Longing to "Know Thyself" | Beloved Unrepeatability
This blog is the first in a series about Eden Invitation’s core values. You can find the introductory blog here.
Welcome, fellow longing ones! In the next segments of this blog series, we’re looking at our Eden Invitation’s core values through a particular paradigm: our values meet a base longing and generate a mission call. This piece is about our first value: beloved unrepeatability. It’s a response, perhaps, to our longing to know ourselves. It generates the missional call to “receive the whole person”—both ourselves and others. The next two blogs will follow a similar format.
THE LONGING & ITS ACHE
“This is my beloved Son.” - Matthew 3:17
I hope you hear the echoes of the Father. “This is My beloved son.” God the Father speaks it over Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan. He speaks it over you too.
Maybe you forgot. Maybe somebody made you feel like your belovedness came with with a string attached. “Of course you’re loved by God! Just don’t call yourself [insert secular adjective here]. Don’t dress like that. Don’t talk like that Just try to be like everybody else.” Maybe you were starting to wonder if belovedness was for you after all, because no parent or priest or mentor spoke it over you out loud. Maybe you’re afraid if you don’t follow the rules, you’ll lose the love you do have. You might polish your golden child exterior and live to hide another day. You also might you say“f— the rules, I’m out.” Maybe you’re longing to remember.
Here’s the thing. Saints and Scripture remind us thousands of times that we’re radically loved by God. “God proves His love for us that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christians get incorporated into that love in a unique way at our baptism. We become adopted children of the Father—beloved daughters and sons.
Maybe you remember. You remember your religion classes and your Bible studies and singing “Jesus loves me.” God loves you, it’s the Church that doesn’t know what to do with you. You remember all too well the hallway comments and loaded parental reactions. You remember the friends who left when you asked for a new pronoun or brought home the girl. Maybe you’re longing to forget.
Here’s the thing. God loves us as we are, in all the complications of our story. God wants to be in relationship with each unique self. “[The person] is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead” (CCC 357). Beloved unrepeatability doesn’t start when you change. It’s been going on a long time now, and shows no signs of stopping. God can’t not love us.
There are real pain points for LGBTQ disciples. Personal identity is actually fairly complicated, but we tend to throw it around like its obvious. If you ever watch a secular interview where someone describes coming out, more often than not they’ll include something like, “I was finally free to be myself” or “it’s good to be who I am.” On the Christian side of things, some caution is in order. Our desires aren’t the sum total of our personal identity.
Still, the LGBTQ disciple faces some mental gymnastics. We’re made in the image and likeness of a God. This God is “neither man nor woman,” yet somehow contains mysteriously the perfections of both (CCC 370). This God wants to make us like Himself, like we see in the famous St. Irenaeus quote: “God became man so that man might become God.” And this God is love! We image our three person God in our relation to others, as we imitate God’s love. To simply say minority experiences of sexuality and gender “aren’t our identity” obscures an essential point—they’re experienced in the heart of the Christian identity.
There’s a further complication in the desire to know myself. If our pastoral approach fixates on teaching sexual ethics alone, we neglect an important human reality. Our lives don't fit into nice, neat compartments courtesy of the Home Edit. Other aspects of our lives have become entwined with sexuality and gender over the years. Not sure what I mean by that? Just consider all the stereotypes associated with men and women experience same sex desires, or people with experiences broadly categorized as trans. These cover the way people talk, the way they dress, the media they consume, their hobbies and interests. It also intersects with family life. How were you treated by family members, friends, classmates, and trusted adults in regards to your LGBTQ experience? As Catholics, we must continually deepen our understanding and integration of the Church’s anthropology and sexual ethics. But to truly accept these realities, I need to lean into them. I need to understand their contours in the context of my life story. This is where beloved unrepeatability comes in.
