Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Loneliness Led Me to God

Simply writing the title makes me feel over-exposed.

Just now walking our dog, Hobbes, I found myself contemplating my lifetime need for God.

I felt extremely lonely as a child. Hard to believe in a loving household of a family of five with pets living in a small tract house with a single bathroom, sharing a bedroom with my brother. And we were part of a loving church and Christian school which shared our beliefs, values, and hopes. And I had so many friends in those places and later, high school and college.

But I had a secret about who I was so terrible I might as well have been abandoned alone on a lifeless asteroid, with little hope for rescue.

I was homosexual.

No “gay” then, no “same-gender loving people.” “Queer” and “faggot” and “dyke” and “fairy” were not words used with pride as they are by some today reclaiming them from those who use them pejoratively. “Homophile” was in use in the 1950s, but not in the circles I travelled.

At first, I thought I was the only one—at the time, a common experience among “my kind.”

Then, my “role models” were societal stereotypes and caricatures, sick and unhealthy, condemned and excommunicated.

On this morning’s walk, I found myself reviewing all the clues in my writings to my extreme loneliness. My understanding of my childhood baptism as a way of belonging to God and Jesus and my family forever. The occasional days when I was too lonely and depressed to go to school. My compassion for others who felt alone. The passion with which, as part of my high school choir, I sung our beloved principal’s favorite song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  My clinging to a college “best friend” and later, my first boyfriend. In a brief round of therapy in seminary, the identification of my “separation anxiety.” My most common “sexual” fantasy: waking up with a lifelong partner.  My appreciation of Alfred North Whitehead’s quote, “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.” My gratitude for Henri Nouwen’s teaching how the spiritual life transforms loneliness into creative solitude. My receptiveness to process theologian Daniel Day William’s insight that we are less afraid of not being than we are of not belonging.

Sitting in a car with a close lifelong friend from childhood whose former partner was clearly dying of AIDS in the hospital before us, I asked why he hadn’t come out to me—a gay activist by then—earlier. “What difference would it have made?” he responded. “I would have felt less alone,” I answered. “You would have felt less alone,” I added.

I explained in my first book, Uncommon Calling, that as a youth, afraid of being condemned by either a minister or a therapist, God became my minister and therapist, with whom I had hours-long conversations. That marked the beginning of my interest in the contemplative life. Today I might describe the relationship as anamchara, “soul friend.”

My fear writing about this now is that some might write off God, or at least my own experience of God, as some sort of “imaginary friend” I’ve created to get me through rough times.

But aren’t those times that we exclaim “Please be with me, God!” the most authentic and least pretentious prayers? Reaching out to that which is greater, higher, deeper, and more complete makes sense as we realize our humble circumstances in this vast universe.

And it isn’t as if I did this alone. Thanks be to God for those in the Bible and in the church who discerned and learned, taught and practiced their faith, often in dire circumstances, and passed it along to all of us.

Now I know I’ve never walked alone.

Today’s post also appears on Believe Out Loud.

This Sunday, March 23, I will be speaking during the 11 a.m. worship of Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church here in Atlanta, imagining what a “lost gospel” from the Samaritan woman at the well might be like. I will also speak there on Easter Sunday, April 20, and Sunday, May 18.

Each Wednesday of Lent, I am providing links for the following six days, should you wish to use this blog as a Lenten resource for reflection.

Thursday:      Interrupted Lives   
Friday:            Wear Flowers in Your Hair
Saturday:       Spiritual Picassos
Sunday:          On the Threshold of the Church
Monday:         Thanking God Anyway
Tuesday:        Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

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  1. Chris, I know from my experience of knowing you since Uncommon Callng came out that some reading this "exposure" will feel less alone retroactively. That I know that you were feeling and thinking and being in such place and dealing with it in such way changes the way i perceive those times in my life. Because I realize i was not alone then. I did most surely believe that "Jesus Christ" was my partner and mentor, big brother, best friend. I was never "alone". For some reason, a major maybe difference between our application of this is that I subconsciously did not need or want another partner other than "Jesus Christ". You might imagine the weirdness that this can entail if one thinks about it or analyzes it. An intimate partner in bed confessing he feels like he does when he is in a threesome even though he does not know of my intensity in that area is an example.

    1. Thanks, Chuck, as always, for your thoughtful comment!

  2. Another excellent post, Chris. Your story strongly resonates with me. This therefore should compel all of us to do our best to touch those who live on the margins and inform them that they are not only made in the image and likeness of God (thus, our inherent goodness), but also that God/Mystery/Nameless One dwells within their fundamental existence and identity. Thomas Keating articulates this so well in the following:

    "Our basic core of goodness is our True Self. The center of gravity is God. ... God and our Tue Self are not separate. [They] are the same thing."

    - Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation, #1-3
    [excerpts], Open Mind, Open Heart

    "And, hence, it's the question of relaxing into the being that you actually are, or relax into the ground of your being, which is God's expression of himself in our particular uniqueness."

    - Thomas Keating, The Great Banquet: All Are Invited

    Thanks so much for your wonderful ministry!

    1. Thanks, Brad! And I love Thomas Keating. That belief in our inherent goodness/God is what draws me too Celtic spirituality as well. Thanks for sharing these great insights!

  3. While my childhood seems to have been quite different, you give me much to think about as I prepare to preach at Gardena - also, this Sunday and on Easter. Your last reflection and tomorrow's 2nd anniversary of my Mom's death is causing me to take a new look at the Samaritan woman at the well.