THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 25
I am the sort of person that likes to keep various items from the past. I have files of papers and mementoes from the past. I have hundreds of books, kept because they are old friends and have meant much to me at some point in the past. It follows that there are a few boxes in the loft with stuff in them that really would mean little or nothing to anyone else, but are there because I find it difficult to throw them away. They have no intrinsic value, but are high in sentimental value. They are somehow part of me – they are my past.
I read something in Teilhard de Chardin today that has really touched me. In Hymn of the Universe he talks of the need to believe unhesitatingly in God, and to trust him to turn each and every evil into good, and he talks of our needing ‘in the penumbra of death’ to force ourselves not to look back to the past but to seek in the utter darkness the love of God.
And when I read this I reflected how we all find it difficult to let go of the past. It is one of the things that distinguishes us from animals I suppose. I doubt whether cows ever feel sorry that they have to leave the pretty view in one field, or think that the view from yesterdays field was better than today’s!
Part of my personality – who I am – is wrapped up in what I have been, what I have done, how I see the past image of myself. And books or papers often represent parts of that image.
I saw this morning that actually the past, for me, was like a rope tied around my middle. I was straining to move forwards wherever I perceived that God was calling me, but there was this rope, which held me back. A rope, which was ‘the past’ and all it represented to me.
What I saw this morning was that this rope was not just a mental construct – something in my mind. It also had a spiritual dimension. I had to recognize that the rope existed and was holding me back from being all that God wanted me to be today – I also had to recognize that, in essence, it was a form of dependence on something other than God. It was a distraction away from God. It was a kind of idol.
Once I saw this, it took only a matter of will – of decision – to ask God to sever that rope which bound me to the past. I pictured a sharp sword (the Sword of the Spirit?) poised above the rope and I knew that there might be a stab of pain when it cut – but that afterwards there would be no wound to heal, and there would be a new freedom.
Not only freedom, but I also saw another interesting thing: I saw that once the rope was cut I bounded forward because the energy – spiritual desire – that had been held back by the rope was no longer held back, and so I would bound forward with new energy and vision.
This applies to all aspects of us. Not only things stored in the loft or on our bookshelves. It applies to our relationships, to places and property, even to activities and interests. It is now generally seen that by disposing of the old, one opens oneself up in new ways to new possibilities. Unless one lets go of the old, there is no ‘space’ for the new – no free space to move into, no free energy to bound forward, no freedom to think new thoughts.
This particularly applies, perhaps, to us when we struggle with our sexual identity. It is so easy to settle for being heterosexual at times, but also for being homosexual at other times. I am not referring to bisexuality (where we are happy with our dual sexuality) but rather an inner war going on between the two poles of our sexuality. We want the benefits we see of one, and we fear the consequences of the other. So we stay in the middle, refusing to come to a settled view of our sexuality. Often we torment ourselves with our indecision. We may feel guilt at some of our sexual interests and desires. We may experiment a little, but then feel deeply ashamed of ourselves when the other side of us takes over. We are at the mercy of each side of ourselves, and they seem to be at war.
It is just as important that, eventually, we come to a clear and settled view of our sexual natures as it is any other aspect of ourselves. And at some point it will be necessary to let go of the past in order to move forward, as in all other areas of our lives. What sort of things might we have to let go in order to come to internal peace?
Firstly, we will have to let go the feelings of identifying with one side of us or the other. If we believe for example that, deep down, we are homosexual, but have hitherto appeared that we are heterosexual to ourselves and to everyone else, then we may have to let go of the desire to have the benefits of being heterosexual. Unless we give up trying to have the best of both worlds we shall enjoy neither. One allows of course that it may take quite some time to come to a settled view about our own sexuality. It may take years before the realization that we are gay becomes acceptable to us. We may have to travel a long road to find out God’s will for us. We may have to battle against ideas and standards instilled into us when we were children. We may have to shut ourselves off from the strictures of the society around us. But eventually we see that we need to choose, for our own sanity and integrity.
Secondly, we may have to let go of the past in another way: our circle of friends and our church. This is very painful, but if you decide you are gay and have a best friend who is homophobic, then you have a problem. Eventually you may have to decide between your integrity as a person and your friend. Likewise if your church is utterly rejecting of gay people you may hang on in there for a time, but eventually decide that you must find somewhere that is accepting of you as a gay Christian. How can one have Christian fellowship in a full and frank way with others who think that you are sinful, perverted or disordered?
Thirdly, we may have to let go of some of our dreams. They are to be replaced by other dreams, but nevertheless it may mean the giving up of some of our cherished hopes. For example, you may have seen yourself as the father of sons and daughters. If you adopt the gay lifestyle that possibility probably disappears - at the moment the future of gay people adopting children is still being argued about. You may have a picture of yourself as a respected member of society, living a happy and fruitful life. That should not be a problem, but may be more difficult (but by no means impossible!) if you enter into a gay lifestyle. It shouldn’t be like that but, being honest, it may fall out that way.
Fourthly, you may have to give up certain ideas about jobs you might do. Being a priest in the Church of England is a little problematical. Some bishops would welcome you – others would block you. You might have to consider what line of work you undertake. Although in law, gays are equal with all other people, the fact is that in some areas gays are just not accepted – yet.
It is necessary to talk of what we have to let go – but it is also right to talk of what we gain when we make a clear decision about our sexuality.
One gain is that we cease the internal conflict. I remember that there was a time when I was questing to find out whether my sexuality was acceptable to God, and to find out what I should do with it. I did not realize at the time how much the conflict within sapped my energy and purpose in life. Once I came to a settled view that God did accept me as fully as anyone else, despite my being gay, and once I started to think what God wanted me to do with my gayness, a lot of energy was released and a new calm and happiness came. I ceased to be a divided person with a guilty secret. I became a purposeful Christian man who knew that God loved him and accepted him and had a purpose for the rest of is life - though I still stayed in the closet to some people. It did not mean the end of problems or difficulties, but it was a radical transformation – and although I recognized it was difficult at the time, I didn’t realize until after the decision how stressful the previous period had been.
What have I been trying to say in this article? I have been dealing with the need for us to turn from the past and to let go of the past. I see that decision as much more than an intellectual decision – it is a spiritual decision, and therefore it is a struggle to do the right thing. One decision that is basic for us all is whether we are heterosexual or homosexual or somewhere inbetween. While we haver between the two, not wanting to decide, our energy (mental, moral, spiritual) is sapped. The decision must always be carefully done, with much thought and prayer, but sometimes we have to see that a decision is necessary, for only then can we really get on with life. And God may change us or change our views and attitudes later on.
On the subject of our sexual natures, there are two further points I want to make. The first is that none of us – even the scientists - yet understands human sexuality completely. We are still learning the full extent and nature and meaning of sexuality in our lives. So do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Secondly, on a matter as important as one’s sexuality it is right not only to take much thought and prayer about it, but also, if possible, to consult good Christian people you admire. Take account of where they are coming from – their own sexuality – and listen to them and weigh their words. But at the end listen most of all to God. He loves you and wants the best for you. Christ cares enough about you – just as you are – to die on the cross so that you could come to the Father. His will for your life is what you seek.