I keep having this dream. The same dream for the past week. In it, my college roommate, the one who I thought would be my sister until we we were at least 93 and dyed our hair blue and drove under the speed limit the three blocks to church, and I are back in college. But time has passed and we are the grown women we are now, and in the dream I keep looking for her as she was then, a girl of 20, and realize that she is purposely avoiding me, and when I find her she is standing with some of her family around her, and she is whispering at me, and pointing at me and tells me emphatically that she cannot be my friend anymore, for I am not right with God.
This is the recurring dream. Although sometimes we're in our college dorm's lobby, and sometimes we're in Kohl's Department Store, and sometimes we're on a beach, and sometimes we're in an airport. The location changes but the dream stays the same. The recognition and then the shunning.
This roommate of the dream has, indeed, for all intents and purposes shunned me from her life. When I divorced my first husband she was angry, and she had a right to be angry on his behalf. However, her anger led her to abandonment and the nail in the coffin came with a letter several months after R. and I were married in response to a letter I wrote her asking her whether we could ever be friends again, and telling her how angry I was at her for not listening to me. Her response was this, "You eloquently express your anger and I guess I can't blame you. But the only thing for which I apologize is a lack of clarity in my witness." Her 'witness' meant that I was the woman who was to be abandoned, and that our relationship, the one which sustained me for lo those many years meant nothing and was a big misunderstanding on my part. Her witness meant that she could not continue to associate with a woman who sought a divorce, a woman who sought to find her own path, a woman who, she believed, had failed to fulfill her marriage vows.
I have come to understand as I have grown and changed and analyzed more of life that in my dreams she represents not just that woman who abandoned me, but the conservative church which she has come to represent (and I believe would claim), a church which has seemed unwilling to allow me to change and grow with it, a church that, it seems is afraid of the questioning and questing I have needed to do, and which I believe it might need to do too.
I pastored a church for six years. I gave my heart to them. I was married more to the church than I was to my husband at the time. When I divorced it was greeted with some reluctance, but ultimately accepted. When I remarried, I was suspect. My sins were too transparent, questions were too rampant, not enough time had passed. These were valid concerns, and perhaps I deserved the disapproval which I received. Perhaps I didn't deserve to pastor a church anymore. Perhaps I am paying my penance now by being an outsider, merely staring in as I wonder if I will ever have a home in my denomination again. Perhaps, like Eve, I have been cast out of the garden of Eden.
The dreams, they continue to plague me. The insommnia lately leads me down the hall away from my sleeping husband to read, to write, to fill the dark hours with my crossword puzzles. Perhaps I will always stare longingly through the gate's bars at those who are welcomed into the bosom of my denomination, or perhaps I am a better prophet outside its walls where I am allowed to speak freely, and ask questions honestly, and voice my anger appropriately without fear of what others will say, without fear of the promotion that may or may not come, the church that may or may not call me to pastor, the questions about my intergrity for what I write, or the irreverence with which I face life, or the intoxicating beverages I choose to drink.
I long to be a faithful servant. I struggle to be a disciple of the radical teacher who preached love at all costs. I am learning to internalize the grace that God so abundantly offers, even if it has been denied by those who I thought loved me without question.
I read somewhere that each voice in our dreams is part of our subconscious mind speaking its own truth, and so there may be buried within me a voice, critical of my path, condemning of the pain I've caused others, aware of my weaknesses and my sins and my inadequacies.
I still stand at the gate, and wonder what it would be like to feel like an insider, to have been born and bred Brethren, to have turned away from the fruit that was offered and to be content in the garden of Eden forever. But perhaps my truth is clearer on the outside, and perhaps there is the model of a prophet who could not be heard in his own town to whom I must attend. And perhaps I do more good outside the garden, with others like me who have survived the pains of exclusion and still found grace.
I still don't know. And the voices in my dreams at night still haunt me. And while I know God offers abundant grace, I know that in the fiber of my being, I obviously have not allowed myself to accept it just yet. Because the condemnation, it still echoes too loudly in my skull.
My college roommate ended our correspondence by telling me she would pray for me. I hope those weren't just empty words.