So I started to stay away from Church. I think a lot of people do that today. They hear messages at their church that they don't like or disagree with and they stop attending. But how does one then differentiate that discomfort from making church all about themselves? What is to differentiate self-gratification in a human-constructed church from self-gratification from an ego-constructed sense of identity?
How does one leave a Church without it being about him or herself?
It took me a long time to come to terms with that problem. I'm still dealing with it, but have gotten further than ever before. Meanwhile, during the times I walked away, I still felt a hunger, a wanting, so I would sneak into church for silent prayer. This was at a time when I was out at university and I didn't want my gay friends to see me in church. Church hurt too many of them as well, and the explanations I'd have to give seemed to difficult to express. No I wasn't self-hating; I was hungry. No I wasn't actually still in the closet; I was seeking more from my life. Sure, I had made mistakes. Lots of them. And that's what made me feel like I needed to understand myself and my values ever better.
So yes I would sneak back into church. I was out as a gay man but closeted as a religious person.
The return to church in the past two decades has been life-sustaining for me. I have realized that I can't begin to live the life I'm intended to live without coming to the water when I'm thirsty. We are called into a place where we can be healed, where we can be the source of healing, where we are meant to be, and that calling is both internal and external.
We must respond to the feelings inside of us. We must move our butts to the places where we can put our values and life-meanings into action. Inside and out fully expressed: there is no more need for any closet. Instead, we climb the highest trees to see what's possible, to see the good in the world, and commit ourselves into the direction we were meant to go.
I think that it takes a great deal of reflection to decide that your spiritual journey may or may not need a church. Likewise, it takes some commitment to accept whether or not your journey includes a spiritual guide. Like a tour guide, you sometimes need others to show you the way. It's not that you can't figure it out on your own. It's just that you might want to get to your destination sooner, easier, with less wear and tear, so that you can enjoy yourself more fully. I've always avoided tour guides in my travels but have learned to understand my need for them when I'm immersed deeper in foreign languages and lands than I can handle. The same has applied in my spiritual life. It's taken me a long time to accept my need of church and spiritual guides, but once I set my ego aside, once I accept that my journey doesn't have to be over broken glass and bloody thorns, then I can yield to those who can help me get to the place I'm meant to be sooner, happier, safer. And in doing so, I make it clear to myself that it's in trusting others, in loving others, that I can find my way.
Last night, Stephen and I watched Les Miserables, the movie from a couple years ago. It's my favorite musical and though the movie has issues, the story line still brings me to tears. The contrast between Javert and Jean Valjean is marked, and yet they both sing the same melody when they come to their spiritual crisis. Jean Valjean's crisis is when he must decide who is the man that God intended him to be; Javert's crisis is when he confronts his moral world and finds no place for forgiveness. Both, in the end, are confronting the issue of Love unfolding, Love all-encompassing, Love made flesh. And at the end of the musical, my favorite line: "To love another person is to see the face of God."
We attended a cousin's wedding this weekend. Cousin weddings happen in my life more often than most, as I have 54 first cousins. And yet, sitting in the Roman Catholic church that I once walked away from, that I once felt outcast and excluded, I watched two people in love come together, seeing the face of God in each other. Trusting each other to help guide the other, to help each of them find their way in this life.
I close this blog entry with this coming Sunday's reading. Jesus promises to be there for us, if we reach out, if we love, we allow ourselves to be loved.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”