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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Faith and Certainty

I'm supposed to be in bed.
I have church at 9:30. I'm teaching the lesson in Priesthood, something I'm actually excited to do.

Yet here I am, blogging.

Last night  I went to a gay family home evening with people I'd known through the blog world, but never in person. Despite my initial anxiety, it was a wonderful experience. I spent hours talking there, finally leaving at 2 am. It was wonderful.

Today, after 10 days with his family in Arizona, my boyfriend returned to Provo. Walking into his room and seeing him again was like finding a lost part of my soul. We spent all evening together, and by the time he went home I knew even deeper how much I truly love him.

Tonight, I worked on my lesson. I read through scriptures and looked up references online. Finally, I got to a point that was sufficient for tonight. I set everything aside, turned off my laptop, texted my boyfriend goodnight, and was on my way to turn off the light when my phone buzzed.

My brother texted me. And not just a simple, "hey, what's up" text. A looong text.

He and I have never talked about my sexuality, though I'm sure he knows. Well, tonight's text removes all doubt. And while I've developed a thicker skin in discussing this issue with my parents, it kind of stung to hear what my brother had to say.

He talked about temple worthiness, my previous example to him. He spoke of the devastation it would cause my youngest brother and sister if they knew. Even now I can't bring myself to read the text again, because despite the multiplicity of words, I hear one message:

You're not good enough.

Regardless of his intended message, this is what I hear. It's what I always hear. And it's the message I've heard for the past 23 years. This is my ultimate tender spot. My Achilles heel. The fear that regardless of how hard I try, I am not good enough.

When I finished the text I set my phone aside. The psychologist in me leaped into action, trying to piece apart my emotions so that they didn't overwhelm me.

And then I booted up my laptop.

I need to be fair. My brother has no idea what this issue looks like from the inside. He has no idea what my life has been like. He has no knowledge of the tears and the ache and the shame that I've carried. He doesn't know of the sheer hell I've been through, the valley of shadow and death that I descended into when all logical sense and faith crumbled. He doesn't know.

He also doesn't know of the peace that God has granted me. He doesn't know the freedom of a soul who has been caged for so long. He doesn't know the sheer glory of being able to see yourself, your complete self, and love it. He doesn't know of the pure tenderness of being wrapped up in the person you love. Of feeling your heart connect with another's. Of becoming whole.

But perhaps the greatest reason that the weight fell back onto my shoulders after that text was because it threw my doubt back into my hands. My questions and fears and "what if I'm wrong"s came rushing back to me. The shadow of that dreaded uncertainty fell upon me once more.

This seems to be a popular topic lately. Faith and doubt. Certainty and uncertainty. John Gustav-Wrathall blogged about it this morning here.

As I prepared my lesson tonight I watched a youtube video on faith. The video showed a clip of President Monson speaking at General Conference. "Remember," he said, "that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same place at the same time, for one will dispel the other." I heard that, thought for a moment, and then said "I don't think that's right."

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection and in her TED talk Brene Brown discusses faith. Faith, she says, used to be something used to explain the unknown. It was a belief in mystery, the unexplained. But it's become a safety net and a weapon: 'I'm right, you're wrong. Shut up.'  She goes on in the book about how doubt is not the opposite of faith. Rather, certainty is the opposite of faith.

She writes:
"Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty."

She then quotes the theologian Richard Rohr:
"My scientist friends have come up with things like 'principles of uncertainty' and dark holes. They're willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. But many religious folk insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of 'faith'! How strange that the very word 'faith' has come to mean its exact opposite."

Uncertainty scares the hell out of me. It strikes me deep in my center with a fear of being wrong, of failing, of being rejected, and yes, of not being good enough. But certainty isn't faith. And without faith, we can do nothing.

I have been trying to learn to live with uncertainty. Sometimes I do very well with it, like last night at the FHE gathering or today with my boyfriend. But sometimes, like tonight with this text message, that fear gets to me and leaves me scrambling to get back to the sure shores of certainty.

But ironically, that "certainty" only comes from the approval of others. It's almost as if I can get enough people to agree on a point, then that must be the truth. And, among those people at least, I will be "certain." I will be sure.

But were I to retreat back into the world of certainty, of being validated by others, I would not be satisfied. Because deep within me, something would be dying.

I had a dream a few nights ago. I didn't understand it, but as I have been studying jungian dream analysis for a class project I believe that I'm beginning to gain some meaning from it.

