Recently, Amber Hikes, director of Philadelphia's Office of LGBT Affairs, approved a motion adding two more stripes, black and brown, to the current 6-tone rainbow flag, as a part of the city's More Color More Pride initiative, an initiative that "strives to create an even more inclusive community", while also seeking to "celebrate the stories of those who have been typically left out of the LGBTQ experience, including people of color and people of the transgender/gender nonconforming experience".
just because I'm silent, just because I give my voice a rest, does not mean that I become invisible. In fact, perhaps in my silence, I might actually let myself be seen, not merely from a distance but up close, where one can see my intricacies and beauty, my simplicity and complexity interwoven. Perhaps in my silence, I can let myself be called not great, not excellent, but simply "good" and hear it as a blessing, as an affirmation. Maybe in my silence, I can give someone else the space to share what they're feeling and receive it as a gift, something special. And just maybe, my silence will make room for God to speak and be heard. Maybe, just maybe...
During the years when I was aware of my sexuality but in active denial of it, my nighttime prayers were filled with groans and audible yearning for God to change me. My school days were filled with torment and taunting, name-calling, and outright shame. There was no hiding who I was from my peers, despite my valiant efforts. Even the girlfriends I had throughout elementary, middle, and high school later admitted their awareness of my identity.
Yet the vessel cannot see its flame Not without gazing upon itself in a mirror Not without looking outward, outside of itself
The vessel cannot understand the Brilliance emanating from it
Not without having first experienced the darkness, the shadows
Not without having first dwelled in the abyss of blackness
Having completed my first silent retreat, I know I will go again. I know not to try to do it for as long of a time period, and I know to plan ahead for spiritual direction while I'm there (or wherever else I end up going). I know that while it's a fruitful time, it's not restful, not for someone as contemplative or emotionally engaged as I am. I know it will mostly likely bring forth more questions than answers, a reality I expected. And I know that I'll come out of it better, drained but ready to be strengthened by my return to the real world away from the bells and the silence.
My point is this: I'm not alone. No one is alone (yes, all you Sondheim fans, I just went there). In this fact alone I've found some solace. Traveling along a river, climbing some cliffs, traversing a canyon, I find comfort knowing that someone is only a duck-call away (forgive me, the lowly city boy who struggles with nature analogies). Even this afternoon, I had a phone call with a new friend who is also asking questions, who is engaged, who wants to go deeper. In fact, I've had a number of these conversations as of late. Maybe that's why I'm content being in the wilderness. Maybe the wilderness has more to offer than the real world, than the insanity of urban, bureaucratic institutional life.
My relationship with God has not been easy to maintain lately. I've struggled with a slew of difficult questions about my future, my beliefs, and my faith, most of which have not come accompanied by answers. I've battled against anger and bitterness. I came to conference hoping to release some of these feelings, and nearly 3,000 feet off the ground this morning, I was able to release some.
Winter is here finally. After having major ups and downs in the temperature, things finally seem to be settling. The city seems quieter, and the nights are longer.
Silence. Darkness. Two things that previously bothered the hell out of me. I couldn't stand either. These days, it would seem I've fallen in love with both. I haven't been watching as much TV as I used to. Instead I've spent more time reading (and writing). I've also taken more time to simply just sit quietly and comfortable in my IKEA chair, you know, the one everyone seems to have. Mine is light birch with the more affordable red cushion. The same goes for the footstool. It's become my resting spot.
It's been getting darker and darker as well. We're past the point of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, but it will probably be sometime before we start to truly notice the days getting longer and the darkness dissipating.
Personally, I've started to like the darkness. In fact, I might even call us friends.
For the longest time, I've struggled with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of mental illness that manifests in depressive symptoms during the winter season. As someone already diagnosed with clinical depression, SAD further exacerbates the symptoms I already experience. To put this in other terms, the cold and the dark take a huge toll on my emotional well-being.
This year seems different. Rather than coming home and turning on more lights than are contained in the NYC New Year's ball, I do something different. I light candles. Not a ton of them, but enough that the apartment feels cozy. And as they burn out, I don't rush to fill their vacancies. I sit quietly letting the room get darker and darker until the only light is the one coming from my relaxation fountain. Some nights, I even turn that off and just sit in the dark living room. No TV. No Spotify, Pandora, or iTunes. Just me and my thoughts. Something I couldn't have done last year or the year before. Last year, I was in the middle of grieving Nanny. The year before, I was still in shock from my first semester of seminary and stressed over taking Frankie with me to KY for the holidays.
This year, I'm resting. I'm sitting. I'm feeling and writing and thinking and not thinking. I'm being.
In the silence and in the darkness, I face someone truly horrifying: myself. And you know what? I'm not that horrible.
I've been working the last couple of weeks on papers for school, one of which will determine whether or not I graduate. One fifty-page first draft later, and my mind is feeling more at ease. I've spent the last two and a half months sitting, wrestling with, and facing many questions. Questions about myself, my family, my relationship, my career, my faith, and many other things. I let myself journey out into the wilderness of silence and darkness and face the truth about my life. I don't have the answers to some of the questions I face, but I do have answers to some. Some of them, I didn't like so much. But when we face the presence of genuine, irrefutable truth, even when we don't like it, we can't deny its validity, its reality.
In the silence and in the darkness, I am learning that I have made more mistakes than I care to admit. Simultaneously, I am learning about my worth, my value, and my character. About the goodness that is part of who I am as the Beloved. Neither of these realities is easy to accept. The former is hard to accept because I want to believe that I'm capable of being better than the mistakes I've made. The latter is hard to accept because I think the mistakes I've made are not only worse than they really are, but also that they define me in my fullness.
In the silence and in the darkness, I learn that reconciliation is possible. I learn that I am good. I learn that I am loved. I learn that I have something worth saying and something worth being heard. I learn how to listen to myself better so that I can later listen to others better. I've realized that the times I struggle with listening to others, I do so because I'm struggling to listen to myself. I can't listen to them as well as I should because the voice in my head is telling me that no one is really listening to me.
The next time you get a chance, when you get home, don't turn any lights on. Maybe just long enough to get into your sleep clothes and grab a glass of water. Once you've done that, light a candle or two, turn the lights off, and sit. Listen to your thoughts. Recognize them. Listen to your breath, your heartbeat. Listen to the voice of the silence and the heartbeat of the darkness. Hear what they have to say to you. Soak it up. Change.
Turn the lights back on. After all, you wouldn't want to trip over something in the dark.