Jennifer Camp

the week of hell: imagining life without God

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Justin gave me warning: Hell week was going to be tough. And I’m not talking about the hell week of college–that week before finals when you attempt to study like mad and, at midnight, press your face as far as you can against the screen of your window and participate in a quasi-cathartic collective scream with thousands of other freaking-out college kids. No, this hell week was going to be different. Hell week for the St. Ignatius exercises is a week of imagining yourself in hell, with all the smells and sounds and textures and torture that come with being completely removed from the presence of God. 

Not fun. That’s for sure. I was frightened. I shed lots of tears. But my experience of hell, in my imagination, was so different than I expected. 

When approaching this exercise, I tried to not let my mind, with its pre-formed opinions about hell–with its fire and screams all around–to shape the experience. And what surprised me about hell was the flat-out dullness of everything. No color. No texture. Everything gray and parched and cracked. No water. No sky. Nothing to see on the horizon. Nothing to see in any direction, actually. Just absence. Void.

It was agony. Rather than experiencing the heat of countless pits of fire, and joining in with what I assumed would be insufferable screams of torture all around me, I was horrified by this: God was nowhere; nobody was with me; I was completely, utterly alone.

Hell’s torture was in its emptiness–its complete absence of beauty and variety. No color. No light. No variation. No wind or rain. No seasons. No nature. All was the same. The ground parched, completely dry and gray and cracked. All hope gone. No solace or comfort of any kind. No company. No life. No music or birds or wind blowing tree branches filled with green leaves. No sweet fragrance with bright flowers. Nothing.

In hell, there was no learning. No smells of good food. No laughter. No music. No celebration or hugs or stories. No connection or contact. No people. All goodness absent. (For goodness can only exist where God is. And God–Love–was not present in hell. 

Hell was a void. Everything dead. And while I saw no one around me–could hear no life around me, just utter silence–I couldn’t help wondering about other people in hell being in this same state of tormented deadness. I know this is morbid, but I wondered if the sounds of tortured screams from other people in hell–if I could hear them, anyone at all–would actually be gruesomely comforting; then I would not feel so much alone.

In hell there was no rescue. No one was coming. And there was no coming home. In hell, God was not my Father; I hadn’t let him be one. I had rejected being parented. I had rejected being loved. 

When I ask God what He can tell me about Hell, He says a few things. And over the week, we went back and forth: me asking him questions, him answering:

Father, Jesus, tell me more; show me more.

I am love. Hell is the absence of love.

So earth can be a place to experience hell? What is hell on earth?

It is discord. It is lack of peace. It is selfishness. It is striving. It is angst and desolation, a complete absence of hope. I am not there.

Is hell anywhere where you are not? When I choose to ignore you, reject you–be unkind and selfish and envious–am I experiencing glimpses of hell? And does this hell feed on itself–evil producing evil, when all is cut off from you?

Yes, but you are not cut off from me.

But I do cut myself off from you often. Help me to feel the separation from you when I sin. Make me feel repulsed by it. Help me to run away from it and, instead, run to you.

Hell is a turning inward instead of turning to me. 

I confess I do that so often. Help me to look to you and to your abundance. I can imagine the gnashing of teeth. Come, Jesus. Fill me. I give you my heart–and all of its selfishness to you. Purify me.

Little children, come to me.

Father, hell scares me. I deserve to be there. But I don’t want to be there. I do not want to be away from you. But even here, while I live, I separate myself from you due to my sin. But I can turn back to you. Help me to keep my gaze on you, my heart turned to you.

My child, feel the depth of my love for you. Live in that love. 

Father, is there remorse in hell? Do people know why they are there, and that they didn’t have to be there if they only loved Jesus? Do they exist with that awareness of it, or is it–for all of us–too great to comprehend all of our sin? Is man incapable of bearing it, so you protect us from it-? Except it hell, we must bear it?

To bear one’s sin is torture. Man is not equipped for it.

So, in hell, sin, to its fullest extent, is realized? How can you bear the entire world’s sin? Did you take the sin of the people who rejected you? Do you only take the sin of people who love you? Do you let people choose whether or not you take their sin away?

With my Son, I take away all sin. But the rejection of him/me means sin remains.

Would there be no hell if everyone loved you? For then all sin would be eliminated? And can people change their minds?

They would be choosing only for lack of punishment, not for love of me. And that is not love. Avoidance of pain is not love. Love can be painful. Love is sacrifice. Love is not just for personal gain. Choosing death for the sake of another (as my Son did)–their life, their hope, their joy–is love.

Amen.


