Friday, February 11, 2011

What can we do?

I was struck, in listening to Steven Fehr talk about his experience remaining active in his ward after his excommunication, by his discussion of how he has actually had a richer life of faith since his excommunication than he had before. That seems, on the face of it, paradoxical and impossible. And I suspect that I would probably disbelieve it, if I had not experienced the same thing myself.

Steven also described another seemingly paradoxical or impossible phenomenon. He spoke about how, earlier in his life, as he became more active in the Church and as he felt closer to God, his feelings of same-sex attraction actually became stronger. I have seen that same observation made time and time again by many different individuals -- both in and out of the Church. Again, given some of the teachings I received growing up about how same-sex attraction could be diminished or overcome through greater faithfulness, this seems counter-intuitive. And I probably wouldn't believe it if I hadn't experienced it myself.

I've experience another variation or corollary of this phenomenon as well. Now that I am in a committed relationship, I have found that as I have become more active in the Church and have nurtured a close relationship with God through prayer and scripture study and other efforts to be faithful (such as living the Word of Wisdom and the Sabbath, and so on), my feelings for my spouse have become richer and deeper. Greater connection to and activity in the Church somehow has correlated in my life to a closer, more meaningful, more joyful relationship with my husband. A seeming paradox, and something I don't expect anybody else to believe unless they've experienced it for themselves. But I digress...

Steven related that he now actually found Church attendance more rewarding as an excommunicated member. He explained this phenomenon by observing that now he goes to Church not out of a sense of obligation, but out of a genuine desire that comes from somewhere deep within. I can certainly relate to that observation. There is a sense of pure joy that I often feel attending Church, and some of that joy does seem to be connected to my awareness that I am attending as an act of pure, free will, solely motivated by a desire to be closer to God. This experience seems to connect to a fundamental scriptural principle, which is that all right action must flow from the heart. When we engage in spiritual practice only to please others or to fulfill external obligations, we accomplish nothing in a spiritual sense. Right action must be accompanied by right desire or right motivation, or it is as good in a spiritual sense as doing nothing. In fact, I would argue that repeatedly engaging in spiritual practice only to fulfill outward obligations or to please others is spiritually deadening.

But that doesn't seem to explain enough of what I have experienced as an active, gay, excommunicated member. Why is it that I actually seem to feel as if, at this stage of my life, my communion with the Spirit and with God seems fuller, richer, more profound than it has ever been in my life? Ever? Even when I was an active member of the Church in good standing, even when I was serving a full-time mission in France and Switzerland, never did I experience more spiritual warmth and richness, or a more continuous and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in my life than I do now. Never have I experienced at any time in my life what can only be described as a greater fullness of joy. Why is that?

Steven used a metaphor that I have frequently used myself. (We are obviously both fans of the 1936 Judy Garland film version of the The Wizard of Oz!) He spoke about that moment in the film when Dorothy steps out of the front door of her house and leaves the drab black and white and gray of Kansas, to enter the fully vibrant, technicolor world of the Land of Oz. That, he describes, is what his life became like when he acknowledged his love for his partner. Like going from black and white to the full range, the full spectrum of color. And certainly it was what I experienced upon finally coming out of the closet and embracing "my gay side" as a fully valid, good part of me, something that is part of the fullness of my being. And the color became richer and more vibrant as I entered into a committed relationship with my husband of going on nineteen years, Göran. But I want to say that coming back to the Church, heeding the promptings of the Spirit, and seeking the Lord daily in prayer and scripture study and living a life founded on scriptural principles of charity, faith, hope, and patience... This is like stepping out of a world that is merely two-dimensional, and entering a world that is three-d, that has depth and a reality and a power previously unimaginable to me either in black and white or color!

There is a scriptural principle that comes from LDS, modern-day revelation that seems to explain this for me, found in Doctrine & Covenants 93: 33: "The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy." There is a height and a depth and a breadth -- a fullness -- that we experience in unifying body, mind (intelligence) and spirit into this mystical unity that Latter-day scripture calls soul. Doctrine & Covenants 88: 15: "And the spirit and the body are the soul of man." And how can we weave our body and spirit into a unity if we don't nurture our spirits while we're in these bodies?

If you are gay and excommunicated, it is not easy to come back to Church. Trust me, there are demons (and angels!) we need to wrestle; dark nights of the soul we have to sweat through. And there are plenty, plenty of people ready to cast a discouraging word or a discouraging glance your way. Plenty of folks to tell you you're crazy. Plenty of folks (both in and out of the Church) to tell you you don't belong; that there's no point; that no effort you make counts or is worthy or is acceptable to God in any way.

And there are your own doubts and fears. There may be anger you have to overcome in your own heart. Anger is a natural consequence of hurt, of being wounded. Anger was the biggest demon barring my way. I had to get over it. I had to repent of it, before I could take a single step in the right direction. We literally, I think, need to get down on our knees and ask God for help, before we can even begin a journey like that. And we won't get help until we've let go of the anger, the impatience, and have given God a chance to heal us through the loving, all-encompassing power of the Atonement.

Despite the limitations we face -- and the limitations do seem extreme, especially if we are excommunicated -- there are things we can do. There are steps we can take that will bring us closer to God. One of the first, and most powerful steps that we can take is simply to start attending Church. Just come, and sit on the back pew if you want (that's where I sit), and just listen. Sing along with the hymns. Bow your head, and join your heart to the hearts of others in the prayers. If you're not a member who's allowed to partake, let the sacrament tray pass by, but not without thinking about what Jesus has done for you. I promise, you will feel the Spirit in ways you have never, ever felt the Spirit in your life before. And the Spirit can open up a black and white door that leads into a three-d landscape full of color. Trust me, it's worth it. It's worth every single step you take.

I want to reach out to folks on this. If you are in my situation, and you feel even the least inkling of a desire, if you are willing to exercise even "a particle of faith," but you're not sure you can do it alone, call me. Go to my blogger profile, get my email address and email me and we'll talk. I am your willing travel companion in this journey.

There are things we can do, that can open our life to that fullness.


MoHoHawaii said...

I think you and Steven Fehr are the start of a movement.

J G-W said...

May it be from your lips to God's ears!

Bravone said...

John, I think you and Steven both hit on why I think you are both feeling more abundantly the spirit now. It is because you are seeking a closer relationship with Father on your on free will and choice. You are deliberately seeking him out because you yearn for his spirit and are not compelled to anything out of a sense of duty or obligation.

I believe Father stands ready to pour blessings upon us when we turn to him. Those blessings can enhance every aspect of and relationship in our lives.

J G-W said...

Well, it's not that I wasn't seeking a closer relationship with God of my own free will before... I was...

Though I'd say there are more apparent obstacles now. So I've sometimes wondered if God hasn't given me an extra portion of the Spirit to help me deal with the extra obstacles... I don't know.

I do also wonder if I were able to be a full member in good standing, if I wouldn't take more things for granted that I don't take for granted now. I don't know about that either... I like to hope that all of us can feel a full measure of gratitude, regardless of where we are in life. Otherwise, Lord, who then could be saved? (Matt. 19:25)

Part of the joy I experience now, I am certain, is connected to that sense of fullness. Being able to embrace all of me, body, mind and spirit; that all of me is good; and knowing that I am fully loved by God. This is not something I ever fully understood or appreciated until now...