I was being instructed by someone. Someone older and wiser. The person reminded me of Master Yoda from Star Wars. Small and simple, yet full of eternal wisdom. He was teaching me, among others, of fidelity. Of complete faithfulness. It was clear by what he taught that faithfulness was vital.

The dream shifted. I was in a tuxedo. Somewhere nearby was a bride. But she wasn't the focus of this part. Although it was clear that I had just been married, the focus was not on to whom, but rather what to do now. I recall looking down at my left hand and seeing a vivid golden band on my ring finger. I loved that ring. It symbolized my union, my completion, my wholeness.

As I look at the ring, Yoda came again. Once again he told me of the vital nature of fidelity. Of faithfulness.

And then I awoke.

I pondered over this dream. Especially the part with the bride, and how the point wasn't that I had married a woman. I couldn't make much sense of this dream.

Earlier today I was reading a book on jungian dream analysis, and the author commented on the archetype of marriage, both in dreams and in life.

"The syzygy (married couple) represents the union of paired opposites. Thus, this archetype governs the process of achieving wholeness in the personalty through formation of conscious polarities."

The whole goal of jungian psychology is the individuation of an individual. To put it another way, it is to become that person that we are truly, deeply, intended to be. This requires not a smothering or casting away of aspects of ourselves, but rather complete assimilation of everything, even those things we fear or hide. True individuation, true wholeness, is a union of opposites.

Thus, the marriage in my dream was not a sign of "find a woman," but rather, a symbol of my gaining further wholeness by integrating all parts of myself into one. Perhaps the most difficult part of myself to work with has been my sexuality, that so completely seems to contradict my faith. Yet, true wholeness is a union of opposites.

Fear would have me bury my shadow, lock away anything that wasn't comfortable, easy, or socially endorsed. Fear would have me bury fear itself. It would have me run from vulnerability. It would have me cling to certainty.

Yoda's words to continue faithful to that union, to that search for wholeness, is an directive to stay the course, in spite of fear. To listen to myself, and to God. And even if I have no explanation, no answers, no certainty, to move forward.

I cannot deny that these feelings are a part of my life. I cannot deny the deep desire to be connected to a wonderful man in every way. I cannot deny the love I feel with my boyfriend, the completion, the absolute serenity.

I have no choice but to claim uncertainty, to claim faith. It is the only ground I have to stand on.

I have no answers. I don't know why or how I came to feel as I do. I don't know what my God will say on that final day. I don't know that this relationship, these hopes and dreams and feelings that I have, aren't all a massive mistake. But I don't know that they are, either.

But one thing I do know. That my God sees the intents of my heart. He knows my desires. That my Savior felt each and every one of these emotions that I now feel. That my Lord has been watching, working, and whispering to me. He has been guiding me, and the journey's not yet over.

And when I have the sense to quiet my fears, to settle the panicked urge to find certainty, I feel his voice: "They don't know you. I know you. Listen to me."

And with Him, who needs certainty?


J G-W said...

I like the interpretation of your dream... Beautiful.

I think there are certainties we can achieve in life. They come from exercising faith. That's maybe a paradox. We accept uncertainty, move forward in faith, and eventually we do grow into a kind of knowledge...

But there's nothing more damning than false certainty. We are easily possessed by false certainties when we are afraid and impatient... False certainties can't ultimately give us the sense of security we crave. They actually only feed our insecurities... The telltale signs that someone is possessed by false certainties are dogmatic and judgmental behavior, and relying primarily on fear and threats to cow others into compliance with some orthodoxy...

mohoguy said...

Thank you for sharing your deep and personal feelings. I empathize with what you are going through. Be true to yourself. Eventually everyone else will understand.

apronkid said...

And there it is :)

Your living with the questions! That takes true spirituality.

You have a sincere standing ovation from me, Ty.

Ty said...

@John: I really like what you said about false certainty. I can definitely see how I've been guilty of that myself. Thanks for your support and friendship! :)

@mohoguy: Thanks for your support. I've decided that this will make more sense, to me and others, step by step as life goes on, so I'm not too worried about meeting others' demands right now.

@apronkid: Haha! Thanks for the ovation. Not sure I quite deserve it. Sometimes it seems I'm just scraping by, but I guess if you get to the right place in the end that's what matters! Lol!

Joe Conflict said...

Your brother is young, and knows nothing in this world but the "mormon experience." It is his sole frame of reference--so I guess he's throwing it at you in hopes it will make a difference. In a loose sense of the word, his desire to control you is his flawed method of loving you.

He will grow, as you have, and as we all do.

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