Where is God in Goodbye?

A while back I found out that my partner was a sex addict who had been leading a boozy secret life full of violence fetishes, endangerment of women, unprotected sex, compulsive pornographic email exchanges and Craigslist postings, and sociopathic lies to me, my family and my friends. To say the least, it was a difficult time. Friends in the Union Theological Seminary community and beyond nursed and nurtured me, fed me and put me to bed and went with me to doctor’s appointments. My body, thank God, is okay.

I discovered the first clue of the betrayal on Ash Wednesday. The Lenten desert was my journey through the excruciating spring. I consulted the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ confrontation with Satan as if they could forecast the waning of my distress. In the gospel of Matthew, once the devil leaves Jesus, “suddenly angels came and waited on him” (Matthew 1:11, NRSV); in Mark, “He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (Mark 1:13, NRSV); and in Luke, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13, NRSV). I wondered, who were the wild beasts? Who were the angels? When was an opportune time for the devil to return to test me? As it turns out, Jesus does not escape the Lenten desert by doing magic tricks or delivering fancy speeches: he merely stays centered, convicted in his self-awareness and his identity, resisting the temptation to be anyone other than who he is. When he leaves the desert, he seeks out his friends. Jesus uses his loneliness and his relatedness to achieve connectedness to his humanity, and goes about fulfilling his purpose in life—to fulfill his potential for being human.

Where is God in betrayal and bad decisions? Erasmus said, Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit. Bidden or Not Bidden, God is Present. God has her hand on my back and has kept me in the world for good things ahead. The trick now is to keep looking toward the love of God surfacing in five hundred ways everyday if I just keep my eyes open to them.

Where is God in goodbye? Where is God at the end of the era? Where is God when you discover that your favorite human is a wounded, rabid animal in a human suit? Maybe God is in accepting the impermanence of all things. Maybe God is in understanding that other people aren’t mine to keep, and that life’s journeys bring our paths together for certain seasons, and seasons by nature recede. Maybe God is in remembering that we all have the potential and the responsibility to be healing agents for each other, and it’s been so aptly modeled for me by my loved ones that I can try to do the same for another. If relationships are the source of some of our deepest wounds, they can (must?) also be the source of our greatest healing.

Where is God in loss and grief? Is God in gratitude? Is God in my consciousness of preciousness? God is in the gratitude at the heart of my heart. Because somehow, I’m still grateful, for everything given, and for everything taken away.

The summer after I discovered the covert activities of my ex, I traveled to Italy for a conference on “Fundamentalism in Our Era” at Agape Centro Ecumenico, an ecumenical retreat center in the village of Prali. The Italians eat well, sing loudly, drink lots of wine, dance and play games till 3 every night, nap on the grass, tell lots of jokes, are bawdy and brash and passionate. I drink il collino, a coffee drink made with Nutella smeared on the sides of the glass. The Alpen dairy cows and their clanging neck-bells make the mountains sound like a Tibetan monastery at prayer time. In less secular terms, it is heaven on earth.

Kasha Jacqueline at Agape Centro Ecumenico, Summer 2010

One speaker at the conference, Kasha N. Jacqueline, is a gay rights activist from Uganda, and the founder and director of Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), the only exclusively lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersexual organization in Uganda. Kasha faces the death penalty for her sexuality—if she is “caught in the act” of being with her lover she is subject to execution. She speaks with cheer and resolve, emanating a stunning level of energy and hope for her gay sisters and brothers in Uganda. She says that she only wants the right to walk down the street holding her lover’s hand. At the conference, a participant raises her hand and asked Kasha, “How do you keep up your good attitude? How come you aren’t enraged at Uganda? How do you find the energy to get up every morning and fight?”  Kasha paused for a while before responding, “I want to enjoy the freedom that I am fighting so hard for.”

God is in the fight of goodbye, the good of goodbye, or the by and by of a goodbye that fades mercifully over time, bidden or not bidden. I don’t believe in God. I name God. God be wi’ ye.

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2 thoughts on “Where is God in Goodbye?

  1. Jenn, this post impacted me deeply. You have a real talent in weaving your stories together to make meaning out of seemingly senseless situations. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad that you had a supportive community at Union and in this article have given voice to questions that many yearn to ask. I only hope that when presented with inevitable goodbyes that I might also see God in the impermanence of all things and find newness in lament. Thanks again Jenn!

    1. Marvin, thank you so much. I try to be open about my struggles as a way of leveling the playing field, because we all have such painful, twisted, and shaming events that we cope with in our lives. This one was a real doozy for me (and still is most days). But the fact that I could help just one person, and that you should reach out to me in return, makes it so much easier to bear and less senseless in general. Thank you very much, right back atcha.

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