Where You See the Dove

Where You See the Dove January 15, 2023

image via pixabay


John the Baptist knew Christ was the Lamb of God, because he saw the Spirit as a dove.

I keep thinking about that this afternoon. It’s what’s keeping me from panic.

Religious trauma looks different on different days. Being a recovering victim of spiritual abuse has may different faces.  Today, it looked like being afraid of a Gospel reading.

I read the Gospel readings, and I got scared.

There is John the Baptist, testifying. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” And then he goes on, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

And at that point I cringe. I shake. I’m going to be sick.

I hate that phrase, “baptize with the Holy Spirit.” Not baptism of the Holy Spirit. Anything but baptism of the Holy Spirit.

I would rather be baptized in sulphiric acid than go through that terror again.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit is what you get in the Charismatic Renewal. It means all those strange people pray over you and make you have an autistic meltdown, and then your life isn’t allowed to be the same. Whatever you were before, you’re not allowed to be that anymore. You have to be a Charismatic. You have to avoid all sorts of random things in case they’re demonic. You have to call your impulses and strange feelings “words from the Lord” and obey them no matter how much they hurt, or you’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit. You have to have visions and prophesies and believe them, or else. God will send you persecutions and sufferings and an impossible mission to accomplish for his name. You’ll never be safe again.
No, no, I remind myself, the terror isn’t real. Jesus was not a Charismatic. When Jesus gave His disciples the Holy Spirit, He breathed on them. That was all. No terror, just a “peace be with you” and a puff of air. And when the Spirit descended at Pentecost, they could see the tongues of fire, but nobody was burned. Just a little flicker of light and then they were speaking in foreign languages. The sign that the Holy Spirit was among them was that now they could speak to people much different than they. And when John saw the Spirit descend on Jesus, he saw a dove. Not anything violent or dangerous, just a dove. He knew Jesus when he saw the Spirit come down as a dove. A dove can’t do anything to harm anyone. A dove is synonymous with gentleness and innocence, the same way a lamb is. The Spirit doesn’t hurt. This is how you’ve come to know, once and for all, that the Charismatic Renewal was an evil cult and not of God: because the Spirit of God is a dove and a breath and a painless tongue of fire. The Spirit of God is speaking to a stranger and finding common ground. The Spirit of God doesn’t hurt. But the anxiety remains.
You can’t claim that those things weren’t of the Holy Spirit, my anxiety answers back. That’s blasphemy of the Spirit and you’ll go to hell even if you repent. In hell you’ll be tortured for eternity. Whatever you’re feeling now is nothing compared with what will happen there. There’s only torture and more torture. There isn’t anything else. 
The Spirit of God doesn’t hurt, I tell myself over and over again.
The next thing that comes is a memory– a string of memories.
The Community would come every other Sunday with their guitars and their keyboard and their tambourines, and make noise. They made the most godawful cacophony of bad 70s music, music that would peel paint, but the Lord was not in the music.
They would babble, calling it “tongues,” but it wasn’t speaking a real language to a fellow human being like the apostles at Pentecost. It was just gibberish. The Lord was not in the tongues.
They would fall over backwards and start to prophesy. Their prophesies were always dire. They would prophesy a great persecution that was coming over the land. They would prophesy that we would be victims of all kinds of pain and torture for the sake of the Kingdom. They would prophesy that there would be a great chastisement and many people would be killed to appease the wrath of God. But the Lord was not in the prophesy.
They would pray over each other and go into hysterics, and I never saw a sign or a miracle from the prayers. The Lord was not in the prayers.
Then we’d all have a community dinner together, and the grown ups would talk some more about how dire everything was: how the government was going to institute a one-child policy with forced abortions. How LGBTQ people were recruiting innocent children in the public schools. How Disney movies were making our children possessed. How after school activities like the girl scouts were sneaking in new age theology to indoctrinate the youth.  How there was going to be a cataclysm and three days of darkness to destroy the unbelievers. And I was terrified. I was  terrified of unbelievers and of LGBTQ people, of  people who would force me into an abortion, of things possessing me if I watched the wrong media, of everything. But I was also terrified of the Charismatics. I didn’t want to be like them. I just wanted a normal life. I wanted to be allowed to be happy.
The Lord was not in our community dinners.

Eventually I had a breakdown. I’ve suffered from religious OCD to this day.

After my breakdown, I got prayed over by the community to make it go away, but it did not go away.
One of the ladies from the community, a quiet old grandmother who didn’t pray in tongues very much, asked my mother if I could come to her house, just to get out of mine now and then. She started picking me up every Tuesday afternoon. I went to her house and met her dog, Josie: a geriatric blind mutt who would sometimes whine in fear if the nice lady was quiet for too long,  because the dog couldn’t see her, and was afraid she’d been abandoned. And the nice lady would talk to calm Josie. And Josie would be all right again.
At the nice old lady’s house, we would do crafts. We made dollhouse furniture out of old boxes, fabric, beads and paint. I loved dollhouses. They were my favorite kind of toy. We talked about dollhouses instead of God.
Sometimes we’d go out and tend her koi fish in the artificial pond. She’d never given them names before, so I got to name them like Adam naming all the creatures in Eden. In early spring we scrubbed out the rubber lining of the pond so the fish could go from inside the house to outside, and I talked about how I wished I could work in a zoo because I liked caring for animals.
Sometimes she took me to a movie. I got to see Jumanji with her. My parents fretted afterwards because they were afraid that the supernatural happenings might trigger my OCD, but they didn’t.  Jumanji wasn’t real. You weren’t required to believe in the constant danger or be blaspheming the Holy Spirit. You could just laugh. That made it cathartic.

After awhile, she didn’t come back to the Community prayer meetings. I don’t know when I first missed her.

Awhile longer, and the cult broke up entirely.
If there is a Spirit of God, I think the Spirit was in the nice old lady who eventually left the Charismatic community.
I know the Spirit because I saw the dove. I saw the the thing that didn’t hurt. I saw the gentleness, the harmlessness, the compassion. I did not see tongues and hysterics and self-important prophesies that never came true. I saw the blind dog and the nameless koi fish, the crafts and the movies.
I don’t know what the Baptism of the Holy Spirit really is. At this point in my life I don’t want to know.
But I look for God where I see the dove.
And now I’m not afraid of the Gospel anymore.
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