Yesterday, I woke up looking like a blood-hound, with two bright red, aching eyes staring back at me in the mirror. The day before, I had tried out a different shade of deep slate blue eyeliner that felt a little more daring than my usual moss green. My eyes are very sensitive, so that little foray into something new came with a price.
I was scheduled to sing with my choir at an ordination that was being hosted at our church. This event was important to me on several levels. First, our little church is not the typical site for a Diocesan ordination, and I wanted to do my part to help us shine for the simple, lovely inclusive elegance of who we are. Second, we were singing an amazing piece by Brahms which I love and which makes my spirit soar. Third, we were bringing our authentic selves to this event, complete with own choir, “Bluegrass Mass” musicians, and a youth gospel choir from the school where our soon to be ordained friend, Rock, currently teaches. Most importantly, we were witnesses to this journey for Rock, who is taking in and taking on this role of ordained priest in the Episcopal Church after his own lifetime journey of faith, challenges, questions, and renewed commitment and belief.
My red eyes were not going to keep me from this auspicious day. But, I was keenly aware of my eyes, reflecting all day on these windows to the soul.
Eyes are a highly sensitive subject for me, I have to admit. This is difficult to write on a public blog, although I know I must, because it is part of my story, a pathway that leads to today’s small point of light.
I was young, in first grade, when eyes started to be a focus for my inner turmoil. I was sure during those years that I was one of the unworthy. The church we attended in those mid-1970’s years preached an apocalyptic message of an “anti-christ” coming and stamping everyone left on the earth with the mark of the beast, so they could neither buy nor sell. Children and parents would be separated. Co-workers and friends would suddenly disappear. At best, I would be flying up to heaven amid dead bodies being ripped from the grave during the rapture. At worst, I would be “left behind.” It was like going to church to have a Grade B zombie movie described to you in pamphlets, sermons, and sunday school lessons. Except, that was supposed to be the basis of your faith. I did take that in, and it scarred me deeply. I am sorry to those who remember this time differently or practice in these traditions still, but to me it was my own personal horror movie. I was terrified, constantly. I developed a habit of sitting with my eyes closed, rolling my eyes around in a self-comforting way while I prayed (more like begged) the god of wrath to not leave me behind. I made up a little “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” prayer to go along with it. And I started pulling my eyelashes out as proof of how sorry I was.
It has taken me years of grown-up therapy to come to terms with the origins of the repetitive behaviors that plagued my childhood and adolescence, and that still sometimes linger. I am the eyelash-less girl in the school pictures. I fielded countless questions about my eyes, I was called, “pig-eyed” even from people I loved. I lied and told people my eyelashes all fell out; this gave me yet another thing to beg forgiveness for. It was a vicious cycle. My parents did the best they could with what they were seeing. I didn’t tell them what was happening, what my real fears were, because I didn’t want them to know I had thoughts of being “left behind.” That confessional would mean I didn’t have faith, and that meant I was an unbeliever, marked for eternal destruction. I wish now that I had said something, but I never did. They took me to an eye specialist at Children’s Hospital. I was prescribed sunglasses for being outside, the optometric specialists thinking that maybe I was having a sensitivity issue. I couldn’t really say to them what was going on, either, and I felt badly that people were trying to blame my eyes. It was my spirit that was broken. My eyes just took the hit.
I was thinking of all this yesterday, as I grow into new iterations of my life and my faith where I have to confront the painful places, where growth requires reconstruction of my understanding of divine presence, even in our darkest moments. We have to tear open old wounds sometimes, to allow the brokenness to make room for the small points of light to pour in and illuminate the dark places.
Because our friend Rock spent years as an ordained clergy in another tradition, we sang many songs yesterday that were familiar refrains from my own childhood, blended together with the liturgy I now know and love in the church I have joined, the voice of Christianity I am reclaiming, in the path I myself am walking into a renewed vocational calling. Yesterday, different tears were forming in the windows of my soul. Reconciliation. Grace. Healing. Reclaiming music and spirit and preaching as transformational forces not for fear and judgment, but for divine love and growth.
The windows to my soul are not so red and swollen this Sunday morning, physically or spiritually. Yesterday, eyes offered me a lens to ponder, reflect, and offer up in prayer the petitions of a small child that I now know were never ignored, that were always heard. An answer that was there in my fervent prayers all along, the still small voice that also echoes through the spheres: you are loved, because I am Love. That persistent, divine presence has always been with me, patiently awaiting me to be still and know.
When I greet my friends and neighbors today, when I offer them the gifts of welcome, hospitality, peace, Eucharist…that light is what they will see reflected in the windows to my soul.