Google Alerts notifies me whenever a blogger mentions contemplative prayer (among several other topics I keep an eye on). This morning, it directed me to a reference to contemplation in a blog called Tita’s Catacomb: Reclaiming Sexuality and Soul. Most bloggers write about contemplative prayer either to celebrate it or condemn it, but right away I saw that this blog belonged to a category all its own. Its description pretty much says it all: “A written commentary documenting my efforts to emancipate myself from the direct control and manipulation of institutional Christianity. This is for all the truly spiritual people who, like me, have recognized what a soul killer, institutional Christianity is.” I spent about fifteen minutes scrolling through the blog. The author is either a very colorful storyteller or tragic in her wounding. She details paranoia (“At this point, barring a miracle, I realize that I will never be a human being again–I have lost both the freedom to live my sexuality and experience my soul. I cannot stop the NSA from drugging me; as a matter of fact they have put two implants in my brain which not only track me, but I suspect drug me as well.”), agony (“I worry about pain and damage to my liver, but I was out of my mind with pain from muscle spasms and nerve pain in my left leg from speed”), and depression (“vegetable–that is what I am –not a human being at all. Spent all day in bed, forced myself to go for a walk and realized that I wasn’t in reality at all. Living in a coccooned world where it is so hard and overwhelming just to recognize reality much less relate to it. I will go watch TV, Good old TV–always there for the vegetables”). Whew. Reading further, it became clear that much of Tita’s angst stems from being a lesbian in a church that has labeled her as “objectively disordered.”
I’m not a psychiatrist and am certainly not qualified to comment on the mental illness that is detailed in this blog (whether fictional or not). I do have enough sense to recognize that severe mental illness stems from a variety of sources. Having said all that, it makes perfect sense to me that someone who is gay or lesbian who tries earnestly to live according to the precepts of conservative Christianity (whether Catholic or otherwise) could easily be at risk for descending into madness. The cognitive dissonance that must arise from trying to integrate same-gender affectional orientation with a “moral” theology that is so thoroughly dismissive and hostile, it seems to me, can only lead to a person rejecting such conservative religion altogether, or else allowing their spirit to be crushed by this fundamentalist world-view. The title of Tita’s blog suggests that she at least has attempted to free herself from the church; but the discourse within it points to that second, more horrible outcome.
I posted a comment on the blog suggesting that its author read Sara Miles. Thankfully, people like Sara Miles, Gene Robinson, Bob Goss, Patrick Nidorf and Mel White are living examples that gay Christians do not have to choose between rejecting the church and rejecting their own sexuality. By rejecting only toxic conservative theology, such Christians have found a way to remain faithful to Christ while also accepting, rather than condemning, themselves. While such openly gay Christians may be the target of homophobic Christians and the religious right, they are witnesses to the fact that one can love and serve Christ even in the presence of misunderstanding and hostility from the church. As Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11).
But for every Mel White or Sara Miles out there, how many Titas are there: Christians who suffer, dramatically or silently, from the seemingly irreconcilable gulf that separates conservative Christianity from non-mainstream sexuality? Maybe more to the point of my own personal identity as a married Catholic contemplative, what are my obligations, both to the church and to those who have been wounded by it? My brother once defended my decision to become a Catholic to a lesbian friend of his — a former Catholic who dismisses the church as irredeemably patriarchal and hostile to gay people — by saying, “Carl believes that change comes from within.” It’s a splendid pun, for while I may have literally no power to change the Catholic Church, the fact that I am trying to be faithful to God’s call to change myself “from within,” will, I believe, have its own repercussions in my community of faith — and no matter how infinitesimally small such a repercussion might be, I still believe in its importance and in God’s ability to use it for good in some way. Whenever anyone emerges into a higher level of consciousness, the entire planet benefits. Learning how to be a radically loving, inclusive, and non-judgmental Christian without succumbing to the temptation to hate or be embittered by the church’s spectacular failure to live by the gospel, is, I believe, the task that all contemplatives — indeed, all Christians who seek to be conscious and mindful — are called to. It is a long journey ahead of us. In the meantime, I weep for all the “Titas” out there. Because even if “Tita’s Catacomb” is itself a work of fiction, there are countless others whose lives are imprisoned in their own versions of hell — maybe not as dramatically ill as Tita, but nevertheless lacerated by the pain of living in a community that relentlessly says you are not okay.