Essay Unlearning

Confessions of a Recovering Catholic

Mother’s Day 1972: It was my First Communion and, like all good Catholic girls, I was decked out in my white dress and veil, hands folded in prayer, and head bowed as a sign of my unworthiness. I stepped forward to receive my first taste of the consecrated host, and I was forever changed. I was no longer Lauri Ann Lumby. I was now the Bride of Christ. I belonged to someone. I had a place I could call my own and, as long as I remained obedient, I would be loved. In my excitement, I was happy to pledge my obedience. As it turns out, obedience is exactly what got me excommunicated from the Catholic Church—the place I used to call home and where I find I am no longer welcome.

What I didn’t know, in the blindness of my faith, is that there are two kinds of obedience—obedience to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and obedience to our own inner truth (that which Jesus called “God”). When the Church asked for obedience, I assumed they meant the latter, so that is what I pursued. Obedience to the Divine within beckoned me to Sunday Mass where I found comfort and peace in the silence within my heart; led me along my educational and vocational path; and called me to enter into ministry training within the Catholic Church, eventually training as a spiritual director. Obedience to this inner voice helped me understand my gifts and how I was being called to use them for the sake of my own fulfillment and in service to the betterment of the world. I listened to this voice as it supported me in guiding others to hear and heed the truth that called to them from within. So far, the Church remained happy with my obedience.

That was until the day that the voice of my truth deviated from what had been “explicitly handed down by the Magisterium,” and which the local Church eventually called “the work of the devil, witchcraft and sorcery.” I had heard the call to study, and then share, Reiki (hands-on-healing) as part of my unfolding ministry. I heard the voice to pursue this training, and I knew I had no choice but to heed it. I saw how it perfectly fit my desire to serve God and do the work that Jesus calls us to do in the world—heal the sick, give comfort to strangers. The Church didn’t see it that way. As it turned out, obedience to God was not the same as obedience to the Church. Like Jesus and the disciples after him, I chose God (the voice within) over the Church (human authority). I have spent the past 15 years recovering from that decision.

Recovery is an appropriate term to describe what happens to one who finds they must leave behind the religion of their youth for a path that more closely aligns with their truth. Having found (conditional) belonging, acceptance, meaning, and purpose within Catholicism, stepping away from my religion was akin to giving up my drug. My heart, my soul, my sense of self, my very identity belonged to the Catholic Church. When my truth forced me to walk away, like an addict in early stages of recovery, I did not know who I was without “my drug,” and I was alone in the world apart from those with whom I had shared my drug. Also similar to the recovery process, I found that I was being hounded by those still in the Church who either sought to demonize me for betraying the status quo or who wanted me to repent so that I could peacefully return to my addiction.

In the past 15 years, my recovery has been a process of unlearning all that bound me to the Catholic Church and to the sense of belonging and acceptance I thought I had found there. I had to release the habit of weekly Mass. I had to let go of the art and architecture that spoke to my soul. I had to wrest myself from the seasonal celebrations and rites of passage that had become my very lifeblood. I had to divorce myself from the hymns that at one time gave my life meaning. Most challenging, I was forced to release my need to belong. Unlearning religion (Catholicism) has been a labyrinthine journey of grieving the loss of what has been (with all the customary phases, faces, and stages of grief—shock and trauma, denial, bargaining, depression, rage, and sorrow); shedding the attachments I had formed around my religion; and going back over the process again and again and again every time the loss was triggered.

While the journey has been excruciating at times, I would not change it for the world. What I have found on the other side of the unlearning has been a faith all my own. In the letting go of another person’s truth, I have uncovered my own. I have found what feeds me spiritually (which ironically, came out of my Catholic upbringing). I have come to understand my gifts and how I am called to share them, for the sake of my own fulfillment and in service to the betterment of our world. I have come to know my own ‘God’—no longer the old-man-in-the-sky god, but something more like what Rumi describes: nameless, faceless, and placeless. Finally, I have found my own sense of belonging—not to some institution or authority outside of myself—but to my own sense of being and belonging that comes from unlearning the separation we are taught so that we can find the wholeness and truth within. 

About Lauri Ann Lumby

Lauri Ann Lumby, OM, OPM, MATS is a published author, spiritual counselor, transformational educator, Reiki master, and ordained interfaith minister. She is the founder and owner of Authentic Freedom Academy which supports the spiritual awakening and self-actualization of change agents. You can learn more about Lauri and her work at Her books are available in paperback and Kindle on

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