blogicalinks

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Mother Teresa and Me

with 10 comments

The blog discussions I’ve been reading surrounding the revelation of Mother Teresa’s “dark night of the soul” have really had me thinking a lot about my faith/lack of faith journey.

I was raised in a very strict, Southern Baptist rural home/church. We were at church Sunday morning, evening, Wednesday evening, every revival, Bible study, Vacation Bible School, etc. You get the picture. I was steeped in Jesus! But for the most part, the God I was taught was the all-seeing eye, to be feared as much or more than loved; forgiving of sins, but somewhat like a hall monitor, waiting for you to screw up so He would be proven better than us worms. If you grew up in that kind of church, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, my describing it won’t capture the feeling.

Even as a child, I was always questioning… why this? why that? why? why? why? As I got older, I didn’t want to know only the whys of the way things were, but the whys behind the motives as well. Things that didn’t make sense to me, I questioned. Things that seemed contradictory, I pointed out. In school, that method served me well… in church, I was either condescendingly dismissed or considered somewhat of a hornet’s-nest-stirrer-upper. When I once expressed doubts and questions about my faith to my mother, she cried. It made me feel so bad, I knew I’d never do it again.

I wasn’t asking questions and expressing doubts to stir people up, I honestly had questions. I still have questions and doubts, and in many circles, they are still a source of discomfort. You can confess your sins, but you can’t express your doubts?! What’s up with that?

Anyway, I make it through high school, being the dutiful daughter who goes to church because my parents make me. When I get to college, almost immediately, I stopped going to church. It held no attraction for me. I felt free of the “obligation” to pretend that I experienced a joy in being with other believers and/or that I was being fulfilled by the singing and the sermons. NOT attending church felt like I was being more honest inside than I’d ever felt as I prayed in public, not really believing anyone was hearing me.

During this time in college, I also fell in love for the first time… with a woman. It was a two-year relationship, and while I was in it, I felt little to no dissonance between realizing I was gay and my religious upbringing. I knew it was not going to be approved of, but internally, I didn’t really struggle with it too much.

About a year after my girlfriend left me, I read a book that made me see spiritual things in a whole new light. That night, I got on my knees and “accepted Jesus as my personal Savior.” I really did actually experience something that night. The only way I can describe it is like some kind of blissful energy force that moved through me and made me feel like one day I would know why I was here in this time and place in the scheme of things. Again, if you’ve experienced it, you’ll know what I mean. If not, you won’t.

However, the “bliss” didn’t last long, because while I first felt a real sense that God Himself loved me, I was soon facing a conservative theology that told me that while God loved me, I could not KNOW Him in all His wonderful presences as long as I accepted myself as a lesbian.

So there I was, wanting to love and be loved by God, wanting to be used by Him to make a difference in the world, but being told that a part of my identity would have to be either changed or suppressed in order for this to happen. I SO wanted to be pleasing to God, and so made the painful choice to not only not be gay, but to try to be straight.

I was involved with a very conservative fundamentalist group of believers and friends. I was very close to many of the single people in my church. We were as close as the friends on the show “Friends.” We all hung out together, travelled together, etc. It felt great to belong to a group who wanted to know God and serve Him as much as I did.

For a while, the closeness of the friends and the “thrill” of immersing myself in Bible studies and religious books and contemporary Christian music was enough to distract me from being atttracted to anyone. I even dated a couple of guys. The dissonance came crashing down on me with a vengeance when I fell madly in love with my “discipleship” leader. Basically, she was mentoring me in my spiritual walk, but for me, it became WAY more than that. While she loved me back and we even lived as roommates for several years, it was never a physical relationship… not only because she was straight, but because I honestly believed that a life of celibacy or being straight was the only way I could be the person God wanted me to be.

So for eight long years, I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed for God to help me not be gay, to take away the feelings, the desires, the orientation, to HELP me be the person He wanted me to be. I even was in an Exodus program for 1+ years. Once a week for over a year, I attended meetings at a church that were designed to help me find the strength through Jesus and the Bible to be straight or celibate. I went to a Christian counselor for several visits (that’s a story for another day), and even went to seminary for two years.

