But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret
shall reward thee openly. (...) But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:6,16-17)
Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. (Joel 2:15-16)
What have I not already done "in secret!" What have I not already practiced in my room, the doors shut, in order to not be seen by others! As an LGBT person, these words ring bells in me that didn't proclaim a God who was pleased with what I was doing there.
For me, the "Father who sees everything" was more a threatening one, the "reward" to expect also.
For some, Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to "regret hard enough to escape the deserved punishment." The days before, people in the Cologne carnival had done a lot in public what you usually do in private.
Sure enough, most of them enjoyed most of it, but on Ash Wednesday all the internalized fears strike back, along with rational thoughts coming back when the party is over. "What have I done! Is this just a cold, or am I infected? I had better stay in my chamber!"
There are better ways to handle "public sharing" of "private things" than by drugs and regrets. A more responsible handling can develop where we stop hiding from ourselves what we tend to hide from others and from a "punishing God."
But how does coming out of hiding relate to our Father who “seeth in secret?”
On the political agenda, coming out of the closet is a key issue. Also, on a personal level: Being someone different in public than in private will likely cause problems for our well-being in general. (We don't need a punishing God for this to happen.)
With that being said, some trans people might prefer to keep a big part from our past "in secret.” What the public might read out of it is too far from who we "really" are.
Further, the appeal to "anoint thine head, and wash thy face" reminds me of a two-edged discussion about the "rights" of LGBT-people to fight for equal rights.
It's a common argument to point out: "Look, we are as normal as you are!"
Those still looking as practicing something "unnormal" then hear the same advice from their communities as from "friendly" churches: "Do whatever you like, but we don't want to know!" (By the way, not looking "normal" just for the sake of it is still depending on the "normal" look.) And again, trans people often have specific concerns about "looking normal."
For Christians within some LGBT-communities and political movements, there is a further aspect: In the midst of people who so often had bad experiences with church, it might sometimes feel appropriate (or tempting?) to pray only "in secret."
So, with all this in my mind, Joel's call to "gather all people" and to "get out of the closet" sounds quite attractive to me!
But does Jesus really want me to keep silent about who I am and what I do?
No! The passage in Matthew exactly supports the idea to not look and act in the fear of "What do they think of me now?" “Do I want to look like them, mainly because of what they think of me?” “Do I join their habits, mainly because of what they think of me?”
With Jesus, spiritual acts can be a chance to free us from lookism and mimics:
1. By praying and fasting we can turn from voices and "treasures" that so often bind us rather than heal us.
2. We can do an "inner check" and ask ourselves: Why do I pray and fast now? Do I need someone to take notice in order to give it a value?
Spiritual practices are not meant to meet unhealthy expectations of church-goers. Rather, spiritual practices can help us to grow healthy and loving relationships with God, with ourselves, and with each other. Along with this, our practices regarding a/sexuality and gender-performance will experience a similar healing of lookism and mimics.
The diversity within MCC therefore is a real blessing. Who should I regard as "standard" to copy looks and behaviour?
What a precious encouragement to look and act in truthful ways!
It's your decision if you want to join fasting this lent or not. Step into a rewarding experience!
Originally published by Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC); Image via flickr user Greg Williams