Elizabeth A. Hawksworth is a published poet and historical fiction writer as well as a prominent blogger on topics of feminism, body positivity, fatphobia, writing, nannying, social justice, and spirituality. She is bold in writing about issues of ultimate concern when remaining silent and unnoticed would be, in the moment, easier. Here is part of her story.
A few hours north of Sarnia, Ontario, there is a quiet place nestled in a forest. Built with rustic logs, smelling like pine pitch, and surrounded by acres of misty trees, this small building stands, institutional and peaceful; utilitarian and somehow unique. In its natural surroundings, staring at a painting of the Baby Jesus, I found God.
Prayer, for me, has been a way to get through everyday life. I pray for health. I pray to be a better person. I pray for my family, my friends. I pray for things I want, things I don’t deserve, things I’m desperate about, things I can’t deal with. It’s not a fancy prayer. It’s often a mantra, repeated over and over, sometimes under my breath, sometimes out loud, sometimes mouthed in public places, and sometimes earnestly in the dark. And I pray every night, without fail, before I can close my eyes and sleep. I have to touch base. I have to let Him know. I need You. Please help me.
In that church retreat, hidden in the woods, I learned how to pray for more than just myself. I unlocked the talent I had all along – the talent of being able to use my words to change the world for the better. And I never felt closer to God, or more powerful with Him through me than I did then – creating creeds, weaving poetry, sharing with everyone my own personal faith, placing my feet on the path to social justice. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that I didn’t think I would ever be able to part from my relationship with God.
How things change.
I was badly wounded by the Church when I was a teenager. Shy, uncertain, and angry, I was struggling with my own sexuality and my sense of being. Holding hands with God, or so I thought, I faced the people who, also holding hands with God, told me that I didn’t belong. That I would burn in hell. That I was a sinner, a deliberate sinner, one who was so full of pride and bravado and hubris and lies, that I would never be welcome unless I changed who I was at the core. I had grown up solid in my belief that God makes us in His perfect image, and never makes mistakes. Now, I wasn’t sure if I was wrong, or if they were, but my hurt overwhelmed my faith.
I went back at 18, denying who I was. I joined a church of beauty and majesty, of tradition as old as time, and restrictions worse than any other church I’d ever been to. Was it punishment for the supposed sin of who I thought I was? To this day, I can’t answer that. All I know is that everywhere I turned, I found leaders, church members, even the Bible itself, it seemed, telling me that the person I am would never be good enough for God.
So I left. And I tried to forget.
I’m a rational person, most of the time. I also hold grudges, long after I should. And the hurt faded into twinges and then roared back to life in explosive, fiery anger. I wanted to hurt the Church the way it had hurt me. I wanted to hurt God. I wanted to burn in hell the way they said, just so that I could be myself without pretense, so I could live in sin without consequence and guilt.
And inside, I cried out for the God I knew in that quiet forest retreat. I begged Him to help me. I pushed Him away with both hands while simultaneously crying for Him in the night. And to His credit, He hasn’t let me go, though most days, I continue to angrily push and push and push, as hard as I can. He has forgiven me and continues to forgive me, despite all of my anger and moral failings, despite my hurt and my pride. He has quietly proven over and over that He thinks I am good enough for Him.
Knowing this, I suspect that one day, I will heal completely from my scars and from my open, bleeding wounds, the way that even the biggest wounds do heal. The scars will always hurt a little, but they won’t always be open and raw, ready to bleed again at another article about Christians saying “God hates fags”, or someone telling me that you can’t be Christian and gay.
But here’s the thing about healing. When you forgive someone, you don’t do it for them – not really. They benefit from it. They may think that you are doing them a favour. And maybe, part of healing is to acknowledge that you acted wrongly, too, even if at the time, you don’t think you did. Maybe part of it is to be like God, and not push away your fellow human, even if that fellow human has done cutting, horrible things to your psyche and to your sense of self.
The thing about healing is that forgiveness is mostly for you. It’s to reach out with your own humanity and be the bigger person. It doesn’t mean you forget, and it doesn’t mean that you have to draw that person back into your heart. What it does mean is that where the rushing, raging rivers have broken the bridge of faith, forgiveness helps to place new planks, to tie the knots back into the ropes. Where the bridge has rotted in places, forgiveness places brand new materials to make your bridge stronger than ever before. Where the bridge is shaky, forgiveness helps to steady it so that when you walk across it and try to meet God on the other side, it’s not so hard and scary to cross it.
