Since I finished my final integrative project for school, my thoughts, emotions, and libido have been all over the place. I've had to think about sin, God, morals, ethics, vocation, relationships, monogamy, authenticity, and countless other topics. Well, I haven't had to think about these things. They've simply come up in different conversations with friends old and new. As such, I'm wiped. I'm tired. I'm confused. I'm struggling to figure out who I am as a person, as a partner, as a friend, as a minister.
Although my time at the GCN conference in Phoenix was enjoyable, it was not entirely relaxing. Since I did not attend last year's conference in Orlando, I felt as if this year's conference required of me a certain learning curve. Relationships had been built of which I was not a part. Conversations took place. Friendships were forged. Instead of going to Orlando, I went to New York City to spend nearly a week with my close friend Johnny at his dorm in SoHo. I explored the city. Walked around Central Park, making sure to visit Bethesda, a fountain in the middle of the urban preserve. I ate meals, spent time with other friends who lived in the city. I came back from that trip rejuvenated. I came back feeling like my old self.
I did not come back from Phoenix feeling like my old self. As a person whose introvert/extrovert is fairly evenly split, events where I'm surrounded by nearly 500 people drain me. Although enjoyable, they require significant energy on my part. This year was no different. In fact, it was even more intense. It felt like starting over, and anyone who knows me well knows that I struggle with starting over. Many of us do. Needless to say, right now, I feel spent. I feel weary. I feel like a nomad wandering through uncharted territory, uncertain of my final destination.
Since the onset of my seminary career, I've developed an affinity for something that one might consider quite odd for a social, only child Pisces with a slight limelight complex: quiet. As a queer person studying theology while being in a unique relationship with a practicing neo-pagan, the intersection of faith and sexuality is a constant part of my everyday life. In all honesty, I tire of it. I tire of the labels and the explanations and the toll it all takes on my own well-being. I tired of having to define and defend who I am, who I love, what I believe, and how I life.
...I simply want to run away...
And that is what I will be doing soon. At the beginning of March, I'm taking a 5-day trip to New Haven/Trappist, Kentucky to visit Gethsemane Abbey, the place where Thomas Merton, a renowned Christian contemplative, spent the majority of his monastic life. Being from Kentucky originally, I hold dear its simplicity, its beauty, its splendor. I miss the hospitality, the meals, the peace and quiet. And so I'm returning, though not to the place of my childhood. My trip to Gethsemane will be my first holistic experience with the monastics, with the contemplative life, with overwhelming silence. I cannot express how desperately my heart longs for this, yearns for this.
The last two years have been a whirlwind of emotions, activities, blessings and heartaches. Marrying my partner. Losing my grandmother. Navigating my relationships with both blood and created family. Stepping out of the ordination process. Attempting to answer my own questions about sex, ethics, and morals. I wrote papers about sin, authenticity, identity, sex and sexuality, queer theology, patriarchy and misogyny, and many other issues. I wrestled with who I am, who I want to be, what it will take to get from one to the other. I started hormone replacement therapy because my natural levels were so low that the rapid cycling of my depression made perfect sense to my doctor (although not to me).
My hope and prayer for Gethsemane is that I will find true respite. It's been so long since I felt I really heard God's voice. I miss it desperately. I also recognize that my ideas, beliefs, and perceptions of God have changed drastically from what they were when I was younger and growing up, drastic enough to often be disorienting.
A close girlfriend of mine, one I met at the GCN conference two years ago in Denver, on our last day in Phoenix, pulled me aside and said something to me that I've been struggling to actually hear and embrace. "I know it's been hard. I know things have been painful and challenging and that you've gone through a lot. I know it feels like you're stuck in the dark. Just remember to hold onto what you know. You are God's beloved. You are loved."
For many of us in the LGBTQ (shortened, queer) community, believing in and embracing our own self-worth, value, and potential is a grueling, arduous task, especially for those of us raised in conservative Christian families and communities for whom homophobia and heteronoramitive behavior are norms, are the status quo. It takes courage to separate from our families of origin and build our own created families consisting of people who are not obliged to love us but who choose to love us. In between these two stages, we need a break. We need respite. We need time to figure out and understand who it is we really are and who it is we desire to be. Even in those times, though, we need to know that there is support waiting for us outside the bubbles of our retreat. We need to know we will come back to a circle of friends and family who will invest the time and energy into helping us heal and further discover the transformations that have and continue to take place.
As I continue with my coursework this semester, I may not talk as much. I might cry more often. When I get back from my retreat, you might be surprised at how little I have to say about it. Please know that, in the end, I'm just trying to be better. I'm trying to be me, whoever it is God created me to be (and no, that's not straight, for my conservative friends out there). I'm trying to be who I need me to be, who you need me to be, who God needs me to be, and who the world needs me to be. For this, I need respite...