Sunday, February 17, 2013

Unconditional Love

"I hope the new Pope will allow priests to marry," I commented to my husband Max after hearing that Pope Benedict had resigned. "The Catholic church really needs to change."   "I don't know about that," Max replied, "But there is nothing in the bible that says that priests have to be celibate - Jesus probably wasn't."  That statement felt like a sucker punch to the gut.  "What?  How can you say that?"  I asked more out of surprise than wanting to jump under the dining room table to avoid a lightening bolt for my husband's blasphemy.   "He was a man, a man who hung around with a wide variety of people.   Why would God send him to earth and not allow him to experience everything human and that one is pretty basic,"  he paused looking at me, "C'mon, don't tell me you had never considered that."   My eyes started to well up with tears because I had never really thought of Jesus as a man, he was someone I used to run to as a child for protection.   He would comfort me in the middle of the night when I had nightmares.   He was someone I could talk to in my room when I had a quiet moment and was lonely (which wasn't often in an Irish Catholic house with five children).    I felt like he had my back as a kid and he would talk to me in my dreams.   He was more than a guy, he was my Jesus.   He was the literal Savior who would take the time to make me feel better when I had the nightmares about the giant crushing all the houses in my neighborhood and my sister Sharon and I running as fast was we could to get away from him. Then there was the nightmare with Frankenstein who would crash down to earth from the sky and would try to get me.   I would open my eyes, my face and pajamas covered with sweat and I would ask Jesus to help me.  He would comfort me and my heart will start to go back to normal.  I would dream about him walking with me at Fort Myers Beach or just sitting next to me.    

I thought about those times as tears rolled down my face as Max and I talked and I was taken aback by the emotion that I was feeling.   Yes, I had considered that Jesus had a wife and I knew of Gnostic texts that talked about that.  In September 2012, there was even  the recent discovery of an Ancient Greek text in which Jesus is quoted as mentioning his wife, Mary.   That honestly was not what was upsetting me.   It was that after about the age of nine, Jesus became for me someone to fear more than someone to love - that realization at age 49 really made me very, very sad.   I had told a someone, I really don't remember who, about my dreams of Jesus and how he would comfort me when I was upset at night.   I was told that if you dreamt of Jesus and there was light behind him, it meant that you were going to die and that Jesus was taking you up to heaven where  you would never see your parents or family again, until they died and went up to heaven too.   I loved my family and didn't want to leave them.   Why would my friend Jesus take me away from them?  This was also around the time when as a nine year old,  you learned more about the gory details of Jesus' death, the suffering, the crown of thorns, the spear to the side and the stations of the cross.   My friend who I envisioned with light brown hair and blue eyes with flowing robes, was being tortured for standing up for what he believed in.  This poor man on the cross was the guy that I ran to for help and he helped me without thinking of himself.   He'd smile at me and I felt better.  Instead of his angelic face, I finally noticed him with the crown of thorns, bloodied with nails in his hands and feet.  My friend was a victim of evil people who didn't understand him, who didn't believe in him.  He didn't have the power to stop it when he was alive and my nine year old brain couldn't comprehend why God, his father allowed such a thing.   He felt abandoned at the hour of his death after all he had done for mankind which is one of the most basic human fears.  My heart broke for him, but worse, I just couldn't feel close to him anymore, it hurt too much.  I guess I could have asked him about it and not felt so guilty but I could not shake the new images of him suffering enough to ask.   The dynamic changed and I was afraid of him. 

I guess growing up Catholic, you get a lot of mixed messages.   The Virgin Mother is the epitome of the perfect woman and yet she would not be able to be a priest in today's Catholic Church because a bunch of guys in the Vatican have decided that women can't serve that way.    You have this really high bar to live up to with the Virgin Mother and if you want to be a mother, you'll have to have sex which seems very unholy.   After all, we were told that Jesus and Mary led their entire lives celibate - so even thinking about sex automatically makes you unfit to be a religious leader in the Catholic Church.   So as you move through the sacraments of the Catholic Church, starting with Baptism which you get as a baby and have no say in.  Then you have your First Communion in which you take the body of Christ in the form of a host wafer (again another image that is hard for a nine year old to fathom).  There is the First Confession in which you go into a small dark confessional and tell this unseen priest what you've done which for me was usually the same - fighting with my brothers and sisters, not always listening to my parents and the occasional lie about who had finished the last of the Farm Stores chocolate marshmallow ice cream.   Sometimes I would confess to sins I hadn't committed yet (like not doing my homework and fibbing about the last of the Halloween Candy) to get absolution before I did it - sort of like banking some sinful credit.   I know that God could see what I was doing but I avoided looking at Jesus on the cross as I left the confessional because he had died for the sins that I kept on doing and that did not make me a very good person - it just made me feel more guilty. 

