Saints Sergius and Bacchus, for whom an Integrity chapter is named at Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix; God bless Ian and Sidney
Tomorrow I’ll be in West Park, New York, at Holy Cross Monastery, beginning to test my vocation as a monk.
I figure I’ll flunk.
Of all the wild ideas I’ve ever had, and believe me there have been many, this one’s about the craziest. Me, a monk? One of the holy people? Walking around in church clothes and sandals all the time, even at Starbucks? I don’t think so.
As the minutes tick on till I depart Tuesday afternoon from Midway Airport in Chicago, I find myself resisting and reluctant. This isn’t just chest-beating, “O-I’m-so-unworthy.” Of course I’m unworthy; so are all the monks at Starbucks. Worthiness doesn’t enter into it. If you have to be holy to be a monk, it’s time to sell all the monasteries and put up luxury condos instead.
People become monks for one reason only: they’re sinners. Church clothes and all.
Here I am, going through a mini-crisis about this retreat gig, Step #1. Part of me wants to cancel. Today’s Monday, I’m supposed to do the retreat Tuesday through Friday, then fly back to Chicago and lead a demonstration against the Primate of All Nigeria on Sunday.
I wrote an e-mail to the two monks at Holy Cross I know, mentioning how busy I am and asking about internet access, and they both responded with alarm, “Don’t be so busy or you’ll screw up your retreat.”
They’re right, I know they are, but I don’t plan to be busy while I’m there, only to get e-mails about the demonstration in case I need to respond; I’m sorry the bro’s misunderstood me. But that’s life in a community, especially when you don’t know each other that well.
It’s not my busyness that can cause problems in West Park; it’s my resistance to God.
A few hours ago I had a little insight; we have one duty in this life, only one, and if we have the courage and self-awareness to face that sweet task, we find it’s simply this: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind. This is the first and great commandment.
The only job we have is to love God back.
We get so caught up in God the Law-giver, God the Mastermind and Creator, God the Thou-Shalt-Notter to whom we’re such lowlife that we must “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness… provoking most justly his wrath and indignation against us,” that we completely forget God’s essential nature.
He’s a lover. He’s a friend. He’s a parent. He loves every tiny thing we do that’s positive, that’s humane, that’s generous; every tiny little thing.
God is so completely love—and so aware of our limitations, like a mother knows her baby’s poop stinks—that any time we remember who we are and remember what we’ve learned, God rejoices.
Here’s how this resistance/rebellion/reconciliation thing works in my daily life. It ain’t pretty.
I wake up, take a whiz, fire up the computer, check my e-mail, smoke a cigarette, read the paper, then go downstairs to make coffee; while it’s brewing I’m supposed to pray. By “supposed to” I mean I decided last December I would. But I don’t always; lately I’ve been avoiding it.
For six months I practiced centering prayer, emptying my mind of whatever thoughts come so I can be passive in the presence of God; from this awareness God’s call comes.
Then I went away on the Davis Tour and by the time I got back, my spiritual director left town. I haven’t done centering prayer since. So I’ve gone to my fall-back position, putting on the homemade rainbow stole/prayer shawl my Lutheran friend Stephen gave me after the ELCA convention last month, reading out loud one of the psalms according to Cranmer’s 30-day scheme. But some days I don’t even do that. I resist. The daily discipline seems hard, but that isn’t really the problem; being loved is hard. And responding to that love is hard.
Being loved unconditionally is hard.
You wouldn’t think it would be; you’d think it would be the greatest joy a soul could imagine. But maybe you’d be wrong.
The more loving God is, the less loving I am by comparison.
You can see why I’m reluctant to walk into Starbucks in church clothes!
But it’s the comparison itself that is wrong. God does not require me to be anything but a poopy kid.
As Fr. Bill Coulter often thundered in 1974 during Church Army training at General Seminary, “One of God’s Names is Reality!”
Our only job is to love him. Out of that flows the second commandment which is like unto it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
It’s egotism that makes me compare myself with God, even though I find myself sorely wanting. I might as well compare apples and alligators.
We are of two different natures: one who loves full-time, one who loves part-time.
I weep at my part-timeness and reluctance. I resist the full-time commitment of the religious life.
But how does God look at me, or look at you? As one who’s made a part-time commitment, which is all mortals are capable of!
We all resist; we all misunderstand God. We all get brainwashed by primitive notions of God the Pissed-Off, when that’s not how I experience God at all.
God surrounds all of us with love if we’ll only let him. Like a mother God applauds us and hugs our first steps. She doesn’t care that we’re poopy, but that we’re walking.
We have one job: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind.
When you haven’t been unconditionally loved, as most Gay people have not been, it is psychologically excruciating (that is, crucifying, cross-bearing) to submit to (or even allow) the overwhelming love of Christ. It almost hurts; our minds can’t fathom it. We run screaming away and find any excuse available not to put on that prayer shawl.
But still, most days, I wrap it around my shoulders and read a poem Cranmer designated, and feel better for having done it, then go back to the kitchen to pour my coffee, and maybe sing.
For God so loved the world he gave his only Son that all who believe in him should have life everlasting—even sissyboys in sandals at Starbucks.