In the last year, many of us have gotten weirder. I have become more religious.
I was raised in the church, and because I like books and ritual and community and art, it rooted deeply. When I went to boarding school, I was surrounded for the first time by people who were not raised in generally the Christian church. Some were non-religious and raised in families where religion was not present at all. Many were from other countries where the majority religions were other than Christianity.
I found myself surprised to have nothing to say to these people—all of my evangelizing concepts had been developed around what bringing Jesus Christ into your life, and they did not have much to say to why Christianity?
The church I was raised in had no respect for a pluralistic faith that saw the light in other religions, nor the value in faith that did not try to convert others. That became the tip of the wedge that drove religion out of my life. By the time I started discovering my sexuality and having to accept or reject the idea that my church offered me two paths: denial and heterosexual conformity or a lifetime of tortured marginalization, I decided that there was no room for me in the church.
I could never break from it completely. The art and music still moved me. The sensitivity to something other than this world, the place from which I could look at the world and see how contingent all of our circumstances are on social ideas and history, I also found in Plato’s realm of Forms, and E.T.A. Hoffman’s realm of art and music beyond language, and Jean Toomer’s vision of a future beyond race and sexuality.
Over time, my sense of myself began to settle into something that could not be blown around or bullied, and the church environment became less threatening. I miss the sense of cross-generational community, and the beauty of singing in a body of untrained voices. This is a tough world to maintain a sense of meaning if you are not making it.
Other artists trying to integrate faith into the life of an artist made their way to me. The incredible, literary quality and artistic integrity of Stephen Cone’s films floored me, particularly Princess Cyd. Discovering the drive of Dorothy Day to do good, and of the poet (I can no longer remember who) that would sit in the back of the church during Mass, never returning to the church but in some kind of relationship with it nevertheless.
It’s still hard for me to imagine attending church services regularly. I no longer have the expectation that things or people must be perfectly resolved and completely comprehensible in order for me to engage with them. Yet it’s hard for me to imagine attending church services regularly. Could I really be seen, be myself? Do I dare to dream that that aspect of myself, in all of its keen and sinister dimensions, can be experienced in loving community?
I suspect not, but I have less patience now for the sterile and monotonous loneliness of a life holding myself apart from others.