What is your worst nightmare?

Snakes? Spiders crawling all over you? Maybe it is an unfulfilled desire, or total humiliation that gets you deep in your core. For Adam and Eve, it was the realization that they were naked, which is odd. I mean they were walking around naked all that time and didn’t notice? Then Eve, that bitch, takes a bite from an apple and suddenly both she and Adam realize they’ve been covered in small plant leaves that whole time? Maybe for you it’s being caught naked in front of a live, studio audience. Standing there, talking away, doing an interview and you suddenly notice everyone is snickering and staring at you, and then you look down and notice you’ve got no cloths on at all, and you think, wow, this is awkward.

But then you run off stage and can’t find clothing anywhere, and the entire place is mirrors and very clean windows, and all you can see is your reflection everywhere you look. That and people snickering every time they see you (like 12-year-olds, they just can’t seem to get over the fact that you are naked). Even god laughs at you, and he supposedly made you, which really pisses you off, because the least he could have done was make you look like a super model, which would have given you a little confidence. And then Satan tells you your job is to walk around naked for eternity delivering pink slips to workers in their 50s who have spent their lives at a single job, only to be let go without any compensation.

Or maybe you died a virgin, but still, you were kind of a bitch, so in heaven you are one of 27 sex slaves for a Muslim martyr (hey, one person’s heaven is another person’s hell). Or maybe you are forced to watch repeats of your least favorite television show, or even worse, a show in a foreign language with super bad acting that only ran for one season. It’s OK to speculate. It’s not like The Secret, where magic thinking will make all your thoughts a reality. Take a deep breath and think about your worst nightmare. Imagine that it has come to pass, and you are in hell, and the god of hate has turned his back on you, never to return.

I thought about this a lot growing up. As a small child, when a priest tells you that you are going to hell, your little mind scrambles to figure out what that means. I looked it up in the dictionary and was not happy with the definition. It was vague and didn’t offer much in the way of finding this place. My quest may seem strange, but I figured if I could find out where hell was, I could do my very best to avoid the place. As a child, I thought that if I knew where it was, at least I could put up a fight on the way there.

Mostly I thought it was down under the earth. When in geology the teacher talked about the outer core of earth being hot liquid lava, I thought for sure that was where I was headed. The only question was how would they take me there. I had ideas about that, too. Maybe black, ghostly figures would snatch my soul and scurry it off down into the depths of the earth’s outer core and pin me down like a butterfly on tag board in biology. I’d have dreams about being a light, flying little elf, or in my case an imp, and suddenly a huge hand would snatch me out of the air and swat me like a bug. And my crippled little body with broken wings would stick to the lava, smoldering with the smell of burnt flesh.

As I grew older, my thoughts changed to more complex forms of hell, but each was not nearly as menacing as the life I was already living. And as I started to look around, I noticed there were vast numbers of people on the surface of the earth living their own special kind of hell every day. And the worst part of it was, everyone seemed to be OK with that. Every day my folks would watch the news and the Vietnam War would spill into our home and wash hatred and anxiety over us and millions of others. The news reports would tally the dead, and it would be years later that I would understand the depths of the killing that had taken place over our fear of communism.

My teachers would use the war in Vietnam as a way to try to motivate their students, saying that if we didn’t get good grades, we would all get drafted and sent off to war. That the stupid kids who couldn’t get into college were the first to go. My own grades were so horrible by then that I figured the moment I graduated, if I graduated from high school at all, I would be in boot camp. The torture of those thoughts helped me spiral down into the depths of my own inner nightmare. Yet each time I thought I had hit bottom, I would slip off its edge and go even deeper.

A spiritual guide I worked with called my life a slow burn.

He said that there are people on a spiritual journey who choose a life that has moments of complete bliss interrupted by long and arduous periods of suffering and pain. It is said that we choose this life path to burn off the elements that are holding us back from truly awakening.

To overcome our deepest fears, we must first identify them, then face our fears completely, and we will find that they cannot harm us on their own. They are there because we put them there. Of themselves, they are harmless, like a scary movie, but in the mind of the truly disturbed they can be overwhelming. As we uncover our own fears and face them, know that we are not alone. God is always with us, just an instant away. Take the first step and God will fill you with Love. We all have our own, special kind of hell. To overcome it, we need to face it, see it for what it is, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform it for us.

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