Posted February 26, 2014 by Marg Herder
We had finished the day’s work and the women of Oriented to Love were sitting around the common area near our bedrooms having a last cup of decaf tea before going to bed.
I was starting to talk about my experience attending The Justice Conference last year. I explained that when I signed up I had no idea I would be participating with a large group of people who mostly opposed the idea that people like me could share equally in fellowship with other believers. I talked about how I learned of this only a couple of weeks before the conference, and as those two weeks progressed I got more and more anxious and scared about attending.
“Why?” The young woman looked at me over her tea.
I started to explain that I had been hurt so much in my life by Christian people who opposed LGBT equality that I couldn’t help but have the expectation I would be treated badly by this group as well.
“But why would you think this group of people would treat you badly? Did you know any of them? Had any of them ever done anything to hurt you?”
I could feel adrenalin flash through my body. Was my lifetime of experience with subtle and not-so-subtle LGBT discrimination being challenged?
I detached myself from my growing anxiety and answered in what I hoped was a thoughtful and neutral tone of voice, “Nothing. None of them had ever done anything to me.” I offered a brief explanation of what I had learned to expect over the years from people who were not comfortable with homosexuality.
But somehow I knew my answer didn’t work for the woman who asked the question; and most importantly, I realized that something about it didn’t work for me either.
I got quiet and simply let the conversation go on around me for a while, feeling a lot of emotions all at once. I felt misunderstood; I felt negated; I felt my very real experience of fear had been dismissed as something I was wrong to have felt. I wanted to just go back to my room, but I willed myself to stay seated where I was. I thought of the Thích Nhất Hạnh quote my friend Diana likes to repeat:
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.”
The conversation headed in a different direction. Soon I found my awareness returning to the room and felt my heart again open to the love I was feeling for the women in it. I hoped no one had noticed the temporary interruption.
But I kept the question with me and came back to it later that night. It’s a very real question, and very apt.
What had those 4000 Justice Conference attendees and organizers ever done to me? The answer was, of course, nothing at all. I didn’t know them. I had never met them. I had not interacted with any of them, except unknowingly, perhaps, through the printed word.
Yet I felt nearly paralyzed with anxiety as I walked into the conference hall.
Why am I so anxious around people who doubt or oppose my equality in the church? Do I feel that wounding and injury will result from any interaction with them?
Over the past several years, as I have returned to Christianity, this has been a particular problem for me. Coming into the Oriented to Love discussion, I had been so worked up it took a concerted effort to keep me from indulging in my go-to self-destructive addictions and behavior patterns.
Certainly, as an LGBT person who has been out since 1979, I have been hurt and denigrated by many people. But I seldom encounter those people in my daily life. So I think there might be something else going on.
And with much trepidation, I consider another possibility.
What if I don’t truly fear the people who are uncomfortable with my homosexuality, or even those who say unkind things to and about me? What if I fear my own anger and resentment?
I think of myself as someone who moves through the world lovingly. Someone who looks first to forgive. For some time, it has been my prayer and my practice to always respond to all people with grace.
But what if, deep in my body, there are pockets of anger, tucked away like time bombs waiting to go off? What if I harbor hurt and resentment about the treatment I have received during my life, about the possibilities that I have been denied, about my ambitions that have been thwarted?
How can I love that in me?
What if I lose myself during a tsunami of emotion like I felt before The Justice Conference, or before the Oriented to Love dialog, or while sitting there drinking tea with people who have no possibility of knowing what it’s like? What if I simply can’t do it, can’t shoulder the burden of love She calls us to carry?
How can I forgive that in me?
I think I know what I’m really afraid of.
After we finished our tea that night, when everyone else had gone to bed, I sat comfortably alone just down the hall from the convent’s darkened chapel. I listened intently and transcribed the words She whispered in my ear. I thought they were just the words for the devotional I was to give the next day. But now I know they were also the answer to some questions I wouldn’t even ask until three weeks later.
And if you are not too afraid
You just might walk into those waters of love
And learn that sink, swim, or walk on water
None of that really matters
Because no one ever drowns in the waters of love
No one is ever swallowed by the mystery
No one is ever denied becoming their own miracle.
Though I struggle to respond to myself with grace, She never does.
Posts inspired by the Oriented to Love dialog by Marg:
Introduction to the Series
Of the Mystery and Miracles
Questions and Consequences
All these Words
What Am I Really Afraid Of?
The Huge Knot of Misunderstanding
The Unbelievable Bottom Line (on the Evangelicals for Social Action website)