I was heartbroken when, after so much effort, I found myself still “being gay.” On my knees in prayer many, many nights, I literally cried out to God to help me change. I felt like my psyche was being torn between two extremes! (I want to make it clear that I felt no shame or disgust in being gay. To me, being attracted to another woman is as natural and a part of me as attraction to the opposite sex feels natural for straight people. My only issue was that it was displeasing to God, according to what I had been taught, and therefore it was worthy of my best effort to be rid of it.)

I tried to figure it out… was God testing me? was this my “cross” to bear? did He want me to be celibate so that I could focus only on service to Him? I longed for answers. I pleaded for direction.

I was greeted with icy silence day after day and night after night. The only “answers” came from friends who seemed to have ALL the answers. It was as if God was talking to everyone BUT me about me. I heard others speak about God’s comfort to them in their struggles of marital issues, loneliness, deaths of loved ones, job losses, and on and on. I never felt comfort, only condemnation. I never felt empowerment to change, only frustration at the continuing knowledge that nothing was changing, despite my earnest efforts.

At some point along the way, I guess I just gave up… for lack of a better phrase. There was no accompanying “freedom” like I felt when I chose to stop attending church after years of compulsion. There was only emptiness and sadness and a broken trust that is there to this day.

I still believe there’s something bigger than all of us. I don’t have a clue what It is or how It might manifest Itself to us, if at all. I do believe that Jesus taught us the best way to live if we are all to make it on this fragile planet together. But as far as a Holy Spirit who comforts and gives direction, I have nothing in MY actual experience to make me think that it is real. I can’t stretch that one night of blissful energy across a lifetime and call it the presence of God.

Of course, I have not chosen the life that Mother Teresa did. It pains me that she had a lifetime of the horrible, empty feeling that I’ve felt for a much shorter time. And she experienced it in dark places that I would have a very hard time entering. The whole thing just makes me wonder if God is really there at all. Are we crying into a void? Are some of us like Salieri to Mozart… we are drawn to the perfection, but we can never partake of it? The Bible says that God created some vessels (people) for glory and some for destruction. He is potter, we are clay, and He can do what He wants with us. True, I suppose, if the whole concept of Creator/created is true, but WHY? I’m back to why? What was the motive for drawing me to Him if He turned His back to me? I don’t get it.

At the end of the movie American Beauty, the voiceover of the main character says this: “It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.”

The closest I get to experiencing God (however God exists) is in those fleeting moments when I stop to pay attention to beauty… in the striations of a single leaf, the face of sleeping cat, the well-timed word of a friend, walking down a tree-lined trail, smelling rain again. It’s hard to believe in those moments that there is NO God. I just don’t have a clue anymore how to even begin to relate to Him. And I find it hard to relate to people who say that they DO have such a close relationship with God. I don’t doubt that they do, I just wonder why I don’t.

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Written by blogicalinks

August 27, 2007 at 1:23 am

Posted in Seeking, Sharing

10 Responses

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  1. “I heard others speak about God’s comfort to them in their struggles of marital issues, loneliness, deaths of loved ones, job losses, and on and on. I never felt comfort, only condemnation.”

    For me, the best part of finding St. Mark UMC is finding a place where that condemnation is absent. A place where, instead of having to deal with that incredibly oppressive weight of condemnation, one’s sexuality is a total non-issue. Well, “non-issue” is not the right way to say it, but it is not standing between the person and God. GLBT issues are dear to the ministers and the congregation, but from an advocate’s point of view. Sometimes I wonder how many tortured teenagers Rev. Jimmy saw as he worked for decades with a church camp and I truly thank God that he and his wife are with us. I’ve also seen the amazing transformation in attitude of a man who is the peer of my father. Not only is it incredible to just BE there on Sundays but amazing to see the impact of a church in a traditional denomination has on those around it. 90 kids in Vacation Bible School no different from VBS’s being held across the city, state, and country – and their parentage is a complete non-issue. There is no condemnation and no difference for children of straight parents and children with gay /lesbian parents. But maybe the best part for me every Sunday is seeing the absolute joy on the faces of men as they sing hymns loudly and proudly in the middle of a gorgeous sanctuary. If they had walked a tortured path to St. Mark with their sexuality as their cross to bear, one can almost see the release of the weight and the pain dropped away on their faces.