THE VALUE | BELOVED UNREPEATABILITY
“I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine” | Song of Songs 6:3, RSV
“For God and before God, the human being is always unique and unrepeatable, somebody thought of and chosen from eternity, called and identified by his [or her] own name.” | St. John Paul II, 12/25/78 "Urbi et Orbi"
Beloved unrepeatability finds its foundation in human dignity. The bedrock of that is the radical love of God. “What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good” (St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue 4,13). Unique in all of creation, the human person is, “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake” (Gaudium et Spes 24). The human person alone “is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created” (CCC 356). Indeed, “the dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God” (GS 19). And the possibility of that communion isn't remote or abstract. It’s in the depths of our hearts. “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC 27).
Though our relationship with God is distorted by sin, “we can invoke God as ‘Father’ because he is revealed to us by his Son” (CCC 2780). Christ instituted the sacrament of baptism, by which our filial—daughters, sons—identity is restored: “the fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes […] birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1279). Understanding this and integrating it into our lives isn’t immediate. Rather, “the free gift of adoption requires on our part continual conversion and new life” (CCC 2784).
As we enter into the life of Christ in a new way, our individuality doesn’t diminish. “The personal dignity of the human person and his integrity and identity [is] unique and unrepeatable” (CCC 2275). Each person has a “unique vocation which comes from God” (CCC 2232). Indeed,“in the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God’s name will shine forth in splendor” (CCC 2159). But that’s enough Catechism for now. What do we do with this?
POSTURE 1 | I accept my identity as imago Dei and the shaping of my unique story
As we look at ourselves, there’s an ontological reality and a personality reality. Ontological means “dealing with the nature of being.” In other words, what does it mean to be a human person in general. Christ and the Church teach us the innate dignity of the human person, the unity of body and soul, and importance of male and female as distinct instantiations of the image of God. Personalism is, broadly speaking, a philosophy emphasizing the unique value of each human person. For us, we mean what does it mean to be your human person in particular. This is where the beautiful gift of “unrepeatability” comes in! Here’s how spiritual writer Caryll Houselander puts it in her book Reed of God:
Every person living is…himself…heredity, environment, infant and child experience, opportunity, education or lack of education, friends or lack of friends, and countless unpredictable things that we misname accidents or chance…the mystery of all the years and all the people and all the gathered memories, both of individuals and races… Each one of us - as we are… - is the material which Christ Himself, through all the generations that have gone to our making, has fashioned for His purpose.
Your experiences of sexuality, sensuality, embodiment, and gender are part of your unique story. It’s the life you've received, one way or another, and there’s no getting around it. If we’re going to acknowledge ourselves as beloved by God and unrepeatable, we need to hold both the ontological reality of the human person and the reality of our personal experiences. Doing this in our own life is an important step to really, truly, seeing others as beloved and unrepeatable too.
POSTURE 2 | I steward my whole person is a gift from God the Father.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. There’s some controversy over saying minority experiences of sexuality and gender are a “gift from God the Father.” After all, doesn't the Catholic tradition say the desires for sexual union with the same sex or for ontological change of the body are “disordered”? Yes, we do say that. If that makes you cringe or want to throw your computer across the room, hold on! It is a loaded word because of its connotations of mental illness. That’s not, however, what the Church is talking about. It’s a philosophical term that applies to every human being at some point. For the Church, disordered desires are ones that don't ultimately lead to human flourishing. These in particular are opposed to God’s plan for the person and sex. But any desire for sin is disordered, so we’re all in the same awkward club (for a more thorough explanation of this, check out this blog). So how the heck can we say this is a gift?
The Catholic Church has a fascinating tradition around the results of the Fall. Every Easter, we call the original sinful choice of Adam and Eve a “happy fault,” because now we have the gift of Jesus Christ to remedy it. Every Good Friday, we’re invited to reverence an instrument of torture upon which Christ died (for a longer take on LGBTQ experiences and the Paschal Mystery, check out this blog). Disciples too are invited to pick up, even embrace, our crosses as an essential part of the Christian life. St. Therese of Lisieux, recorded in Last Conversations, has this radical thing to say:
Everything is a grace, everything is a direct effect of our Father’s love—difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs—everything, because through them she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events—to the heart that loves, all is well.