Because when it comes to healing, it might take awhile. It might take a long time to rebuild your bridge. And I’m not saying that someone isn’t going to come along and say cutting things that will throw it into disrepair. I’ve rebuilt my bridge many times now . . . and I’ve begged God to help me find the strength to do it again.
Your bridge isn’t just to God. Your bridge is to your fellow humans, as well. The ones that put up walls to keep others out – your bridge goes to their door and invites them to come and meet you in the middle. The ones that tell you you’re not welcome – your bridge goes to them and tells them that they are welcome to come and belong with you. And the ones that meet you with hatred – your bridge shows them that the easier path is love.
Because maybe the place you’re all trying to reach is that little church retreat in the woods, with the whispering leaves and the distant rush of the many creeks. Maybe the path you all want to walk is the shady wide dirt path with the dappled sunlight through the trees, that wide and welcoming path that has benches to rest on and clear pools to drink from. Maybe the paths we choose are inevitably the harder ones because the stony paths teach you what smooth footing feels like, and we have to learn, in order to grow.
Maybe the pain and the blood are something we all experience, even when we’re the ones wielding the swords that hurt. And maybe when it comes to healing, you find it in the silence and the dark, the pleas and the desperation, the fact that when you couldn’t walk anymore, He carried you – and carries you still.
Maybe when it comes to healing, it becomes the easier path to take – broken bridge, and all.
I'm sorry she says softening her tone averting her gaze shifting her posture willing the other to see that she means no harm I'm sorry she says when she actually means Pardon me -or- No, thank you -or- Here's what I think about it I'm sorry she says when it's the other person who screwed up, caused harm, bears blame the other person who offered what she doesn't need or want the other person who just heard her apologize for no good reason and is no longer interested I'm sorry she also says on the rare occasion when her apology has merit Why does she hide behind that simpering sorry? Is it fitting to say sorry in a crowd that seeks her vision rather than to say what she means? Is it fitting to say sorry to a man in order to submit in the way she expects he expects when young women are watching every move she makes? Is it honest to say sorry to a challenger rather than to speak forth the prophetic fire that blazes within her? Why does she say sorry, sorry, sorry when so little of what she does deserves her easy self-deprecation self-humiliation self-abasement? What if she stopped watering down her virtue and instead
began her day with a strong cup of I'm not sorry ? (What a HERE I AM, LORD that would be) ~~~ The above is inspired by two people I respect who recently asked me, on separate occasions, why I say sorry when I do. I have long regarded "I'm sorry" as a gesture of hospitality in tense or difficult situations, but I am beginning to rethink that. I am grateful to my gentle adversaries for inviting me to see beyond my limited vision of what genuine hospitality might look like from a (female) leader.
If you've never had the experience of participating in a spiritual discernment committee, I invite you to consider it. After my fifth (and final) meeting with my discernment committee for priesthood yesterday evening, my committee confirmed that they heard my call to priesthood. And that's not even the extraordinary part. The extraordinary part is that, as I prayed yesterday before my meeting, I prayed for total surrender to God's will, and for the faithfulness not to run if that will was something my ego didn't like. My total surrender granted me total, deep, quieting peace. The extraordinary part is that, having let go of my attachment to the outcome of my discernment process, I happened to read (during evening prayer) the story in Matthew about the disciples who wanted to know why they couldn't heal the sick on their own when Jesus so easily could. Jesus told them it was because they lacked faith, and that if they had faith even the size of a mustard seed, mountains would move for them. And I realized at that moment that my mustard seed faith was what had moved the mountain of my ego in order to make a straight path for Spirit to enter and dwell deep within my heart. The extraordinary part is that, despite having a clear sense of call when I walked into the process, my sense of call widened and deepened and became more rooted as the dialogue went on.
