Saturday, February 21, 2015

How the Carmelites Rescued Me From New Age

I lost my marbles between the pages of my first new age book, a dizzying but feel good fiction novel. Naturally, with a few marbles short, I picked up another new age fiction, and this time the confusion blended with some fascination, so that I kept returning to the new age shelf in the bookstore, holding my breath for Oprah’s next recommendation.

               With new age, nothing was labeled sin anymore, and everything mystical that made me feel good and refreshed was the path to my enlightenment/self-fulfillment or evolution, or something exotic sounding like a “higher conscious living.” Occult was encouraged; “mystical spirit guides” and psychics were valuable; crystals/fengsui/numerology provided extra luck and good vibes; the earth was Mother, so was God or Mother Goddess; Breathing Eastern style was somehow better; the universe’s energy could be harnessed; unlimited power was within me as the “god within”; and I was going to be part of a future “paradigm shift” in the soul of the “one world”, a “new age” of sorts.  (If you’re confused, don’t worry, you’re not alone, but I hope to straighten it out in a few.)

            It never occurred to me to question what the bottom line was that the new age agenda was pushing, nor to ask why there were novel ideas that just smelled shifty… as if they were the repurposed but upside down of Catholic dogma and doctrine. The main thing that appealed to me, and I practiced for years, was transcendental meditation, (a self-hypnosis practice to mimic peace), which was sadly, introduced in my Catholic high school by a Catholic nun.   So I dangled between Sunday Masses and new age ideas that were quaking all of the Catechism that I knew.
             The suspicious niggling began when I read that the practitioners of sufism (the mystical arm of Islam) magically reach a divine union with God in their souls, which mystical union was allegedly the same as the union describe by St. Teresa of Avila in “The Interior Castle” because all religions are supposedly equal paths to this “energy” (also known as God or universe according to Oprah’s gospel).   

             “How could Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, monism, occultism, pantheism, Gnosticism all be true and right when they teach opposing ideologies?,” I wondered.   Was everything relative?

            When I chanced upon a visiting Carmelite priest from India (a friend of Mother Teresa’s), I asked him if this Eastern transcendental mediation was the same contemplative prayer of the Carmelites that produced remarkable saints. He said “No.” God is a person outside of us with whom we cultivate a relationship  through prayer, not an inside source of power to be accessed and released. That’s when it became clear as crystal, that new age and Catholicism couldn’t ever be compatible.

Two roads diverged before me: to study more this Carmelite mystical spirituality I was drawn to or pursue this mishmash of pseudo-metaphysical philosophy of hocus pocus, which still had me reeling in perplexity. (In fact the more I studied new age, the more I was confused. There were so many dimensions and they were all inconsistent.)

            I chose to wade into a Carmelite third order and re-donned the brown scapular that I earlier removed for aesthetic reasons.  I never touched another new age element.  I knew I made the right choice when I later read from an exorcist that the uptick in cases of demonic possession/obsession/oppression could be traced to the proliferation of new age practices.   If it reeked of fishiness back then, the stench of sulfuric fire was now smoking behind the door to the flashy new age.

            When I fueled on to study more Carmelite writings of the saints (what a terrific library they have), the confusion disappeared.  I remembered all the basics I was taught:  God created man with free will to choose sin or love; evil began from the rebellion of the angels and exists when men reject God’s love; everlasting life comes after death if we make the heroic choice to love (which is essentially self-sacrifice). Union with God is happiness in heaven for eternity, but also briefly on earth when we partake of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.  Peace doesn’t require self-hypnosis.  It comes from simply being in a state of grace –free from mortal sin -- because divine mercy is available to the sinner in the Confessional.

               Read the rest at Catholic 365...
The window of the Carmelite saints from the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in San Antonio

Recommended Reading:  
The Story of a Soul, Autobiography of St. Therese of Liseux
The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila
The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila
The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
The Living Flame of Love by St. John of the Cross                                           
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Complete Works of Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity

To learn more about the seriousness of the dangers of new age, watch this video by Moira Noonan, a former new age practitioner who required exorcism:


Nancy Shuman said...

I just linked to this (the full article at Catholic 365)from the Cloistered Heart. You said what I was struggling to get into words! This is a marvelous post.

Gina Guarnere said...

I agree with Nancy. This is a great post and something I, too, struggled somewhat with. I didn't get nearly as in-depth as you obviously had, but dabbling was enough to confuse me for a bit throughout middle school. It stayed with me through college, honestly, and it wasn't until recently (within the last six or seven years) that I was able to sort things out in a similar manner as you.


Blessed are the mercies of the Lord. He knows just how to reach out to us where we are.

Again - great post. Thanks for this!

Anabelle Hazard said...

Thank you ladies for the affirmation. I thought I was the only one who got confused and that you both knew everything you were supposed to know.

Gina Guarnere said...

Pfft... I'm pretty sure I still don't know half of what I'm "supposed to."

Ha ha ha.