When we last left me, I had made it through prep school, college and now was starting my professional life as a radio journalist in Tallahassee, FL. I attended St. John's after "doing the circuit" of Episcopal Churches in town. But having also found a lover... and my lesbian community... I discovered that if I was going to be a "real" lesbian, I needed to put away such ridiculousness as going to church on Sundays.
But, as we pick up the story, we'll find that this separation from a faith community would come at a cost:
Oct. 1996: I was assigned to witness an execution of an inmate at Florida State Prison. I didn’t think this was going to affect me, but it totally changed me. And the change didn't happen in the moment; it began on the drive home after the event… and the many, many years to come. I was depressed, and I felt that I had done something very wrong in being there. I told a friend one night when we were driving to New Orleans that I felt I could never be forgiven for having sat there and watched this sanitized act of barbarism. "How can I wipe this slate clean?" was the underlying question behind my journalistic passion for the subject. I became almost obsessed with reporting on the electric chair, the death penalty, the flaws in the judicial system, the legislature’s desire to speed things up which only helped to slow things down…etc. etc. All of this, coupled with increasingly stressful and unsupportive conditions in my work environment led me to finally leave journalism.
And all throughout this time, I had no faith community. True, I had exiled myself in the wrong-headed belief that being a lesbian and being a Christian were incompatible. But in that time, Evil had moved into the pulpit at St. John's in the form of a South Carolinian priest who took it upon himself to rail against gays and lesbians in the local media. And so the church that had at one time been "just right!" was now all-wrong and off-limits to the likes of me.
So, I found God elsewhere... Massage School.
This was a major transformation! I feared what was going to happen when I left Florida Public Radio. I literally woke up in the middle of the night, sweating, and thinking, “If I’m not Susan Gage of FPR, then who the hell am I?” My identity had become totally wrapped up in my work. With that stripped away, I was virtually naked. I was vulnerable. And, scared and insecure as I was, a part of me embraced this opportunity to go live on a goat farm, and listen to spacey new age music as I learned a new set of professional skills.
I spent a good portion of massage school just reclaiming who I am. And I discovered that the answer to the who I am could be found in my body, and in a willingness to allow myself to receive touch… and have another person lay their hands on me. Florida School of Massage has a labyrinth on the campus cut into the grass, and I would regularly go to it and do walking meditation, and allow this place to be where I could receive God. In this spot in nature, I was feeling a presence that I had once sensed standing at the edge of Profile Lake in New Hampshire's White Mountains of a force greater than myself. There were two statues at the opening of the labyrinth. I would allow my eyes to soften their gaze as I looked to these statues for inquiry about what each walks intention should be. And then I would step in, and journey slowly along this circular path to the center and back out.
In these moments in the labyrinth, I came to understand that I had been asleep for a very long time. The sleep state was necessary as a journalist because the overwhelming damage I was witnessing would have sent a fully awake person into shock and I would never have been able to live up to the expectations of "objectivity" that Americans place on journalists. But now, in this next phase, I was waking up and stretching out... and returning, in my own way, to God.
To God, but not to the Church.
Where do I go from here? That's the next installment....