empathy envelope me; I can still struggle with feelings of shame and regret around actions I performed in the name of God/the church while working on my own version of a mission.
Miller’s tales that compose the book are whimsical, insightful, and dripping with humanity. The cast of characters that he introduces (particularly the rigid mission area president) and his series of mission companions that he served with during his two years in Sweden, particularly animate these stories. His interactions with locals within the Sweden-Goteborg mission area were especially well told and full of spirit. These individuals struck me as his real teachers during his two-year mission. I was particularly moved by Miller’s account of meeting a non-Mormon Swedish woman, the first person he ever met to have a sambo (living companion). Miller’s reflection upon how she seemed to be a happy, well-adjusted person without any kind of faith and while living in a manner that flew in the face of everything he’d been raised with as a Mormon was particularly moving. Another highlight of his memoir was witnessing how he connected the dots about the way that the Mormon script for evangelizing completely contradicted Swedish cultural norms. Miller’s challenges to these aptly observed contradictions were swiftly shut down. Not only did I relate to many of these tales, I found them to be the pivotal observations that would go on to inform my career as a helping professional. I found myself wondering if Miller views his own challenging of the rules in a similar way.
In the end, Miller survived his two-year mission and emerged from the experience with a strong competency in the Swedish language (enough to earn a minor in it from Brigham Young University, where he completed undergrad) and a refreshed perspective on how the world works. It was a perspective that seemed to grow from many early days of wondering if he could get through this experience, to being able to mentor others on mission with him, particularly with language skills, and to become able to practice empathy where so many others could not. Miller reflects, “The experience irrevocably changed me. Everything I grew up believing about what most matters in life—family, faith, friendship—was turned upside down. Actually, it was ripped away. I was no longer innocent.”
I am grateful that Dr. Miller chose to put himself out there in this fashion and share about this time in his life in such an honest, candid way. As he noted, his tale is not one of scandal and salaciousness that we sometimes crave when we pick up church memoirs of this nature. His tale is of a young Mormon kid whose world was rocked by serving in this capacity. Indeed, reading the stories that comprised this rocking and its resulting awakening can be a learning experience for others who are in some way finding their entire worldview challenged. I believe that many more of us who work in psychology or the helping professions have stories like this to share—of losing faith and finding it all over again when we start to challenge what we’ve been told to believe… of learning to have faith in ourselves and what we are observing about how the world works.
I wrote Journey Blind in 2007 after a horrible break up and uncertainty about where life would take me next. Since then, this song has become a refuge of faith for me during any difficult passage or season. It was a great pleasure for me to be able to put together a guided dance to this piece while I was on a pilgrimage in Bingen, Germany following the steps and the work of St. Hildegard. Please feel free to engage in the dance at whatever pace works for you today. Much thanks to Betsey Beckman of The Dancing Word and Mary Beth Alberts for their assistance in putting this video together.
is learning to embrace
as a sacred gift
Frustration is part
of the creative process
Transforms the moments
What if boredom is
grounding in disguise
Me to rest in this life?
There are no words
to properly express
The gifts I have received,
In each step I offer my thanks,
in knowing these emotions.
Every turn an acknowledgement
of how my sentence could have ended,
my greatest run-on
I offer my dance to the Universe,
The oldest Goddess,
the newest God,
all receiving my gratitude.
As I bow,
the dance ended,
I remind myself to continue the dance,
with every breath,
in every task
my spirits recharged.
“I think it’s wonderful when people find God. What I don’t think is wonderful is when people assume this excuses them from working on their shit.” Without even knowing it, my first recovery sponsor Janet gave me a fabulously potent warning about the dangers of spiritual bypass. She was not one to use a curse word, so when she dropped that bomb, I was sure to listen!
When I began my own journey along the path of recovery and wellness fourteen years ago, I had the privilege of working in a well-known pilgrimage site in the Catholic world (Medjugorje, Bosnia-Hercegovina). Seekers came from around the world to this mystical place searching for healing and for answers. During my three years of service, I saw a lot. I witnessed people working in the village become impassioned about their faith… and then fall apart when the reality of life smacked them in the face. I saw numerous problems with addiction and mental illness amongst the seekers. I even noticed myself falling prey to the “If I could just be a good enough Catholic then all of my issues will clear up.” Fortunately, Janet’s wise mentorship entered my life. She taught me that I could still pursue a spiritual path while digging into the painful work of addressing my issues.
To read the rest, click HERE to go to Yoganonymous.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to demonize my parents—they did the best they could with what they had and believed, per their faith, that they were doing what was best for me.
As you will discover, such motivation is a common component of spiritual abuse and important to this conversation. I can look back on my childhood now with gratitude for what it taught me about recovery and my own spiritual identity…Although I hail from the notoriously crime-ridden city of Youngstown, Ohio I was never directly impacted by the social injustices, corruptions and devastations that earned the city of my birth nicknames like, Bombtown U.S.A.
The war zone in my house was not one that you see in movies about the All-American dysfunctional home: whiskey bottles emptying at a steady rate, mortgage payments getting eaten up by the loan shark or the innocent being thrown up against walls or otherwise maimed by flying household objects. There was a much different war that raged on in the battleground of my home and the desired prize was the capture and conquest of my soul.
To read the rest of this article, please visit Elephant Journal.
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity