Monday, May 23, 2011

The Dark Forest, the Middle of Life (and the Church's Failure to Light the Way)

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita.

In my experience, Dante's describing a recurring experience in human life.  All unexpected, we wake up one morning or another in the middle of our lives, surrounded by dark, overhanging trees.  Shut in by the occluding forest in which there are no paths anywhere.  And it happens again and again: our lives have many middles.

I've been there recently, still am there, and that's why I've been silent on this blog.  I apologize to any readers who might have been counting on me to write more frequently than I've done in the last week or so.  And I'm very grateful--more than I can say--to those who have contacted me to ask after my well-being and Steve's.

I have no excuses, really.  No explanations, other than the selva oscura.  "Fatigue" is probably the word that best describes my prevailing inner feeling right now, as I try to make my way through the dark woods.  I just feel fairly much written out, without any strong sense of inner light or inspiration as I write.  

The most frightening effect of the dark forest is that it obscures the light of the sun of love that shines over and beyond the canopy of trees--the sun that, as Dante believed, makes the journey through the forest worthwhile.  Makes everything worthwhile.

Not being able to see that sun, when our bones tell us everything depends on its illuminating force and its warming influence, is perhaps the most painful effect of finding ourselves suddenly in the selva oscura in the middle of our lives.

I'm tired of thinking and writing about a church that all too frequently places me and many others precisely in the dark forest, rather than directing us to the illuminating, healing sun of love.  I'm tired of railing against a church whose leaders actively seek to lock up the meaning I am seeking, along with many others, as I make my way along the path of life--while claiming, even as they lock up the meaning that would light our paths and warm our hearts if they did their job as shepherds, that they and they alone are the guardians of sacred meaning.

That they and they alone interpret sacred meaning for us.  That they and they alone stake the path through the forest with reliable signposts.  And that the rest of us are the ones responsible for the loss of meaning in the church today.

While they spend nearly $2 million of the hard-earned money of American Catholics to produce yet another spin-doctored media blast indicting the 1960s (i.e., all the rest of us: not themselves) for the abuse crisis, once again letting the bishops--who are the very center and engine of that crisis--off the hook.  And while the leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Timothy Dolan, writes a letter implicitly blessing the anti-Catholic social and economic policies of the Republican party, as the bishops continue to rail against the deeply Catholic notion of health care coverage for all citizens, as long as that notion is promoted by the Democratic party.

I'm tired.  I'm tired of all of this, and of how it places me in a dark forest, searching for meaning that the church has promised to provide for those who trust its spiritual guidance.  I'm tired of the bishops' willing captivity by the rich, powerful men who fund their enterprises through the Knights of Columbus, and through direct behind-the-scenes donations that buy and pay for the bishops' blessing of right-wing homophobia, of right-wing attacks on health care coverage for all and other social safety nets designed to keep the least among us from falling to the bottom, with no assistance from society at large.

I'm tired of bishops who are nothing at all but poorly educated Republican businessmen gussied up in clerical drag, and who claim, as they put on their sacred drag shows, that they and they alone preserve and guard sacred meaning the rest of us have lost.

I'm tired, too, quite specifically--Steve and I are--as we near retirement age and wonder how to make humane lives for ourselves in the final part of our life journey.  And as we feel that we haven't done a conspicuously good job of preparing for that stage of life.  Because the church that we planned to serve as theologians when we worked hard to obtain doctorates in theology has not only made no place at all for us--no vocational place, and therefore no place with salaries and health-care coverage--but has expelled us from vocational life.  Has pushed us from the table of salaries and health-care coverage.

Not saying this to complain.  Just pointing out this is part of our present perplexity.  And that, as we cope with this perplexity, the church itself, and the abysmal lack of pastoral leadership in the Catholic church at present, compound the existential problems all of us have on our particular life journeys.

In the case of those of us who are lesbian and gay, the existential problems are compounded in a unique way by the church's leaders.  We who are gay and lesbian know full well that, rather than looking to them for guidance and support as we make our way through the dark, trackless waste, we must, in fact, be on guard against them.  We must be on guard against attacks  mounted by the very shepherds who are, we're told, charged by Christ to safeguard us as we make our way towards the sun of love along the paths of life.

Because the shepherds do not intend to open safe paths for us.  They intend, instead, to keep us who are gay and lesbian lost in the darkness--even as they proclaim that they and they alone possess the lamps that can light the darkness for all the rest of us.

As readers will know, since I've alluded to some stories in my own family and have written explicitly about one in Steve's in recent months, the past half year or so has provided some strong indicators to Steve and me that as we approach old age and retirement, we can't expect any real support or understanding from either of our family networks.  We're on our own, in the dark forest.  

If we want family, if we want to find fellow travelers intent on assisting each other to find the paths through the forest, we have to find family someplace other than in our families of origin.  We've long known that, of course.  Recent events have only been a reminder to us of what we've long known.  

And they've underscored, all over again, that one of the most precious forms of family believers should expect to find as they make their life journeys--the family that is church, the people of God--is simply not there for us.  Not there as a reliable signpost out of the darkness and towards the sun of love.

Because it is love itself--our love as gay and lesbian persons--that the church cannot and will not recognize.  Our love, and therefore our God-given humanity, that the church insists on problematizing in an unsurpassably cruel way.  

Even as the church speaks of itself as an incomparable sign of God's all-encompassing love in the world.

The love that lights our path and warms our heart, which is the only way we know through and beyond the dark woods--our love, the love given to us precisely as gay persons by the God who has made us gay--is identified by our church's leaders with the darkness inside the pathless forest.  Not with the sun that lights the world with meaning.

Enough of all of this.  I have deliberately not written for over a week now, because I don't want to sound maudlin.  And I don't intend for any of the darkness Steve and I find inside ourselves and our experience right now to spill over into what I write or into the lives of others.

I do want to be honest, though.  As I've said from the time I began this blog, I prefer not to write anything at all here, if the price of writing is that I have to tailor the truth as I see it to some ideology or norm imposed from outside my circle of experience-tested truth.  

And this happens to be where we find ourselves right now, and why writing these days is proving difficult for me.  It's difficult to write, when you feel your words lack meaning--for yourself, first and foremost.  And therefore for others, surely.

More down the road, as I begin to see some glimmers of light.  And meanwhile, I'm very grateful to readers for your concern.

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