I have about zero sense of direction. I have tried, really tried. Years ago I took an orienteering course with wilderness experts, but today I still have to use my iPhone compass when exiting a subway station to know if I’m heading north or south. At this point in life, I accept that spatial reasoning is a type of intelligence I simply do not possess.
It has in some ways become a spiritual practice for me—the art of getting lost.
Common wilderness wisdom tells us that when we realize we are lost the first thing to do is to stop. Once we stop moving, we begin to use other tools, namely other senses, to find our way again. Our ears begin to take in more sounds, we can smell the distinctive scent of water, or mud, or the storm in the distance.
If we are hiking with a friend, we can learn a deeper connection and communication that is not dependent on words or touch. Tuning in to other ways of knowing becomes one of the spiritual practices of getting lost.
Growing up I mostly met God in the woods behind my house. We would play after school, building forts together, creek walking, and having all sorts of adventures. I would sometimes get lost, but as a kid I do not remember any time that I was afraid when I was lost. I would mostly just drift farther into wonder.
Maybe I was too naïve to be afraid, but I think part of it was also that God’s presence seemed bigger to me than other things.
I grew up in a charismatic, Pentecostal-ish, kind of Christian home, and I learned early on that God was as real as anything I could see. I was taught to sense and follow the Spirit I felt inside myself. I knew things without being able to explain exactly how. It is one of the gifts my parents gave me that has saved me again and again in this life.
One thing I knew more than anything was that I wanted to be a minister—I had known this since I was 3 years old. In fact, it was more than something I just wanted, it was kind of something that claimed me—it just was. I was puzzled, but not swayed, by the fact that in my tradition and church culture, women weren’t allowed to be ministers. The comment I often received was, “Oh, you’ll make such a wonderful minister’s wife!”
While my calling was certain, the other thing that became increasingly clear, much to my adolescent horror, was that I was pretty sure I was the thing that was so feared in my community. I could not escape the fact that it seemed pretty clear I was gay, and this meant a host of terrible things in my community—not the least of which was that I was defective to the core.
For the first time, I began to really feel utterly lost and forgotten.
Back then, long before Ellen, Brittany Griner, or RuPaul, long before the “It Gets Better” campaign, or even the slightest thought of marriage equality—I was a gay southern girl in a conservative evangelical world. This was as dark and as small as the many places a coin might disappear.
As I got older, into my teen and early 20-something years, there were times it seemed my compass had stopped working, contact had been lost with headquarters, or there was clearly a short circuit in the wire.
I wondered at times if maybe I had been the lost coin from Luke’s gospel, but I felt like the one defective coin that was dropped on purpose. I thought surely I was the one lost sheep, perhaps with more unruly hair than the rest of the flock, that the others were kind of glad to be distanced from.
It was as harrowing as watching one lost sheep wander aimlessly toward the precipice.
In the midst of these years, the greater confusion was that I knew that if I couldn’t make this go away—if I couldn’t undo the fact that I was gay—that I would never be a minister, and worse, I might never feel or know God again. The coziness of my connection and direct communication with the God I knew and loved became a distant memory.
I was sure that somewhere, somehow I had gotten off track, taken a wrong turn. Houston we had a serious problem. All external evidence confirmed this. Everything around me pointed to the fact that indeed I did have a serious problem.
I was fired from my job as a college campus chaplain after refusing to continue with the reparative therapy my employer mandated; my name was publically removed from the membership rolls of the large evangelical church where I was a leader; there were daily communications from well-meaning evangelical friends confronting me and my “sin;” and there was so much talk by those around me about how hard this was for them because they “loved the sinner, but hated the sin.”
If I was measuring success by any outward standard I was definitely not winning.
If I had known that I was more on the scenic route than lost; if I had known that my sexuality and my faith were both non-negotiables for me to grow into who and what God was calling me to be; if I had known that one day I would look back and see how all my struggles have been used for the greater good; if I had known any of these things I would have said, well—that must be someone else, or the next lifetime, if there is one, because right now it is so dark, and I am so lost, and I am so forgotten, that hope is impossible.
But something in me knew a different kind of knowing, like this whole time God was crafting an internal compass in my heart that internally knew about true north. My whole life I had been finding my way to God, but it was only when I stopped moving that I realized God was finding God’s way to me.
What I began to sense was that no matter how long it takes, or how unconventional the search may be, we have a Divine lover with the instincts of a hound, the committed gentleness of a shepherd, and the unflappable determination of the widow leaving no stone unturned in her search.
We may be crying out with every fiber of our being, but it’s a whisper compared to God’s relentless calls to us.
As the Psalm tells us—the good news is that there is nowhere we can go that we are not in God’s sight. We are all so indispensable that God knit each aspect of our being together, before we were born, and it’s too great an investment to forget, neglect, or leave us.
The good news is that we are found, always, found. It may be a scenic route. You may need to leave one home and find another, as many of us have. You may need to leave one community of faith for another that is better for your soul, as many of us have done.
But you won’t be doing it alone, even if that sounds like one big lie. If you cannot believe it now, if you cannot let that in, then others of us can trust and believe it for you.
We’ll be here, waiting until you’re ready to discover true north.
There is a Love that will not let you go, and a big queer cloud of witnesses, ready to help in the lost and found department of God’s unending love.
Photo provided by Rev. Barbara Lea Callaghan