Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Spiritual Autobiography: The Desert Part One

As noted yesterday, I was struggling with my Spiritual Autobiography. As my classmates gathered around the table in the next room to fill their plates and get a glass of wine, I opened the Book of Common Prayer to the Collect of the Day from Sunday, and scribbled it at the top of the page:

"Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
Don't ask me why this helped to write this out, but it did. I s'pose in writing it, I was praying it, and thus getting grounded. So there it is. But it's a good one, isn't it?

At any rate, we are now entering a period of time where things in my life were dark. Perhaps some of this will feel familiar to your own life experiences; that's part of the sharing of the autobiography. At this point in the story, I am entering yet another world: I am leaving behind my friends in the Exeter Public School system to attend Governor Dummer Academy. The picture is of the entrance to the school. The Ingham Footbridge took students over the street to some the boy's dormitories. I was a Day Student (Thanks be to God!) so I didn't live on campus.

I definitely felt like a square peg that was being jammed into a round hole. And, since this was a New England prep school, there were plenty of teachers and administrators who made a point of reminding me that, unlike the other students, I had come from a public school background; hence I would never be as good as the other kids. Having skipped a grade came back to haunt me because I hadn’t gotten a good grounding in fractions. And my eighth grade math teacher had been a rotation of three different people; hence we learned nothing that year. So, I got to this prep school totally unprepared for Algebra… and it showed.

And, by this point, I was also realizing that this whole “boys” and “girls” thing wasn’t working for me… because I wasn’t attracted to “boys”. I liked boys. I wanted to have boys as friends. But when it came to something like going to the prom… I was more interested in dancing with Annie more than Andy.

The school was very small. And even though I wasn’t out or acting on my feelings, other kids picked up on the fact that I was “different” and they made my life hell. They threw things at me, tried to trip me coming out of classes, etc. There had been some other events in my life (multiple deaths) that had also been upsetting, and all of it was pushing me toward suicide as the only solution.

Then came Epiphany, 1984. I had a choice: I was either going to leave my religion class and walk to the foot bridge on campus over Elm Street and jump. Or I was going to keep the promise that I had made to the school chaplain and, if I felt suicidal, seek her out first. The bell rang, and my body became heavy and rigid, and I couldn’t move. And I asked this chaplain, “Talk me out of suicide.” I don’t really remember what all happened next, except that I was there, in her classroom, for almost the entire next period as she kept talking to me. Later on, I would realize that if I had ever had an encounter with angels, this was probably it. I have a visualization of four Archangels grabbing my ankles, sitting in my lap, doing everything to keep me from leaving that room.

This was a new turn in my relationship with God.

College: I went to the University of Missouri-Columbia, majored in broadcast journalism, and actually PREFERRED radio journalism to TV. I also kept attending church, and found the one Episcopal Church, Calvary Episcopal, was only a couple blocks north of the J-School. This also is when I finally came out to myself as a lesbian, but I didn’t seek out anyone for a relationship. Instead, I just quit trying to force myself to be straight when it really wasn’t working for me… or the guys I dated.

When I moved to Tallahassee to take a reporting job at WFSU, I went on a Goldilocks tour of Episcopal Churches… which was a first for me, as I never had lived in a place with multiple choices for Episcopalians! I was feeling pretty fed up and depressed by it all, and then came to St. John’s. This was 1991. And it was great! It had all this pomp and circumstance, a female associate rector, and every week, we prayed for people living with AIDS.

But I fell in love, and discovered that in the world of lesbians living in Tallahassee, you do NOT attend church! And in my new “chosen” family, as we call it, if you believed in God, you were some horrifying bigoted brainless fool. So, I stopped going to church, except for certain occasions and even then that was sporadic. I was having to adapt… and finding that my identity as a lesbian was incompatible with identity as a Christian.

More to come from the Desert. Stay tuned!


textjunkie said...

Ouch. I've been following your blog for a while but never commented before; but to this series I have to say, I'm really sorry you had those experiences. :(

Phoebe said...

Thank goodness for chaplains and archangels!
And what a sad condemnation of the church.

SCG said...

Thank you, textjunkie. My story does take an upswing. And 20/20 hindsight says that all of these experiences were a necessary part of my spiritual growth process.

And--yes, Phoebe-- good on archangels and chaplains. The church needs improvement... and is slowly getting there.

Anonymous said...

AMEN to that my dear, and I too am very glad for our dear GDA chaplain and the archangels which I didn't know about until now.


SCG said...

You're learning a lot here, Peggins! :)