So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Back in January, while attending the annual conference of the Gay Christian Network, I had the amazing opportunity to meet in person someone with whom I'd had much virtual communication, Dr. Trista Carr. Most of our interactions had been on Twitter after connecting during my internship with the Marin Foundation. While I admire her brilliance, tenacity, and insatiable sense of humor, meeting her in person gave me something to admire even more: her faith. Trista exuded the kind of faith that I honestly envied, yet over the course of the weekend, while sharing some of my story and my struggles, I never felt looked down upon by her. If anything, I felt held.
Our first in-person meeting was hysterical. A friend from Marin introduced her, and while it clicked for me immediately who she was, she was confused. I suddenly took my winter cap off of my head, revealing my baldness, to which she responded, "Michael!!!" and came at me with the kind of hug you'd expect from someone you've known for much of your life but haven't seen in years.
During one of the morning sessions, she sat almost directly in front of me. For some time, since I left the United Methodist Church really, I felt disconnected and virtually shut down anytime I tried participating in a worship service (which is exactly how the morning sessions of GCN conferences are treated). But one of the first songs they played that morning was one I didn't know, "Oceans" by Hillsong United, the opening lines above being the chorus. Now I've always connected to what some refer to as more individualized (read: egocentric/narcissistic) worship music — songs emphasizing one's personal relationship with Jesus. In fact, during many of my depressive spells, it's music of that genre that keeps me from sinking completely into a full blown depressive spell.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders Let me walk upon the waters Wherever You would call me Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander And my faith will be made stronger In the presence of my Savior
As the band played, I found myself inexplicably overwhelmed (which is apparently the point of this musical genre — to evoke deep emotion as a catalyst for a felt faith experience). For many, I imagine songs like this elicit feelings of assurance, certainty, and reminders of their concretized relationships with Jesus, with God. For others, like me, songs like this are tools for calling out our hopes, our dreams, our deepest desires. The truth is that, most days, I feel like Peter after he's taken his eyes off the Christ, sinking rapidly beneath the surface of the waters he was walking on like solid ground only seconds before. I feel myself sinking into the abyss of faithlessness, drowning in the undercurrents of depression, fear, isolation, and self-hatred, struggles I've written about and that, while they have improved, I feel may continue for years to come.
The song began and, almost instantly, I felt a flood of emotion come over me. I tried standing with my fellow worshippers but had to sit down, face in my hands, letting my grief wash over me. Trista noticed. I can't remember if it was then or later, but she gave me one of many hugs that she would offer that weekend. We'd gone from being literally virtual acquaintances to physical friends. We talked about faith and sexuality and mental illness and so many other things that weekend. In a sea of several hundred people, I'd been blessed to encounter someone willing to walk alongside me.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . ."” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
There are times I think about the scene where Peter steps out onto the water to walk to Jesus. I wonder what went through his mind as Jesus reached down to pull him back up to the surface, wrapping his arm around his shoulder, and accompanying him back to the boat. Surely there was a sense of relief, but I wonder if there was embarrassment as well. I sometimes imagine the story going a little differently...
Instead of Jesus pulling Peter up to the surface, I think about him sinking into the water as well, grabbing Peter, and just treading water there for a minute. Out of earshot of the remaining disciples, they wait there, floating right at sea level for a moment. The water may be calm, but Peter is not. Peter's breath is heavy, and Jesus just holds him tight, keeping his eyes locked with Peter's. He understands what Peter is feeling: faith, true faith, not in the divinity of Savior-ness of Jesus but in Jesus' love for him as a friend, as a brother, is so hard to have. Perhaps Peter's sinking wasn't just because he got distracted, but because he became overwhelmed with thoughts of rejection, isolation, difference. Instead of simply saving Peter, I envision Jesus taking a moment to join him."It's okay. I know it's hard. But I love you, and that isn't going to change anytime soon, even when you fail me. When I say I'll always be here for you, when I call you my friend, I mean it with my whole heart. You might always have a hard time believing it, but it's true."
Today is a day where I feel like I'm sinking in the oceans of my own mental illness, and so I'm glad to have a day to myself. The playlist is filled with songs reminding me of the human desire for love and of the deeply intimate love that I long to feel between me and Jesus, between me and those I hold most dear. Sometimes, you can't just be pulled out of the water. Sometimes, you have to be joined first and reminded that the current doesn't have to overcome you...