Monday, December 21, 2009

The Secret of Zion

I would go to Church every Sunday, if I could without my husband feeling abandoned when I do. I wish he wouldn't feel that way. I've tried everything I could to help him realize that going to the Mormon Church helps put me more deeply in touch with everything that is deepest and purest and most powerful and most beautiful in life, including my relationship with him. The connections that I make with the Spirit there, in that place, with those people, increases my capacity for every kind of love, including my love for him.

But he just doesn't get that. To him the building on Nicollet Avenue with the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" placard is just that dry old place where they used to hate blacks, and now they hate gays, and they are doing everything possible to undermine and destroy our family -- everything that is truly dear to him. And I'm crazy to go there. It's a craziness he's gradually come to tolerate, but it's still tough, especially since he seems to see every moment that I spend there as competition.

Yesterday in Church, our ward choir sang a couple of Christmas hymns as part of the service. Just ordinary voices. Our ward choir is not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But I wept like a child. To me it was as if there were angel voices singing along with them. I heard something ineffable and powerful. The Spirit bearing witness to me about the man who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, and about the way that he walked, the way that he demonstrated to me and to all of us, and that I'm doing everything in my power to follow. And I wanted to be singing with them. I would have been singing, but that I hadn't been able to make it to any choir rehearsals -- because it's always a painful choice. Do I spend more time at the Church and risk pissing off my husband for those few hours more? I have to listen to my heart. Sometimes I know I can afford to spend a few more hours with my brothers and sisters, and sometimes I know I have to head home to reassure my husband. I do what I need to do to keep balance and harmony, and I usually feel I'm doing the right thing, but it's often painful.

The members of my ward are good, kind, loving people. The fruits of the Church and of the Spirit are abundant in their lives as a willingness to serve and give and sacrifice. And they often invite me to come to this or that fireside, or this or that ward social event. They offer hugs and smiles and rides. And so often I have to say no. But I hope they won't stop asking, because I love and so desperately need what those offers represent.

Yesterday in Sunday School Sister G. deftly presented another beautiful lesson. She does such a fantastic job of condensing all the important points into whatever time is allotted, an important skill in a ward where Sacrament meeting often runs late (where the Spirit is often so strong it must needs run late). And she always stays right on target, always takes the lesson back right to the heart of the Gospel, right back to faith, hope, love, and discipleship. The topic of yesterday's lesson was Zion, building Zion. I love that lesson. It's the lesson of my whole life. And the lesson brought home to me how building Zion was so very much about what was happening right there in that room, with these people, in this ward, at that moment. But building Zion is always in this moment, with whatever people we are with. We are it. If we don't build it, now, it won't get built.

That is why we have to make a choice. We have to stop complaining about the relationships that don't exist and start building the relationships that we want. Zion is a web of relationships in which we are of one heart and one mind and we dwell together in righteousness. There are no poor among us in Zion, because in a community built of Zion relationships, inequality and poverty are inconceivable. I want to be part of a community that -- however imperfectly -- is striving toward that. I want my husband and our son and my whole family and all of my friends to be a part of that community too. And I know that ultimately such a community is not possible where the Spirit is not present, as I feel it so powerfully in my little Lake Nokomis Ward. That is why, despite the painful contradictions I have to keep going there.

There are sacred secrets we share. The testimony of Christ is a secret. It is and remains the most powerful and most profound secret there is, because there is no way you can convey it to another. You cannot give it to someone else. You can only find it for yourself and point others to where they can find it for themselves. All the other great divine gifts we receive in life -- the only gifts worth having -- are secrets as well, because you understand them only in the receiving of them. The secrets of waiting, of hope, of communion. We meet each other in the halls, we shake hands, we hug, we exchange greetings. We look at each other across our differences: black, white, native, gay, straight, man, woman, able-bodied or disabled, privileged or unprivileged, having minimal education or being highly educated. We often look at the difference, but we see each other in our humanity, in our secret understanding of what it means to be a child of God.

