Sunday, July 08, 2007

Standing Outside the Gate

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.


Anonymous said...

The Peace of Christ be with you.
the past can not be changed and tomorrow is yet to be know but we have today. Happiness is found in the moment between regret and hope.

I believe that in your dream your roommate and the church is Eve. for to me the the true sin in the garden was the loss of the relationship that God long for...

Those outside that gate are many and often seekers of truth but realize that each has their own truth that is true to them and only through openly sharing and exploring each others truths with the love that Christ taught uscan we come to know the One Truth.

Anonymous said...

Continue on your path, friend. After many years of struggling out of the straightjacket of fundamentalist Christianity, I have come to see that one can be a believer AND question AND have doubts and wrestle and struggle. The Bible, as you know, is filled with such people. It's a love story, not a rulebook--in which God and God's grace is central. ... I admire this post.

Anonymous said...

There is strong company inside the gate. And it is indeed company--they share a lot in common. But there is also good company outside the gate. It is company more familiar with hard truths, with sad losses, but also with solid grace and with deep awareness.

May this particular writing of yours be a remembered part of your continuing healing.

Kathy said...

My dear Christen,

This posting greatly touched me. I lost a good friend since high school not by divorcing, but by marrying. She didn't approve of my choice in a spouse, thought I was making a bad decision, and didn't make a huge effort to get to know James.

I thought the friendship was gone and lost forever. She and another (ex) friend stormed out of my wedding, ditched the reception, and sent a very humiliating wedding gift which was opened in front of family and friends.

I received an e-mail from her recently. We've slowly started catching up and reconnecting via e-mail and phone calls. I don't know where the friendship is meant to go, if anywhere. However, I know that the love, concern, and care is still there.

I know it's been many years since your divorce. It's sad that your friend cannot remove the beam in her own eye before trying to remove the splinter in yours.

I think the best you can do is continue to be a friend to her. Send her birthday and Christmas cards. Send her family photos. Send her an e-mail just to tell her you love her and you're thinking of her. God will do the rests. It sounds like she's closed her heart to you at this time.

Whether your divorce was a sin or not is for God to decide. If it was a sinful decision, then you and God will make your peace with that when the time comes. For all I know, I'm pretty certain you've already made that peace. None of us have any right to judge "sinners" as we were told to let those without sin cast the first stone. Try not to let her cast stones on you.

I have close friends who are very fundamental Catholics. They've made it known to my husband and I that I'm making an evil choice by choosing to take birth control pills. Never mind the fact that they lived together, had sex, and got pregnant all before they got married. I'm the "bad" Catholic by choosing to wait to conceive. I've been able to let our friendship continue while avoiding this sensitive issue but it's a shame when others feel the need to vocally judge us.

Best wishes and much love,
Kathy T.

P.S. You owe me an Anish and Jim, the Father story. I'm still waiting!! :)