A friend asked me recently what I plan to say to God upon my death.
I replied, “Thank you, God, for the incredible challenges and opportunities you have provided me. I hope you are pleased with how I manifested you in my life. I’m aware that I may have many more invitations to grow, to serve, and to love. I will work hard to rise to the occasion. When my body gives out, I look forward to the review of my life so that I may see where I need to grow.”
People with a high level of education, living in large cities in first-world countries, who are skilled in logical thinking, are less likely to believe in God. Those who don’t need a higher power to settle scores, to protect them from abuse, or to bring them good fortune are also less likely to be planning on having a conversation with God. I’m increasingly aware of how many people around me no longer believe in a Supreme Being.
One learned friend suggested that belief in reincarnation is childish. He does, however, believe in the mystical connection between all living things. I believe in both, and prefer the description “childlike.” What some people see as naivety, I would describe as innocent. I accept that I may be completely wrong about the existence of a universal life force that can’t be destroyed, even by neglect. But I embrace my life experiences as proof there is something that gives meaning and purpose to all living things; at least it does to me.
I get no tangible benefit from believing in the existence of the soul, and of its indissoluble connection to all other souls, past, present, and future. It just makes sense to me, as does the thought of the Universe working through me; working through everyone who’s willing. It’s a matter of quiet discernment and responding “yes.”
Being gay and growing up Catholic are two very essential components of my transformation in consciousness, and of my freedom from doctrine. My emotional intelligence — my ability to perceive and understand the feelings of others, to see what is happening and how it will result, and my sensitivity to input from the “other side” — has been apparent to me since early childhood. I identified with the saints, particularly with Francis of Assisi. I was transfixed in prayer.
Throughout my life, I’ve had consistent encounters with the Holy Spirit, inspiration beyond my own experiences or awareness, and with powers that humbled my sense of self. All of this may be romantic wishful thinking, but what is to be gained by denying the connection I feel I’ve had with teachers, writers, artists, and ancient spiritual guides? My heart jumps, my eyes tear up, my ego seems transcended when I encounter the truth of my existence mirrored through the reflections of other human beings, and by the communication of nature. Water, especially, creates a serenity of connectedness, most especially when I’m completely submerged. I get this too from walking through the woods, but not as profoundly, and dependably as I do when playing in lakes, rivers, ponds, the ocean, and even in the shower.
The Catholic faith is a treasure trove of symbols, rituals, and traditions that provided me with a foundation of beliefs, and a means to experience higher consciousness of the divine. Like many people my age, and with my life experiences, I grew to distrust, and then disdain the hierarchy of those who were considered learned and inspired enough to know and enforce the “truth” of spiritual enlightenment and of God-centered living. The better educated I became, the more I embraced in myself what the Church called “disordered,” and the more exposure I had to other ways of knowing God, the less Roman Catholic I felt.
It is said that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. I believe that if you can break it in the Catholic Church, you can break it anywhere. To find the courage to stand up to the institution you once revered as the solitary source of your spiritual breast milk, with all of your life to date defined by the sacraments you were tutored to receive, is nothing less than heroic. It is treason with good reason, and my departure, repudiation, and eventual reconciliation saved and reconfigured my spiritual life.
The same is true for my being gay, and the fortitude it required to reject all of the temptations offered me to be duplicitous, to be silent, and to deny the song heard clearly in my heart. To come out of the closet is as heroic a human action as one can conceive, and is essentially required for the liberation from the limbo of primitive thinking. To reject the tantalizing comforts of acceptance by family, church, and state for the sake of one’s soul requires vision, conviction, determination, and a connection to a power greater than oneself.
The conversation with God that I wrote in response to the request of my friend varies little from the prayers I have been saying since early childhood. I know that for some people, my faith in a Supreme Being makes me a less attractive role model of the healthy, happy homosexual, but it was my relationship with a higher power that enabled me to name myself first as a conscientious objector to the War in Vietnam, and then to say “yes” to the reporter’s request for an interview on me being gay and Catholic, a “yes” that would alter my interactions with others for the rest of my life.
If you admire me for standing before hostile audiences for many of the early years of the LGBT civil rights movement, you need to know that the courage I summoned was fed by my conversations with God. If I lose respect today or tomorrow for having such “childish” beliefs, it doesn’t impact one iota the joy and gratitude I have for experiencing a spiritual life and identity. When I say, “Hi, God. It’s me, Brian,” I may be seen as just talking to myself, but that doesn’t mean my words are worthless. On the contrary, talking to God is talking to myself, and talking to myself is talking to God.
“Hi, Brian. Thank you for rising to the occasion with every incredible challenge and opportunity you encountered. We hope you are pleased with how you manifested love in your life. We know that there may be many more invitations from life to grow, to serve, and to love. We will do our best, and when our body gives out, we hope our review of our life helps us see where there is room for growth.”
And so it is, for me.
Two Guys and A Dog is a semi-regular column from Brian McNaught, who has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. Visit Brian-McNaught.com to access his books and DVDs for free. “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it is like to be gay in America.” – Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank.