Friday, March 30, 2007

The Ecstasy

Tomorrow is the feast day of John Donne. It is also my mother's birthday... she would have been 87 years old. Here I share Donne in a more... shall we say... amorous key. I memorized this poem for a class in college, I think to impress the professor. I think I shall try to re-memorize it for Beloved.

Thanks to Grandmère Mimi for the reminder.

The Ecstasy

Where, like a pillow on a bed
A pregnant bank swelled up to rest
The violet's reclining head,
Sat we two, one another's best.

Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string;

So to'intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

As 'twixt two equal armies fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls (which to advance their state
Were gone out) hung 'twixt her and me.

And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.

If any, so by love refined
That he soul's language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,

He (though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take
And part far purer than he came.

This ecstasy doth unperplex,
We said, and tell us what we love;
We see by this it was not sex,
We see we saw not what did move;

But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mixed souls doth mix again
And makes both one, each this and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor and scant)
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.

We then, who are this new soul, know
Of what we are composed and made,
For, th' atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.

But O alas, so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They're ours, though they're not we; we are
The intelligences, they the spheres.

We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us at first convey,
Yielded their forces, sense to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.

On man heaven's influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air;
So soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.

As our blood labors to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot which makes us man,

So must pure lovers' souls descend
To' affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

To'our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love revealed may look;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change, when we're to bodies gone.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Drama Queen

I'm sitting in a café wondering if Beloved will happen by. It is near her place of business, and she often ducks in for a cup of coffee before starting her day. I came over on an impulse, realizing that I could as easily do what I planned to do (reading, sermon preparation) here as at home.

I was in my car the other day, pondering my search process. I began to wonder about it. Am I just being a big drama queen? (That sounded a bit Carrie Bradshaw-esque.)

People have lived their true identities quietly and with integrity for as long as there have been GLBT people-- i.e., forever.

The real work of the gospel is all there in Luke 4... bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free. It's all there in Matthew 25... giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothing to the naked, presence to those in prison. Why do I need to make it all about me?

[Interlude during which Beloved came! And we had coffee and talked about what's in the paper this morning! And she invited me to see her newly cleared-and-ready-for-planting garden! Such perversion... such aberration and abomination...]

I have been reading Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem. Early in the book, in the context of discussion Jesus' actions in the Temple, they offer the following description of "sacrifice."

How, then, did people create, maintain, or restore good relations with a divine being? What visible acts could they do to reach an Invisible Being? Again, they could give a gift or share a meal. In sacrifice as gift, an offerer took a valuable animal or other foodstuff and gave it to God by having it burned on the altar... No doubt the smoke and smell rising upward symbolized the transition of the gift from earth to heaven, from human being to God. In sacrifice as meal, the animal was transferred to God by having its blood poured over the altar and was then returned to the offerer as divine food for a feast with God. In other words, the offerer did not so much invite God to a meal as God invited the offerer to a meal.

That understanding of sacrifice clarifies the etymology of the term. It derives from the Latin sacrum facer, "to make" (facer) "sacred" (sacrum). In a sacrifice the animal is made sacred and is given to God as a sacred gift or returned to the offerer as a sacred meal. That sense of sacrifice should never be confused with either suffering or substitution.

Here's my question: what is the correct sacrifice for me to make? How do I make my life a holy offering to God? Do I do it by seeking to live "out" and that as quickly as possible? Or do I do it by continuing as I have, not exactly below the radar but not exactly above it, seeking to serve wherever health and joy seem possible, whether in or out?

Is there a right answer? Am I just being a drama queen?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Looking for Love...

I had lunch with a sister pastor not too long ago. Like me, she is a closeted lesbian. Unlike me, she is single and, soon, she says, she will be ready to start looking. You know, for love.

I am looking for love, too, but love of a different kind. I am searching for a call, as we call it in some denominations-- or as most normal people put it, looking for a job. The process in every denomination with which I am reasonably familiar is painstakingly, back-breakingly, heart-thuddingly, hair-pull-out-ingly slow. I cannot tell you how slow. So slow that normal people (like Beloved) get pissed off on my behalf when I try to explain the process, both from the point of view of the church and from the point of view of the minister. So slow that people who are searching often have to update their resumé to change items such as '10 years experience' to '11 years experience' to '12 years experience' while still looking for the same call.

