It’s the second week of Advent, and like many Catholics, I’m waiting. That’s what Advent is all about, preparing and waiting for the coming of Christ. Yet this year, with the new translation of the Roman Missal, there is a new twist to the wait. And quite frankly, I don’t know what I’m waiting for anymore.
Surely, the season of Advent speaks to my heart in so many ways. On a personal level, I am waiting for my heart to mend and understand as I reflect on a year full of both joy and heartbreak. I am also waiting for moments of clarity as I move steps closer in my vocation as a layperson. Meanwhile, my heart is being prepared for something new and life-giving, while my spirit is being carefully supported for the journey. But sometimes in this process, I find it so very hard to focus on what matters. Instead my heart is hijacked, momentarily, by realities that feel so contradictory to the real meaning within the coming of Christ. And despite my best efforts to go with the flow, my very humanity is vulnerable to change.
You see, as much as I know that the new Roman Missal is bullshit, my heart has not fully accepted the change, nor has my attitude adapted. Actually, today was my first experience with the new words and it didn’t go so smoothly. In fact, it was a much more painful process than I anticipated.
The mass began as expected and knowing that there would be some changes, I braced myself for the awkward transitions. Even the priest stumbled a few times and there was a sense of solidarity in the church, as we glanced at the mass cards, missed our mark, and recited new words to the old prayers. But despite the solidarity, my sense of authenticity began to slowly fade away. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue trying to say the new words, or call upon the phrases already imbedded in my heart. I didn’t know if I wanted to hold the card, or leave it in the shelf, ‘just in case’. And at times, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay for the whole celebration, or walk out and talk to God instead. It was a mess, and I almost held it together.
Actually, I held it together until the final personal prayer before we receive the Eucharist.
The new mass card said, “Lord, I am not worth that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
But what my heart wanted to say, the prayer always at the tip of my lips is, “Lord, I am not worth to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
For me, these are the most intimate words I’ve ever spoken to God. I say this prayer in a low, personal voice, so as not to simply say the words, but to really mean them. At this moment in the mass, I am preparing my heart with God. I am preparing to receive God. And even though these are just a few little changes, the fact is, these words have carried meaning for the last 31 years of my life. In fact, as I say these words, I remember my grandmother, standing next to me, whispering this humble prayer before she received the Eucharist. I thought of her as I stumbled over the new words, just like I think of her when I say this prayer. But today, as I stumbled, my memory could not reconcile this change and the tears began to fall.
I stood there in the pew completely surprised and overcome with grief. I will never hear that familiar prayer again, as my grandmother once spoke it.
I stood there in that reality, sobbing, as it all began to sink in.
I would like to say that receiving the Eucharist shortly after my meltdown had a more profound impact on me. I was hoping for that. But instead, I returned to my seat, offered my prayers to God, and cried some more.
I cursed some more too, but not at God. I cursed at the hierarchy, at men, who I do not know personally. And in the next breath I asked for forgiveness. I cursed them again and then asked for forgiveness. Because, in reality, it’s hard to know who to blame.
Who do I blame for this sadness and grief? Men with funny hats in Rome who make decisions? My parish priest and fellow laypeople who implement the change? Or do I blame myself, a glutton for punishment, who walks in the door of the church, hoping for renewal, but finds the same system with new words?
I am having such a hard time with these changes. I am having such a hard time with this church. And I ask God, what exactly am I waiting for during this Advent season? Am I waiting for the church to change or for the church to change me?
Is this moment of piercing vulnerability and pain my signal to take heart and go deeper into a faith community that is complicated and yet so very much a part of my idenity? Or is this the moment, when I leave the church, and the new words behind, to join a community that nourishes my soul and honors my voice?
At this point in the day, I just don’t know. And quite frankly, I am not sure I will know the answer next Sunday either. But I do know that this feeling of pain is much bigger than some “growing pains” due to an adjustment of change, as some would like to believe. And I also know that my relationship with God is much deeper than the pain I feel. And so I wait this Advent, like always, for my heart to be prepared for Christ.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
(A picture of Pride in El Salvador. True Courage.)
In a few hours I will wake up. I will go to church, a progressive Catholic community, and worship with my friends. I will take public transport and head to the PRIDE Parade in Chicago. I am very fortunate.
I am very fortunate because I live in a place and time where my whole being can be celebrated. I am very fortunate because I belong to a faith community that does not judge me the moment I step in the doors. I am very fortunate that I can go to a parade that celebrates the richness of diversity, and feel like being ME, is the best and only option there is. I am very fortunate because my family, the people who I loved first in this world, have always supported me…even when I told them I was gay.
You see, twelve years ago I shared this revelation with them when I was in college, but it turns out they already knew. And with a little reflection on my behalf, I guess there were some signs. So while I was growing up, my family, like any other family, let me know that I was loved…no matter what. And by the time I was ready to “come out”, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for wonder.
I wrote my first love letter to my first grade teacher. I lived my younger years as a tomboy. I wore pants and hated dresses. I played football with the boys and blended in quite well. I made friends with all the girls and all the boys. I started fashion trends in school. I didn’t date until I was in college and have had my heart broken a few times along the way. And fortunately, I was supported because when it all comes down to it, I was born this way.
Given the Gaga reference, this sounds a little clique, but the reality is that I didn’t chose any of this. I didn’t choose to be a smitten kitten over Miss Ford. I simply preferred short hair and comfortable clothing. I had great athletic ability and needed an outlet to get my energy out. I was sociable and got along with everyone. And the reason my heart got broken was because I dared to love in the first place. I dared to live as authentically as I could.
But again, I am very fortunate. And so on this PRIDE weekend / month, I will be thinking about all those folks who struggle to live authentically in this world. I will be thinking about all my LGBTQ sisters and brothers that weep on the phone when they call their parents because the missed the boat on same sex attraction. I will be thinking about all the people who struggle to wear clothing that feels comfortable to them, but are compelled to dress in a “certain” way. I will be thinking about all the people who find it so very hard to be proud of who they are.
It is my belief that the vast majority of LGBTQ people do not choose to be this way or that. It is my belief that we are born this way. And after some time, living, we may develop a certain pride in who we are. And it takes time.
Today I am proud to be who I was created to be and it’s because of all the people who supported me along the way. And so I thank them…