Since I wrote a few days ago about feeling at peace and ‘unstuck’, I’ve had a couple of people ask me if this meant I would be coming back to church: after all, since technically speaking, the only thing preventing my communion with the Orthodox Church is sex, and since, being as it were perpetually single and not one to find casual sex remotely appealing, I’m not having any, then why wouldn’t I come back if I’m at peace?
There is a lot to be unpacked in all this. Obviously, as I’ve written before, the first is that my stepping back from Church was only tangentially related to my sexuality: I had an intense experience of divine abandonment that doesn’t simply get ‘undone’ now that I have made theological peace with my sexuality. I am still not able to pray, so I don’t really see any point in going to Church just because it’s what I used to do on Sunday mornings. The universe makes more sense to me now without reference to God, so again, what would the point be? And there’s also the fact that while I may have theological peace with my sexuality, the Church doesn’t.
More than that, distance provides perspective. And, while I know first hand that from within, Christianity — like any traditional and venerable belief system — is internally consistent, the perspective of distance demonstrates a lot of inconsistencies and holes that nothing short of a personal encounter with the Christ can overcome. I am, if anything, more attracted to the person of Jesus than ever, but more and more the faith built up around him seems detached from his personality, and to some extent, from the reality of human experience. The Churches too seem overpoweringly dysfunctional and rife with unhealthy subcultures and attitudes. And as much as I love the ethic of self-sacrifice inherent to Christianity and Jesus’ teaching, I see now how that ethic is one-sided and in my case served to promote some of my neurotic inclinations by giving them virtuous names, like “humility” and “meekness.” (Not that these are bad, but that they seek to address problems to which I am less disposed.)
But, aside from the continued divine absence in my life, most of all, going back to the Church — even if I were so inclined — would in a sense mean giving up the biggest blessing I have gained in leaving: the capacity simply to be. In the Church’s (I guess specifically Orthodox, but the same is true of most Christian traditions) current line of thought, gay people are welcomed with open arms provided we are committed to celibacy. Regardless of what is said about how being homosexually oriented is not in itself sinful, the prohibition against acting on it — and required cutting off from those hopes of intimate family life we all share — is a statement (whether Christians intend it to be or not) that we are somehow fundamentally wired in a way that is contrary to God. Thus, it involves not just an avoidance of sex and romance, but a constant and overwhelming vigilance, an unending questioning of thoughts, experiences, feelings, and motivations, as any and every interaction or stimulus could be a flirtation with disaster. (While some would argue that this is no different for all Christians who must constantly struggle with their own tendencies, I can say with certainty that it is different. I struggle with impatience; I might have to fight one or two stimuli about this in a day. It’s not in the least the same as my sexuality, which, despite my not being a strongly sensual or libidinous person, and despite my never having ‘owned’ it as any kind of Narrative or identity, coloured and colours every interaction in the day in big or small ways. (And also, of course, because prayer helped make me more patient but did not make me any less homosexual or any more content in my singleness or any less emasculated by being cut off from the things I wanted most in life.))
For someone like me, who is prone to overthinking anyway, living this way did considerable damage to me, reinforcing a lot of unhealthy tendencies, and leaving me so constantly second guessing myself that I somewhere along the way lost the ability to make choices in any kind of a healthy way. So while I’m grateful to Christianity for promoting in me graciousness, compassion, thankfulness, etc., I recognize that at the same time, it caused me great harm in being able to act and be authentically in the world. I had insulated myself in two or three layers of thought from every experience. No wonder people see me as aloof and unemotive! And no wonder even now it’s hard for me to answer the question of what I want.
I remember, just over two years ago, when things were at their lowest, I had a night where I just listened to music, danced around in my apartment and had a wonderful and freeing time. I described this to my spiritual father, who asked me what I meant, and how this was different from my day to day life. I couldn’t explain it then; all I could say was that I was just “being me” but could not articulate what this meant. With the benefit of two years distance and new ways of interpreting life, I see now that what this night was was a window, a proleptic moment of simply being, without the weight of self-consciousness and second-guessing. My mind is a great gift to me, but like all gifts it comes with both positives and negatives. And the negatives are a predisposition to being in my head instead of being in the world, a predisposition to self-consciousness that my Christian faith served to reinforce because of the particularities of my situation, instead of dismantle.
I call that moment two years ago a window or proleptic experience, because it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to unlearn unhealthy ways of being and thinking. Only after the distance of two years and exposure to different ways of understanding existence am I even beginning to genuinely recover the capacity to be. Perhaps it’s like two years ago I stopped exposure to what was harming me, and so there was much relief in that, but it is only recently that I’ve found the antidote.
As much as the possibility of being freed from my own ego (‘thinking self’) is exciting, I doubt I’ll ever get there and that’s not even really the point. I’m just happy to be, well, I’m just happy to BE.