I am in an interesting position as I search. There are openings in my denomination, and within a reasonable distance of my home base (because of family considerations-- not to mention Beloved-- I am not able to move just now). There is one church in particular that caught my attention because of two tiny words in the church's profile: open-minded. An open-minded congregation. That could mean so many things. It might mean that they are willing to have the occasional praise song in worship. It might mean that they are willing to have a woman in the pulpit. It might mean they don't mind the idea of GLBT folks existing in the world (and for some members, there might be greater affirmation/ warmth/ acceptance there). But who knows? All I have to go on is 'open-minded.' Maybe I'll find out more in the interview-- if I get an interview.

There is also an opening in another denomination. This denomination has an 'open and affirming' (of GLBT people) polity as well as a congregational way of being in the world. So, the official denominational position may or may not be embraced by any given local church. Also, the church in question is 'a mess.' This from another pastor I spoke with yesterday, but also from the point of view of lots of folks both inside and outside the denomination. Conflict, power struggles, too many ministers in too short a time and everything is always the minister's fault. Huge physical plant, dwindling finances. The strong sense that this may be their 'last chance.' I know, I know-- I'm describing every mainline Protestant congregation within spitting distance of everyone who reads this blog.

So... a relatively healthy congregation that is 'open-minded' in my own, GLBT-unfriendly denomination. Or a mess in another denomination that welcomes lesbians (at least in theory).

Ever heard the phrase 'looking for love in all the wrong places'?

Monday, March 19, 2007


Beloved and I have been watching Six Feet Under on DVD, on loan from a good friend. It is an extraordinary series. It is about a family in the grief-management business, who themselves are confronted with a shocking loss in the first episode. As I watch I find that I love each and every character (thus far, the end of season 1). They are all so real and fragile, authenticly rendered human beings struggling with ultimate questions.

The character who speaks loudest to me at present is David, the closeted younger son who has been the "good one," staying at home to run the funeral business, while older son Nate has been cast in the role of prodigal, living an unconsidered life working at a food coop, far below his potential. Events conspire to bring Nate home again, and throughout season one the brothers struggle to learn to be family and to work together, even as David is struggling with his identity as a gay man.

David is a churchgoer, and at a certain point is invited to be a deacon for his congregation (it is a confusing denomination... I initially thought it was Episcopal, but the nature of "deacon" in the show doesn't jive with what I know either of real life Episcopalians or Roman Catholics). David accepts the offer, both because he is truly devout and because he knows it will be good for business. He remains closeted in this context, however, even as he comes out to other friends and family members. In his closetedness he acts out in dangerous and self-destructive ways.

Eventually David is forced to confront his self-loathing: the body of a young gay man who died as a result of a hate crime is brought in, and David both works with the young man's family and does restorative work on the battered body. Throughout he carries on a conversation with the dead young man, who acts as devil's advocate, exposing David's fears that God does hate him and all "fags" (acolytes of the hateful groups who picket such funerals do show up), that he is destined for hell if he doesn't overcome his gay impulses, and that, in being closeted, he confirms his self-hatred.

One episode ends with David on his knees, at the side of his bed, weeping and praying to God to remove his terrible loneliness. Tears are coming to my eyes as I recall this moment. Tears are coming to my eyes because I remember such moments in my own life.

Several years before my marriage ended I went to seminary. That life change caused me to be in the company, for the first time, of a substantial number of GLBT folks, individuals who were, for the most part, out, and very comfortable with their sexuality. Not only that: these were individuals who were seeking ways to serve God faithfully, whether through ordination or through preparation for other kinds of ministries. Though I was married and committed to making my marriage work, I had already gone through several episodes of being drawn to other women. I had fallen in love with them, though I had never acted on those feelings. And now, I was once again in harm's way.

I should be clear: I did not then and do not now believe that such love and desires are sinful. I believed and believe that God created each of us, loves us, and desires us to live fully and abundantly as we were created. But I was married, and to me, that trumped my other desires. I had made a commitment and I longed to be faithful to that commitment.

There was a woman in my class with whom I became close. She was partnered (with another woman) and also desired to be faithful to that commitment. Eventually I shared with her the story of my life and struggles, shared with her ways I had sought to armor myself, barriers I had erected to either attracting others or being attracted to them. Mostly, I had adopted addictive behaviors to dull the feelings. We talked for a long time, sipping ginger tea into the night and knowing that we'd suffer in class the next day but not caring. Eventually she left, and we lingered at the door.

The next day she came to me between classes and said, I had a dream about you. Really? I said. Yes, she said. And... you need to know, it's not working. It's not working? No, she said, it's not working.

I understood then as I do now that she was referring to my clever strategies for keeping folks at arm's length. Years later I learned that she was referring to her own feelings for me, though that was never revealed at the time. Her words to me were simultaneously welcome and horrifying. Of course, I longed to be seen for who I was. I longed to be loved as the person I was. But I also dreaded that, and fled from it.

