Rock of My Disappointment

Choose a name for God, he said*,
borne of the struggle, the
wrestling. I have

contended, fought You until the
fingers of my soul bled,
scrabbling for

gold beginnings and fabled
endings. You have left
me wanting,

disappointed. A thin, flimsy word
for the crushing abyss of
silence. Unmoved,

this Rock of my salvation splinters
dreams like toy ships on a
stormy sea. Flint-faced

You refuse to be carved by
my desires. Only one of
us can change, and

neither wants to. The night drags
on though we both know
I have lost this

fight. I will hold fast for the
blessing. You will leave me
with a limp.

© Nichole Q. Perreault

*A reference to Anthony Bloom and his book, Beginning to Pray.

When Shame Kills, Love Stays | Thoughts on Shame, Rage, Dragons, and Jesus

They nailed love to the cross.

That’s what my friend, Simara, said during a Lent meditation over Zoom: They nailed love to the cross. They killed love.

I’m used to hearing things like death was nailed to the cross and our sins were nailed to the cross. But love? Simara is a gifted woman who speaks the words of the Holy Spirit. So I’ve learned to listen, especially when those words catch me off guard.

Surely they did nail love to a cross…or more accurately: Love. Because Jesus is love personified. I find it easier to think about nailing sin and death to the cross, than to consider that, in their depravity, people nailed Love to the cross. Because “they” is me and why would I kill Love?

Photo by Nichole Q Perreault

One day, many years ago, I became acutely aware of my personal participation in the crucifixion of Jesus. I was outdoors, kneeling before a large wooden cross at our old church, when God revealed the deep resentment, hatred even, that I feel toward Him. I saw that even though I wasn’t physically at Calvary 2000 years ago, I was guilty of wanting to destroy God. Some call this original sin – a base opposition to the Lord, a desire to be one’s own god. Some call it pride. But maybe it’s more complex than that.

Maybe the death of Love is rooted in our shame and separation from God.

Shame. It’s an awful feeling: a hollow yet lead-heavy sensation in the gut, a stomach full of spoiled milk, a million needles piercing your skin, overwhelming self-loathing, the need to run and disappear, and the rumblings of self-destructive, all-consuming rage.

That’s how it feels to me, anyway. But what is it? Shame is the core belief that there is something inherently wrong with one’s own person. For me, shame sounds like this: I am inherently defective, flawed, less than, unlovable, irredeemable.

I’ve dealt with my shame a lot. In prayer. In therapy. And I’ve come a long way from the days of believing I trespassed my way into existence; so far, that I can now say (and mostly mean) that I am legitimate, I am good, I am enough, I am worthy of love.

One question: WHY AM I STILL SO DAMN ANGRY?

Me, just last week, texting friends: I am filled with unquenchable rage.
Friends: Why?
Me: 🤷🏻‍♀️ Menopause?

Yes, I’m kind of young for menopause! That’s beside the point. The point is, rage lurks within me like a fire-breathing dragon, and early-ish menopause seemed a valid explanation. Until a few days later. When God, in His ever so gentle way, pointed out that my rage is actually connected to unresolved issues of shame.

That was exciting; I mean who doesn’t love to revisit shame issues? <<<insert sarcasm here

Of course, when something is disturbing enough, like say unquenchable rage, you find a way.