    Ru's Mom

    August 27, 2007 at 6:26 am

  2. I’ve doubted some who say they have a close relationship with God, if only because God seems to agree with their personal world view. What a coincidence God is on the same track, eh? Since God agrees with them, of course it’s their job to hammer everyone else with those beliefs, using force if necessary. After all, they’re just serving God…

    I agree with a quote I heard somewhere: “Why would a God busy running the universe take time out to give me a ten-speed bike?”. If God is out there, I don’t expect any favors or individual attention.

    Right now I’m throwing my vote in with the Hindus…check out that new temple in Lilburn! God seems to be favoring them lately if they are able and willing to build such a structure. I’m gonna go check it out soon.

    Cara

    August 27, 2007 at 7:35 am

  3. First of all, hugs to you for pouring your heart out in this post. Great thoughts and questions. Since you opened up, I will too.

    As a person who only went to church on occasion (mostly Catholic, sometimes others), the following opinions are those based on my history with churches, church people, the Bible and my relationship with God (a higher power, however you like to call him or her).

    I agree with Cara’s first paragraph. I find it so convenient that those who follow (what we think) are God’s laws are the ones who feel they are closest to God. The Bible was written by men, so until God tells me I need to follow every line it in, I only see it as somewhat of a guideline to Christianity. But to me Christianity doesn’t encompass faith and God. Christianity is a vessel. And for the record, I am not a fan of most churches or people who feel duty to reach out and “save” me because I don’t go there regularly. I will go when I’m ready and I don’t feel the need for an earthly man or woman to pray while holding a hand on my forehead.

    I just don’t think that religion, Christianity, faith, whatever you believe needs to be so black and white. Just because some people are very close to God doesn’t make them perfect human specimens. And those that are not as close to God, that doesn’t make them demons either.

    Perfection and rebellion are both dangerous extremes, in my opinion. I’m a firm believer of moderation in most things is better for you.

    My parents taught me what I need to know. God is good and loves everyone. Pray and thank God. Do what is in your heart, for the good of yourself and others around you. … I think I turned out ok. Not perfect, but who is!?

    As for the new temple in Lilburn, I’m dying to go see it!!! We should all pick a day to get together and visit. It looks gorgeous!

    Carmen

    August 27, 2007 at 11:50 am

  4. Cheryl, Carla asked me one day out of the blue why God seemed to hear our prayers concerning her cancer and not the other ladies we had met over the years who, one-by-one, seemed to just fade away and die. Without exception every woman we have come to know on this journey has now died, just 3.5 years after we first heard the word cancer. They were good women, most of them had loving families who agonized over their loved one’s deterioration, they believed in God, and they and their families and friends prayed for Devine intervention and healing that never came. I struggled with an answer to Carla’s question and all I could manage was that to me, faith is the belief in something that we can’t physically touch. That may sound simplistic and trite but that is what sustains me. The fact that I find solace when I pray, that I find peace when I cryout to God and that I don’t know how someone who goes through what my wife has gone through without a belief in God can endure a single day. I don’t know what to offer about all that you have gone through in your personal life other than to say as a parent, many of the things you said would be my concern for my daughters if they came to me and told me they were gay rather than the fact that they were gay. You just help me realize that someone does not chose to be straight or gay. If they did then they could play on one team for awhile and if it didn’t work out they could just switch teams. Now, how’s that for a big ol Alabama redneck reponse, but I hope you know what I mean. Some of the choices in men my daughters have made have not been the best as of late. I guess I’m really Presbyterian in many ways because I do believe that it helps to pray to God that we as mere mortals are at the mercy of God in most everything we do, but in the end it already written down and we’re just part of that giant puzzle with a another piece to fill in as we end our lives. Do I pray that I survive a trip home on I-59 every afternoon? No, because it is just a part of my life and I pray that God will simply protect me no matter what I or my family does. Others take more of the To Whom it May Concern approach when they pray. Sort of, if anyone is out there please listen. I don’t worry about you and your search for the truth, it would worry me more if you suddenly announced you had the answers, and none of us have all the answers, we only have that blind faith or the search for it to help us get up each morning and do another day.