And so commenced months of driving back and forth to the seminary, weeping in my car, praying for God to remove these feelings from me, praying that I would find peace in my marriage. Like David in Six Feet Under, I prayed for the terrible loneliness to be removed, the isolation of being apart from myself, as well as from those with whom I experienced life's deepest connection. Like David, I continue to struggle to find a way to authentically be myself, to be the person God created me to be.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Beloved asks, Why Blog?

My beloved and I have an ongoing disagreement of sorts. She (who shall henceforth be known as "Beloved," owing to her strenuous objection to "Felicity" as her nom de blogue ... I explained the august Christian pedigree of the name, but she was unmoved...) does not understand the blogging phenomenon. Her general outlook upon blogging is, Don't these people have jobs? relationships? lives?

Beloved is a business-woman, and her business is creative in nature. She reads widely and well-- unlike me, she has read every bit of the latest New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, and her bedside table includes authors Michael Pollen, Jeanette Winterson, Vita Sackville-West, and Radclyffe Hall (we are lesbians, after all). She reads trade publications, the local press and the New York Times. She works a 50-60 hour week, without fail, without hesitation, supervising her small and loyal staff. She is a community leader, founder of a local business association and instigator of projects in that broad category known as "beautification." I say she should run for mayor. She would win.

My wonderful Beloved is puzzled and, truth be told, somewhat annoyed, at the whole blogging project, mine as well as everyone else's. I have explained to her the specific nature of my blog, its content and broad outlines. She says, I could understand talking to a therapist about these things. I could understand finding of group of people to talk with. I could even understand writing a memoir. But this? Putting your life out there, for all the world to read and interact with? For one thing, she says, it seems dangerous. And I confess, in writing the paragraph I just did, outlining her reading habits and accomplishments, I felt some anxiety: will she be recognized? And therefore, will I be found out?

Why blog? It is about community. (Beloved: then why not find a real community? Partial answers to that question in a minute.) In speaking here, in this semi-protected space, I hope to accomplish these few things. First, I hope to relieve myself of some anxiety by the act of purging. I want to make no pretenses about this: some of this is about my own need, pure and simple. Second, I want to find (and I already have found) a community of care. Appropriate boundaries notwithstanding, I have known pastors to find small communities of care in their congregations, so that when a parent dies, or a child gets in trouble, or there is a scary diagnosis, loving persons rally round. Their care may express itself in casseroles or in cards or even in a hug after church, but it is there and it is powerful. I have experienced such communal caregiving at certain crises in my life-- my divorce, for example. But my struggle with my closeted identity is something which, of necessity, is invisible. So the community has to be found elsewhere. I have found/ am finding it here.

Finally, for those who are wondering, I hope to be able to put, if not a face, then at least a voice on this phenomenon. There are so many of us... I can count, without thinking too hard about it. a dozen closeted pastors known to me personally. (Because of geography and also for safety reasons, we cannot convene around our closetedness.) I hope to say, here, This is what it's like. Here is how it feels. This is how it's done. I also hope to ask this: Are we sure, people of God, that this is how we want our clergy to live? Given that we're already in your pulpits and at your hospital bedsides and baptizing your babies and witnessing your marriages, does it make sense for us to need to hide the beautiful sacramental reality of our lives from you?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Marvelous Peace of God

After having read this post at Wounded Bird, I was strongly reminded of one of my favorite hymns. It seems to speak the truth of those who are putting their lives on the line for Jesus' new vision of an open table...

They cast their nets in Galilee just of the hills of brown;
such happy simple folk before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless in Patmos died.
Peter who hauled the teaming net, head down was crucified.
The peace of God it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.

Yet let us pray for just one thing the marvelous peace of God.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Coming Out to My Family-- Part 2

Years ago I read a book called Swimmer in the Secret Sea. Though completely unrelated to the novel's subject matter (loss of a newborn baby), I have lately begun to apply the idea to my daughter. She is a youngish teenager, and by all outward appearances, confident, funny, possessing a sardonic wit, and many talents. She has friends, is involved with all manner of school and extracurricular activities. But I still worry about her. Specifically, I worry about the lasting effects of my divorce in her life.

My daughter has an inner life about which I know very little. Unlike my son, who seldom lets a thought or emotion go unexpressed, my daughter is quiet about her feelings. She prefers not to discuss them. She is fine. She is fine. She is my swimmer in her own secret sea.

