Sunday, October 28, 2007

Feeling Vulnerable

I spent the last two Sundays in Utah, and the Sunday before that was General Conference, so this morning when I went to Church it had been a whole month since I'd been able to attend regular meetings at my ward.

As I walk through the entrance, I find myself feeling vulnerable. Unlike attending my parents' ward, here I can't hide behind semi-anonymity. Here I'm a known quantity. They know who I am. I'm exposed. I'm just me. Here I feel weak. Here the brokenness is more obvious.

Sister T. finds me and gives me a program. I arrived before they were available, and she's very conscientious about making sure everybody gets one. It's been several weeks since she's asked me when I'm going to get temple worthy. I'm relieved whenever she doesn't make an issue of it.

Sister P. waves and smiles. I have a standing invitation to sit with the P. family during sacrament meeting, since I don't have a family of my own to sit with. But I can never get up the courage to get up and go sit with them. Maybe some day I'll get over myself.

Brother B. finds me and sits next to me. His wife is not able to be there because she has to help their daughter move today. This isn't the first time he's made a point of sitting next to me. I feel awkward about not really wanting to make conversation; I like the reverence of silence before Sacrament meeting. I hope he knows how much it means to me that he wants to share the silence with me.

Sister J. arrives with the kids. Today she's brought me a present... The letters I wrote her from about the spring of 1986 through the summer of 1987. The letters span the time before and after I left the Church. She wants them back; she's just lending them to me so I can make copies of them. I want to read those letters, but I'm afraid to. That was the most painful year of my life. I'm going to have to figure out how to read them. It's not something I can just sit down and do.

The opening hymn helps me. Verse 5 of "Redeemer of Israel" goes:

Restore, my dear Savior,
The light of thy face;
Thy soul-cheering comfort impart;
And let the sweet longing
For thy holy place
Bring hope to my desolate heart

I didn't know this verse existed. I'm so glad our chorister always insists on singing all the verses of every hymn, even the ones printed at the bottom of the page.

During the opening prayer, a brother prays about the "blessings of membership in this ward." At first I feel excluded. But the Spirit says, "You are here because I've called you here. If you did not belong here, you would not be here."

During Sacrament, I feel awful. The Spirit says, "Listen to this prayer. You need to make these promises too, even if you can't partake." I feel better.

It's fast and testimony Sunday, because next week is Stake Conference. I listen to the testimonies. They're good testimonies. They're heartfelt. My heart is breaking. Some day, I think, I'll be able to stand up there too and bear mine. Some day. Just not today.

We have a new Gospel Essentials teacher. He actually calls on me to read a scripture. Wow! God bless Sister S. She created a few extraordinary moments in that class, but for the most part made me feel like a total alien, like a very bad person.

We talk about the Sacrament. We're reading in 3 Nephi 18. My eyes stray over to verse 25:

I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me....

After the Priesthood opening exercises, Brother B. offers me a ride to Stake Conference next week. I'm looking forward to that. Brother W. sets up a home-teaching appointment for tomorrow. I'm looking forward to that too.

For the first few minutes of Church today, the vulnerability, the brokenness, the broken-heartedness I feel seem oppressive. But it is not long before I realize that this is why I need to be here. This is the only way I can be reached by the healing my Heavenly Father has for me. I have missed this place, these people. Here I know who I am and why I am here. Here I feel the Spirit's presence and comfort most keenly. I'm at peace. It is good to be home again.


MoHoHawaii said...

This post reads like an anxiety dream. The only detail missing is whether you showed up in your pajamas.

This is the only way I can be reached by the healing my Heavenly Father has for me.

Does running this gantlet every week really help you find peace? I'm supportive but confused.

J G-W said...

It's interesting to me that you read this as a "gauntlet" to be run...

True, Sister T. (also known in one of my earlier posts as "Sister Smith") has been known to harass me. And Sister S., my now ex-Gospel Essentials teacher, was always at pains never under any circumstances to acknowledge my existence, except when she needed a table moved. But most of these people love me, and have become my friends, and do concrete things to show it. Did this really read as a totally negative experience? People greeting me, sitting next to me, making appointments to visit, offering rides? There's some obnoxiousness in the experience, but mostly good!

The vulnerability came not because people were threatening me but because of my own need to feel in control and protected. And realizing I can't do this in a ward where people know me -- warts and all -- left me feeling uncomfortable at first. But the break-through for me was realizing anew that Church must be about being real, being willing to accept that I never was and never will be in control, that I need healing.

More importantly, by being willing to be in this vulnerable space, I found again and again the reassuring presence of the Spirit.

Did this really come across as an anxiety nightmare? Last night after writing this, I retired with an incredible sense of gratitude and peace.

MoHoHawaii said...

Well, it made me anxious, but that could say more about my state of mind than yours. :-)

The love that your fellow ward members are developing for you is a tremendous agent of change. If other Mohos would follow your path, the church would quickly modify its fellowship policy for 'practicing' homosexuals.

On a personal level, I think what inspires me about your journey is the fact that I know in my heart that I would be incapable of making it myself. My pride and fighting spirit would not allow it.

I find it ironic that you, the outcast, have such a deeper religious understanding than those with full standing who just show up at church and go through the motions. This is the beautiful paradox of belief. Except a corn of wheat fall to the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.

I don't know if you've read The Brothers Karamazov. Maybe you're Alyosha to my Ivan. In any case, I feel like you're my brother.

Much love and respect.

J G-W said...

Again, interesting that you should see my presence there as being for "their" benefit, when in fact I feel almost as if it is all for mine. The past week was a tough week for me, and the absolute highest point for me was yesterday in Church. I woke up this morning feeling totally spiritually recharged, and in my prayers since Church yesterday I have felt an unbelievable closeness to God. I needed that time! I needed the learning and the testimony bearing that came with it!

I do feel your love and support! Thank you for it! The last time I read The Brothers Karamazov was the summer of 1986, when I was suicidal and on the brink of leaving the Church. My brother keeps telling me I need to re-read it, and now you bring it up, I guess it's a sign that I should. I don't know if I'm Alyosha and you're Ivan, but I like the inference that we're brothers!

Anonymous said...

I'm frequently moved by your posts and this one is not an exception. Had a very interesting and moving weekend myself and reconnected with people I was so close with only now instead of being just a couple they are a family of 5. Gave me so much to think about as did your post because they go hand in hand. So thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us. It seems many of your posts are helping me to reshape my personal philosophy about being gay and mormon.

J G-W said...

Anonymous - I was starting to worry that I gave the wrong impression with this post. Church this past Sunday was not a bad experience for me -- it was very, very uplifting.

Maybe it's a bittersweet thing for me. There's always a mix of good and difficult, feeling alien and feeling loved, being vulnerable but also finding my strength. But always, it's where I know I need to be.

Thank you for the feedback!

Bill McA said...

You really should gird up your loins and go sit with the P. family some time, since you have a standing invitation. As my food-centric 10-year-old son would say, "You'll probably get a dinner invitation out of it."

J G-W said...

Yes, I probably should. The P. family are really cool folks, and I have a feeling they would be really great friends if I let myself get closer to them.

The big question is... Would the dinner invitation include Göran? It's those kinds of social intricacies that make Church really interesting for me sometimes.

GeckoMan said...

You and Goran come to Arizona some time, and sit with us. Okay?

ps. I love the details of these kind of posts; please continue them.

J G-W said...

Geckoman - Thank you. No worries, like it or not you're going to hear from us next time we're anywhere near Arizona.