I suppose it’s no coincidence that last week I came across the article Rage, Shame, and the Death of Love by David Cloke. Fair warning: after reading it, I felt like someone had turned me inside out, body and soul. It hurt like hell, but the truth often does.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Shame often begins in infancy when healthy familial attachments are thwarted for one reason or another; or it may begin later in life when a person is exposed to abuse, significant loss, or other trauma.
  • Shame is excruciatingly painful and therefore ends up buried deep within the unconscious. When something triggers buried shame, a person typically responds by doing whatever is necessary to stop the pain. This can take many forms such as distracting oneself in healthy and unhealthy ways, avoiding shame-inducing people or circumstances, seeking revenge, etc.  
  • Shame often stems from “rejected love” (when one’s love and affection is spurned by another) and leads to a “now despised urge to love” (when one hates one’s own desire to love). In Cloke’s own words this “evokes destructive feelings that attack the very thing that is desired, often precipitating an inevitable death of love.”
  • Shame is often part of a shame/envy/rage/guilt cycle. For example: A baby experiences some form of abandonment and that excruciating pain is thrust into the unconscious. Later in life, the child sees another person getting what she wants (attention, affection, praise) and feels envious. This triggers unconscious shame, setting off a rage response (according to Cloke anger and rage are different). Some children will be frightened by their rage, which could lead to rejection and further abandonment, and therefore they try to hide it. Other children will act on their rage. Both will likely feel guilt and an increased sense of shame as a result of their choices.
  • People experiencing the shame/envy/rage/guilt cycle often create a “redemption fantasy” in which they believe certain people or circumstances will magically relieve their shame. I will use myself as an example again. While growing up, I viewed every boy as my potential rescuer; I believed his love had the power to save me from my shame, that his love would somehow make me lovable. Yet I eventually came to despise them all – even the ones who treated me well. My reasons for hating them always included a common thread: I judged them all as weak. Ultimately, this perceived weakness was really about their inability to rescue me.
  • According to Cloke, shame-based rage may have several intentions including: “magically changing the other person, creating in the other person a shame feeling…as a form of empathy, to penetrate the other in a powerful way, or to seek revenge.” People experiencing shame-based rage may lash out at their offender in various ways ranging from snubbing to slander to murder, and everything in between.

There’s a lot more to the article, but that’s a solid recap. Rather than tell you all the ways this affects me personally, I want to focus on something more universal, something that, I hope, will speak to us all.

I nailed Love to the cross. Not death. Not sin. Love. And pride doesn’t kill love. Shame does.

Shame has been my constant companion since my days in the womb, when I was first called “illegitimate”, when my existence was a burden, and my presence was feared. Life got messier after that; it doesn’t matter how or why. Shame has many fathers. What matters is that shame lives inside me like a sleeping dragon, and when she wakes no one in her path is safe.

I am not alone. According to many mental health experts, including Bill Cloke, Brene Brown, and Daniel Amen, nearly everyone experiences some level of shame, even those who have relatively healthy childhoods. Why is that? Father Thomas Keating, founder of Contemplative Outreach, says that the real root of shame is our perceived separation from God.

Woah. Let’s think about that for a minute: God is our Source, our Father, our Mother. Yet here in the fallen physical realm, we experience separation from our perfect Parent and the Love we so desperately desire. This is no small matter. It has rent the very fabric of the universe, left a gaping chasm in every star and leaf and rock and atom, even to the very depths of our souls. The separation is excruciating. All of creation cries out in pain. We feel cut off from God, abandoned, exposed, naked…and ashamed.

What if shame is the universal lie that blinds and binds? Telling us that we are lost, alone, unlovable, and irredeemable, that our pain is incurable and our rage is unquenchable? Telling us that our only options are to run and hide or to attack and destroy?

What if our opposition to God stems from that shame and our fear that we’ll never be good enough? Adam and Eve hid. The Pharisees judged. Cain lashed out in rage.

What if we hide from, judge, and lash out at God because, as the unattainable object of our deepest desire, He is also the source of our greatest pain?

What if this is why we nailed Love to the cross? Because we came to believe that Love’s destruction was the only way to end our unbearable suffering?

What if we nailed Love to the cross not so much because our hearts are evil but because our hearts are broken?

I nailed Love to the cross. And I have murdered Love in my heart a thousand times since then.

Shame kills.

But what if Love still pursues me? What if Love is running after me, not to harm me, but to heal me? What if Love picks me up, spins me around and says, Go ahead. Put your hand in my side. Feel the scars in my hands and feet. Yes, I am still here.?

