I think the heart is a compass, and desire its needle. When floating freely, the needle swings, seeking the invisible lines of magnetic attraction that align with True North: that place or work or passion that gives greatest meaning to our lives. Frederich Buechner put it memorably: “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The earth of our lives is riddled with veins of opportunities for these connections, cut with rivers that invite us to join their tumbling flow.
It doesn’t seem that it should be so hard to find my way into the river. I am more than prepared (over-equipped, some would say). I am more than willing. Maybe I have too much desire, leaving my needle spinning.
Almost ten years ago, having left a corporate career behind and spent a couple of years with small children, a notebook and a pen, I was contemplating beginning an M.Div. degree. I had just gotten back to the church a couple of years before that, but hey, I never let lack of qualification keep me from a good time. Looking at the M.Div., thinking about “why,” I did know one thing. There was a place where my interest in God and my interest in people met … these seemed to be marked by a vertical line (between me and the God I didn’t fully understand but who I knew had never left me, and who I couldn’t help but vaguely think of as “up there”) and a horizontal line (between me and everybody else, especially the ones I loved, and – more problematically – the ones that hurt or scared me). Where those lines intersected, I suspected, was where I would find … something. Answers? Work? Truths?
In the years since – full of study and preparation and pastoring and more study and preparation and teaching – I have found that I was right about that place. I know when I am there: when I feel the shock of recognition at reading a scholar’s elucidation of something my own experience has taught me … when someone tells me what my sermon said to them, or meant to them, and I know I had nothing to do with it, except showing up prepared and willing to be used … when someone tells me a story of pain or loss and I am able to connect with them out of my own broken places, and share a strength or comfort from my own healing. Oh, that’s holy ground. I have to take off my shoes.
So why does that ground seem to slip from under my feet? Or do I find ways to run from it … perhaps both.
Five years ago, contemplating what course my life could and should take, in the wake of the no-longer-escapable realization of being gay, in the face of the potential loss of family, ministry, and community (i.e., everything that gave my life meaning at that time), I was blessed to work with a wonderful counselor. In one of our conversations, I told him about tree-climbing. As soon as I was big enough, I would scramble up into the scratchy hackberry near our house and clamber for the highest branches that would hold my weight. The wind swayed the branches, the branches rocked me … and there was a kiss of Spirit in the breeze on my cheek.
I want to live in those high branches, I told my counselor … I still do. I want to be connected to the earth of my life in community, with roots sunk deep into the life-giving nurture of shared commitment and the strong hold of accountability. And I want whatever freedom and lightness it is that lets me hear God’s quietest whisper, and be moved by the slightest breath of Spirit.
Five years ago, I had that in my work and worship, but not in my personal life. Which means there was a fracture running down the middle of the tree, clear into the roots. If you cannot keep moving toward an integral, whole human life, you cannot continue offering an integral, whole ministry. Something had to give. So I did. I gave up ministry in a denomination that would not accept me as a gay person. I gave up the 20 year marriage and the false security of a heterosexual identity that wasn’t me.
In the years since, I have been rebuilding a life from the inside out. The relief I feel at knowing who I really am is almost indescribable. (I’ll try, someday soon.) It is grace, to be handed your life and offered the chance to work with God in pounding down the clay and reshaping the vessel.
Problem is, I am not as patient as I look. And I am having trouble waiting on my new tree: I know it won’t grow high branches until it has put down deep roots. Cultivating new community (hard for an introvert). Shared interests, commitments, passions (hard when you are a Christian, queer, feminist, anti-racist white woman). Developing trust (hard when you’ve tried and lost or been hurt before). And all that takes time (hard for an impatient person).
The fact is, I am going to have trouble making this new life if I don’t have the nerve to define what I want to do and be – and I say that with a hard-to-admit but absolute conviction that God put that desire in my heart, and made me according to an idea of that desire having the possibility of being fulfilled. (See how I start waffling in the language? [eyeroll] Ugh!)
Okay, trying again: God put that desire in my heart, and made me to fulfill it.
So, here’s the desire (today’s statement of it, and with not too fine a point on it). I want time to be aware of what is happening around me. Time to read, listen, be informed and try to understand. Time to reflect, and both write and speak about what matters in the happenings I am aware of. I want to plumb the Bible, in solitude and in community, for study and for preaching that hears the Word for today. I want a community that takes its Jesus-ness seriously. I want a community that is passionate about making life abundant for all, where I can think, work, follow or lead as need be. I want a community that prays like it’s all up to God, and works like it’s all up to us (thank you, John Wesley), and still takes time to play, laugh, and just be. And I want a line of work where I can make a living at this life.
Which part of that is too much to ask?
PS: It occurs to me, here at the end, an alternate title for this blog post would have been “Whose life is it, anyway?” But the answer would only have been one word – “God’s – and I’m a whole lot more wordy than that.