“Trust in Me"

I have a hard time with trust.

It was November 1975. I was ten. Our parents called us into their bedroom. Mom was sitting on the bed, looking sad. Dad was standing beside her. And one or the other of them, I can't remember which, said the words that broke my heart: "Your mother and I...your father says he...we aren't going to be living together anymore."

I never saw it coming. Okay, I was ten. Maybe when you're ten you don't notice as much as you do when you are eleven. When I was ten, I believed my parents were happy. 

Okay, so Dad worked long hours at the hospital, and we didn't see him much. And he had been away for long periods of time, first, back when I was six, when he was serving as a surgeon for the Air Force stationed in Thailand. (This was the Vietnam war; he became an outstanding trauma surgeon that year.) 

Dad was away again the six months before he and Mom called us into their bedroom. He had been down in Gainesville, Florida, doing a second residency so that he could become a heart surgeon. We got to go see him that summer. We went to Disney World, and I got to ride on Space Mountain--my siblings weren't tall enough yet. I think we even went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. 

But while he was in Gainesville, he met a younger woman, a medical student sixteen years his junior. And fell in love. And so he left our mother to go live with her.

I have a very distinct memory of walking home from school not a month or so before that fateful day. There was a house along my route that some of the other kids had pointed out, the way kids do, with portentous whispers: "That's the house where the broken family lives." And I remember thinking to myself as I walked past that house: "I'm so happy my parents will never break up."

I have another memory, two years later, of crying myself to sleep one night when my siblings and I were staying with my mother's cousins out East. Mom had been away all summer finishing her training to become a radiologist. We spent one month with her parents in Texas and then had the tour of our lives visiting her family in Boston and other parts of New England. We were about to go to Washington, D.C., for two whole weeks, where we would get to see Mom again. 

And I was lying on a narrow bunk bed and thinking to myself, "It's okay. I don't need a father. I never really had a father. Dad was always so busy anyway." (Mom raised us pretty much on her own after Dad left. We saw him about once a year after he and our stepmother moved away.) 

"It's okay."

You lie a lot to yourself when you're a kid and your parents have split up. But, after that, I was wise. I never fully trusted anybody ever again. Not even myself--just ask my first husband. And several of my old boyfriends. My second husband and I have been married for over twenty-two years, but the wounds are still there.

"Never again," I seem to have told myself without really trying. "Never again am I going to be deceived the way that my father deceived us. Never again will I trust the grown-ups not to lie. Never again will I believe that someone is fully on my side." 

I got spookily good at being able to predict when people's marriages were about to break up. I can't think of a single break-up since that has surprised me in the way my parents' did. If I were a betting woman, I would be rich based on the break-ups I have foreseen.

And then there was God.
The word of the LORD is faithful,
and all his works to be trusted. 
The LORD loves justice and right, 
and his merciful love fills the earth. R.

Oh, yeah? I can trust God, can I? Says who? Well, okay, God says, here speaking through the psalmist (Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22). But, for the life of me, I have told myself for years, "No. I can't trust him." God was just as likely to ditch me as my father had, right?

Don't get me wrong. I loved my father. I still love my father, may he rest in peace, even after what he put us through. I was thinking about him this past Friday, the twelfth anniversary of his death, when I was doing the work that I know he would want me to do, standing up to the bullies and the liars in defense of my friend. But trust him or anyone else not to abandon me when I needed him most? Ha. 

Yes, the LORD's eyes are on those who fear him,
who hope in his merciful love,
to rescue their souls from death,
to keep them alive in famine. R.

I know that my colleagues are mad at me. They have made that perfectly clear. But what none of them has asked me is what it feels like to be standing so utterly alone against the world. 

Well, okay, mainly against them. Much of the world seems pretty happy with me, to judge from the many, many new friends that I have. But alone in the sense of not one of the people with whom I have been working for years standing up publicly for me as me, Rachel, as someone they trust to tell the truth. 

(I have had more letters of support than I suspect the colleagues who have come out against me publicly could ever guess, but more from people who are new friends than old. And, to be fair, a handful of colleagues have spoken to me privately out of concern. What is striking, and what I am trying to highlight here, is how otherwise alone I am among those who have cause to know me as a colleague well. The president and deans of my university have stood firm in defending my freedom to speak my opinion, but their support is less personal, more institutionally based.) 

Our soul is waiting for the LORD.
He is our help and our shield.
May your merciful love be upon us,
as we hope in you, O LORD. R.

Trust no one. Except, of course, God.

R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.

