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.
Last Tuesday my baby daughter and I traveled to Ohio to visit family and friends. Many wonderful, loving, fruitful meetings took place, and my daughter and I hardly stopped moving except to sleep. My heart is full with marvelous memories of the trip. I have much from the trip to reflect on over the coming days, but one insight stands out for me: the home of my childhood, whose land and people I love, is no longer my home. My home is in the desert, a place that I would never have imagined myself living in even a year ago. What other surprises await my life as I open myself to the possibility of the unexpected?
Today is the feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary (mother of Jesus). He is widely regarded by Christians as the father who adopted, cared for, and protected the son of God. This is also the day my mother's father was born. I don't mean my biological grandfather, but the grandfather who chose--with my grandmother--to adopt my mother when she had just been born. They were childless and middle-aged, and they took a leap. Without their leap, which one might regard as an act of exceptional obedience to God's call in their lives, you wouldn't be reading this. My grandfather honored his birthday patron well, and I can't help thinking of him when March 19 comes around. Below I offer a tribute to my memories of his generosity and love, written in the form of a letter, dated several days after his death. I was a senior in high school when he died. December 8, 1999
I never got to tell you all this stuff...because after a while, I stopped coming to your house. I began riding the bus to school, and rarely got the chance to go to the 5 & 10 with your complimentary $2. I stopped sleeping over at your house, and began having my own sleepovers. Every place you took me, every memory we shared, grew obsolete as I grew up. The memories were gems, but I didn't know what to do, with you so sick.
I was frightened.
There was so much I didn't know about you. Even though you fixed my knees when I scraped them on the gravel, gave me Squirt from the basement when I was thirsty, let me play on the ivy, gave me rides in the car with the blue interior, and gave me lots of bread for the ducks at the park, all I knew of you was the grandpa side. When you took me and Jasmine to the monument and got us hamburgers to quiet our stomachs, you were the wonderful grandpa, but did I know you? When you were there for my Confirmation, standing as my sponsor, you were kind and patient, but did I know you?
And when you read that article in the newspaper about me, talking about what I'd done for Hoops for Heart in ninth grade, you were so impressed that you gave me my wish, a second thought I'd thrown in during the reporter's interview. You bought the computer that I type on now, that I've cherished so much....
You only bought the computer--you didn't help in its selection. You were afraid with all of us that you would buy the wrong thing--that we wouldn't be happy. There was only one exception--the exception you made for me. Was it my fourth or fifth birthday? when I received the stuffed clown, the one I named Pepper, the one who rules among all my Barbie dolls and stuffed animals. Pepper was the best gift I'd ever received, because it was the only one you dared to give. And it was perfect.
Those butter cookies are getting stale. The oyster crackers are drying out. The V8 might last a little longer, but not forever. Your offerings of food and drink will never sate me again. The davenport will grow dusty, as all the rooms did. I won't sprawl my sleeping bag on the dented green carpet in the living room, with my red-print nightgown and Care-bears. I won't touch the nightlight. I won't play with the lovely dancer on the shelf. I won't climb on tiptoe to see the mirror.
All these things, even the ones unmentioned, will become dimmer in my mind as time continues its path. Tears will trickle down my cheeks as I struggle to remember all those things....
But in the meantime, I will watch, listen, and learn. There were many things about you I didn't know. You were more than a wonderful grandpa--you were a wonderful person! I want to know that person. Maybe, if I learn more about that person, I will learn more about myself--or at least have something to aspire to.
I hope you have listened, and filled in the blanks where I forgot.
In the rare moments when I come across an important realization about myself, particularly if it is brought to my attention by someone else, my gut instinct is to withdraw. I want to hide in my secret corner and examine this new thing, reviewing my memories and experiences for evidence that this realization is actually true of me. Sometimes it's exciting to behold a new facet of myself, and I take delight in gazing in my new mirror. Sometimes it's humiliating, and I want to squeeze my eyes shut till the pain gets buried away. When a realization hurts, time slows--time doesn't want me to miss out on feeling every excruciating part of it. Time is generous like that. Do I choose to bury the hurt, where it might take root and flourish in me? Or do I pluck it out, hold it up, and expose it to the light long enough that it dries up and becomes dust?