It was at this time I turned to God and his angels who were more amorphous and open to interpretation.  You had the stories in the bible of God's voice and the picture of him on the Sistine Chapel, but he didn't have the human qualities that could make you feel bad for him, after all, he's God.  He is omnipotent.   His angels are his emissaries and they can appear in human or angelic form.  I was not aware of their suffering so they seemed to be entities that I could ask for help without the guilt.   Jesus had been hurt so much by humans and who was I to ask him for anything especially something as seemingly small as helping me feel less alone, but my God - that's what he does - that's what he excels at and I just turned my back on that because I was afraid.   Why did I believe that seeing Jesus in my dreams was a bad thing?    I guess when you're nine, you don't reason those things out too well.   You run from trouble and things that make you feel uncomfortable and sad, and sadly for me at that time, it was Jesus. 

When I met Max, he had long hair and tattoos.   I felt an instant chemistry with him that I had not felt with any of my previous boyfriends.   He was sweet and kind and I knew after a few months of dating that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.   While we were still dating, he grew a beard for a part in a children's production of A Midsummer's Night Dream.  I don't think it really occurred to me that he had a savior quality about him until we were out and a little boy saw him, ran up and said, "Hi there, Jesus!!  Hey Mom, look it's Jesus at the mall.  He is everywhere!"  Max smiled sweetly and said hello while a mortified mother wisked her well meaning child away.   It was nice to see that childlike belief, one that I used to have when Jesus was someone I ran too instead of away from.   But I never saw that connection - Max with beard was still Max.   I had met him clean shaven, so I was not trying to work out any weird hang-ups.   He looked more like Kenneth Branagh with a beard then the Son of God. 

When I got pregnant with Amber, I felt a real connection to the Virgin Mother although our ways of getting pregnant were vastly different.   When I held Amber for the first time, I thought that this is how Mary felt when she held her son, that sense of love that is universal and timeless.   I felt really close to Mary because I could finally identify with her although I knew that I was probably not raising the direct son or daughter of God, I was still raising God's children which is still a huge responsibility.  When I was pregnant with Daniel I was very happy.  The pregnancy was going along well until I had to get the alpha fetoprotein (AFP) test which I felt at the time was taken too early and it came back a little low.  My mid-wife saw the score and suggested that there might be something wrong with the baby and that I needed an amniocentesis for further screening.  If that came back with a problem, then I might have to consider terminating the pregnancy.   Now, granted, I'm a liberal and I support a woman's right to choose, but that choice was not for me.  I also knew that the risks in getting an Amnio done which could harm the baby.   I prayed and asked the Virgin Mother for help.   I meditated and she came to me, much like you see her in the paintings, with long dark hair and blue and white robes.  She took my hand and we went inside my body where I saw my baby who looked healthy and perfectly fine.  I would risk the baby with an Amnio, she told me, but if I wanted another blood test, then to go ahead and get one.  She told me not to worry, that all was well and that the baby would continue to grow normally.  She smiled and looked luminous.  She then turned into a wall of roses and disappeared.  I opened my eyes and felt calm for the first time in weeks.  I called the doctor's office and asked for another AFP test which came back normal.    Daniel was born as a perfectly beautiful child and I knew that angels attended his birth.   I held him and thanked Mary for her help.    I didn't even think to ask Jesus for assistance which looking back I regret but I know he sent his mother because at that point in time I needed a woman's touch.   

So now here I was in the year 2013, contemplating my failed relationship with Jesus.  I sat at the kitchen table with all these suppressed feelings coming to the surface - how much I missed my friend, who became a savior who then became a victim of human nature.   To this day, I have a heard time going to church and looking at the altar and seeing him outstretched in the cross, looking down, sad, broken and bloodied.   I know that we have to remember that he died for our sins, but I also want to remember the guy who made the loaves and fishes feed thousands of people, the man who John the Baptist baptized.   The man who could walk on water.   The man who was bad ass enough to throw the money lenders out of the temple.  The man who wanted to make the world a better place.    It took a few days for me to realize that maybe while I didn't turn to him for help, he was guiding my life in ways I didn't realize.  I've worked in non-profits for most of my adult life, with children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected.  I've worked in global health to help women have healthy babies or to educate people on how to stop AIDS in developing countries.  Now I work with adults with developmental disabilities.   I thought of one of my favorite quotes in the bible, Matthew 25, when Matthew describes the importance of being of service to others:  "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."   

All this time, I was helping Jesus and didn't even realize it.   I knew I was trying to live a  good life, but it was not until now that I made the connection.   He's been around me the whole time, guiding me - allowing me to follow in his path without saying a word.   God, my guardian angels and Mary helped lead me to that wonderful conclusion.  So on those days when the bank account is low and we're just barely getting by on $10 a day before payday, I have to realize that it's all for a higher purpose.   I've always seen the world in a vastly different way than others and tried to see the good in everyone even when it's not always worked out in my favor.   But you can't stop trying to do your best, to help people, to be compassionate.   That's what my friend Jesus has taught me.  I know he's standing behind me as I write this and I'm not afraid.   He has loved me unconditionally all this time.   It's taken me forty years, Jesus, to realize this, but I'm so glad we're back together again.    

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