By Eryn Connery
It was a night I couldn’t bear to be home with my thoughts, so I ran to her. Down the street – the rough concrete paving the ground, paving a world that I felt might as well have been coming to an end – I was running away and running toward. Fleeing the family I thought would hate me if I told them the truth, I ran to the girl I had fallen for in secret. No one, not even her, knew why I cried that night. Running blind down the street between our houses, too young to even comprehend the new, strange desperation that pushed me, stumbling, a clumsy child.
I came crying through her door, and her father found me first, pulling me into his arms. He placed a hand on my head and prayed fervently, eyes closed, while mine remained open. Will Pentecostal prayers still bless a girl in love with the pastor’s daughter? Can they? I heard her come down the stairs, she reached for my hands and I fell into her, heavy under the weight of the world. It was a world I couldn’t explain, whispering “it’s nothing, it’s nothing,” over and over as she pressed her face into my hair. “Amen,” her father said. And so be it.
And so it was. I was a good Christian girl – and suddenly, I was standing in a place where faith and love seemed to collide, battling with claws out around a fourteen-year-old who was too afraid to even open her mouth to ask for help. I had found a truth in the eyes of one of my closest friends, a truth that seemed to explain all of my little inconsistencies and made me feel somehow both completely whole and completely empty. Suddenly church went from a haven to a hell. I felt like a foreigner in a world that I had once considered my home, and I couldn’t sing praise songs the way I once could. Prayers were no longer simply rhymes murmured before meals and before sleep, I found myself on my knees in my room, begging forgiveness from God, God who I thought hated me, who I thought had cursed me, who I thought had abandoned me in this darkness.
I would love to be able to say that I was able to trust my God and that everything turned out beautifully. It did not turn out beautifully. People that had loved me for years turned their backs on me when I told them I was gay, afraid to dirty their rosaries on the hands of sinners. When I broke, I turned my back on faith completely. I stopped going to church unless dragged, I stopped praying, I stopped caring about spirituality. I had nothing but scorn for religion. I watched myself become bitter as my young world came undone, and I clung to my loneliness as if it could save me.
“Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me…”
Years later, I began to rebuild.
It started when I began to find beauty in faiths that I had never been shown – when a Jewish woman took me under her wing like I was her own daughter, when I was taught by a Buddhist to meditate with a set of malas, when I watched a documentary on the pilgrimage to Mecca. I began to put myself back together with pieces that I found in places I never would have thought to look, I began to open my heart to the whispers of the world, a divinity that I had always experienced but hadn’t dared to attribute to a loving creator. As I rebuilt myself after being broken by abandonment, I rebuilt my faith, too. And gingerly, with shaking hands, I reached back to the Christian faith, back to the place I thought wasn’t built for me. I found poetry and acceptance where I had once only seen hatred and bitterness.
I do not wear a cross, or a star of David, or my malas around my wrist. My spirituality, my strange mix of faiths that I rolled up into a ball and tucked into my ribs to sit beside my heart, defines me both as much and as little as my sexuality. A theist, a loose term, not a label really, simply an admission that I have a trust in something bigger than myself. My love of the world and what may beyond it is big and curious and open. My honesty is returning, and I am not as afraid as I once was to admit I am a lesbian to someone who wears a cross around their neck.
It is a story that isn’t close to over. I wear my rainbow pin, my admission of my sexuality, but also a quiet reminder of what it means in Christianity – forgiveness. I am still learning to forgive people, to forgive the world. I am still learning that my answers aren’t the same as everyone else’s, my parents are still learning that I am a more complex soul than they once thought, and I am learning to love them for their tradition. And it has taken no learning at all to sing the songs of worship my father wrote on his guitar, because whatever love he feels for his God, I feel the same for mine. In my heart, I believe they are the same God anyway – and unity is what I crave, what I love, what I pray for.