I want to know if you can
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.