Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Intimate Soliloquies

Part 3 of In the Footsteps of Spring, an exploration of the coming out process as a spiritual journey.

I wrote the following “letter to God” in 1992, at a time when I was living as a closeted gay man. This “letter” reminds me of a beautiful insight offered by Viktor Frankl in his book, The Unheard Cry for Meaning: “When I was fifteen years old or so,” he writes, “I came up with a definition of God to which, in my old age, I come back more and more. I would call it an operational definition. It reads as follows: God is the partner of your most intimate soliloquies.”

It’s strange to read again the words of my “letter to God” and to think back to the sad and lonely person I was when I wrote them. I can see so clearly the darkened room in which I sat, scribbling down onto paper my thoughts, fears, and hopes by the flickering light of a solitary candle. In some ways it seems like only yesterday; in other ways, several lifetimes ago.

Yet although the frustration and loneliness of my situation back then saddens me, I also have to admire the braveness of my words. They are not the words of a victim, of someone who has given up. They’re the words of a seeker, of someone still very much in process. I mean, declaring to God that I desire a lover! That signifies something big: a shift, a movement not only in awareness of myself as a human being, but also a deepening of trust in my relationship with God. I wasn’t writing to some distant deity, but rather, in questioning and challenging myself, was conversing with God – a very real and present partner in this intimate soliloquy.

In retrospect, this letter conveys a largely unconscious awareness that I was standing with God on the threshold of a new phase of our journey together. Within two years of my writing these words, I had moved to the U.S. and began to come out to those around me.

The reflection that follows my 1992 “letter to God” was written in 1996 for In the Footsteps of Spring, and was probably my first attempt to reflect upon how I and my way of thinking and talking about God, had changed in the past four momentous years of my coming out journey.

(NOTE: For an introduction to In the Footsteps of Spring, click here. For Part 1: “The Light Within,” click here. For Part 2: “Shards of Summer,” click here.)


Autumn 1992

God, I am filled with frustration and regret. I know this comes from watching as opportunities for companionship and intimacy pass me by as I stay silent about who I really am.

This need for intimacy and union with another is like a hunger. And yet I know there are so many experiencing more life-threatening hunger - people in need of food, water, shelter, and clothing; children in need of their parents’ love; the elderly in need of dignity and respect; the poor in need of justice. Truly I have a lot to be thankful for and, believe me, I am grateful for my health, my family, my career, my friends, and my standard of living. I’d just like to truthfully be able to thank you for my sexuality – my homosexuality.

Does my homosexuality separate me from your love? Are my feelings and desires really sinful? There must be others like me – young men wanting to build a meaningful and loving relationship with another. Where are the structures in society, in the Church, for us to do so?

I desire a lover. I will not be afraid or ashamed to say that; a lover with whom I can create and celebrate love. And this love, Lord, would reflect the love you have for us. I desire someone who will love me for who I am. Surely this is the prayer of every man and woman!

Am I being selfish? Is it your will that I live alone always – nourished by your love only? Yet how can your love, as boundless as it is, replace the physical love and intimacy of another human? Can one abstain from sexual relations and be truly whole? After all, we are sexual beings. Must our sexuality be abandoned in our spiritual journey to wholeness? So many questions and so few answers.

Yet I know this for sure: I am special; I am gay. This doesn’t detract from my personhood – it’s an integral part of it. It is an aspect of my true self that requires nourishment through acceptance. Yet it is an aspect that I must keep hidden – an ultimately destructive endeavor. I live a lie. I live behind a façade – one that I need to be constantly checking for cracks – cracks that would allow others to perceive the real me.

But with you, Lord, there is no façade. I come before you in this quiet time as I truly am – as a child of your love, as a follower of your way, as a sexual being in need of love and intimacy, and as an individual who is not perfect – who at times is selfish, intolerant, proud, envious, bitter - and yet who knows that despite this am still loved by you.

Spring 1996

People sometimes say that suffering is redemptive. There may have been a time when I believed that, but not anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, suffering, like any human experience, can serve as a vehicle to redemption, to union with God. But to imply from this that suffering itself has been ordained by God, that it is God’s will, reduces God to a mere puppet-master and denies human beings God’s gift of free will.

I guess that for many people, however, an all-controlling, puppet-master of a god that we fear, is easier to deal with than confronting an ultimately mysterious God with whom we’re called to be in relationship; easier than confronting our own role and responsibility for many of the events in our life and in the world.

