Foundations Part 1: The Inconvenient Jesus

I was not intending to return to the Catholic Church.  As a queer woman with somewhat radical and visionary leanings, I like many have struggled to find my place within the religion of empire that has left such a huge scar on the planet and on my own being.  I left the church of my upbringing in 2009 to dive deeply into my own healing journey, which included a blend of intensive therapy, yoga, relational work, art, meditation, and other modalities.  A large portion of my healing revolved around addressing spiritual and religious trauma experienced within patriarchal and homophobic religious and familial culture.  Also like many, I turned to Eastern traditions (the Goddess tradition of Yoga, specifically), in large part for their more relatable imagery of the divine and embodiment practices that for the first time supported me in experiencing the Incarnation not as an abstract theological idea but as something enfleshed in my own physical body.

And then about a year and a half ago, I had a quite literal Come-To-Jesus moment.  

I was meditating in a side chapel of Santa Fe’s cathedral, ruminating on a problem I was having that I just couldn’t seem to figure out.  I’d been chewing on this situation for weeks, and as I sat in the chapel, which just happened to be the chapel of St. Joseph, I looked up and saw the image of Jesus on the cross of San Damiano—the same cross, I recognized, before which St Francis of Assisi had his conversion.  I found myself just starting to talk to Jesus—saying, Ok Jesus.  I'm sure you dealt with things like this.  How do I get through?  What am I missing?  What am I supposed to do?  

And then something happened that I didn’t see with my eyes or hear with my ears, but knew—could sense—in my very being.  A sphere of golden light surrounded me and I heard the words: Why are YOU trying to figure that out?  Don’t you know I’ve got your back?  Whatever you’re worrying about—I’m already on it.  And then these words, which will never sound as potent as I experienced them: All you have to do is open your heart to the power of my love.  

With that I felt as if 1,000 pounds had lifted from my body and I breathed the biggest sigh of relief I think I’ve ever breathed.  I had this true and absolutely certain sense that everything was getting worked out, and all I had to do from this day forward was ask for my daily assignment, do my best with it, and let everything else be handed over.  To assume more was up to me was prideful—and I finally recognized the hubris in the way I’d been operating, as if I in my thinking mind was in charge of anything.  It was the most humbling and freeing experience I had ever had and have ever had since.

I went into what I can only describe as an semi-altered state that lasted some 4-6 weeks.  I started waking up between 4-5am with just a burning heart to do my practices, move my body, and go to daily mass.  Even though the nearby Catholic church was conservative and stuffy, I felt compelled to receive the Eucharist as true spiritual food, and for the first time ever, it felt nourishing.  I felt joyful upon rising and content upon laying down for bed.  What was profound and vital on top of that, was that I had the awareness that I was in a state that wasn’t necessarily going to last—and I felt peaceful about that, like I’d be ready to let it go when the time came.  Somehow, however long this lasted, I knew the scales had tipped for good.  Jesus had become a very real and felt presence to me, and I just had this knowing that, whatever followed, I was being transformed.

Even in my state of glow, I also felt totally annoyed.  Why was Jesus, of all Holy Beings, showing up for me now after I’d just spent years and thousands of dollars on therapy extracting myself from Jesus-indoctrination?!  It felt very inconvenient.  

The inconvenience would only magnify when, about two months later, I attended an inter-spiritual meditation retreat and met a Roman Catholic Woman Priest.  I was in a small group of women, and we each took turns sharing faith stories.  I went first, sharing pieces about growing up Catholic, coming out as Queer in college, leaving the church, finding yoga, knowing I had a call to spiritual leadership but not really knowing what that was suppose to look like.  When the next woman shared, it was of a wandering journey from a Protestant upbringing to this and that, then falling in with some Catholics, taking some graduate courses.  “And then,” she said, “I converted to Catholicism…and now I’m a Catholic Priest.”  

Literally, my jaw dropped and I burst into tears.  

Looking back, I think I had known about the RCWP movement peripherally (you can find out more here), but it was as if I was hearing about it for the very first time.  I was struck with a profound sense of equal amounts purpose and terror.  I avoided this woman for the next 24 hours, but by the last day of the retreat finally summoned the courage to go talk to her.  “I think I need to hear more about this how-it-is-you-are-a-Catholic-Priest thing.”  She gave me the name of a woman priest who was closer to my home town.  I put the name in my pocket, went home from the retreat, and did nothing with it for three months.  

It’s taken me over a year and a half of bargaining with the Divine about my calling to finally give in to this unmistakable current.  I have begun the process of discernment towards ordination as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, with lots of clear pieces to the puzzle, but not a completely clear way of how they are all going to fit together.  

