It’s been difficult sitting down to write this post. Logistically, I haven’t had much time recently to write. More importantly, this is an area that is actively raw and sensitive, and so writing all of this down has been hard.
Let me give you some context for what’s about to follow:
I was originally baptized a Christian in the Roman Catholic Church. I was educated in Catholic schools for a considerable portion of my life. I genuinely enjoyed going to church as a kid. I loved singing hymns, I read and re-read my favorite parts of the Bible regularly, I prayed the rosary, and I would even drag my cousins with me to noontime Mass during summer break (I’m sure they were thrilled).
All of this changed when I realized I was gay around the age of 12.
Admittedly, I didn’t particularly struggle with what the Bible supposedly said about my sexuality. I was exposed to the so-called ‘clobber passages’ by people I called my friends (at the time, anyway) but in all honesty, I didn’t take their concerns seriously. I felt like the Jesus Christ I knew didn’t care that I was gay.
I was more concerned with the fact that my religion textbook listed homosexuality as a sin, and that everyone around me treated gay people with disdain. I was concerned with what my teachers, my pastor, and my parents said about people like me. I knew that God had made me this way, and yet no one seemed to have gotten that message. That’s what made me doubt. That’s what made me wonder if I should stay.
That is what eventually prompted me to leave the Church.
I thought to myself that if the Church wouldn’t allow me to get to God, I’d just go about getting to Him some other way.
So I searched for a while, exploring different religions- Buddhism and Wicca among them. Then in high school, after reading a bit about it, I came across the Bhagavad Gita and through it, Hindu spirituality. The Gita spoke to me in ways I had never been spoken to before, of karma, reincarnation, of working without attachment. All of it filled me, and filled me deeply. I thought to myself, “Maybe this is it.”
It’s been 8 years since that moment. In that time I became a vegetarian, visited Hindu temples all over the East Coast, built an online community space for LGBT identified Hindus, took refuge in a Vaishnava guru, became a priest, and officiated my first Hindu marriage.
My sense of self as a Hindu became very tightly bound and set. This was me.
“I am a Vaishnava. I am a Hindu.”
Not anymore, it seems.
For about a year or so, I’ve been experiencing serious doubts about my faith in Vaishnavism and more broadly, Hinduism in general. They came in waves at first and I would just shoot them down and not take them seriously, not wanting the boat of my life to be knocked off course. When I did take them seriously, I didn’t speak of them to anyone. Those who did so were usually shamed for not having enough faith, not taking their practice seriously, or told that doubting is a sin.
Prompted by stress and personal difficulties, the past few weeks saw me finally sitting with the reality that I have serious, irreconcilable doubts about the theology I’ve come to know and the community I’ve become a part of. I was frustrated and alienated. I was tired of silencing myself in favor of not making waves. I was tired of seeing injustice and suffering in the world and being told that all we can do is chant God’s name and be ‘happy’. As a queer person, I was especially tired of being told to shut up when I spoke from my experience and demanded to be treated with dignity.
All this, combined with the personal problems, knocked me down and brought me to a place of loneliness and emptiness that I haven’t experienced in years. It left me broken and raw.
This was a feeling I haven’t felt since I was 12: to not know where I’m going, to seriously question everything, to look it all in the face and sincerely wonder if it makes sense.
And to be perfectly honest, none of it did.
So the other night, I decided to walk away from it all. I dismantled my altar, removed my sacred thread, and shaved off my shikha. Symbols of my spiritual life and my priesthood that I once cherished and took pride in were now empty and almost suffocating.
I don’t really know what prompted me to do so, but the next day I decided to read a bit of the New Testament as well as the Book of Common Prayer – a gift from my ex-boyfriend, an Episcopalian. It at once felt familiar; like a language that I hadn’t read or spoken in years but understood immediately upon hearing bits of it in conversation. It made me want to pray. It made me want to go to church.
I talked with a faculty mentor at school the other day about all this, and something she said stuck with me:
“You have unfinished business.”
I can’t help but agree with her.
At age 12 I was essentially denied access to the Church and to Christ. I was told implicitly and explicitly by my peers that there wasn’t a place at God’s table for a person like me. Yet over the years, that has been rebutted by the experiences of LGBT Christian friends who reject the lie that God hates them or wants them to change. The Jesus Christ they know loves them without question and could care less if they’re LGBT. The Jesus Christ they know died for them, too.
Yet still, I denied myself access. I would visit churches and attend Mass (sometimes as part of interfaith engagements, sometimes just for the sake of it) or listen to the stories of my LGBT Christian friends and think, “That’s beautiful, but that’s not who I am anymore.”
Yet I couldn’t deny the fact that when I went into a church, I did feel something.
This past week as I’ve gone to Mass and morning prayer virtually every day at different churches (Episcopal churches, to be precise) in town, I continue to feel something. Maybe it’s the smells and the bells, or seeing the Virgin Mary, or the booming yet comforting sound of a pipe organ. Maybe it’s something much, much deeper. It’s that feeling that stirs within me when I sit in a pew in a nearly empty church, silent except for the muffled sounds of passing cars, and look up at the altar.
Previously I didn’t allow myself to feel it. Right now I’m embracing it and trying to figure out what it is.
Before, I was terrified of this place, of being unraveled, of being laid low and having everything fall apart. I thought, “What will the community think? Will everyone be disappointed? Will I be alone again? What will happen to my work?”
If I have learned anything in my short life though, it is that I can’t afford to operate and make decisions out of fear. I can’t afford to silence myself and ignore my heart in favor of being ‘comfortable’. I have to be true to myself. I have to seek after this feeling, even if it may lead to a dead end.
So yes, before, I was terrified of this place. Now I can’t help but feel there is a strange beauty here, a bizarre sacredness in having everything unraveled and laid bare. Fresh ground. New beginnings.
It’s only from here that God can put it back together in the way that He desires.