    clay

    August 27, 2007 at 3:25 pm

  5. I read your post first-thing this morning, and I had no idea how to respond. Certainly not because of shock or amazement, but simply not wanting to put my foot in my mouth.

    First off, thank you for your honesty and frankness, and willingness to write what you have written. Absolutely don’t feel like you are all alone in this – I have known many people (clergy and pastors included) that have had the same questions and concerns that you have. I certainly don’t have the answers. I grew up with a Christian mother and a Jewish father, and no church at all. When I got to college, I was absolutely offended by the guys like Preacher John who came to campus and insisted on “ramming” their faith down my proverbial throat. And if I didn’t accept it their way, I was going straight to hell (according to them). It really wasn’t until I was an adult out of college when I started realizing that there was something more out there. As I searched and searched, I found that the Protestant churches (Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.) were a good fit for me. As it turned out, I found a home at a Presbyterian church.

    One thing I will say – one of the biggest things that attracted me to the Protestant churches was their “open door” policies of including everyone. Granted, some churches do this better than others, and I’m ashamed to say that the Presbyterian church is not the best of them. But this is more towards the ‘staffing’ of the church and not towards church members. Even though I am a white heterosexual male, it is of utmost importance that I am in an inclusive environment. I consider myself to be inclusive in how I live my life and my beliefs, and it is critical that my house of worship reflect and foster this.

    As for the whole ‘gay’ thing in Christianity, here’s my 2 cents worth. I can not accept that gay people are not children of God. Many (if not all) of the gay people I have encountered in my life more than exemplify what it means to be a Christian. And many heterosexual people I have encountered in my life have horns and a tail hidden somewhere! In my personal humble opinion, I believe that the “gays are not God’s children” belief is just another one of those things where people have manipulated the Bible to support their position and make them feel good. I experienced this kind of mentality during my year of torture with The Ex-Girlfriend. She ABSOLUTELY used the Bible as a tool to control and manipulate me, and she thought she was in the right the whole time.

    So I don’t think I’ve answered any questions, and probably babbled more than anything. But I agree with you that the best place to find God is in the blooming flowers, the snuggle of a kitty, the laugh of a friend, or the grandeur of a waterfall or landscape. I think of this often when I photograph my world, and I hope it shows in my photography.

    Know that God is out there, and know that you’re part of God’s world. He would not have put you here otherwise.

    Eric

    August 27, 2007 at 8:38 pm

  6. I was just wandering through your seeking category and thought I might add my belated two cents. I too have always been one to ask why, why, why. Being the introvert I am, I just haven’t necessarily asked those questions out loud. Once in youth group at church we were talking about creation/evolution. Of course there were the staunch “God created the world in 6 days” people, and then there was me positing that if God created us through evolution (monkeys to humans), so be it! Oh, the reaction I got from one girl. I think she was literally horrified to death, lost color in her face and everything. My beliefs don’t depend on HOW God created the world, just that God did create the world.

    Growing up Southern Baptist (at church every time the doors were open and then some) I was covertly taught many “laws” of being Christian. One was, of course, that you can’t ask why. My theory has always been, if your going to go by Scripture literally, then since Jesus asked God, “Why have you forsaken me?” then it’s ok for us to ask why about things. Cause pretty much, Why have you forsaken me?, is the biggest of all why questions.

