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Blog of the Grateful Bear

ramblings of a freelance panentheist {"all things are in God, and God is in all things"} . . . musings on Emergent spirituality, powerlifting, LGBTQueer issues, contemplative prayer, mysticism, cats, music, healing, and more. I like my coffee and my existentialism dark-roasted.

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Location: Marietta, Georgia, United States

I'm an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), in private practice in Marietta, Georgia. My writings on queer spirituality have been published in Whosoever and several other magazines. I live in a house-in-the-woods (Bear's Hermitage) in Marietta with Leonidas (Lenny) and Guy, Mighty Warrior Cats, and way too many books.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Independence Weekend

This weekend, Palm Sunday weekend, marks the 13th anniversary of my spiritual independence. It was on Palm Sunday weekend in 1995 that I “came out of the closet” and acknowledged to myself and to the world that I am what God created me to be – a gay man.

It took a long time to admit that, especially to myself. The process of self-acceptance had started a few months earlier, at a small, midweek Advent service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. The rector at that time, the Rev. Spenser Simrill, introduced me to a prayer, and a way of praying, that forever changed the way I saw God and the way I related to God. Instead of preaching a homily at that service, Spenser had us sit in silence for about five minutes and suggested that we coordinate this prayer with our breathing, like a mantra:

Gentle loving God, Mother of my soul, hold me as Your own.

Then, he led us on an Ignatian journey into whatever in our lives was causing us pain. For me, that was my sexuality, which had caused me such conflict and turmoil for so many years. Spenser invited us to experience the pain fully, grounded in the knowledge that we were safe in the arms of our gentle loving God. And then he asked us to consider if there were any way we could accept whatever was causing our pain as a gift.

The idea of my sexuality as a gift from God was overwhelming. I had been brought up to believe that homosexuality was a sin, an abomination before God. I had never fully loved myself because I could never fully admit to myself who I really was. And yet, that cold winter night in the middle of Advent, I realized for the first time in my life that God really did love me, “just as I am” as the old hymn says. And my sexuality was part of the me that God accepted. For the first time in my life I could feel God, the gentle loving God, Mother of my soul, hold me as Her own. And I began to open my heart to the idea of my sexuality as a gift, not something to be ashamed of.

That following Palm Sunday weekend I sat in the office of the Rev. Dr. John Westerhoff at St. Luke’s and spoke out loud about my sexuality. The earth did not open and swallow me; thunder did not strike. Instead, this respected theologian, this grey-haired, wizard-like priest told me that my sin was not experiencing same-sex attraction; my real sin had been not accepting God’s love for me as God had created me. My own self-hatred had been a perverse form of pride, telling God, “No, you're wrong – I’m not worth loving.”

My penance was this: John directed me to read Isaiah 43:1-7, every morning for however many days it took for me to believe it – to really believe it:

...thus says the Lord...I have called you by name, you are mine...

...because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you...

It took a little over a month of reading this passage every day for my self-hatred, my tortured pride, to crumble and for me to finally accept that God does love me, just as I am.

I’ve recently come to appreciate that passage of scripture as it is paraphrased in The Message:

But now, God’s Message,
the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end –
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.

“So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
I’ll round up all your scattered children,
pull them in from east and west.
I’ll send orders north and south:
‘Send them back.
Return my sons from distant lands,
my daughters from faraway places.
I want them back, every last one who bears my name,
every man, woman, and child
Whom I created for my glory,
yes, personally formed and made each one.’”

I still have days when my old way of thinking intrudes. I sometimes read scripture and see it through the eyes of the fundamentalist Baptist I once was, rather than through the lens of God’s love and acceptance. But now I know the truth. And each day as I pray this prayer, “Gentle loving God, Mother of my soul, hold me as Your own,” in rhythm with my breathing, I allow the prayer to center me, to ground me in God’s grace. And I allow myself to feel God’s loving arms around me, holding me secure, never letting go.


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Blogger Jon said...

Happy "Birthday!" May you enjoy your freedom!

10:53 AM, March 15, 2008  
Blogger Don Stabler said...

Hi Darrell,
I'm so glad you feel good about yourself. we all need that.

9:13 PM, March 16, 2008  
Blogger beth said...

Thank you for this lovely statement of faith. I'm forwarding the url to my dear brother - a gay man who didn't 'come out' until he was nearly 40. Watching his spiritual growth and deepening since his acceptance of himself as God made him has been a deep privilege for me. It has been a profound teaching for me -- that the full acceptance in humility of God's design in each of us unlocks vast reserves of energy and potential -- enough to propel us on our way, on our path. Thanks again.

2:26 PM, March 17, 2008  
Anonymous ned said...

Happy independence day, Darrell!

As a lesbian who grew up in the Islamic religion, I know only too well how harsh your struggle must have been. (I'm now a devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and am also revisiting Islam from a Sufi perspective.)

I especially resonated with this part:

"Instead, this respected theologian, this grey-haired, wizard-like priest told me that my sin was not experiencing same-sex attraction; my real sin had been not accepting God’s love for me as God had created me. My own self-hatred had been a perverse form of pride, telling God, “No, you're wrong – I’m not worth loving.”"

Darrell, you've really hit at the heart of the issue here. I too eventually realized and accepted that it was my own *ego* that, in order to resist spiritual transformation, didn't want to see that God loves me. The only reason I had anxiety about my homosexuality was because my ego idolatorously cared about other people's opinions of me. My ego sought affirmation and approval from other human beings, which is much easier to do than to become aware of God's love which will undoubtedly transmute us.

I now recognize that my internalized homophobia was my own ego's resistance to God's love.

Thank you for this lovely post, and this reminder that God's love and God's views of "good" and "evil" are infinitely wider than fallible human perceptions of the same. In fact the Mother says that when we start feeling alone among human beings, that is precisely the right time to develop inner intimacy with the Divine. The more alone other humans make us feel, the more ready we are to receive the Divine presence. I feel that the social and emotional alienation created by my gayness ultimately drew me closer to the Supreme and I am grateful that this is the path that my soul chose to trace out for me.

12:12 PM, March 18, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a welcome change from the screaming of Jeremiah Wright and James David Manning.

6:06 PM, March 21, 2008  
OpenID darvish said...

O Brother, you make me weep with gratitude for such a loving and heartening post. What a beautiful expression of God's love and your own faith :)

Happy Birthday :) May every day be a day of birth in renewed love and faith through God. Amen.

Ya Haqq!

3:55 PM, March 22, 2008  
Blogger twyla said...

Lovely post. Coming from an evangelical, fundamentalist church, my search for authenticity led me to becoming true to my own sexuality. I didn't have the same experience as you, however, and left the church. I'm still hoping to regain some sense of spirituality one day. For now, I just put one foot in front of the other. I admit I miss the challenge and the joy of running hard after god.

9:01 AM, March 24, 2008  

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