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June 4, 2019

The Evangelical “Purity” Movement Literally Made Me Dangerously Ill (Part 2 of 2)

“Spirituality is always at my heart,” says Phoebe, “and I know that there’s this place internally that’s free of all of the shit that’s been heaped on it. I know that there is freedom and I never, ever stop searching for it.”

Eventually, her search took her, with her two adopted children, to a ‘healing weekend’ at the Episcopal church her husband attended.

“It’s like an anthropological study for me; I I’m fascinated to see all of the different ways that people interact with the concept of healing. And I’m always on the alert for charlatans.”

In very short order, however, Phoebe’s trip to church became far more than a participant-observer academic exercise.

“The priest had asked everyone to join hands and pray together for healing. And so this lady I had never met came across the aisle. After the prayer she grabbed both of my hands, turned me to her and said, ‘I just have to tell you that Mary is here with you; she’s holding you in her lap–she knows that you have been given a mother’s heart recently, and she wants you to know that she is continuing to open your mother’s heart.’

“I had just adopted two children, and was struggling mightily. And I very uncharacteristically, especially in a church–because that is not a safe please for me at all–burst into tears.”

Part of the shock was due to the fact that the woman was nothing like the women of Phoebe’s childhood church.

“She was so motherly. The women in the church I grew up with so cold. I think they were very shut down. And I had no idea what it looked like for a church to be nurturing. That’s not their job! Their job is to kick you in the ass and get you away from hell! And so this very motherly, nurturing woman, she embraces me, and she was rubbing my back and squeezing my hand as a mother would. It was very rattling for me.

“So after communion they asked each family to go find a prayer team; they had these prayer teams stationed, and the next one that opened up, you’d go to.

“So I went up, and the girls took communion, and sure enough, in the prayer station that opens up is this lady who had held my hand.”

Phoebe has asked me not to tell too much of her girls’ story, because that story is theirs to tell, not ours. So we agreed to say only that the girls’ mother, having lived with them on the streets for two years under frightening conditions, finally gave them up into the foster system, and disappeared without a trace. The girls haven’t seen or heard from her since.

“Now, the girls, especially the older one, had never, ever, talked about the loss of her mom, or what they had been through. And when the woman asked what we could pray for, she looked up and said, ‘I just want to pray for my mommy–that she’s okay.’ And I’m already starting to bawl my eyes out.” Phoebe is visibly and audibly emotional as she tells the story.

“So this woman immediately motions for a couple other older women to come over, and they scoop both of my children up, and are just rocking them; ‘It’s okay; Jesus has your mommy, it’ll be all right.’ I get choked up just thinking about it. And my girls are sobbing their eyes out, and I could see a moment of healing, especially for my oldest, because she hadn’t even acknowledged the loss of her mom. And I know she she’s been through hell and back. And these women are coming in and nurturing and loving on these girls. They’re not telling them what they need to do–they were just wiping her tears away like, ‘we understand, it’s okay, you can be sad, you’re being held.’

“I felt this fissure happen in that brick wall inside me. I was very disturbed by it, because I had kind of banked my whole life on knowing exactly what church people are. And seeing the girls and how much trust they put in the people there, and how loved they are–it’s just so foreign to me.”

 

You Can Make Me Clean (Matthew 8:2)

 

That could be a perfectly satisfactory ending to a story of healing. But as it turns out, the Big Healing was yet to occur. Phoebe hadn’t had her vision yet.

“So that night, I had this–I think I categorize it as a vision, because it just didn’t feel dreamlike in any way.

“I was on an altar, a plain white slab in a white space. I was aware of being naked, but it felt like I was clothed because I wasn’t embarrassed or vulnerable about it, because I felt covered by Light.[1]I’m not bound–I’m very aware that I have the choice to be there, and I am absolutely making that choice. I’m ready; I’m waiting for it.

“And so Jesus takes the sword, and cuts me open from here”—indicating a point just above her navel—“down to here”–indicating her perineum, “and I’m looking down at what looked like my very anatomically correct organs and blood and guts and everything, and I’m not feeling afraid at all.

“And then Jesus takes the sword, and takes my heart, and marks the Cross on my heart. And I can hear in my mind, This is so you know that I am yours and you are Mine, forever. And then Jesus takes the sword and cuts the Cross into my uterus, then cuts the Cross on each ovary, and says, Your illness is over; it’s done, it’s Mine. Just give it to Me, and it’s Mine.Then Jesus cuts the cross into my forehead, and I can hear the words, I am claiming your mind. You can give over the fears and anxiety; you don’t have to be running away constantly. You’re sealed.And then He marked my hands, which was for healing others, and then my feet so that I would walk on the earth with peace.”