No matter what flavor of disordered desires I experience (and for most of us, our spice cabinet is more stocked than we'd like to admit), we’re heirs to God’s promise. We receive grace as a free, gratuitous gift. With this great gift comes great responsibility, Spiderman! We’re stewards of God’s promise too, because our lives ultimately came from Him. Here’s how the Catechism puts it: “Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him…we are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us.” (CCC 2280).
Within this posture, we encourage people to take themselves seriously. Honor your beloved unrepeatability by taking care of yourself and your story. Seek spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. Be attentive to the stewarding of body and sexuality through temperance and chastity. Seek self-knowledge about what has shaped your life. Seek understanding about the shape of your desires—how they manifest in particular seasons and what God might be showing you about yourself. A good starting place for this is your personal prayer time.
POSTURE 3 | I come before God daily in authenticity and surrender.
Don’t let “posture three” fool you. This is the preeminent posture—the beginning and the end. God speaks our belovedness over us every day, every moment, if we’re willing to listen. We need time in solitude with Him to be honest about what’s going and to receive His love. Daily personal prayer is important! That could look like a lot of things—Liturgy of the Hours, lectio divina, imaginative meditation, journaling, angry shouting at Him while you deep clean your bathroom and blast Brandi Carlile with a glass of wine precariously balanced on the sink. Ok, I don’t recommend doing the last one every day. But you might need it from time to time.
We need to be authentic about our experiences of sexuality and gender in prayer too. When people come to Eden Invitation, we’ve found that many of them have never prayed about these experiences before. Note the preposition. Many people have prayed for some kind of deliverance or change. Fewer people, we’ve found, have prayed about the experience with curiosity and respect. Seek understanding without automatically applying an internalized value judgment. Surrender your life to Him, and see what He shows you. Here are some prayer prompt ideas:
What about being a man or woman frightens me? What empowers me?
What stereotypically masculine traits do I identify with? What stereotypically feminine traits to I identify with? God, how do You reveal these traits in Yourself?
Which people of the opposite sex do I relate with the best? Which people of the same sex do I relate with the best? What are the traits I’m looking for in deep friendship?
When I’m attracted to someone, what am I looking for? What draws me that person, to him or her, particularly? God, how are these traits revealed in You?
What are the trends and movements in my romantic fantasies? What are those telling me about my desires?
Be real, be raw, be authentic in your conversation with God. Be thankful, if you can. These are your life experiences for a reason! In good times and in bad, this is the road you’re walking to holiness and Heaven. If you don’t feel you have the energy to praise and thank God in your own words right now, pray the Psalms or listen to your favorite prayer jam (Eden Invitation has Spotify playlists!) My personal favorite #mood is ‘If You Want Me To” by Ginny Owens (live version gets you all the verses) or, if I'm feeling strong worship vibes, "So Will I" by Hillsong. Prayer is between you and God, of course, but these should also come to the light with good friends and spiritual guides. More on that in the next blog!
MISSION MOVEMENT | RECEIVE THE WHOLE PERSON
When I finally start to trust that I’m radically loved by God, I can start to see the belovedness in others. When I start to be home with my unique unrepeatability, I can start to be a home for others. I’m called to love as God loves. I’m called to keep the hearth fires burning at the top of the hill in my Father’s house. I’m called to venture out in the cold night after the one missing from the flock.
We see one of God’s longings in John’s Gospel. Jesus prays, “Father, they are Your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me” (John 17:24). In one sense, he’s praying for the disciples. He also expands the prayer outside of time, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). As a believer, I like to think “Jesus is praying for me!” But His prayer is also outside this time. He’s praying for the people who are going to believe after Friday, May 6th 2022. He’s praying for the people who will come to believe ten years from now because of your word and your love today. What if we all stopped seeing LGBTQ persons outside the Church as those who “walked away” or as symbols of an opposing agenda? What if we started seeing others as people waiting to believe? Maybe it's less about arguments and apologetics, at least at first. Maybe it’s about seeing someone’s belovedness and their unrepeatability, and receiving them in their complicated glory.