It's within this current that my work emerges.  Read more here about some of the core pieces shaping my vision, vocation, and the founding principles of my work: Sacred Feminism, Intersectionality, Bridge-building, Embodiment, Deep Ecology, and Visionary Community.  

 

Sacred Self-Centeredness

We’ve all heard it, I’m sure: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Wise words, to be sure, we find them repeated in some variation in spiritual traditions worldwide.

However, I’d like to bring attention to two potential problems with this principle.  The first is this: if our gauge for treating others just how we want to be treated, then doesn’t that keep us at the center of the equation still?  The particulars of what we’d like and how we’d like to be treated may not be something universally shared.

Secondly—and this one to me is more important—this presupposes a kind of wholeness of being that would allow a person to give in such a way that isn’t just as a way to fill their own need-hole, which actually ends up feeling more like taking than giving.

Let me illustrate with my own story.

When I was 21, I came out of the closet.  I had fallen in love with a sweet lady while I was studying abroad and when I returned home I decided I wasn’t going to close up that part of who I could see myself living into.  I identified (and still do) as queer and told my friends and (slowly) my family.  

This was the first what is becoming a lifelong practice of “coming out”—of discovering and being willing to live into deeper and truer aspects of my being.

About a year later I came out again—this time, I came out as someone who was living with severe depression.  In some ways this one was at least as hard.  I was one of those peppy thin white 20-somethings who “did it all”.  I was a strong academic, I had a position in student government, I had co-founded the campus peace and justice group and a community garden project.  I was acquainted with everyone (it used to annoy my dear friend that we couldn’t walk across the campus together without me stopping a dozen times to say hi to people I knew).  

And on the inside I was completely empty.  

When I finally admitted to this emptiness, it was both relieving and terrifying.  One day, as I was standing in my apartment staring blankly out the window, I was struck with the realization that this whole outward show of do-gooding was in response to a deep and hidden insecurity that went something like this:  

Everything I’ve done has been to earn the love I don’t deserve.  They think I’m good because I do good things.  It can’t ever be found out that actually I’m bad.  I’m not good.  I’m bad.

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It would take years for me to identify these as the thoughts of a much younger version of myself, struggling to make sense of her own emotions, her body, and later, her sexuality.  There are a lot of moments throughout a humans development where, in a moment of trauma or turmoil, we crystallize a belief about ourselves or the world deep in the unconscious psyche where it directs and motivates our thoughts and actions without our knowing.  

Accepting the reality of my depression and becoming conscious of this deeply held belief got me going on a long road of healing (I’m still on it).  

My depression was what I would call a functional disfunction.  The way it manifested was in ways that were culturally acceptable and even earned me a lot of positive reinforcement.  

I realized that, even though ostensibly I was “doing service”, my need-hole was loud and proud out front.  The need-hole is what I’ve come to know as any way we feel incomplete or un-whole in ourselves.  This is not to say that we don’t truly need each other—we do very much!  But we need each other the way an ecosystem needs every species and element—as whole, individuated AND interdependent beings.  

The need-hole is also addressed by most spiritual traditions.  The tradition of yoga calls it anava mala, or the having forgotten our truest identity of oneness with the Goddess.  Christian spirituality often alludes to the “god-shaped” hole in the heart.  

I decided to take care of my own need hole through a careful cultivation of my own sense of wholeness and well-being.  My hypothesis is that if we all tend to our own need-holes, than when encounter each other and our world, it isn’t from a place of needing to suck on the world in order to fill our own needs.  Rather, we can encounter the world as whole beings, and from that wholeness, we can truly give freely, in the ways that are being asked of us, out of overflow without the need or expectation of getting anything back for it.  This is sacred-selfcenteredness: loving yourself the way you want to be loved, a willingness to put yourself at the center of your universe as mirror image of the whole cosmos so that the healing that is done there, the ways you treat your body, the ways you listen to the parts of you that have been neglected, the ways you clear shame and shoulds—all of that connects you to the direct experience of fullness of being alive that, in my experience, can’t help but spill over into doing unto others the way they want do be done unto them…or something like that.

This, I find, is a particularly important practice as a queer person and as a woman, who's physical existence has for millennia been devalued and considered less then, and this day is still under daily threat of abuse and erasure.  To elevate and prioritize, then, the love and care of this queer female body in which I dwell takes on the quality of a subversive, revolutionary, and gospel-inspired life-generating act.   

Let’s carry forth with the prophetic words of 15th century Sufi poet, Hafiz:

"With That Moon Language"

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this: this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a moon in each eye,
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?