You may ask what caused me to think this way. Well, what causes any of us to question and challenge limiting ways of dealing with the complexities of life; limiting ways of speaking about God?

The answer, of course, is when our experiences show us otherwise. My experience of God has not been one of an all controlling entity far removed from me, but rather an all-loving and ever-faithful companion, here, deep in my soul. Indeed, I’m prepared to abandoned previously held notions of an all-powerful God in order to hold fast to the all-loving God I have come to know.

Yes, challenging things may happen to me throughout my life. I may experience confusion, isolation, and pain. But I know that no matter what, I am still loved by God; that, indeed, God suffers with me; rages with me against the injustices of this world.

Yet God is yearning, too – yearning to channel healing and transforming love to the world through any one of us willing to be open to receiving and passing on that love. We’re called to be co-creators with God – co-creators of justice, peace, and love. With this awareness in my mind and soul I have experienced transcendence.

Transcendence – an often misunderstood word. It’s not about fleeing or escaping, or rising beyond reality. No, it’s about claiming and proclaiming one’s own inner reality of sacredness brought to consciousness through delving deep within and engaging our true self – that part of us most infused with God.

Such a process requires letting go of surface things, and yet it fills one with a sense of freedom and peace, and such a new perspective, that indeed it feels as if one has taken flight. But it is no fearful attempt at escape.

The perspective of transcendence says that the journey is not in vain. Perception, insight, salvation – all are gained not by a change in essence, but by a change in perspective.

The way may indeed be confused and painful. Yet, somehow, in ways that I cannot begin to explain, out of the darkness and chaos can emerge a pattern, can emerge meaning – as rich and luminous as a tapestry of autumn leaves; as relentless as a river winding to the great sea.

Only in retrospect do we discern the path traversed, the insights gained, and the transformation (ours and the world’s) that is birthed when we bring these insights to life through our words and our actions.

Transcendence gifts us with new sight, new and freer ways of viewing ourselves, our world, our God. No longer burdened with images solidified over centuries, but free to trust our own images, hopes, desires, and dreams brought to birth by our own lived experiences.

I’ll share with you what I mean . . .

Within me is an ocean,
an ocean the colour of jade.
In times of doubt and despair it comes to me.
Its presence is dark and mysterious,
without form or feature.
Yet I am calm and at peace;
all fear and anxiety washed away.

I sometimes stand on the ocean’s shore -
unsure, lonely, sad.
The ocean calls to me,
invites me to be renewed,
to be carried upon its waves.

The ocean calls me to leave all else behind,
to lose myself in its blue-green depths,
to find myself anew in its pounding surf,
to emerge childlike from its waves.

The ocean calls me to know a force
greater than myself, to experience intimately
the source and sustainer of all life.

God is the ocean within me.

NEXT: Part 4: Coming Out

Photography: Michael Bayly.

“The Ocean Within” by Michael Bayly (November 1993).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Footsteps of Spring: Introduction
In the Footsteps of Spring: Part 1 - “The Light Within”
In the Footsteps of Spring: Part 2 - “Shards of Summer”


Anonymous said...

Absolutely beautiful. I noticed the "letter" spoke to "god" as if that god was you. "Our better (or divine) side." The aching that seeks comforting, the yearning that seeks complementarity, the hope of love for its own sake . . .

Our ordinary natures in touch with our extraordinary callings. A formal dialogue (i.e., dialectic) with oneself: Confident that being true, prizing love, desiring and yearning for intimacy, valuing oneself and others of worth, give life its many meanings.

And finally, you capture the sojourner, the seeker, the understanding "shared," the road traveled two-gather.

Awesome! Happy Pride, 2008. May Riding the Wave of Life ever bring you joys, happiness, excellence, and above all, homoerotic romantic love, the apex of human flourishing.

kevin57 said...

A rabbi wrote that the first time Yahweh says something is NOT good is when he remarks that it is not good for the man to be alone. Up to that point all of creation has been made good.

It is neither humane nor spiritual for any of us to be alone.

Frank Partisan said...

Did you see this?

Jim said...

If my memory is correct, you would have been teaching me in 1992 when you wrote that letter.

Its strange (yet comforting) to think that while you were teaching us day after day, you had such big thoughts going through your head, occupying your time and thoughts.

Yet, I wonder as an 11 year old at the time, how could we miss this?! How could we not see this struggle you were going through?

From all the stuff I have read, I gather you are a changed and different man from 1992 when you wrote that letter. It would be interesting to see and understand what helped you change.

James Clifton