Sunday, 12 June 2011

Ascension Epilogue

Last Saturday night, I was out for a curry with a friend, and we were discussing my Tridentine experience.

She asked me what my issues were around having the server say the Confiteor.

"I don't want to lay that on him. It's not his job to carry anyone else's sins. And he's too young - no 16 year old can carry the sins of an entire congregatiom."

She nodded thoughtfully, then said something I hadn't expected:

"There's something about trust in there."

I felt like I'd been struck in the solar plexus, which I knew meant she'd offered me a deep truth.

I tilted my head and asked her to explain.

She said she understood why I felt that he shouldn't shoulder it and she agreed. But she felt that for me, it was about trust, about an inability to allow anyone to bear a burden for me, even for the length of the Confiteor.

I sat back. 8 days later, I'm still unwrapping that.

She's absolutely right. One of the things I took 'pride' in about my spiritual meltdown was that I managed it without burdening a single cleric. Kind of a "See, I can do the tough walk without you. Just hand over the sacraments, and run off like a good boy, because I know you can't handle this 'relationship with God'/messy emotional stuff."

That resonated with something I'd heard someone say months ago, about the moment she realised that part of her problem with being in a relationship was that she assumed that men didn't have capacity, so she took everything on, and ended up in friendships and intimate relationships with men where there was little mutuality. She was always doing everything, organising everything, initiating communication, you get the drift.

I hold others easily, but I have immense trouble being held - both emotionally and physically. I'm great with being the emotional container, less good with being contained.

It's all in the letting go.

I'm not alone in this: I know any number of women who hold everyone else in their lives and never let go themselves. When you're feeling overwhelmed? Close up, get spiky, push people away. It's the best way in the world to make sure no one ever gets too close and into a space where they can hurt you.

So whilst we talk about how we want to be the one in someone's life, we set up a world in which it's not possible, where doors to the inner sanctum slam shut. And in order to be the one in someone else's life, we need to let them feel that they are the one in ours - and that they have all of us, not just a select part.

But that doesn't mean letting everyone wander willy-nilly in the precious space that is ours - doing that, whether through co-dependence, or merging, or any form in which we allow others to rob us of self - is the flip side of the coin. That's why we often see people swing from extreme self-containment to merging: often, extreme self-containment hides a deep hunger for attachment, and when that hunger can no longer be denied, there's no model for healthy attachment - so, to quote Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, 'We've gone to the other extreme...'

It's all about healthy boundaries, which are established through learning how and when to trust.

And if we don't learn that through early secure attachment - knowing that our physical and emotional needs will be taken care of, learning trust and healthy attachment will be extremely difficult. Not impossible, but much harder without that initial knowledge of what trust feels like. It's like...picking up a language later in life, but without the structure of grammar and vocabulary to help. And unlike learning a language, when you get it wrong, it really really HURTS.

But there's no other way forward - we learn to trust the way a child learns to walk - a few steps forward, falling on our bums, getting up to try again. Yes, it's made much harder when you've spent a lifetime keeping yourself safe, because learning requires risk - and in learning how to trust, the risk isn't small.

But the payoff - genuine intimacy, love, connection - is huge.

Trust isn't all or nothing - it's nuanced and we learn how much and when to give it through learning in tandem with that gift of the Holy Spirit, discernment - which means we need to let the winds of inspiration help us on our way.

And so, to the clerics I'm closest to, take a seat. I need to talk to you about my relationship with God.

1 comment:

CEAD said...


The deal with learning languages later in life is that our brains simply no longer have the capacity for it; they literally change around the age of seven, in such a way that it becomes physically impossible to acquire a new language natively. We can't get that ability back - not ever. Yet it's just as you say: we can, with time and patience and lots of hard work, come to be reasonably fluent all the same. It doesn't make up for not learning it earlier, but it's so much more than nothing.

I love you.