Not long ago I posted the serenity prayer, which for me goes like this:
Thea, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
This evening I was granted the courage to change something that I never even imagined myself changing. My relief at having made this change is like a steady rain over dry soil. I am flooded with refreshment and relief.
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.
I was invited to offer a guest blog post on Path: Ethic, a blog that discusses ethical issues on subjects from politics to philosophy to parenting (and beyond). From the blog description:
Whether we desire a religious roadmap to show us which path is the right (or the righteous) one, or whether we insist on stories from the Ancients to tell us how to lead our lives in the future: in this complicated world where we connect everyday with others who are so similar yet separate from us, what does it mean to lead a moral life, to tread gently, to do least harm?
I wanted to create a space to ask those questions. Not to ask ‘what would Jesus or Buddha or Queen Victoria do?’, but rather, ‘what should WE do?’. This is a place to look at what is happening around us and think about what role we choose to play. It is a place to discuss and ponder and to always ask why.
Path: Ethic is a blog that transcends the blogger's usual trap of navel-gazing and serves as a gathering place for people who seek to discuss practical answers to life's most important questions.
You can find my guest post, "Secret of my success," here.
Sister Thea Bowman was a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, and she changed the face of the African-American Roman Catholic Church.
Sister Thea was a woman who led with joy, story, music, and a sharp intellect. She was a woman who had the power to speak prophetically against injustice in ways that would soften the hearts of even old white bishops--again and again. Her power was the power to tell a story, to preach without a fourth wall, to engage others at the level of senses and emotion and experience.
She died from cancer a couple of weeks before I turned eight years old. It was another twenty years before I knew who she was.
When I make my solemn profession as a Benedictine Canon next spring, I plan to take Sister Thea's name as my religious name. I see in Sister Thea a bright, strong, gentle, humble, magnetic leader who could tear down any Jericho walls with the dulcimer sounds of her story-telling-and-transforming voice.
Do I have the courage to be more than I am? Do I have the humility to let go of my own weighty importance so I can fly with the wild, light Spirit in whom I put my trust and hopes?