Saturday, 31 March 2007

On being faithless to be trustworthy...

I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
"The Invitation", Oriah

This poem, which has been circulated around the world since Oriah first shared it with her students in the late 1990s, shook something loose in me when I first read it. Tears ran down my face as I read stanzas like:

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

She wrote this poem after one of those dismal parties where everyone natters on about shallow, soul-destroying subjects. Where people exaggerate that little bit to make themselves sound better than they are. Where they try oh-so-hard to sound like intellectuals, and sound like pretentious prats instead. Where they exaggerate the number of people they slept with and how their exes are all still pining after them. Where, of course, they couldn't possibly mention their shortcomings, wonder about the nature of the universe, admit that someone else is better at something than they are or laugh at themselves, because that would make them look weak. Human.

And God forbid they should ever use the words "I don't know."

The kind of party that, if you have any desire to really connect with people, makes you want to slit your wrists.

She got home and wrote the poem using a simple technique she learned at a workshop: pair a sentence beginning with "It doesn't matter to me..." with one that starts "I want to know..." And she turned it into something that touched the hearts of people around the globe.

The first stanza I quoted made my breath catch when I first read it. What fascinated me even more was that it made people *furious*. Many wrote her and told her that she meant faithful, and would list the reasons why. Instead of exploring how you could be "faithless and therefore trustworthy", people wanted to change it to fit their comfort zone. How could you possibly be *faithless* and trustworthy?

One of the first examples that sprung to mind was the Catholic clergy, not least because in a recent lunch with a clerical friend, he had said, with great vehemence, "I hate the ones that leave. I think they're traitors." I questioned whether he meant the priesthood or his particular group, and he said, "Both." I was struck by his vehemence and inwardly wondered, "Are you turning your anger outwards onto those who dare to do what you wish you had done?"

I thought about clerics I knew who had left their orders, congregations, etc. to become secular priests or to get married. The ones who had dared to face down the institution and say, "Enough. I won't lie; I won't pretend; God is calling me to something/somewhere else. I'm leaving." The ones who bore the anger, scorn, hatred, accusations of betrayal, questions about their sanity to be true to who they were and what they felt God was asking of them (sound like the Via Dolorosa, anyone?). The ones who showed those around them that you can be true to yourself and that they needed to stop seeking approval and start seeking love and truth.

I realised that I trusted them with my heart and my life. That I could talk to them at length and depth without fear of scorn or attempted emotional manipulation to get me to follow a certain way. I can feel the Spirit of God in them loud and clear and their essence sounds as true as a crystal note.

Faithless, and therefore trustworthy.

I also know those who stayed because it was expected, because they needed approval, because they were afraid. I watch them dismember themselves and become less of who they truly are as they sink into busyness, power-seeking, glib superficiality, people-pleasing, alcoholism, drugs to numb the pain of amputation after amputation. One of the saddest and most disturbing statements I ever heard was, "He told me that at first, your vows make you stay. Then eventually, you want to stay." My heart broke on those words.

That isn't truth. That is fear, comfort and the death of the spirit within you - both mundane and holy. Even God will stop whispering when He knows it falls on deaf ears:

Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.

--"Houses" from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Over time, I realise that I tell them less and less - the breadth and depth of conversation lessens; I won't go to them for confession; I don't trust them with my real thoughts and feelings.

My heart whispers, "You lie to yourself, to your Church, to all those who are close to you. Your entire life is a lie. How can I trust you?"

Faithful, and therefore untrustworthy.

But even as I use them as examples, I know that as I point one finger at them, I'm pointing three back at myself. The truth is that those lines hit me because *I* am guilty of being faithful and untrustworthy:

I am not a Catholic.


Anonymous said...

Irim, this is easily one of the most powerful essays I've ever read.

I agree that sometimes one has to be faithless to be trustworthy. I think I'm probably worth a lot more now that I have become an apostate. As a Catholic, I was a fraud. As a Jew, I am finally honest.

It was you who helped me reach that point of honesty, a year ago. Thank you for that, and thank you for sharing this now.

God bless you, she'enedra.


Irim said...

Hon, thank you. But you've made a huge error in your comment:

"I think I'm probably worth a lot more now that I have become an apostate."

To quote a favourite (sorry) Christian song:

Sometimes I look above me when stars are shining
And I feel so small;
How could the God of heaven and all creation know I'm here at all.
But then in silence He whispers,
"My child, I created you too.
And you're my most precious creation..."

You always have been. You just needed to discover it.

Now that you have, never forget it.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, she'enedra.


Anonymous said...

You say that you are not a Catholic - but in your very words in the rest of this particular blog you are doing what Catholics of any description most need: you are challenging them to look into themselves and see or face up to what really is the truth, what really is life, and what they really are. Which we all need to do, but some of us are so muddled and find it hard to think clearly that the path to enlightenment of whatever nature is tougher than it looks or tougher than people imagine. Of course it is easy to get misled, and boy does that happen to many of us... Your priest friend who speaks vehemently of traitors; your other priest friends who have been brave enough to step away from the paths everyone thinks they ought to pursue; and other friends who struggle through it all... Am I a Catholic? Should I continue in my state of life? It's not a snap decision, but I do hope your blog continues to challenge its readers to the truth, to challenge its readers to look inwards and examine, to stop and think...

yours hoping to go on reading more,

fan xxxxxxxxxx