Fearing that Jesus was done with his bloody ministrations, vision-Phoebe called him back.               “And then I begged, ‘Wait, Jesus! Can you do my neck? Because it’s really been bothering me!’” She laughs at the memory of her audacity. “I have an old injury from years ago, and ever since then I’d had pain in my neck constantly. So Jesus turns my head gently—and each time, there’s blood; it’s not just superficial, it’s bleeding, He actually cuts into it. And I’m so grateful, and completely overwhelmed by this. It’s like the sword is for me, not against me. It’s for healing, not for division.

“When the vision ended, I felt as if they were glowing hot, these marks on my body–and that sensation continued for probably about a week and half after. And I had this sense of just being released from a lifetime of anger and fear and grasping in the dark, when I thought I’d never be released from the shame, the pain, and the sickness.

“Since then I haven’t had any symptoms of my autoimmune disorder at all. They did follow-up bloodwork, and everything was clear. No more inflammation in my body. No hives no issues, no problems–totally normal cycles.”

 

A Castle to Keep Me Safe (Psalm 31:3)

 

“It still is very real for me; I’ve never experienced anything like it, and it changed me forever. Or maybe restored; maybe that’s a better word. Redeemed. The vision rebuilt the temple that had kind of fallen internally, and now I have this gorgeous palace to live in and enjoy and be at peace, because I know I’m safe.”

A sense of personal safety makes it easier to give generously of oneself, without fear of being depleted.

“That brick wall of anger I felt, that these kids were constantly asking for nurturing when I never got any, has just fallen. This space that’s opened up internally for me—it feels endless.

“My husband was totally supportive of the vision,” Phoebe continues. “He definitely can’t relate, as he does not have a mystical bone in his body, but he could see that it absolutely shook me to my core. I think he was really happy for me because as he has walked with me on this journey, it’s been really hard for him to see me struggle so deeply with my faith.”

 

Looking back, Phoebe is struck by how utterly undomesticated the God of her vision is.

 

“This is a totally wild, untamable force of love and fury; the whole thing felt like an encounter with a God so ancient, so brutal and wild, it was unlike anything I’ve ever imagined.” She pauses, searching for words, then shrugs.

“It’s hard to put those thoughts into words because it’s kind of outside of thought. It was my thirty-third year of life, and I got spring out of jail.”

 

Afterword: What “Really” Happened?

 

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

“Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”  –J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 

Phoebe’s illness, if we accept her belief about its origins, was psychosomatic, meaning that her mind made her body sick. When people hear “psychosomatic illness,” the generally conclude that the disease is “all in the head.” But Amy’s disease was in her body, debilitating and even potentially fatal. Psychosomatic illness has its origin in the mind, but it is real, physical illness.

There are a number of ways in which to “explain” Phoebe’s experience. They might include:

  • During the healing service at the church, in which she encountered a loving, accepting Christianity radically different from that of her own experience, Phoebe’s unconscious mind concluded that she no longer needed her illness to protect her from the demands of her church. That night, it conjured up a healing vision as a symbolic way of letting the illness go and embracing wholeness.
  • Jesus of Nazareth came to Phoebe in a vision and healed her disease.

 

To my mind, these apparently opposed explanations really represent a distinction without a difference. To dismiss the generation and remission of a serious illness by saying it was “only her mind” is to say that the mind is not miraculous, which I am not prepared to say.

However we parse her experience, Phoebe herself is at peace with it.W”hy the is depicted nud

“As I’ve gotten more space away from it, I honestly have just kind of taken it at face value for what it was: a genuine vision that forever changed my life.”

 

Afterword: Streams of Living Water (John 7:38)

 

I touched base with Phoebe about a year after our initial interview, to see how things have developed since her vision.

“I keep meeting that Christ and it shakes me to my core every time. The ripples from that vision have touched every corner of my life and have fundamentally changed me in every way.”
I wondered how a person could have an experience as radical as she had and still not identify as a Christian.

“I consider myself a Christian now. Ultimately, the vision and the process afterwards made a convert of me. It astonishes me how powerful that vision was and I am so grateful for it. It saved me in so many ways.”

I ask about her physical health.

“I still, to this day, have not had a recurrence of the autoimmune disorder,” she replies. “Like, miraculous.”

 

 

[1]Before the Counter-Reformation, the Resurrected Christ was typically depicted nude, because, since He had triumphed over sin and restored humanity’s original innocence, there was no longer any shame attached to the body.

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