I feel that connection, I know it's there, despite the unresolved stuff. I feel it despite the surface stuff that in the world we can't seem to figure out; the surface stuff that makes my loving relationship with my husband somehow seem irreconcilable with the Church. How it works, I don't know. The members of my ward don't seem to know either. But there is something real there and something for which I am deeply grateful, and something I can't keep myself away from.

I wish somehow there was more they could do to reach out to my husband the way they have reached out to me. I wish there were not so many obstacles that none of us can do anything about.

I wish he could see them the way I see them. I wish it were a secret I could share. But all I can do is pray and wait.


Bravone said...

Always great thoughts John. I will wait and pray with you.

Quiet Song said...

I know every one of the feelings that you spoke of in your post, and I, too, drink thirstily of the spirit every Sunday. Our spouses may not acknowledge it, but they benefit from both our presence and our preparation to receive the spirit. A loving God gave us the opportunity to teach and learn together, and to borrow from a poet, "that has made all the difference."

Gay LDS Actor said...

I am grateful my husband is supportive of my going to church. He, too, doesn't necessarily understand why I would still want to attend a church that isn't particularly gay-friendly, but he knows that Mormonism is very ingrained in me. I was telling him one day, even though I have been excommunicated, the LDS Church will always feel like home to me. I still very much enjoy going to church (in fact, I think I enjoy it more than I did when I was a member-on-record). I do compromise sometimes when I'm home with my partner and don't attend every week. Sunday is Jonah's only day off, so sometimes he wants to do something, and I respect those desires just as he respects mine. But I do go as often as I'm able.

Melanie said...

Beautiful post John- you've put into words my feelings as well. Thanks for sharing. Its nice to know I'm not the only one who bawls when the choir sings. There is something about hearing people worship through music that always touches me. We are so blessed that our ward especially seems to have the gift of members sharing their testimony through song.

J G-W said...

Bravone and Quiet Song -- thanks so much, Bravone for the prayers, and Quiet Song, for the words of empathy. I sometimes feel like the one guy in the world that everyone thinks is crazy, since I often feel like I fit in no one's world. So your words mean a lot to me, Quiet Song.

GLDS Actor -- You were an active member of the Church when Jonah became a part of your life, so I guess he understood that was part of the package when he agreed to stand by you. Göran came to know me at the nadir of my relationship with the LDS -- or any -- Church. So I understand how this can be extra difficult for him. (Though I'm sure Prop 8 and other stuff makes it difficult for Jonah... I don't know how it couldn't...)

I can totally relate to what you say about your involvement feeling more real or more significant now than it did before. Sometimes the Spirit is so strong! I feel like I was never this connected, even when I was an active member so many, many years ago...!

Melanie -- I hope you and Reuben have some concept of how grateful I am both for your friendship and your presence in the ward! Thanks for being one of those who is willing and able to reach out to my husband and our son!

Anonymous said...

I think EvolvingLesbian puts it well, when she says that both the Church and gay communities do a disservice to those, of whom they both demand an either-or final decision.

People grow, and change otherwise. How can we make final judgments when the game is still going on?

I may not understand your personal experience in sexual relationships, but I understand your spiritual experience.

I have faith that one day, one way or another your dilemma will be solved in a way that will be uplifting.

J G-W said...

Velska - You say, "How can we make final judgments while the game is still going on?"

I absolutely agree... That's why faith and humility are among the greatest human virtues.

GeckoMan said...

Our ward choir performed a medley of carols with the Primary children, who sang 'Away in a Manger.' As they finished the last verse of that hymn, the adults went on to sing (from O Little Town of Bethlehem),

"How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven."

I think this fits your thesis of the secret of Zion. Then the children came back in and repeated the last phrase of Away in a Manger: "And fit us for heaven, to live with thee there."

John, I sense you are becoming more fit for heaven, both at home and at church by your devotion to both. I know its frustrating when we can't really have and enjoy it all--what we want, versus the compromises we all live through. But you are managing to give much at both ends of your life's spectrum, and you are loved by all.

That is a great blessing. Peace, my brother.

J G-W said...

Geckoman - I have missed you!! I am so glad to hear from you again!

Yes, I've always loved the "silently, silently" line in that hymn.

Thank you for your kind words... We have been very, very blessed.