What if Love sinks Himself deep into my dragon lair of shame, builds a fire, and puts the kettle on for tea?

What if Love says, Do your worst, Nichole. I am here to stay.?

© Nichole Q. Perreault

Apocalypse

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

The battle is lost
has been
for a long time now
Did we even understand
what we were fighting for?

Darkness pervades
like fine dust of
a coal powered train
There is nothing it hasn’t touched
curtains, hair, the tea, his lungs

A flake of ash on white linen
taunts her
but she knows better
One brush of her thumb would
beget a smear, a blotch, a stain

She shakes her head as
the teacup meets
her lemon-rind smile
We can’t hold back evil
She swallows, licks her soot-stained lips

Darkness reigns
in this brokedown palace
where graveside songs are sung from
failing flesh and
blighted bones

Nobody gets out alive
not the defiant
not the hopeful
Nobody
Death is king

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lay down, my friend, and rest
here beside me in the newborn grass
We’ll watch the clouds
move like a stormy sea
gray chasing white chasing gray

And every once in awhile
a shard of sapphire
If we’re lucky, like last night
the sky will spit in our faces
reminding us of sea spray

Stay with me
Pray if you like
or don’t
A quiet mind
grants sanctuary, too

The battle is lost
but the war isn’t over
and I could use a friend
to hold my hand
while we watch

The Fire burn, Wind blow, Wave wash
away the shadows
that gather at the edges
of our eyes, then
LIGHT

© Nichole Q. Perreault

Reception

I will set a table
For my soul
Among the trees

Quiet, I will wait
Beneath a canopy of leaves

Let stillness be the table
Let silence be the cloth
Let sunlight be the service, gleaming
My seat a bed of moss

I will set a table
For my soul
Out in the wild

Calling her to come
And play, as if she were a child

Let soft winds be the music
Let flowers be the dance
Let butterflies be our hearts, weaving
Patterns out of chance

I will set a table
For my soul
In forest glade

Inviting her to rest
And feast, on Bread no hands have made

Let wonder be the blessing
Let laughter be the prayer
Let forgiveness be our cup, healing
And let Love be the fare

I will set a table
For my soul
Where woods are deep

And wide enough for two
Or more, so you can sit by me

© Nichole Q. Perreault, April 2021

If It Was a Dream (A Cento Poem)

Begin at the beginning
She said
Little girl
In a cab with her father

Knit me together
In my mother’s womb
Lay your hand upon me
Hold me fast

Does the rain have a father?
A trust only found in the innocent
But she bent as the reed bends
Lies can be persuasive

Shattered worlds
Lost embryos
A whorl of red on the table
I had to kill something
Crows, blackbirds
Lying in wait for the pickings
If it was a dream it would be okay

What time is it?
I think I must have changed since then
To remember and to forget
Oak tree, riven by lightning
Dead on one side, living on the other
We’re all mad here
All the best people are

Does the rain have a father?
Knit me together
In my mother’s womb

One ship ploughing the grey bleak waters
Big waves rising around it
A cold lonely sea
Loneliness
I almost wish I hadn’t gone
Down the rabbit-hole

What time is it?
Does the rain have a father?
Knit me together
In my mother’s womb

Remember
You are wanted
Under his wings you will
Find refuge
Even the sparrow found a home
In a cab
With her father

Remember you are wanted
What time is it?
Does the rain have a father?
Knit me together
In my mother’s womb
Begin at the beginning

© Nichole Q. Perreault

The above poem is a Cento (or “found poem”) from the Latin word for “patchwork” and is composed entirely of lines from works by other authors. The words and lines I used to create this poem are borrowed from:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett:
The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien
The Book of Job, Psalm 91 & Psalm 139

Into the Unknown

The contemplative spiritual journey is a journey into the unknown. The more I know God the more I realize how much I don’t know about God. This can be frightening and frustrating, or we can allow it to fill us with wonder and awe. The mystics refer to this as The Cloud of Unknowing. We are all called, like Abraham, into this unknown and it is there in this cloud of unknowing that we experience God in pure spiritual faith.

