Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I was sitting in a pew, alone, enjoying the final rehearsal for the Christmas program I'd come north to see. My brother Mark sings in the choir and it's become a tradition for me to be in the audience for him. This year I went a day early so we could do some antiquing, which is how I found myself at the practice. Because it was my fourth year, as I watched, many people were familiar to me. I know outlines of their stories. I'm happy when I learn about their successes, sad when I hear of their suffering. I like these people.
I have an uneasy relationship with church. It's very difficult for me to feel anything but judgement, shame and not enough in the formal company of people who follow the religion I was born to. It's not their fault, mostly. Raised with a God used as my mom's hit man and enforcer, baptised into a church where the pastor did not practice what he preached, a decade spent in a small Bible-based cult where obedience and fear were everything - there was nothing in any of those places of love or relationship or simple acceptance.
Some have suggested that I should walk away from trying to believe in any God, but that's never been an option. It sure would make things easier if it was. However, somewhere along the line I decided that the only chance I had of experiencing the light of his love was to be very very still and to separate myself as much as possible from all that made me human: my passion, my body, my temper, my impulsiveness, my heart, my impatience. If I could be good enough, then - I'm not sure exactly what, but it seemed the only way.
A quarter of a century of being good, respectable and careful left me with not much but exhaustion. Still no closer to feeling completely accepted or acceptable, loved or lovable.
Don't get me wrong, it's been a great life. I've felt love and loved. I've felt joy and success and pain. I've experienced moments of pure light where there was not one doubt of God's presence or care. It's just that I've felt all of it through so many layers of separation from my humanity, it's been like listening to glorious music through a fortress wall. That wall grows thinner with each new insight, each new miracle, each new stirring of my heart.
As I sat in the dark watching the band and choir practice for a program meant to celebrate God become human in the form of Jesus, I noticed how very human these people were. They talked when they were supposed to listen. One of the soloists looked like he should have been in a studio recording rap music. Another, the pastor's daughter with a voice of angels, wore clothes that spoke rock concert much more than church. People didn't follow directions, wandered off stage in the middle of a song, dashed in late. There was silliness, laughter, and occasional sarcasm.
All shapes. All sizes. Each person a story filled with all the same elements that mine is, just manifested in different forms. And each person on that stage was there in relationship with a God unavailable to me because I'd always felt too human.
Becoming human, as I've worked so hard to do in the last few years, turns out to be the only path to a relationship of any kind. It's only by first knowing, then accepting, all that I am that I can be willing to reveal enough of myself to be available for relationship. The irony of having spent so much of my life doing the exact thing (trying to be some form of perfect) that kept me farthest from the exact thing I wanted and needed most (love and acceptance) is not lost on me.
There is a Buddhist parable about an old blind turtle living at the bottom of the ocean who swims to the surface for air once every hundred years. A golden yoke floats around in the waves, never still for a moment. The likelihood of the blind turtle swimming up and putting his head through the hole of the yoke when he surfaces is the same likelihood of our being born as a human being.
It's a story that's stuck with me since I first read it years ago. Being human is a rare and wonderful gift, not to be taken lightly.
This month we celebrate a birth of a boy given to the world as proof God loves humanity. For the very first time, sitting in the joy-filled, song-saturated dark last weekend, I began to understand with more than my head. Becoming human, being what I was born to be, embracing it all, is the only true path to everything I've ever wanted.