I moved out of the family home two months ago. Since then, I have not been to an LDS Church except to watch Priesthood Session of April Conference with my son. I have no immediate plans to attend sacrament meeting anytime soon, and I certainly have no plans to attend Sunday School or priesthood meeting anytime soon.
Have I “left” the Church? I’m not yet prepared to say that. (In fact, I’m prepared to argue that it is the wrong question. I believe a more correct statement is that the Church left me.) I have commented to a couple of people, however, that I consider myself on “sabbatical” from the Church as I continue to work through the complex process called “coming out.” Whether I ever return from that sabbatical remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I have allowed myself to explore feelings and beliefs from my past.
About six weeks ago, I went to a Catholic mass for the first time in 25 years. I didn’t know how I would feel or what I would think. I was amazed that morning how many memories from my childhood came flooding into my mind, how many parts of the mass came back to me, how I was able to almost instinctively give some of the prayer responses after all this time. I was also touched, that first Sunday, by the priest’s homily, which struck me as far more profound and “true” than virtually any sacrament meeting talk I had ever heard. I came away feeling like I wanted to go back.
That opportunity came the next Sunday, as a (gay Mormon) friend expressed a desire to attend mass. So I took him. I found my thoughts that Sunday turning toward my mother, who had been raised Catholic and who died several years ago. As I have written elsewhere, these thoughts led me to ponder over the troubled relationship I had had with her. In light of recent events in my life, I came to see my mother in a new light, and I feel like I was imbued with grace to forgive her for the abuse I had suffered as a child at her hand.
That grace continued to bless me as new thoughts come into my mind about my mother.Just recently, for example – in fact in the course of preparing an early draft of this post – it occurred to me that both she and I had tried to achieve perfection in our respective families, only to become our own worst enemies.
Both my mother and I desperately tried to do the “right thing” – she trying to be the perfect Catholic mother and have perfect Catholic children; me trying to be the perfect straight Mormon father and have the perfect Mormon family. But in both our cases, irony of ironies, doing the “right thing” got in the way of that which was truly needful – the formation and nurturance of healthy, happy family relationships.
I bring this up about my mother because it made me think about the faith of my childhood and youth: Catholicism. Attending mass also seemed to be precipitating the endowment of grace I was experiencing with respect to my mother. I pondered over this.
I went back to mass the following week, ostensibly to give my son the opportunity to fulfill school requirements and to see a different religious service. The real reason, however, is that I wanted to go back: something was resonating with me. I was having “spiritual” experiences as I attended mass. I felt like I was reconnecting to something that had been lost. I also felt like I was at the right place at the right time during this part of my journey.
Because of these feelings, I began to consider the possibility of going back to the Catholic Church. I thought about it. I looked up what I would need to do to go back. even communicated with my brother – who is an active Catholic – about it. (He proceeded to e-mail my (Catholic) cousin, after which I received an e-mail from this cousin, welcoming me back to the Church. I replied that his welcome was a bit premature, but I appreciated the sentiment.)
I went to mass again on Palm Sunday. I was beginning to feel other currents, however, that challenged the feelings I had been having about the Catholic Church. Specifically, I wondered whether I could ever feel at home in a church and faith that did not accept me for who I am.
Because I was out of town the past two Sundays, I haven’t been to any kind of church since Palm Sunday. During this time, I’ve had an opportunity to think about my feelings. Though there are aspects of the Catholic faith that resonate with me, and perhaps will always resonate with me, I came to feel that I do not want to be part of a faith community that is not accepting of members of the LGBT community.
I came to realize, I think, that my gayness has in fact become part of my personal theology, my personal relationship with God, and I began to feel I cannot be part of a faith community that conflicts with that personal theology and does not affirm that personal relationship.
This was brought home to me in a recent discussion with my sister about religion, sexuality and faith. I realized, during the course of that conversation, that even though I have intellectually accepted that God created me the way I am and that He loves me for who I am, I am, nevertheless, not fully “out” to God.
I think there is still a part of me that believes that God cannot or will not accept me for who I am. That part of me, that person, has been well-entrenched within me for decades – one of the many consequences of living in the closet for all that time – and will not be easily silenced.
The funny thing is - I don't think I'll ever learn who I truly am until and to the degree that I come out to God and fall into His embrace. Doing so requires me, among other things, to shed the veneer of self-righteousness false identity that Mormonism provided for me. With this veneer, I didn’t really need God, did I? My sense of self-acceptance came from “living the Gospel,” “keeping the commandments” and “following the prophet.” Shedding this veneer, coming out of the Mormon closet, requires me to stand naked before God, without the self-satisfying protections these practices afforded me.
In this regard, I am reminded of the words of James Alison, a gay Catholic priest of whom I have previously written:
“The gift of faith is God's way of enabling us to relax into God's embrace … if you believe someone likes you, you relax. The masks come down. You're able actually to let go of the tense self-presentation that accompanies being with someone who you're not sure whether they like you or not. So … the gift of faith is a habitual disposition to relax in the presence of someone who likes us.”
I’m trying to learn to relax into God’s embrace without the mask, without the tense self-presentation; just me, just as I am.
The journey continues …