We are halfway to Spring! So many cultures celebrate this day, or this change of season. For just a few examples: Imbolc or Brigid’s Day for Celtic people, Apuknajit (the winter spirit) for Mi’kmaq people, Candlemas in Catholic liturgy, Groundhog Day in secular America. They hearken to the coming Spring, and offer courage for getting through the rest of the winter. Here at our home in Maine, I can feel the change in the quality and angle of the sunlight. My heart is lifted by its brightness.
We’ve recently had a triple set of snowstorms, so the ground is finally covered in snow after nothing much in December. It too adds to the brightness. I love how it also reveals the creatures who live here with us. I’ve seen deer tracks going through the orchard all the way back across the frozen pond and into the hedgerow. You can see their traces in the photo above. I was also delighted to find these distinct squirrel prints after a rain on top of the snow a week ago. Like little hands.
I’ve been continuing my winter project of sorting, organizing and winnowing old papers in the basement. I had started with my years in Boston 1986-1999, then moved backwards in time. I am now finished with the very earliest files-hurray! So then I moved forward from 1999. I’ve begun to sort through papers from my years on Cape Cod, 1999-2005. That has meant that I’ve also started to incorporate the winnowing of digital files on my laptop for the same years. Some of it is plodding work, comparing documents to put duplicates in the trash, renaming documents so they are easier to organize, stuff like that. But some of it includes moments of sweetness, like finding a letter from a young queer person whose life was helped along by a sermon I preached called “Believing in Fairies.” [A version of which found its way into my book, Finding Our Way Home, and was excerpted in the post The Mystery Seed.]
It does my heart good to think of those seeds of blessing planted in the hearts of people I met along the way. Sometimes we hear about it afterwards, and sometimes we may never know. When the interactions were not so blessed–since I had my share of conflict and trouble along the way–it does my heart good to shred the remnants of those interactions, and let go. Lighten the load.
Imbolc is a time for setting intentions, for shaping our hopes for the future. It is kind of like looking through seed catalogues imagining what we will plant when the next season turns. I’m not ready yet for seed catalogues and intentions. But it is good to remember that the sorting and winnowing of my past life will not go on forever. I don’t know what sort of seed I want to plant for the future. That is still a mystery to me. But I am good with a mystery seed.
I saw a funny story on Facebook about a child who thought that bird seed grew birds. They showed their parents the proof–they planted a big pile of bird seed outside, and the following day, there was a whole flock of birds gathered round the spot. Maybe that is what I will plant today–filling the bird feeder with seed so that they will have nourishment for the deep freeze we are expecting in a couple days. I understand that Mi’kmaq people put out food for Apuknajit so that the winter spirit will be remembered and be kind. Maybe that is part of feeding the birds too–to remember our fellow creatures during these cold winter times, so that all of us might make it through to the spring.
On March 14th, at 1 p.m. Queer Spirit will broadcast an interview with me, done by Revs. Marvin Ellison and Tamara Torres McGovern. Queer Spirit is a regular feature of OUT Cast, a forum for LGBTQ+ issues broadcast on community radio every Monday. WMPG 90.9 FM from 1:00 – 1:30 p.m. (Livestream: WMPG.org) One of the questions they asked: “What do you think has been your generation’s unique struggle with sexuality and spiritualty – and what would you say is your generation’s contribution to these matters?” I thought about what I had written in my book, Finding Our Way Home, in a chapter called “The Mystery Seed.” I want to share an excerpt with you today.
Do you remember the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk? When he and his mother are in desperate straits, Jack trades their cow for some magical bean seeds. The bean seeds grow overnight into a vine that reaches up to the sky. He climbs the vine and encounters an evil giant, who eats human beings, but Jack is able to escape with a magical hen that lays golden eggs, and a golden harp that plays by itself. He learns from a fairy that the giant’s castle is actually his very own—he is really a prince whose father was killed by the giant. In the end, he kills the giant, and recovers his hidden inheritance.
So what does this have to do with us? The bean seeds enable Jack to connect with who he truly is, and with a larger reality beyond the small cabin he shares with his mother. Within each one of us is something like those magical bean seeds. We are so much more than we can imagine. We might say inside each of us is a Mystery seed, a seed of what we might become. This Mystery seed is our potential to connect with the larger Mystery of which we are a part; it is the Divine within us that connects to the Divine beyond us, it is the fractal pattern of life and love and creativity. This seed is not only in some of us, not only in fairy tales or kings or saints, but in every one of us.
What evidence do I have for this seed of divinity within each human being? How have I personally experienced this might be so? Ironically, it has been illuminated when I faced situations where people were treated as if they had no dignity or value at all. But something within and between people transpired to bring forth a light that could not be extinguished.
When I went to college, one of my best friends slowly revealed to a few of us that he was homosexual. This was a great torment for him and for all of us who loved him, because we were very devoted Catholics. According to Catholic teaching, homosexuality was against the laws of nature. Tom would try hard to live celibately, and then crash, and go out and “get debauched.” He was depressed and often despaired of his life. I felt a painful contradiction in all of this—I knew he was a deeply spiritual person, so why should he suffer in this way? But I didn’t have an answer at that time.