Kure Beach Pier by Nichole Perreault

Yet few of us want to step into the unknown. In fact, in my experience, “knowing” is one of the pillars of the western evangelical Christian tradition. We are taught that we can know God, know our destiny, know the Bible, know how to pray, know right from wrong, know God’s will in everything. We know so much there’s no room to wonder, doubt, question or debate.

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A GIRL AND HER BASKET OF BROKEN THINGS

There I was, a little girl standing before Jesus, with a basket in my arms. My basket of loaves and fishes. Everything I had to offer was in that basket.

As Jesus stretched out his hands for my basket, I hesitated. Dipping my chin, I took one last look at my offering. Suddenly, shame covered my small frame like a wool coat five sizes too big.

I had worked hard to fill that basket. And while I felt the weight of all my attempts to get it right, to do something good, to bring something special, my basket was filled with nothing but moldy crumbs and eyes and scales and bones. It might as well have been empty.

Photo by Annie Spratt

I wanted to run, to disappear, to make excuses – but there’s none of that nonsense when you’re face to face with Jesus. Shaking and uncertain, I looked up at him through tears. What would he say? What would he do? Would he be disappointed? Or angry? Would he yell? Or shake his head and pass me by?

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Sex Culture, Christians, and a Call for a New Conversation

THE WRONG CONVERSATION
Recent discussions sparked by John Crist’s public confession have led me into a strange land, one where I spend a lot of time thinking about the generational differences of sexual behavior, beliefs, and norms. What I’m realizing, now more than ever, is that the western evangelical Church (the Christian subculture I am a part of) is woefully ignorant about what is actually happening in the sexual culture of today’s teens and young adults. This is especially apparent when sexual sin and misconduct within the Church become the topic of public debate.

Photo by Alejandra Quiroz on Unsplash

After the story of John Crist broke, many prominent Christian voices asked, not for the first time, how we can best address and care for those who “fall” into temptation, commit “sexual sin,” and experience “moral failure.” Usually, by the time the Church starts to engage in a conversation publicly, individual churches are already engaging in similar conversations. Individual churches are talking about sexual temptation, sin, and moral failure – from the pulpit, in our small groups, at youth group. There’s no shortage of books, studies, or sermons on sex, sexual sin, and how to avoid it. Our problem isn’t that we’re not having the conversation – our problem is that we’re having the wrong conversation.

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Playing Potter

Photo by Ricardo Mancía on Unsplash

trapped behind these
one-way eyes
inside
the lies we wear like make-up
spread thick
slick
with a spackling knife
layer slapped
on layer

we play Potter
with counterfeit clay
covering lines and
carving new ones
making mud masks
that bury us alive
that harden
into barrel helms
heavy
on our heads

necks bent
beneath the weight
of myths we can’t remember
shoulders hunched
around our hearts
a blockade
gazes fixed
on fingers

we can’t even look each
other in the eye anymore

Would it matter if we did?

© Nichole Q. Perreault, July 2019

This poem was written in response to my poetry group’s July prompt “differences”. The first line popped into my head and inspired the rest of the poem. 

Ocean at Night

I listen to the sea
As it beats against the earth
My mind a soft resounding
No words
No words
No words

No words to make you hear
Unless you’ve heard before
Wide-mouthed waves devouring
The shore
The shore
The shore

The shore as mute as I
While the roaring ocean pens
Her prayer of ceaseless pounding
Amen
Amen
Amen

© Nichole Q. Perreault

‘Ocean at Night’ was written in response to a prompt in my poetry group, in which were to focus on onomatopoeia, which led me to thoughts like “How do you describe the sound of ocean waves crashing on the shore to people who’ve never heard it before? Is there any description that does it justice?” My answer was this poem. 

Sunset on Treasure Island, FL. Photo by Nichole Q Perreault