Last summer my beloved called me and said, We need to talk, in a tone of voice that frightened me. She wanted me to come to see her at work (it was a day off for me). A dog who had been shown a bone, I gnawed and gnawed until she revealed what it was she needed to tell me. A friend (a friend who knew about us) had called her with news that the word about me was out-- another mutual friend had announced to her, I had no idea Cecilia was gay. How about that?

I immediately was filled with the liquidy kind of fear that sets all sorts of bodily functions in motion. I called the friend and grilled her about her conversation with the other woman. What exactly had she said? (Just what I quoted above). What had she responded? (She had asked, What makes you say that?) Did she elaborate? (Yes, she had seen Cecilia take part in a community service in honor of Pride Day-- along with about a dozen other clergy, by the way, of whom about 6 are heterosexual and 4 are openly gay. Also by the way, a service in which I have participated since long before I was even separated from my husband-- years. ). How had the subject arisen? (Out of the blue.) Then what? (She had said, Of course, I was at the service too. Maybe people think I'm gay.) And that was that.

Sometimes an emergency can bring great clarity. I knew immediately what I needed to do. I needed to tell my daughter. There was no sense calling the woman who had suspicions about me; that would only heighten them. There was no sense trying to control something that likely would not be controlled. But what must not happen, what could not be allowed to happen, was that my daughter hear this news from anyone but me. I called Felicity and told her what I planned to do. I sat down with my son and told him what I planned to do. I called my ex and told him what I planned to do. Then I climbed the stairs to my daughter's room.

Sweetie, I said, I need to talk to you. She stopped whatever it was she was doing-- IM-ing, I believe. I wonder, I said, if you've ever wondered about my friendship with Felicity. She looked at me steadily with her big brown eyes. No, she said. OK. Well, you know, we became friends sort of suddenly, and...

You know, it was so much easier when my son just out and out asked me. This was murder. I, who pride myself on my choices of words, who have made a career, in fact, out of finding the precisely right words for the occasion... I was stumped. Utterly stumped.

Finally I babbled something along the lines of, Felicity and I are more than friends. We are seeing each other-- you know, like, dating. My daughter nodded. So, how do you feel about that? Fine. Not shocked? Horrified? Traumatized? Confused? (Yes, I actually said these things.) She smiled, sphynx-like. No. I'm fine.

Then I said, I had hoped that by the time I told you this it wouldn't have to be a secret anymore, that the world would have changed just a little bit. I began to cry. She began to cry. But, I continued, it has to be a secret. Do you think you can keep the secret? She nodded. And then we hugged each other, each holding on for dear, dear life.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Coming Out to My Family... Part 1

In the midst of my divorce I came out to my (soon to be) ex-husband. At least one trusted friend argued against it. Sure, he's a good guy, but divorce makes people crazy, she said. Don't do it until afterward. But I felt a strong need to be honest with him. He had left me for another woman, which was wrenching, but, as a therapist (a new therapist) said to me not too long ago, really, who left whom? I started leaving him early in the marriage. In a way, I owe him a debt of gratitude for freeing us both.

He and I had lunch, ostensibly to talk about the kids. After a certain point, I said, There's something I need to tell you. He was looking really great in those days... leaving me had done him wonders. He was trim, impeccably dressed as always. I am in a relationship, I said, with Felicity. She and I had traveled together, and he knew that. In a way, our traveling had provided the impetus for my beginning the process of telling my family. As she and I had sat on a plane, and I had gone through the usual silly hope-I-don't-die stuff, it hit me. What if I died in a plane crash (or in some other way) and my family never knew one of the most important things about me?

Back with my ex, I started to cry. A small smile crept to his lips. I had wondered, he said. Then, after a pause, I'm really happy for you. I could see that he meant it. What wondrous love.

Immediately we began to talk about how I might tell the children. This was complicated. I knew they loved Felicity, but I also knew that this would be a shock, coming, as it probably would seem to, out of nowhere. The fact that I was closeted was an enormous factor in this decision-making. I was loath to bring my children in on knowledge that would force them to keep a secret. The whole thing is so dreadfully unhealthy. Also, they are such social creatures, my children-- I couldn't imagine them being able to refrain from sharing it with at least a close friend or two-- at which point I might as well give an interview to the local paper. But I also longed for the complete openness with them that had always characterized our relationship, until my relationship with Felicity had begun. I longed for them to really know me.

My ex and I agreed that, for now, I would not tell my kids. This was November of 2005, and they were both teenagers. Still, the relief of the ex knowing was enormous. I felt that I could go through the divorce, our financial arrangements, etc. with some integrity.

About six months later my son (who is nearly 20 now) was watching me do the dishes while we chatted. I was telling him of a meal I had cooked for Felicity, and which I thought he and his sister might like. (She was out with friends.) He took out the trash, and then returned to stand next to me at the sink.