This afternoon I and another new member of our parish were received as candidates for confirmation in the Catholic Church. We have spent the winter reading the scriptures together, and over and over again in the course of our discussions, I have had the overwhelming sense that the stories were about me

Sometimes, as I have told you, the stories have felt amazingly topical, as when we talked about Jesus's calling his first disciples. Today's reading (Matthew 17:1-9), however, left me in tears, particularly after the sermon Father Elias preached.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 
"How do you feel," Father Elias asked, "when you are chosen?" He talked about what it was like for himself growing up, always being left on the bench. But then one day, the coach comes and touches you on the shoulder and says, "You're going in!" And you have to, because you have been chosen, elected, called to take up the game. You have to go in and stand for who and what you are because God has chosen you as the one he wants in the game.

Just so Jesus chose Peter, James, and John, and he led them up a high mountain apart. He led them away from where they had been to a place apart so as to have their undivided attention. "There are some things you will never see while you're standing in the crowd," Father Elias explained. "While you're busy in the market place." You need to go away, to let Jesus lead you away, so that he can show you something you would not otherwise be able to see.
And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light...
I have been thinking for years about what this story means, that Jesus revealed himself to Peter, James, and John in his glory, such that his face shone with the light of his divinity and his clothing became dazzling white, like the garments that the angels wear. The mystery is critical to the argument I have made in my forthcoming book about Mary's role in making God visible to the world. It is she through whom the Light came into the world, just as she has called me (I'm quite serious) to show this aspect of her mystery to the world, whatever my colleagues in academia might think. (I told you I have been taking these stories personally!)

And just like that, Father Elias seemed to be talking about me: "This is what Peter, James, and John saw as Jesus revealed himself to them. The glory of God shone in him. His body was changed. His body shone like the sun. And his face shone."

"But remember this," Father Elias told us. "You're part of the Body." You think of yourself as "a broken vessel, a pot of clay subject to death and destruction. But you're part of the Body. This incredible, beautiful, glorified, transfigured BODY." It is you who is called to be transfigured as Jesus was. You who will be transfigured as St. Paul says: "In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, we shall be changed."

"And we," Father Elias said, paraphrasing 2 Corinthians 3:18, "with our unveiled faces, reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the LORD, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image we reflect; this is the work of the LORD who is spirit."
While [Peter] was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and do not be afraid."
There are four lessons for us here, Father Elias concluded. 1) "Know you've been chosen," as I and my fellow catechumen (technically, candidate for election) would be that afternoon. Elected, chosen by God to be his.

2) "Let Jesus lead you--surrender control" to him. As, in fact, I have tried to these past several weeks, when it became clear that there was nothing I could do except continue in the path that he has shown me. Defend my friend. Stand up for the freedom in our academic culture to speak opinions that few others share.

3) "Jesus wants to show you something, teach you something." He wants you to "be a beloved child of the Father," as he was. Oh, dear. I have struggled with this thought for years: "Believe that God loves you." I can't, I just can't. How could I believe such a promise when even my own father did not love me that much? Not enough not to leave me when I was growing up. Not enough to choose me, my siblings, and mother over the other woman he fell in love with.

"Jesus wants you to be a beloved child of the Father." By this time I was already sniffling into my scarf, the tears streaming down my face.

But there was one more lesson still to come.

4) "Arise." Jesus came and touched his chosen ones again, as they lay prostrate and afraid. "Arise," they heard him say to them, their heads bowed so that they could hear only his voice. "Arise, and do not be afraid."

Back a lifetime ago, that Monday three weeks ago when Milo was about to be publicly shamed for things he had done and things he had left undone, one of my friends posted a hymn to his Facebook page, asking for prayers for me, as he knew I would be struggling with the blow-back from the Sightings piece. I have been listening to it daily ever since.

Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago
O church, arise, and put your armor on;
Hear the call of Christ our captain.
For now the weak can say that they are strong
In the strength that God has given.
With shield of faith and belt of truth,
We'll stand against the devil's lies.
An army bold, whose battle cry is love,
Reaching out to those in darkness.

Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole,
We will fight with faith and valor.
When faced with trials on every side,
We know the outcome is secure.
And Christ will have the prize for which He died:
An inheritance of nations.

Arise, shine for your light has come.
Arise, shine for the Risen Son.
Lift your eyes, we are His radiant bride.
Arise, o church, arise!

"Arise!" The LORD is faithful, the LORD keeps his promises. The LORD who showed himself in glory to Peter, James, and John is to be trusted. And he has chosen you. The broken vessel. The wounded soul. To fight with him against the lies.

You guessed it. I'm crying again.

With thanks to Father Elias for handing me his notes when I asked whether he had a written version of his sermon

"O Church, Arise" by Keith and Kristyn Getty--listen here

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