Monday, August 13, 2007

Sunstone

My experience in Utah was amazing, powerful, and sacred. I enjoyed the sessions I attended at Sunstone, but what was most significant to me was time I was able to spend with family and friends. This included meeting new blogger friends Beck, MikeInWeHo, and Bored in Vernal. I was also delighted by a surprise meeting with my second cousin Deborah, who just showed up to hear me read my paper without telling me she was coming, and introduced herself during question and answer time! There were so many people I wanted to see and spend time with that I just couldn't in the two all-too-brief days I was in Utah.

I also got to meet my little brother Joe's fiancée Becky, and was blown away by how smart and wise and compassionate she is, and by what an amazing poet she is. She shared some of her poetry with me and made me weep. What an amazing woman she is, and what a beautiful couple she and my little brother Joe make! I can hardly wait till their wedding in October. The time I spent with Becky, with Joe, with my sister Anne, with my niece Hannah and my nephew Damon, and with my parents - who live up to the name of Latter-day Saints - was a mountain top experience. The only thing that would have made it more perfect for me would have been having Göran there with me. I missed him terribly, and the time I spent in Utah did not feel complete until I was home in Minnesota in his arms again.

This morning, I received an email from MikeInWeHo who, after attending the reading of my paper and after our various conversations between symposium sessions on Saturday, said, "Was left wondering about one thing you didn't describe: What was this spiritual experience you had two years ago at Sunstone?" This past Sunstone was powerful to me partly because it was a time for me to reflect on what has happened in my life in the two years since Sunstone 2005, where I have come and what I have learned since then. So I suppose that original experience is worth sharing here in greater detail than I have publicly before.

The spiritual experience I had at Sunstone 2005 happened while I was sitting in on a session that Lavina Fielding Anderson was giving on the new "True to the Faith" brochure. And it had nothing directly to do with the presentation itself or what Lavina was actually saying at that given moment. It's just that I was sitting there, among Latter-day Saints, thinking about the life and experience of the Church. And quite without warning, I felt the Holy Spirit's presence in a most powerful, undeniable way. If I had to try to describe it, I would say it was definitely a "burning in the bosom" kind of experience. Like all such experiences words feel terribly inadequate. But really, the thing that surprised me most about it was that, while I had had spiritual experiences in the 19 years since leaving the Church, some very significant and powerful, none matched this one in intensity. And the Spirit said to me, very clearly and undeniably and distinctly, "John, it's time to come home."

What was surprising to me about this revelation was, at the time I literally had no idea how it was possible for me to do this. And my knee jerk reaction was that it was literally impossible. I thought, "It's too late. Too much water has gone under the bridge. I can't do it because I'm gay and partnered. They don't want me. They would never have me back," etc. And then I thought, "The Spirit isn't possibly telling me I need to leave my partner, is it?" All these things were going through my mind. I started crying, both because of the beauty and the power of the experience, and because of the sense of the complete, overwhelming love of God that I felt in that moment, but also because I was angry and hurt and confused by it. I simply didn't understand how it was possible to do what I felt the Spirit was asking me to do.

Later, after the experience faded, I tried to shove it to the back of my mind. I certainly didn't tell anyone about it at the time, least of all my partner. But over the following months, it kept coming back, and the Spirit kept speaking to me, essentially just saying "Think about it!" And then finally, some time after I had returned to Minneapolis, I had another spiritual experience in which the Spirit said to me, "Just one step at a time." And by then I pretty much knew this was something I could not ignore, and I started to understand that there were steps on the road back "home" that I could take. I started by contacting Affirmation. But the step that I knew I really had to take was to start attending Church. It took a few months to get up the courage to do that, but eventually I did (some time in October 2005). And I'm essentially still on the road "home." And that sense of the Spirit's presence in my life -- the very powerful sense that I hadn't had in my 19 years away from the Church -- has continued with me ever since.

I described this experience somewhat in my Sunstone article, "A Gay Mormon's Testimony," though not in as much detail as I have here. It's very humbling for me to look back and reflect on this experience. It still overwhelms me to consider all the ramifications. Out of that journey home has evolved this ethic I've written about elsewhere of living as faithfully as I can as a Latter-day Saint, despite my present constraints (that's why, for instance, I've been living the Word of Wisdom since May 2006). This journey has included the reassurances I've received from the Spirit that I should not under any circumstances leave my partner; along with warnings that I should not be critical of Church leaders or seek ultimate answers to some of the doctrinal conundrums. It has also included my sense that I cannot make my life a rule for others. Each person needs to wrestle with the Spirit and figure out what their specific journey needs to be for themselves. I only know what I need to do for myself. I needed to just learn to accept certain problems, certain limitations, and move forward the best I could.

At Sunstone 2007, I had numerous opportunities to reflect on how powerful it has been just to let go of certain expectations, and to simply be willing to look at my life and ask God, "What next? What do I need to do to live in greater harmony with you?" Such a simple thing, when it comes down to it, and yet so totally transformative.

I am so grateful for everyone who came to hear me read my paper. I was overwhelmed by the love and kindness people expressed. I'll be warmed by the fire of that experience for some time to come.

9 comments:

Bill McA said...

So will a copy of the paper you read be available anywhere? I'd love to read it.

Bill

playasinmar said...

I didn't know you were coming! I certainly would like to hear you if you return next year.

GeckoMan said...

John, I'm so glad you had a positive experience at Sunstone, and special time with family and friends. I heard second-hand that your paper was outstanding.

J G-W said...

I've submitted the essay to Sunstone magazine. In the meantime, I believe it is possible to order CD's of the audio recording of the session.

Playasinmar - Darn! If I had known you were coming, I'd have tried to connect! I wonder how many times we passed each other in the hallway...

Danetter said...

John - so glad you enjoyed Sunstone and spending time with your family and friends in Utah! I wish I could have attended the conference - hopefully next year!

Becky and Joseph said...

It was wonderful meeting you as well, I can hardly wait to meet Göran in October, thank you ffor the sweet things about Me, I was very nervous to meet you, as I have been to meet the rest of the family, thank you for being such a sweet kind hearted person, I feel very lucky to be welcomed into such a lovely family.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just stumbled on this while browsing. It's so interesting to read about this "revelation"

Salt Lake City is such a strange place. This desert city, the outgrowth of 300 years of puritanical spiritual longing. Stripped of all material excess, just kind of burning out there on the edge of the desert. Waiting to recieve her king.

Congratulations on "going home"

J G-W said...

Anonymous - I'm intrigued by your comment. My trips to Utah in recent years definitely have become both figurative and literal home-comings for me.

I honestly don't think my revelation is unique. The Spirit is being poured out on all flesh, preparing the whole world to receive Christ at his Second Coming. Very interesting things are yet to come...

Anonymous said...

So interesting to hear you say that. I've become too much of a skeptic to believe in the second coming.

But it's somehow nice that you do. Like maybe there is redemption and all that.

You are obviously comfortable within the fold of traditional Christianity as well as Mormonism. Have you ever kicked around the vast theological gulf that separates you and your dad from the other members of your community church?

I mean being gay might be fine with them, but MORMON TOO? That seems a little beyond the pale.

Interesting to hear your perspective.