Mom, can I ask you kind of a wierd question? Sure, I said. I knew immediately where this was going. In fact, I see now-- I had probably more or less deliberately provoked it. He continued, Are you and Felicity... a kind of... thing? I did what my therapist told me to do, should this question ever be asked. I said, Why do you ask? He cocked his head and gave me the same look I had given him his senior year, the one and only time he had come home reeking of vodka. The look that says, come now. We're not going to do this, are we? He said, Mom I can assure you this conversation is entirely confidential. I laughed. Yes, I said. We care about each other a lot. Wow, he said, after a minute, sounding a little like the wind had been knocked out of him. Then he laughed. This is going to take some getting used to. And then he hugged me. Mom, you know I just want you to be happy. And then, after a pause, Actually it's kind of cool. Do you mind if I tell?---his closest friend, daughter of another local minister.

Then we had the big conversation about how it was very important that he not share this information with anyone. He could talk to me, he could talk to Felicity, he could talk to his dad or his dad's girlfriend or even, if he wanted, a therapist. But no friends. It was vital. My life in ministry would be over. At the drop of a hat.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


I was riding in the car with my daughter when she suddenly tuned into the lyrics of an Ani Difranco song I know she'd heard dozens of times before. She turned to me, perplexed, and said, What did she say?

i'm cradling the hardest,
heaviest part of me in my hands
the ship is pitching and heaving,
my limbs are bobbing and weaving
and i think this is something i understand
i just need a little vaccination
for my far-away vacation
i'm going to go ahead and go boldly
'cause a little bird told me
the jumping is easy, the falling is fun
right up until you hit the sidewalk,
shivering, stunned

and they can call me crazy if i fail
all the chance that i need
is one-in-a-million
and they can call me brilliant
if i succeed
gravity is nothing to me
moving at the speed of sound
i'm just gonna get my feet wet
until i drown...

Is she talking about suicide? my daughter asked. I don't think so, I said. I think she might be talking about coming out.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Greetings from a Dark Place

It is perhaps appropriate that I begin this project in the penitential season... the season of ashes smudged on the forehead, of desires curbed or denied. The season of self-examination, which I so regularly urge in others, and which I so studiously avoid myself.

I am an ordained minister in a US Protestant denomination that, so far, does not accept the gifts of gay and lesbian persons. I was ordained while I was married to a man I deeply loved for more than twenty years. But when our marriage ended I knew that if another relationship was in store for me, it would be with a woman.

I first fell in love with a woman shortly after marrying, in my early twenties. I was in the chorus of a Sondheim play, and there in the alto section was a woman who looked like Jessica Lange and invited me, on a summer night, to her converted loft for chicken florentine and cold, spicy white wine. Her bedroom was painted a deep rose-- "It's my womb," she said. I fled. I was overwhelmed with desire for her. I quit the play, demoralized and shocked that my heart could wander so far away from my new husband. I never saw her again.

We had children. We moved around. In my thirties, I met another woman, more Delta Burke than Jessica Lange. We began as friends. As the days and months passed we swam together, we ate dinner together, and, abruptly, I realized it had happened again. I wandered around in a haze of misery for months, nursing my love and attraction for her by writing bad poetry in the middle of the night. For reasons having nothing to do with me she moved to the other side of the country. The night before she left I confessed my feelings for her. We agreed to remain friends, though my confession added a dimension of pain and fragility to our now long-distance frienship. Again, shocked, demoralized, I went into therapy, where my nice therapist assured me that I wasn't a lesbian, only unhappy about my childhood, my relationship with my mother.

After my marriage ended I deepened a friendship with a longtime acquaintance, a woman who has been out for nearly all her adult life, and who had recently ended a long relationship. We were seeing one another within a month. Partners? No. We can't live together, nor can we marry. My children love her, and know the nature of our relationship. In many parts of the local gay community our relationship is acknowledged. But if the leadership in my local judicatory were to learn of it, if a parishioner were to make an accusation...

I don't know what would happen. Or, I do, but I would prefer not to think about it.

I don't want to pretend I am a victim. I am an educated woman with money in the bank and a roof over my head, and, the truth is, if I were to lose my credentials, I would find other work.

But I love preaching the gospel. I love Jesus, and I love to tell his stories. I love the Holy Spirit, brooding over me with ah! bright wings. I love God, Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver. I love God's good news, the news of welcome, of the open table, of inclusion and healing. I hope to be able to continue to tell the story. At the very least, in this space, I will tell my story.