Before I met Tom, in the reality of my youth, it was as if gay people did not exist. When I was growing up, during the 1950s and 60s, I never even heard the word lesbian, and gay only meant happy. I never saw gay people on TV, read about them in a book or newspaper, or learned about them in school. As a girl in a Catholic family there were two possibilities for my life path: I could become a wife and mother, or I could become a nun. I never even imagined the possibility of lesbian.
Tom’s dilemma introduced to me a whole category of people who were considered unworthy of sacredness. Gay people were not supposed to exist. And if they did exist, they were identified as unnatural, disordered, a mistake, a problem. African American lesbian poet Audre Lorde writes, “We were never meant to survive.”[i]
At that time it never even occurred to me I might have something in common with that group of people. I didn’t come out as a lesbian until years later, at the age of thirty-one, after a five-year process of struggle and transformation… Gays and lesbians have often been excluded or disparaged even by those who are closest to us. After I came out, one of my sisters refused to let me stay in her home because she didn’t want her children to know about gay people. I received a letter from another sister. She wrote, “I pray for you night after night… Homosexuality is wrong! And as your sister I don’t want to lose you to the devil.” Her words were those many of us have heard from parents or siblings, or from the institutions of our society.
How much guilt, despair, and shame have gay people carried in our hearts because we were not welcome in the reality defined by our culture and religion? Because we could not see the sacredness within? How many gay people have killed themselves in the pain of that reality? How many gay people have been killed, through the violence and hate of a society that has refused to include us in their definition of reality?
But so much has changed. Now it is hard to imagine I didn’t know about the existence of lesbians or gay men. Now gay people are in prime-time television. There are supportive high school groups for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Straight youth. My friend Tom eventually was able to embrace his sexuality, and share his life with a long-time partner. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to allow same sex couples to be legally married, and in the years since, marriage has been won throughout the whole country.
Even language became transformed. Words like lesbian, or queer—once painful putdowns—were reclaimed as words of honor. I remember we young activists marching and shouting, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”
So much has changed. For me, it seems like a miracle—in fact, two miracles. First, I still can be amazed I exist as a lesbian at all. How did I cross over into a whole new reality? It is as fantastical as Jack climbing a bean stalk into a castle in the sky. Second, it is remarkable that we who are queer can celebrate being queer. How did we go from being outcasts, to celebrating and believing in ourselves? How did we go from being outcasts, to demanding that reality make a place for us? To celebrate ourselves as queer we often have had to risk every other valuable thing in our lives. We’ve risked family, friends, jobs, safety. Yet this thing which was considered a problem became the “pearl of great price,”[ii] as the gospel says. This heavy burden became the hen that laid golden eggs. And it has been incredible to see!
What happens within people that they can claim the power to celebrate themselves? …What happens inside people when they refuse the rejection of society, and claim the right to name themselves valuable. When people who have been told all their lives “You are no good,” find within themselves a different voice that says, “You are sacred.” To me, this is powerful evidence of the divinity within us. And this is the premise of the work of those of us who call ourselves Liberation Theologians: the Divine is revealed in the struggle of oppressed people for liberation.[iii] It is the Mystery seed within us growing like a vine into the sky.
…That is what happened for me, too. Within a community of women, I experienced a new reality coming into being. With women who were celebrating lesbian existence, I encountered the Divine in a new way. Sometimes we called it the Goddess. Sometimes we had no name to describe it. But we felt a sacred and holy power when we seized the courage to embrace the body of another woman. Everything shifted. It no longer mattered whether we were welcome at the table of the society that excluded us. We were in a new reality and could no longer be denied.
[i] Audre Lorde, “A Litany for Survival,” The Black Unicorn: Poems (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), 31.
[iii] Liberation Theology was first articulated in 1971 by the Catholic Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, in his book, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation (1971 in Spanish, English edition Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1973).
The seed of God exists in us… Pear seed grows up into pear tree. Nut seed grows up into nut tree— God seed into God.
What might we do together if we remembered that each of us has the seed of God inside? Antoine de St. Exupery, in The Little Prince, tells us “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Each one of us is like Jack and the Beanstalk. Each one of us has within us this spark of divinity, like a Mystery Seed, a seed of what we might become, fully alive. And we also have some husk that tries to keep it contained and hidden. We have to plant those seeds, let them break apart, tend them, and help them to grow. If we let those Mystery Seeds grow, like Jack with his beanstalk, we will become much more than we ever imagined.
I can’t help but think of one of the elders I knew in the congregation in which I served on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Her name was Ellie. Ellie died at the age of ninety-four. She had always suffered from a stutter. As a child, she was sent to all the specialists that her prominent father could afford, and nothing cured the stutter. But in the midst of this, Ellie was able to find her voice.
She became a writer, both in her career, and in her passion for politics and social justice. She was a speechwriter for several political campaigns and an active member of the League of Women Voters. She was also active in the nuclear freeze movement. Somehow, she didn’t need to get rid of her stutter to bring forth her voice. It was almost as if her stutter helped her to find her voice. It was like an old husk, long ago cracked open, lying almost unnoticed around the bright flower of a plant that had grown from her heart. She had brought forth her latent divinity.