It took me a long time to trust that I knew more than I thought I did.
I vividly remember the first time I became aware of receiving a message from the still small voice of wisdom within me. I was young … twenty-four … and I didn’t fit in with my peers.
The voice was clear. The “fitting-in” path was not a good fit for me. So desperate was my desire to “fit in,” I didn’t heed the warning.
My memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, recounts the challenges I faced and the wisdom I gained on that “misfit” path.
In 1968, as a new mother, I devoured childrearing books in an effort to “do it right.” As my son grew older, he presented many challenges that befuddled even the experts.
That quote from Dr. Spock’s book haunted me. If the experts couldn’t figure out what was going on, how could I? It took decades for me to learn the truth that, indeed, I did know more than I thought I did.
Learning to Trust ~ ~ It’s a Process
For me, learning to trust began with my first seminary class. At the encouragement and urging of trusted and admired women mentors, I struck out on a “misfit” path for women in 1975 … what turned out to be a “good-fit” path for me … seminary.
That first class, “Woman, Man, and the Sexual Revolution,” introduced me to the cultural messages colliding with the wisdom from my still, small voice within. I startled awake. It explained so much about the source of my desperation to “fit in.”
Thus began my long process of learning to trust myself and my inner wisdom … another major theme in my memoir.
For the past several months, our Archeologists of the Spirit group has been studying the lives of women mystics. We’ve done an extended study of Teresa of Avila and her Interior Castle.
What I love best about Teresa is her hutzpah. A convert from Judaism, she never lost that quality of trusting what she “knew in her innermost being” about God’s love. No so-called authority figure could convince her that God waits for us to sin and then condemns us to hell.
The strength she possessed to trust her inner knowing was not common for women of her time (1515-1582). It was, however, fairly common for women mystics. They were the weird ones who didn’t “fit in.”
They trusted their experience of being loved more than they trusted orthodox beliefs about sin, judgment, and hell. Teresa needed every ounce of courage she could muster to be faithful to what she knew because Spanish Inquisitors bent on maintaining Catholic orthodoxy dogged her for most of her adult life. Fortunately she possessed a keen intellect and the capacity to outwit her inquisitors.
It took those so-called authority figures a while to recognize her gifts and graces. Forty years after her death, they chose to canonize her. In 1970, three hundred and forty years later, they awarded her a Doctor of the Church. Her hutzpah paid off.
Today her book, Interior Castle is the most celebrated masterpiece of spiritual, mystical literature ever written. In it, she shares her extraordinarily rich interior life as a guide to others questing for communion with the Divine.
What great role models Teresa and other women mystics are for their “trust” in their experience with the still small voice of wisdom within.
Karen Armstrong is a contemporary “misfit” role model. Her memoir, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, portrays her path to “trusting” herself. Rejected by numerous so-called authorities and prestigious institutions, she is now a world-renounced expert on comparative religions and the author of numerous books on the subject.
She is known as a provocative thinker on the role of religion in the modern world. The winner of the 2008 TED Prize, she founded the Charter for Compassion, acknowledging the commonality of compassion in all the world’s religions and committed to finding practical ways for all of us to live by its principles.
Trusting My Authority
The word “trust” contains more meaning for me than the word “faith.” Faith invokes the need to “believe” what someone else with more authority believes. This story from my young adulthood demonstrates what I didn’t fully know at an intellectual level.
After our first year as high school teachers in 1964-65, a hometown friend shared with me her fear that she was committing the sin of pride. She felt good about herself as a teacher. When I gave her a puzzled look, she added, “You know, like we learned about in Sunday school.”
I did not remember learning any such thing and was sure that couldn’t be what was meant. I took my first foray into offering spiritual guidance. I did some biblical research and came back to my friend with “good news.”
Those passages spoke of being arrogant and haughty. They have nothing to do with feeling good about your skills as a teacher. In fact, you are using your God-given gifts to benefit your students and that’s a calling … not a sin.
When I look back on that story, I am amazed that I trusted my own authority. The seeds were there early on that I did have a semblance of trust in my own inner knowing. Teachings on sin, judgment, and hell didn’t find a place in my soul.
Oh, it is true that during my “dark night of the soul” experiences, I did wonder if I was being judged, punished … for doing something bad … for being a bad person. It was clear, I was experiencing a living hell. I did wonder if those so-called authority figures were right. I just couldn’t make sense of our situation.
And then I surrendered.
And then it happened … Divine love enlightened what had been shrouded in darkness for decades … an unmistakable mystical experience. In the space of twenty-one pages (241-262), I recount in my memoir the nine-hour transformative experience that awakened me to grace.
At last, the decades-long journey of struggle and not knowing made sense. As I looked back, I noticed where my inner wisdom had been right … and when my need to “fit in” outweighed my trust in what I knew.
Trusting Inner Guidance
I would like to say I never again lacked in the trust of my own authority. The truth is, I’m still in the process of learning to trust that I know more than I think I do.
What is constant and strong is the fidelity of that still small voice of wisdom within … within you and within me … the same wisdom that created us.
The still small voice of wisdom within is our most trustworthy guide. In that I trust with all my soul.