Writing about the darker side of faith.

On the surface, I appear normal. My chosen attire is usually jeans and a sweater, but I'll wear khakis for interviews and meetings. I have five girls, a husband, and the normal pets -- a goofy lab and a lazy cat. But there is a darker side of me -- a fascination with ghosts, spirits, demons and witches that I don't normally talk about with casual acquaintances. I don't think one ever gets used to the shocked, wide-eyed look that comes when I tell people that I've written Christian horror. That disbelief generally precedes the protest that it's an oxymoron. But like in "Fair Balance" you can't judge based on appearances. My past, on one level was quite normal -- in fact, the joke in my circles is that I was raised by Ward and June Cleaver. But when the house was dark and quiet and everyone was asleep, my world could have been born from a marriage of Stephen King and Ann Rice.

As a child and teenager, I was plagued by chronic nightmares. Demons, death, and fear greeted me every evening to the point I was averaging about two hours sleep a night -- generally from the time my parents woke up at five in the morning until seven when I had to get ready for school. I still remember every detail of some of therecurringg ones. In the end was always a church I stumbled upon. But instead of being a safe haven, it was a place of fear and isolation.

One of the most recurringg nightmares involved me being trapped in a house that was demon possessed. During the course of this dream, I tried to escape while voices echoed through the dark home that I would die. I would duck flying objects, scramble to free myself from some unseen force trying to pin me down. I would somehow escape and run until I saw church. The church should be a safe haven, but it wasn't. I could call out to God and He would save me, but the church only incited terror.

I'm not a psychologist. I don't know why I had these dreams. I had a pretty boring existence as far as teenagers go. I did not live in an abusive or cold home. My love for reading and writing was encouraged as was church and sports. Writing became my passion but I did not write about the things that kept me up at night. Even though I knew God was bigger than whatever was going on, I was terrified into silence. But it did put me on a path of morbid curiosity. What was on the other side? Why was it plaguing me? Anything black and sinister captured my attention, like I had a disease and needed to know everything about it in order to cure it. Maybe they didn't cause all my bad dreams, but they caused some, perhaps just enough to get my imagination rolling.

After years of spiritual wanderings, I came back to the faith of my youth. The fascination of demons and devils and evil never left me. The difference was as a child, I knew God was bigger than all the nightmares and demons and spirits, but for whatever reason, I couldn't get to Him and let Him protect me. Now, I know He's protecting me. However, I don't cower behind Him in fear. He didn't create me to have a spirit of fear. But I do let Him shield me. The nightmares have stopped, but now a mission remains.

"Fair Balance" was the first, but it won't be the last horror story I write. That dark side of my faith is too strong and not enough people acknowledge it's existence. I know because in the last decade, I've only heard it mentioned once or twice in church. I'm no longer surprised that the church in my dream was cold, distant and inattentive of this part of Christianity. I'm only saddened by it and pray that the people who feel as I do can read my stories and know they have a kindred spirit in the foothills of Georgia.


Anonymous said...

Gifts are distinct to the persons. I also tread into the dark in my writerly interests and reading preferences. I am a Melancholic, by nature, too, so unrelenting cheerfulness is just not me.

Plus, I have a history of having been demon oppressed, so I take those matters--spiritual warfare, armor of God, devil as devouring lion--quite seriously, not merely metaphorically. I've felt and heard evidence of the horrors that hide from clear view, and I grew up in a generation that got news unvarnished--of war, of child abuse, of domestic abuse, of white slavery, of forced prostitution, etc. I walked over the body of a dead junkie, and I walked past the near-dead during the sixties and seventies, when drugs seemed ready to kill or damage a whole generation. I lived in a neighborhood with gang wars. I had a schoolmate gang-raped at 12. So, I have no illusions that this world is a sweet, safe place.

God is a refuge for me. A very real one. As is family (often). As is my husband (always). As in the church (most of the time).

I've had beatific visions, so I know there is a greater beauty. But I've seen too much of the dark, and see it still in the news and around me. I suppose I am a daughter of light, but I exist in the Shadowlands...and there are terible things in the air.