    Another covert teaching….cause it was too evil to speak about openly….was that all homosexuals (their word) are taking the express lane to the deepest part of hell. It amazes me that so many GLBT people who “grew up in church” have survived and thrived into adulthood. To have your very being, your very self eviscerated, scourged, demeaned, and burned…you get the picture. That’s part of the reason I’ve been in the dark night of the soul most of my life; part of why I tried to kill myself in 2002. I dutifully went to church with my parents until I went to college. But then I hung out at the Baptist campus ministries as to do “the right thing” in other people’s eyes. I lived “straight”. Even committed straight-person “sin”–Sex with guys. Always feeling like a hypocrite and worse. Always asking why me. Why would God make me like this? Why wouldn’t God answer my prayers and change me? etc. Since college, I’ve gone to church very little. In searching for a God who really is love, I’ve tried Pentecostal, Catholic, liberal Baptist (yes they are out there), along with studying Buddhism/Hinduism/other. Now my search has taken me to the Quakers. At the Birmingham Friends Meeting, they accept and love anyone no matter what. It’s a pretty awesome feeling to have religious affirmation of who I am.

    Every person’s “relationship” with the Divine is different. Just because a person doesn’t have the same kind of a “close relationship with God” as another person does, doesn’t mean that person doesn’t have that “relationship”. Some direct their thoughts through ritual, some silence, some nature, some speaking in tongues, some social justice action, etc. The way or means whereby you “experience” God isn’t the goal. Even “experiencing God” isn’t the point. To me, that’s why the concept of faith exists. You don’t seek something you don’t believe exists. You seek what you know/believe/hope to believe/ exists, even if you feel you never stop seeking, never attain the destination. Personally, I don’t think the destination is attainable in this life. And that, as with all aspects of life, anyone who thinks they know all the right answers better think again.

    To me, “experiencing” God, being in touch with the Divine, acknowledging that there is “that of God” in you, boils down to the first saying most churched kids learn: God is love. Jesus said the one best thing is to love God, and how you do that constitutes the 2nd best thing: love your neighbor—which I interpret as love all of God’s creation, love what God loves.

    OK. So that turned out to be 10 cents, not 2.

    Stephanie

    September 7, 2007 at 7:21 pm

  7. Hey Babe! This is the first time I’ve been to your blog – goooood stuff.

    I find myself on the same spiritual path that you are on (without the gay stuff). I have to share something with you:

    Centering Prayer

    So many times I felt so dishonest praying. I know we’re commanded to do intercessory prayer, but I just don’t feel comfortable with it, sorry Baptists. It made me feel like a teenager going to her parents and asking for the car keys. I’ve been seeking for years for a way to pray that made me “honest”. The only prayers i’ve been able to say are “thank you’s” and “I love you’s”, and “I’m sorry’s” and it felt … inadequate.

    Then my brother told me about a type of prayer he’s been teaching down in Montgomery, Centering Prayer (it’s capitalized because it’s a very specific type of prayer). It took a while to percolate with me, and then I started looking into it. Girl, it’s EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for, and, yes, asking God for.

    It’s purely and simply communing with God in love and silence. Experiencing God personally, not giving him a laundry list of stuff that I want. It’s similar to meditation, but its goal and focus is God himself, not some nebulous nirvana, or, even worse, the Self. I’ve been practicing it for only a week now, but it’s sooooooooo wonderful. I’m going to my first prayer group tomorrow – it’s the closest I’ve come to going to church for years!

    There’s a contemplative prayer outreach in Atlanta:
    http://www.centeringprayer.com/chapters/atlanta.htm
    you might want to check it out.

    ALSO: look on Amazon for Aramaic translations of Christ’s words. Oh my, what a difference reading from the original makes! Right now I’m reading Blessings of the Cosmos by Neil Douglas-Klotz, I really really recommend it, it’s truly mind- and spirit-expanding.

    Love ya, girl. Email me if ya wish!! (And I’m not sorry you quit your job – life is much too precious to live it that way.)

    Gayle

    September 19, 2007 at 11:54 am


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