For the Loop Poetry Project this week, consider writing a poem on life without God. Let your heart partner with his. What does he want to show you and share with you? What are your questions? Where does your imagination go? How do you experience his goodness, his comfort, in the midst of desolation and pain? Or, as we approach this season of celebration and thanksgiving, what does it look like for you to go deeper into his presence? 

Share your poem below–or don’t write a poem at all and just share your thoughts. I am excited to connect with you!

Love,

Jennifer


Flailing / the Sheep’s Gate

I stand at the gate
watching you
wondering what you see
and imagine all sorts
of possible calamities
but not really
I actually don’t like
to imagine them
but I wonder
what you imagine
when the world you love
is motherless,
its arms stretching up
to be carried,
nestled deep and safe,
and it refuses to see
you standing there,
its mother who aches
to pick up its child
blind and flailing
desperate to be loved.

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com


to be emptied: a prayer

Here is the blank page, Father, where I need you to come and write on me.

Let there be no boundaries here for the love you want to show me–wrapping me up like the girl I am, transcribing the Word of Life on my heart, holding me in your words, the Life of the words that makes me sing.

Let me let go of all expectations today. Let me hang loose, feeling no weight on me.  You carried my cross–I can hardly believe it. And you forgive me when I think, in my pride, my vanity, that I can come close to shouldering any of the weight–or that what you did, to begin with, wasn’t enough.

Here I am, Father, palms up, heart open, asking you to cleanse me again.  Slow me down to see you–trusting you more than myself, your heart more than mine.  I surrender.  Let me do nothing out of vain conceit but be filled with you, loving as you loved. Lay me down, Lord.  Forgive me for any focus on myself.

I am that girl who you see in your painting, your vision more beautiful than I can ever see.  Let me shed these scales that blind me to your glory, your humility, your walk through the streets as the people spat on you and called you names.  Lord of the Most High, forgive me for my self-centeredness.  You have forgiven me for my darkness.  Let me walk with You, carrying my cross. Take me out of the crowd.

You remind me to stay here, bring your beauty here–with you in me–into the swarms of darkness. My God, your tears ran down when the agony of my sin tore you from Your Father–all to bring me back, deliver me to Him, in your arms.  You bore me, rescued me, delivered me to the hands of the One who made me.  I am yours.

And so I trust you; help me to trust you more, surrendering to the joy of  loving with a heart that is not my own  Take me fully, this blank page, and continue to work out the plan for me as you see me: holy, treasured, a delight, formed from the tree you’ve planted,  grounded, your fullness in me.

Write.


For the Loop Poetry Project this week, please join me in writing a poem inspired by an attitude of self-forgetfulness. Spend some time with God and ask Him to create within you a space of emptiness so that He can fill it. What will he take away? What will he give? What will your imagination show you as you spend this time with him, trusting that he will lead you somewhere new–maybe a place (emotionally) you’ve never been before.

Share your poem as a comment below or with the kind community of women interested in pursuing poetry for the sake of personal wholeness. I can’t wait to read your words.

Love to you,

Jennifer


Clear Path

There is no risk. I follow you
through thickets that scratch my face
and tear my clothes. Not sure
where I am or what road
leads up or down

and I am not afraid.
Nothing harms me
though I am powerless

on my own. You hedge
fingers, heart, mind, toes so

courageous does not
describe who I am.
Just finally

weak, small,
indefatigable.
Touch me and
I am no longer here.

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com


trauma, the body, and what to “go deeper” might mean

I had heard God tell me to go deeper. I had heard him say this for years. I believed him; at least I believed in the value of the idea. But what I didn’t know is what it meant, not really. And I also didn’t know that the outcome of going deeper is an experience, an inhabitance of a place that has always been within me. A place real. A place tangible. But a place not so easily explained with words. 

I will try. 

So here is some context.

After my abortion when I was sixteen, the day I told my parents I was going to the mall in Sacramento to return gifts I received for Christmas, I continued to have sex; I continued to have physical relationships with guys. I was not upset about my decision to have the abortion. I did not regret what I had done. Rather, I buried the experience inside me, separated it from myself. And I continued with the behaviors I had convinced myself long ago were essential to survival: physical affection from boys (aka, for me, love).

Two decades after the abortion the facade began to crack a little. It started with self-contempt. And then sadness. And then anger. Confusion took a turn. And then shame. And then regret. And then pain. For the first time in twenty years, I was getting glimpses of what I had done. What I had really done: I had killed a child; I deserved death; I had rejected what He gave.

