Posted February 24, 2014 by Marg Herder
The day before the Oriented to Love dialog was rough.
I was overwhelmed with anxiety about the event. I’d just received the questions we would discuss at the dialog, and they were daunting. The ideological distance between me and some of the “sexual majority” participants came clearly into focus. During other aspects of our prep work I’d felt the divide, but never so acutely.
I was stepping way out of my comfort zone; in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, in a very unfamiliar circumstance.
It was Wednesday. I had arrived in Philadelphia Tuesday night, a day earlier than expected, in order to avoid potential weather-related flight delays. My friends Susan and Michael were picking me up from the airport that evening and taking me to dinner. I’d be staying in their home that night.
But at the moment I was driving around Philadelphia in my rental car, trying to find a place to sit down for a few hours and do some work on my computer, trying to find some peace and some place to be. Some place quiet and calm. Some place I could just settle in and work, like I do in my normal life.
But there had been a huge ice storm in Philadelphia the night before, and every coffee shop I tried was jam packed with people seeking electricity and warmth. Roads were blocked by downed limbs and power lines. Streetlights were out. Big heavy chunks of ice were crashing down from trees over the road. My phone was running out of juice from using the navigation constantly.
I felt like I was in some apocalyptic nightmare.
You know what I wanted to do more than anything? I wanted to find a dark church sanctuary where I could just sit for a while. A church sanctuary with a cold slate floor and stone walls, hard pews, silence, and safety.
When I was a kid and something bad happened, I’d go into the chapel at church and just sit there. I guess maybe you could say I prayed. I communicated with God, sure. But it was a conversation without words, not like I thought praying was supposed to be.
Nobody ever bothered me, even when they saw me sitting in there. Because I belonged in the church. It was just me. So people left me alone, and I could go sit with God when I needed to. I could feel the cold of the floor if I wanted to sit against the wall. I could feel the hardness of the pew back if I wanted to sit in one of those.
I found safety there in the chapel, in a shared and comforting conversation. I found peace between where I was and what was coming next. I was with Her, I felt Her, and I knew She would walk out with me when I left.
Driving around that afternoon, frustrated and anxious to the point of tears, I actually stopped at a church. Parked. Walked carefully over the icy lot and sidewalks, tried a couple doors. I was locked out.
I got back in my car and drove away, feeling how it feels to be shut out by people who don’t even know someone like me might need to get in.
Usually when I feel called to go somewhere, I experience little reassuring reminders of Her presence from the moment I leave my house. A nice person seated next to me on the plane. A gracious worker at the hotel. Situations that pop up and delight, letting me know I’m not doing it alone.
But this trip hadn’t been anything like that. Nothing good had happened, no one kind or reassuring had appeared. Instead, I was stuck driving around slick and unfamiliar roads, on some fruitless quest for a place to do something that felt normal, a place to calm down.
I ended up at a CVS a little while later, telling myself I was going in to buy a phone charger for the rental car, but really following the siren song of razor blades and whiskey, two things that were, for a number of years, my preferred tools for obfuscating discomfort.
See, I don’t know how it is for anyone else, but for me the urge to indulge in my addictions hasn’t ever stopped. I’ve just gotten better at saying “no.”
On the day before the Oriented to Love dialog, I found myself profoundly disinterested in saying no.
So there I stood in CVS and, out of nothing more than habit, I thought about the possible costs of surrendering to the cheap and easy tools of temporal salvation. Out of nothing more than habit, I realized that I had become disconnected from objective reality. Out of nothing more than habit, I struggled to make my way back, just for a minute, so I could tell myself I had made a conscious choice.
Where are you? I’m in a store.
Is there danger? No, not right this second.
What is wrong? I’m very freaked out. It’s getting worse. Nothing good is happening. I can’t calm down.
What else could help? Nothing. I’m sure this is the only thing that will help.
What are you supposed to do first? I’m supposed to call someone who loves me. But I don’t want to. They’ll think I’m a freak.
How did this start and how should it end?
Then I see it. For just a moment. Objectively. What I was thinking of doing. I see the profanity of how this “yes” would change things.
She called me to move toward the place I stood. She brought me there. She wanted me to sit with twelve other people, starting the next day, being open and vulnerable. She called them as well. They were going to show up whole. It was my job to show up whole as well.
Sometimes, a moment is all you need.
I grabbed a phone charger, paid, and went back out to the car and called Lisa.
Lisa helped me make a plan. Drive back to the airport, turn in the rental car, find a quiet corner where I could sit with my back against a cool stone wall, listen to music on my headphones, forget about the whole stupid day, and write until my friends picked me up. Which I did.
A very wonderful man named Ralph participated in the dialog. At one point he shared a poem he had written about addiction, unaware of my close call the day before we met. With his permission, I share the closing stanza with you.
What of this struggle is ethical or moral
When one course of action seems wrong and one right?
Does that settle it or is there more to be learned?
As we live this constant battle of consequences.
It is my prayer that She grant those of us who “live this constant battle of consequences” with an endless supply of the nearly impossible “no” and someone who loves us enough to help us figure out what to do instead.
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)