Daniel I Weaver said...

Susan, as one of the LGG's few fellow horror writers, I find it surprising how close our stories seem to read. I grew up in the nice happy home with the loving parents, etc. My fascination with the "dark side" of faith came more from living in a small town with its fair share of local legends. ((I mean, let's look back at the fact that half of the 70's and 80's horror franchises were all launched based on TRUE events... Amityville, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc...))

Our faith can be sort of a catch-22 for folks who don't want to acknowledge the "darker side" of things. Demons are real. They are mentioned by name in the Bible. "Magic" or "sorcery" has its roots in reality...look back at the OT false profits, etc. To put on blinders to the "dark" things is like trying to accept that God is real but ignore the devil. It's like people who seek out demons and the devil, but refuse to acknowledge God. You can't have one without the other.

In addition to its reality, horror also has a more logical approach as a story medium. People remember scares. People KNOW their fears. A story wrapped in "dark" elements can be one of the most powerfully influential tales a person will every read or hear.

Keep writing 'em, Susan. There is an audience and a reason for your calling.

Anonymous said...

Thanks you guys! It's nice to have a "home" where I don't feel like I'm weird.

Anonymous said...

It's possible, of course, for demons to torment people in their sleep with nightmares. I know, because I've had experiences like that.

God has also been known to speak in the night, through dreams and visions, and they are often not pretty at all. For every vision of Heaven, you've got ten exposing the darkness seeping through our world. If a nightmare, after prayer, has no bearing on our waking reality, and we've ruled out demonic influence, it may well be prophetic.

Regardless, as Christians, we write the truth, or the corner of it we're called to. As beautiful as grace is, the truth of sin is anything but beautiful, and that darkness must be written about as well. Before a person can come to the Light, they must come to see their own darkness.

Andrea Graham said...

So, I guess what I'm saying is, if you never have, Susan, I'd pray and ask God if there's an interpretation to your dreams. Most dictionaries available online are kinda new-agey but there are a few, not many, but a few Christian resources available. I got some links on my website (see link on my last comment) on the dream a dream page, or just Google, "Christian dream interpretation"

Anonymous said...

Some say writers write to exorcise their own emotional demons. Maybe that can apply to spiritual oppression as well. I have dealt with a lot of unnatural fears as well, and sometimes just putting them onto paper, pushing the characters through facing and conquering these same fears makes it easier to cope with in this life. The stories can give hope and help to remind people where the true power in life lies...and that the darker side (of which, yes, I too am morbidly curious) only possesses as much power over us as we choose to give it.


Andrea Graham said...

Oh, just noticed one little thing I wanted to comment on, and I'd agree with Susan, we need his shelter, but it's not wise to cower behind him, as He has a tendency, in my experience, to push little birdies out of the warm, comfy nest so we can learn to fly. Sure, He'll carry us on eagle's wings, but first we gotta get out of the warm, comfy nest.

Deborah Cullins Smith said...

Susan, thank you for sharing with such honesty in your posts. We tend to 'test the waters' far too often with people before we share the deepest, darkest places in our lives. Your open heart is a precious tool in the Master's hand. And may He bless you abundantly for yielding to His gentle touch.

I will share here now that I've been going through a tough time myself lately. My mother is a beautiful Christian lady, but her veiw is extremely 'narrow', and she sees NO place in Christian realms for the type of writing we do. Mom has always been the one person in the world to believe in me, and to believe in my gifts. But that has been yanked rather quickly right out from under me. She's been fairly vocal about wishing I would "write something else". And the 'man in my life' who WOULD have stood by my side through it all was abruptly taken home last April. Now I feel like I'm hung out there flapping in a high hurricanic wind.

Many Christians are similarly disposed to Christian s/f and horror. We need each other, Susan, in order to keep plowing forward in an arena where we will be frequently thrown to the lions --- by the very Body of Christ we long to serve and strengthen. Hang in there, Susan --- and remind us once in awhile that we really NEED to pray for one another for the battle will be fierce.

Thanks, Sweetie..... ~deb