The extraordinary part is that, especially in the final two meetings, as I listened to the challenging questions of my committee members, I perceived Spirit doing the asking. And as I offered my vulnerable, open-hearted answers, I perceived Spirit speaking through me. (It's fair to say that I've never experienced God's voice speaking to me so powerfully as I have in my discernment committee meetings, and for a Benedictine who hears God speaking to her through liturgy and scripture and encounters with others all the time, that's saying a lot.)
The extraordinary part is that, despite my Enneagram-three-personality-type's desire to manage a situation in such a way that the outcome is "positive," I was required to relinquish my ability to do that in order to speak plainly and truthfully. I was painfully aware that my deep honesty could at any moment result in the humiliation of my ego, and I spoke anyway. In that total risk of my ego, I realized it was not my ego that spoke, but Spirit.
When I walked out of my meeting last night, I had no idea what my committee members had heard. I didn't know what they would say. My three-ish ability to anticipate the outcome of the process failed me spectacularly. And I perceived in my failure the possibility of God's success--success in finding a way to make use of the quirky instrument that I am.
My committee is passing me on to the next steps of the discernment process, steps that will be challenging in their own ways. What my committee heard may not be confirmed by the next folks I encounter in the discernment process. But what happens next is not my concern.
The most important piece to emerge for me from this discernment process is the profound recognition that my heart--my whole heart--belongs to the one I call God. Whatever comes, I know that I will be faithful to the path God has prepared for me. I won't turn away. This is God's gig, and I am God's beautiful, imperfect instrument.
What song(s) will God choose to play through me for the uplifting, healing, and reconciling of her creation?
My dear friend, Denise, has given me a number of CD's in the past--she gave out CD's as party favors for her daughter's fifth birthday party, and she gave me a couple of CD's to listen to as travel music for our journey out of California and into Arizona. One of the songs on one of those CD's caught my attention a month or two ago: "It’s Amazing" by Jem. It's one of those songs that catches your ear--her cool, low, non-urgent voice makes the song very singable, and my humming has turned to singing as I've listened to the song more closely. I was surprised to realize that this was a song about following the deepest desires of one's heart. Do it, now, you know who you are You feel it in your heart and you're burning with ambition But first, wait, won't get it on a plate You're gonna have to work for it harder an’ harder And I know, ‘cause I've been there before Knocking on the doors with rejection [rejection] And you'll see, ‘cause if it's meant to be Nothing can compare to deserving your dreams This has become an anthem for me, both for my discernment process in particular and for my life in general. The trouble I've discovered with intentional listening is that I often listen through the voices I have heard before, and often the most powerful voices from my past have shut me down.
Patience, now, frustration’s in the air And people who don't care well it's gonna get you down And you'll, fall, yes you will hit a wall But get back on your feet an’ you'll be stronger and smarter And I know, ‘cause I've been there before Knocking down the doors won't take no for an answer And you'll see, ‘cause if it's meant to be Nothing can compare to deserving your dreams
It turns out that it was usually the unpowerful voices--the voices who had little if any influence over my opportunities--that urged and whispered and cheered me on, naming my gifts in truth and freedom. As I listen to the prophetic sung words of Jem, I find that the power in the voices of my life is shifting. Don't be embarrassed Don't be afraid Don't let your dreams slip away It's determination and using your gift And everybody has a gift Never give up Never believe the hype Trust your instincts and most importantly You've got nothing to lose So just go for it
The great challenge of my life, at age 32, is to speak with the conviction of my heart without holding back for fear of anything, whether it's fear of being misunderstood, fear of being perceived as arrogant, or fear of being regarded as simply wrong. In order to embrace my conviction, I've had to let go of my ego's desire to manage everyone's image of me and simply present myself and my call--my heart's deepest, most life-giving, energizing desire--as I understand them in their fullness. The conviction of my heart bears a truth that is greater than power.
It's amazing, it's amazing All that you can do It's amazing, makes my heart sing Now it's up to you As I continue to listen and speak in my discernment circle, I bring my whole self to the conversation with the intention of being fully seen--by others, by God, and by me. The hardest questions have invited new clarity; the easiest questions have affirmed how much work I've already done to hear God's call for my life. As I seek to balance the voices that invite deeper questioning and voices that deeply affirm, how do I hold all the voices in tension with the longing that God has planted deep within me, which only I can speak?