There are days when I am reminded of the stigma of darkness and rejection. Today is one of them. I lived for 22 years in the dark closet of self-hate and lies that I honestly feel like I will live forever with a mild, but very real, case of PTSD. That story still feels very vulnerable to me. I wished for so long to be anything other than what I was. Prayed. Fought. Did everything a faithful Christian ought because that’s what the Church taught me I should do. My cross to bear was one of constant striving against the “Enemy” who was going to constantly tempt to toward perversion. They taught me and I believed it.
Until I didn’t.
Until I decided to walk away from the Church. Anyone who knows me story, or who has ever shared a cup of coffee (never Folgers) or glass of bourbon with me (neat, never watered down), knows that there came a point in my spiritual journey approximately six years ago when I came face-to-face with God, and it was either going to be him or me. I won. Actually, God – loving, expansive, and mysterious won out over God – hateful, vengeful, and small. I decided I had had enough of people telling me how evil or perverse I was. I had had enough of people telling me they disagreed with my “lifestyle” (as if I ever asked them their opinion). I had had enough of people forcing me to live in shame for something that was incredibly beautiful – the willingness to love another human being and, in so doing, a willingness to be opened to love of God made flesh in Christ). I had had enough of not being able to love myself for fear that I’d anger a capricious god. I had had enough. So I stared down the god who hated me (or hated a part of me that was actually central to how I experience the world… but I’m not one to parse hate. Hate is hate, even if you baptize it) and dared him to speak another word of hate to me. Double-dog-dared him. Say one more hateful thing to me and I’m leaving.
And then God spoke. She spoke through a homily that invited me to “come away and rest awhile,” through the hospitality of a stranger who welcomed a very broken me, through the “flesh-and-blood” embrace of bread and wine and the invitation to enter into a mysterious love-affair with God. She spoke and in that instant, I heard not “hate” but “I love you.” I was looking for God to give me a reason to leave. Instead God gave me a reason to stay, a reason to die, and a reason to live. God died that day. God was resurrected that very instant. My years in the closet had set me up to bear witness to resurrection right before my very eyes and, much like the egg that St. Mary Magdalene is often depicted holding, to hold it in my hands, and to behold it in my heart.
Now, I had heard “I love you” before, but never did it sound so pure and never did it penetrate so deeply. “You? Love me? But how?” I had been invited into conversation with She who is beyond knowing while I knelt in deep contrition at the altar-rail of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church ready to walk away from it all. “Taste and see.”
In case you are wondering, if ever you catch my eye during or after Holy Communion and you see them become a little misty, it is because I am remembering the moment the Love of Christ became abundantly and penetratingly real to me. Fierce allegiance to that love and the ground of all love itself is what prompted me to give my life away in service to him who gave me his all. “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?” Everything. Every. Single. Thing.
It strikes me on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene that she and I might be cut from the same cloth. I woke up this morning and in typical, millennial fashion, the first thing I did (even before praying) was scroll through my Twitter feed (don’t judge me). I ran across a series of tweets from The Rev. Daniel D. Brereton (@RevDaniel) that struck a chord with me. He waxed eloquent, though appropriately concise (Twitter begs for conciseness) about Mary being “healed” by being “known.” Mary was one who followed Jesus “not for what she hoped to get, but for what she’d already been given.” In that moment, it occurred to me that I am Mary. I am she who was made whole by a God who knew me and invited me into healing community.
Mary Magdalene is the Patron Saint of everyone who was ever broken and found themselves healed, ostracized and rejected yet found themselves deeply and abundantly loved. Folks may have called her “possessed,” Pope Gregory may have labeled her a “prostitute,” and she herself may have called herself “unworthy,” but Jesus Christ, when she came to his tomb early on Easter Sunday morning distraught because she couldn’t find the body of her Lord, he who is the ground and source of all love itself called her “Mary.” (I would break out into the chorus of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” but it seems mildly inappropriate here… but I bet you’re singing it right now).
If I feel like Mary sometimes and struggle to live into the bigness of that love, that’s alright, because I’ve been invited in. I wrestled with God and became new. I have become a disciple with an experience and a testimony that “there is no secret what the Lord can do! What he’s done for me, I know he’ll do the same for you!”
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for me, that I might be as bold as you are, to declare the power of Christ’s resurrection to a world suffocating in closets and dying in darkness.