Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of thy Name; increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Dona Eis Requiem, Part V

I sat and scratched.
Smoke in greasy thickness rolled round the cave,
from flames of fierce fancy, flesh-fire-colored.

Fire of the flesh subsided to ache of the bone;
the smoke rolled out, faded, died;
the beast, as the smoke thinned, had disappeared;
starveling, I lay in bone on the cave’s floor.

Bone lay loving bone it imagined near it,
bone of its hardness of longing, bone of its bone,
skeleton dreaming of skeleton where there was none.

—Charles Williams, Taliessin Through Logres, ‘Palomides Before his Christening’

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The first three chapters of Genesis are, words fail me, great. Myth1 always has power over our imaginations, because it deals so largely in archetypes that have rich associations in every level of our minds; but the archetypes of Genesis seem to me to be wonderfully universal, even for myth. The primordial darkness, the word of power, the sea, the stars, the Tree of Life, the male and the female—this is the stuff of magic. And, as commentators never tire of noting, the first thing that we see declared not to be good before the Fall itself, is the loneliness of the first Man.

Azerbaijani depiction of the Tree of Life, 17th cent.

It is for this reason that Woman is created, who is like him and yet unlike; even so it is the likeness that the text accents: Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. And while I certainly think that the creative pattern of sexuality is established here, I also think that in another sense, Woman is here a cipher for (as she is the origin and the possibility of) Mankind rather than simply Man.2 The otherness-in-sameness that inheres in every person not ourselves, is specially highlighted in the meeting of man and woman, whose difference shows not only in disposition but in the very shape of the flesh, and yet the union of that flesh is so profound that new human life springs forth from it. And of course, because that new life is to be distinct and independent, other in its sameness, it comes through the woman.3

But we live in a broken world. Loneliness isn’t gone. And that primordial sorrow is, for many gay Christians, what we’re landed in. Catholics especially, I think: both marriage and Holy Orders are usually closed to us,4 and those are the main paths into the rest of life for most Catholics. And the brute fact is, couples, especially couples with young children, tend to socialize with other couples, and clergy tend to socialize with clergy. And that can leave Christians like me more than a little stranded.

Because this isn’t just a matter of needing friends—still less of just wanting sex. We absolutely do. But the artificial uprootedness and isolation of the modern West hits people like us especially hard, because, put briefly, we don’t have anybody to come home to, nor any realistic hope that we ever will. It’s like being a widower.

We need help to carry that cross. It’s a heavy one. I’ve been taken aback by the number of Catholics who reply to this that they carry their crosses alone, so gay people should stop whining and do the same5; nobody should carry their cross alone; that’s not the example Christ set for us. Frankly admitting need, joyfully giving help, and graciously accepting it, are standard movements of the divine economy. And there are plenty of people other than LGBTs who’ve been neglected by the Church, but I write about our experiences because they’re the ones I know most intimately.

So what is this help we need? Well, what does a widower or a widow need?

1. The right to grieve. No one wants to grieve all the time (though admittedly there are some of us, like me, who tend to make a meal of our grief and need the occasional reality check). But sometimes, we need to grieve. We have, de facto, lost even the reasonable possibility of a spouse and children; and whatever other blessings we may have through celibacy, having a family of one’s own is a real good to be mourned.

Our culture is pretty bad at dealing with grief in any context. There seems to be a sentiment in America that there’s something indecent and embarrassing about being sad. This isn’t the place to go on a tear about how much that warps us psychologically, nor to lay out a comprehensive guide to grieving. The one thing I will say is: don’t try to solve grief, your own or someone else’s. Emotions do not respond well to solvents. The thing a mourner mostly needs is support in their grief, which among other things means acknowledging its validity.

2. Respectful welcome. Both halves of this seem curiously hard for Catholics, especially the ones who insist they’re doing it already. The welcome part is what Pope Francis has been emphasizing: you could define it as making your love perceptible to someone who isn’t like you. No matter what your intentions are, rehearsals of doctrine probably won’t do that. You have to respond to them, rather than rushing to give them what you think they need. This is especially important for LGBTs who aren’t part of the Church, but those of us who are need welcome too; staying in the Church can be harder than entering her.

The respect part mostly means listening. Christians, being in possession of a precious truth, are correspondingly apt to want to share it, right in the face. However, people generally like a say in what is put into their faces, and are less than receptive to that which is thrust into them without invitation. Besides, The Truth About Homosexuality© isn’t the only thing we need. As Catholics are often eager to remind us, there’s more to us than our sexuality; and even our sexuality is a much bigger thing than just sex. If you happen to be straight, just think about how subtle the tact of interacting with the opposite sex can be, whether you’re partnered or not, whether they’re partnered or not; think of the shape that gives to relationships in general, romantic or no; and think how much range of affections there is even within a single romantic relationship. All those same understated courtesies apply to us and our relationships, with the added complication that retreating into the company of our own sex, however comforting, doesn’t lessen the need to observe those courtesies at all.

The thing that’s helped me most is being invited into the families of my friends. Aside from my own family (I have two married sisters, both with sons), there are three or four couples who’ve made a point of not only being there for me, but involving me in their daily lives and in taking care of their kids. That’s huge. Being included in that way, there where the pain of losing the possibility of a family is apt to be keenest—that is a wonderful balm to the soul.

3. Sometimes, financial or mental or even physical protection. This, thank God, is rare in the United States (which is more than can be said for some countries). But even just in the space of the last two years, one gay man I know lost his job because of his orientation, another narrowly escaped from an abusive and cultish home life, and a trans man and lesbian couple (who are living as brother and sister) were hounded out of their parish. And then, well, there’s the tragedy in Orlando last June, whose anniversary sparked this series. Point is, we might not need you to step up and be a hero; but we might.

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1Myth is not properly a synonym for falsehood, an abuse of the term introduced I think by the rationalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is a genre of literature (written or oral), embracing material as varied as the first ten chapters or so of the Torah, the works of Homer, the Mahabharata of Vedic India, and the Eddas of the Norse. Its concern is typically with the nature of the cosmos and the ideal origin of the culture it springs from. Hence it doesn’t bind itself to historical accuracy, but may contain history incidentally; rather as it may happen to be true that Sir Isaac Newton was hit in the head by an apple, but that isn’t why we tell the story.
2‘Men are men, but Man is a woman.’ —G. K. Chesterton.
3The supreme instance of this otherness-in-sameness is the conception of Christ in the womb of the Virgin. The supernatural otherness of the conception, fused with the natural sameness of the pregnancy and Nativity, coming through the sole, supernaturally natural Woman since the fall of Eve, is mythically perfect.
4I say usually because lesbians and gay men do sometimes marry someone of the opposite sex, and dispensations can be granted for gay men to become priests. And of course, there are priests who are closeted or who don’t like the term ‘gay’ though they are homosexually oriented. But these are exceptions, not something the average LGBT Catholic can expect the way a straight Catholic might.
5Or, more odiously, that they know unmarried people who don’t complain about their state in life and so why should we; not noting that, if these unmarried people did complain, they probably wouldn’t do it to someone so unsympathetic.

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