Free To Be Me
by Sue Stevenson
How paradoxical to know and experience God’s love on a deep spiritual level that alters my paradigms (and routinely crumbles them with scary gay abandon), and yet to also have a part of me that seems to not be able to know this on another level. That level at times flows drearily downwards, away towards the darkness where, like mushrooms, sins still flourish, doubts still linger, self-hatred still distorts and robs me of seeing. And I don’t know anyone who’s different. We all live in the reality between the cross and the resurrection.
The good Christian culture likes to pretend its people don’t have a giant elephant beating within their clean, neat, middle-class Empire hearts because that would be … well, too messy. The people must fit in the system, the way the two songs fit in between the announcements and the sermon, or else everything will spontaneously combust. Yet always underneath this silly system is the God who loves us and is committed to our growth into ourselves and into him. Outward conformity only enlarges those spaces of mushroom darkness and disrupts the process of learning to rest in a God who is able to be trusted.
In the beginning years of my journey, my belief was that God was going to send all those who didn’t pay homage appropriately to an eternal hell of suffering. Sure, that concept never sat well with me – sat, if I was going to be really honest, like an ill-fitting millstone, a monument to a god of major mental illness – but it was what I believed. And yet I find it illuminating that though I believed in a god such as that, it didn’t stop me from continuing to smoke dope, to swear, to routinely hate my enemies, to do anything but keep putting myself first.
I hid all those things, of course. Humans are adept at hiding – what else do we do with our shame? The try harder Christian culture offered no redemptive experience of the cross, just a substitutionary atonement which seems crude to me now, a view of a God forced to love me almost against his will. It hasn’t been until I have come to a deep knowledge and experience within that God is good and trustable and that he accepts me as I am, that I have been able to rest and accept the abhorrent parts of my nature – to welcome them, even. Strength in weakness. And now the transformation can begin in earnest.
For many years I have worked towards that elusive oasis, becoming a writer. The phrase drops honeylike off my keyboard. There was a lull in my endeavours when I was sick for eight years with chronic illness but still, even in that desert experience the desire lingered on, though my ability was limited. The words ‘I am a writer’, like the words, ‘God loves me’, were words that resonated deeply in my spirit, flowing out into my life like pond ripples, and yet which also bounced off me, unabsorbed, in my flesh. The flesh speaks loudest, but its vision is low. The spirit is long-range,. That still, low, slow but steady spirit is in love with Love and draws me forward towards that which is hoped for but unseen, mirage-like as they seem at times.
Being creative – being allowed to be creative – felt too good to be true – too tailored to me, too indulgent, too much like a fairytale to be from God. It has taken a lot of years for me to accept that this is the territory of God. Eric Liddell, the Olympian athlete and missionary and subject of the film Chariots of Fire, said, “I believe that God made me for a purpose... for China. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
There are millions of varieties of flowers in the world. There are corals and sponges and animals that live so far below the sea that they seem to serve no particular purpose, with nobody but God to experience them. God has not held back in splashing his creativity about. Dull conformity resembles God like the golden arches resemble fine dining. God is not an economic rationalist, but a god of abandon, of passion.
I am becoming more convinced that to become who we truly are is a hard thing. To begin fulfilling the desires that beat away underneath the surface, sometimes hidden for years under the cloaks of conformity feels terribly dangerous. As much as the desire to write beats away in me, there is a corresponding fear and desire to control that wants to harness it all and keep me unproductive. But to truly learn to be myself is to give not only myself the greatest delight and satisfaction but God also.
I met a woman the other day, an artist. She had one of those houses that was just delightful, with nooks and crannies and interesting bits and pieces, a dining area lit up by pretty lights, a house which culminated in a studio in her back garden full of paintings hanging on the walls. She was an artist in the true sense of the word, living a life of creativity that was reflected in the cooking she did for us and the pleasure she took in indulging her artistry. Feeding us fed her. Entering into our own lives and doing the things that give us the deepest pleasure – not the mindless vapidity that constitutes entertainment in the culture, but those divine implantings which buzz the world alight for us – is not an exercise in pure self-indulgence. Nor does it have anything to do with fame and fortune. The danger in becoming ourselves is that we may well seem crazy to ourselves and to others around us. We may even be criticised by the good Christian culture, called mad. But we would be in good company. Many of God’s people have been considered a bit loopy in the past. Perhaps it’s time for the Body to go a bit loopy once again.
I love the Hebrew term for God, El Shaddai. It can be translated as “strength” or “powerful”, and indeed this is how it is most often translated – God Almighty. But go deeper. El Shaddai can also be translated “the breasted one”. God is much more multi-faceted than we give him/her credit for. Reality is much bigger. Entering into more of ourselves is through another paradox, through the door of self-forgetfulness and into the presence of God. And here we find ourselves. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest, sums it up this way:
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Of course, like everything worthwhile and much surrounding this mysterious God of ours, entering into this life is simple enough for a child to grasp (and they do, effortlessly), and difficult enough for an adult to take a lifetime of learning to become who we already are. Sue Stevenson lives in Melbourne, Australia, and blathers regularly at Discombobula. She is enjoying the deep reality of learning what it means to rest in her own skin in God.