I let myself feel pieces of the pain. And I let God love me so it wouldn’t swallow me whole.

For ten years, off and on, God and I would speak about it. (This is when I first began to hear his voice.) He offered forgiveness. He offered healing. I let community speak truth to me. I let friends who knew and loved God to sit with me, listen to his voice with me. I flew to another state with Justin and we participated in a day of prayer with an older couple who loved God and knew that, in Jesus, there is always deeper healing of the heart, if we want it. I went through two rounds of psychotherapy. I spoke about what I had done with groups of women at my church; I shared it with friends. Two weeks ago I finally told the truth to my youngest child, my fourteen-year-old daughter. (The story of my abortion has been on my blog for nine years now; I had to trust God to protect my children from learning the truth about me until he let me know it was time for them to hear it.) For the past ten, now twelve, years God has led me to be open about who I am without him–so I can point to him, so I can show others his love and his glory.

But with God, and healing, there is always more.

This past week, when God was saying again, “Go deeper,” I didn’t know what He meant. “Go deeper” felt full of mystery. But I said yes. And this past week, as I sat in his presence in the mornings, I tried not to think too much. I tried not to to figure things out. I sat before him–he was sitting across from me–and I trusted that he was going to lead me in an experience where his invitation to “go deeper” was going to make sense.

And then Jesus came into the space, and this is some of what he said.

When you have wanted to be separate from me, when you have felt alone and caught in sin, you let shame trick you that you would not survive if sin was admitted, confronted. So you denied sin; you denied it existed, and your life became a covering of lies. And you didn’t let me in or even yourself in to love what was always meant to be loved: you. 

Your body is meant to be shown love. It is not made to be hated. You hate the sin–and the sin is separate from yourself. It is not who you are. That is why confessing sin–acknowledging it–is so good and powerful. You acknowledge that I can deal with it, that my love is more powerful than sin, and sin can no longer control you. It does not have the power you think it has. 

Love is powerful. It destroys sin. But more sin does not destroy sin. So without love, sin remains. And it causes more sin, and your heart grows weary with it. So you are discouraged and hide from yourself–who you see yourself to be: (1) a person capable of sin, (2) one who sins, without God, and (3) a person who is dearly loved and who can live fearless, blameless and pure in the eyes of God because of my covering of love over your whole life–your mind, your body, your heart, your soul.

And I began to realize how my body has memory. After years of healing–namely my mind and my heart–my body still housed residue from my sin. Our bodies, temples of God, carry in them wounds, scars, from when we separate ourselves from God. The body remembers how the heart attaches to sin, and this was a part of God’s invitation for me to “go deeper.” My heart and my mind and my body were in a fractured state. God is always trying to make us whole. To “go deeper” means to say yes, we want to heal. 

And Jesus continued,

Remember the angels–and how, in heaven, some broke apart from God in their hearts, and so God, our Father, removed them physically from his presence? And Eve and Adam too broke apart from God in their hearts and had to be removed physically from God’s presence? The heart and the body are connected. They affect one another. How the heart feels, the body responds accordingly. And how the body feels must be managed by the heart. You must give both to the Father–and to me–for complete healing.

And I let Jesus touch my womb. I asked him to heal the trauma it remembers. I asked him to cleanse my body completely, inside and out–all the memories that the body has harbored, to wipe them clean.

And I heard the Father,

My child, be a child again. Be pure again. Be mine again. Be whole again. Your heart has been fractured. I bring you back to yourself, back to me.

And God pulled me out, separating me from the memories. And I stand with him, looking at myself. And I tell him this:

I stand with you, and I am separate from the memories now. I wear the white dress you place on me. I am pure and redeemed and whole and healed. I am brought back to myself because of your love, because you want me whole and not broken apart in many pieces. Thank you, Father, Jesus.

Amen.


Would you like to join me in writing a poem about memories your body harbors? Let’s do that for the Loop Poetry Project prompt this week. What memory of joy or peace, trauma or hardship, is tucked deep within you? What does your body remember that your heart and your mind do not? Can you explain that in a poem? Will you let your body speak now? What words does it want to tell you it feels–to help your mind to know and your heart to understand?

Please share your poem below, and/or with the lovely community of beautiful, brave women in this space here.

From this one true heart,

Jennifer


When You Were Five Years Old

How can I still feel attached
to you. Your hand runs time
backward and I stay to hold you.
Sweetness folded into
where I’ve always kept
music and smells and memories.
All that has made me.
And I want to thank you for
my heart now shaped
into something beautiful.
Your small hand clasped
in mine. We walk together
where I will always see.

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com