Parallel Paths

Earlier, I said that I never understood why a psychologically healthy Gay man would ever willingly choose to be Christian with all the homophobia it seems to engender.  In truth, I might be able to understand the impulse to give Christianity a “fair shake” more than I let on.  Every Gay man in the Western World has loved ones who identify as Christian.  Christianity is so ubiquitous, and we will do things for love that we would never do for any other reason. — from “The Things We Do for Love,” by Casey Giovinco

My story and experience are different from yours. I am, in the words of a former partner, a “recovering Catholic.” But my story did not begin “willingly.” Rather, I’m a product of my upbringing and the paths I’ve walked over the years.

I was born and grew up in a Catholic household; my parents and sisters are staunch Catholics. I began moving away from the Catholic Church when I became aware of my homosexual feelings, and when I could not find solace or answers in Catholic dogma to the questions I had about God and spirituality when I was a teenager. As I grew older, I became dissatisfied with my family’s religion, to the point when, to their dismay, I stopped attending mass on Sundays. That episode did not go over well.

Strangely, I’m in the narrow minority of recovering Catholics who found words of encouragement, love, and acceptance from a priest who, in one of my confessions, said to me: “You are not a sin. God loves you. He made you. And none of God’s creatures is flawed or sinful. For all we know, God’s purpose for you is to help others within the Church understand, love, embrace, and welcome you and other gay men and women into the church.” This blew me away. Three weeks later, when I went back to talk to the same priest, I was told he had been transferred to another parish.

Over time, I learned to differentiate and separate church dogma from Jesus’s message. For me, the twain do not meet, intersect, or see eye to eye — at least in the words, actions, and political leanings of the “conservative” and “evangelical” communities based in the US. In my view, there’s Jesus and his teachings, and there’s what the Church decides to teach and emphasize. The two are not the same — in neither spirit nor action.

After 9/11, when I heard [conservative] Christians asking for retaliation and war against Muslim countries, I found that I was unable, and unwilling anymore, to defend my Catholic/Christian upbringing and the teachings of a church that, under the Pope at the time, had lost its way in teaching love, humility, tolerance, and compassion.

My spiritual journey thus took me to study Buddhism, where I found the teachings of the Buddha mirroring Christ’s almost word for word. Later, I found that it is Jesus the one who mirrors the Buddha’s teachings almost word for word. In Buddhism, I found a home, means, and place to mend a broken heart that had been shredded to pieces by the man I was dating while we engaged in an abusive relationship. Years later, while attending acupuncture school, I learned Taoist and Chinese philosophy that helped me connect with the spiritual and physical world around me without the aid or intercession of saints or priestly benedictions.

A few years ago, in the midsts of a crisis of faith — that later became an emotional breakdown— I decided that what I wanted was to have a more direct, personal experience with the divine. Through the reading and study of pagan myths, mystical experiences, and shamanic journeying I was finally able to connect and touch the divine within me in a way that no gospel, meditative practice, or Taoist ritual had allowed me to experience previously.

The twist in that last statement, however, is that without having learned or practiced all the previous “religious” exercises, I would not have been able to tap into the spiritual Source that dwells and runs through every person and sentient being in the universe. For, through my Catholic upbringing, I  learned about angels, saints, family ancestors, and divine beings who help us in our personal and spiritual quests when we ask for their aid. In Buddhism, I learned the practice of meditation, which saved my life and my mind on numerous occasions, and is now the foundation of my spiritual and healing work. Taoism taught me about the Tao, connecting with the earth through shamanic practices, and is the foundation to my healing practice: acupuncture and Oriental herbal medicine. Simply put, it’s the culmination of those previous religious and spiritual practices that helped me now make a home in a pagan brotherhood of spiritual, gay men who practice a gay-centric and gay-affirming spiritual path that helps me feel whole and at peace.

I cannot, however, walk by a church — gothic in style, and old in facade — without feeling the tug and pull of my family’s faith. The feeling is there, and it’s made a peaceful home in my heart. Over time, I have learned to appreciate and care for it. Now, I only enter a church when it’s empty or when a service is not taking place.

When I do, I sit in a back pew, fold my legs, close my eyes, and meditate. I recite the prayers my grandmother taught me. I’ll look for a familiar saint who came to my rescue in desperate times, and I’ll sit and enjoy the Gregorian chants and music I loved to listen to as a kid that almost seduced me into the priestly fold of the church.

It won’t be unusual for a priest or a nun to come by and welcome me. They will inquire if I’m well, or if there is a request they can pray for on my behalf. I thank them for their kindness, and sometimes chat briefly with them, until they decide there is no more to be said or to be done. Unwittingly, the message has been delivered.

After they’ve walked away and I find myself alone, I close my eyes one more time and say: “Thank you, God/ess, for asking. I’m well. I love you. We’re good. You’re good. Thank you for the many lifelines you’ve thrown me. Thank you for remaining and walking next to me all these years — even when I’ve been bitchy and crabby to you and those around me. I found the home that feels right for me now. There, I can live and feel your love within and without. I will now meet you in the woods, at the sacred bonfire surrounded by my ancestors. I just thought I’d come and say hello where our conversation started — to remind myself, and you, that I haven’t forgotten the promise I made a long time ago.”