Simply writing the title makes me feel over-exposed.
Just now walking our dog, Hobbes, I found myself contemplating my lifetime need for God.
I felt extremely lonely as a child.
Hard to believe in a loving household of a family of five with pets living in a small tract house with a single bathroom, sharing a bedroom with my brother. And we were part of a loving church and Christian school which shared our beliefs, values, and hopes. And I had so many friends in those places and later, high school and college.
But I had a secret about who I was so terrible I might as well have been abandoned alone on a lifeless asteroid, with little hope for rescue.
I was homosexual.
No “gay” then, no “same-gender loving people.” “Queer” and “faggot” and “dyke” and “fairy” were not words used with pride as they are by some today reclaiming them from those who use them pejoratively. “Homophile” was in use in the 1950s, but not in the circles I travelled.
At first, I thought I was the only one—at the time, a common experience among “my kind.”
Back then, my “role models” were societal stereotypes and caricatures, sick and unhealthy, condemned and excommunicated.
On this morning’s walk, I found myself reviewing all the clues in my writings to my extreme loneliness. My understanding of my childhood baptism as a way of belonging to God and Jesus and my family forever. The occasional days when I was too lonely and depressed to go to school. My compassion for others who felt alone. The passion with which, as part of my high school choir, I sang our beloved principal’s favorite song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” My clinging to a college “best friend” and later, my first boyfriend.
In a brief round of therapy in seminary, the identification of my “separation anxiety.” My most common “sexual” fantasy: waking up with a lifelong partner. My appreciation of Alfred North Whitehead’s quote, “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.” My gratitude for Henri Nouwen’s teaching how spiritual life transforms loneliness into creative solitude. My receptiveness to process theologian Daniel Day William’s insight that we are less afraid of not being that we are of not belonging.
In the late 80’s, sitting in a car with a close lifelong friend from childhood whose former partner was clearly dying of AIDS in the hospital before us, I asked why he hadn’t come out to me—a gay activist by then—earlier. “What difference would it have made?” he responded.
“I would have felt less alone,” I answered. “You would have felt less alone,” I added.
I explained in my first book, Uncommon Calling, that as a youth, afraid of being condemned by either a minister or a therapist, God became my minister and therapist, with whom I had hours-long conversations. That marked the beginning of my interest in the contemplative life. Now I might describe the relationship as anamchara, or “soul friend.”
My fear writing about this now is that some might write off God, or at least my own experience of God, as some sort of “imaginary friend” I’ve created to get me through rough times.
But aren’t those times that we exclaim “Please be with me, God!” the most authentic and least pretentious prayers? Reaching out to that which is greater, higher, deeper, and more complete makes sense as we realize our humble circumstances in this vast universe.
And it isn’t as if I did this alone.
Thanks be to God for those in the Bible and in the church who discerned and learned, taught and practiced their faith, often in dire circumstances, and passed it along to all of us.
Now I know I’ve never walked alone.
Photo provided by Chris Glaser