I’ve recently had a couple of sessions with an… interesting… counsellor. She’s had some useful things to say, but… Yeah…
Anyways, ONE of the useful things is that she wants me to spend some time meditating on how much God loves me. The problem, well, the surface of the problem, is that she suggested I visualise myself as a rosebud with the first rays of the sun warming me and opening me up. Now, some people would love that. I, however, am contrarian. And I view such images as intense over-sentimentality, in short, they make me wanna vom. So needless to say, this was not going to be advice I could follow directly.
Of course, the quick solve would be to visualise something else. My brain immediately went to “how about I imagine myself as a garbage heap, and the first rays of the sun are just warming up the microbes all through me” (told you I’m a contrarian!).
But the quick solve will only solve the surface of the problem. The real problem, and it’s the reason she wants me to do it, is because I hate myself.
Like so many out there, for so many reasons, almost all of which would come under the umbrella of trauma, I have great difficulty believing myself to be loveable, to be valuable, to be of worth. So whether I imagine I’m a rosebud or a garbage heap, this is a tough exercise for me. I can’t just do it as a quick morning visualisation. It is work I have to push through. “God loves you”. It shouldn’t be so hard to receive love. But it is.
So, of course, I’ve procrastinated, and not even put any particular thought into what visualisation may work for me, and have got nowhere with it.
And in the meantime, as I usually do when I procrastinate (which is my ground state of being, so yes, all the time), I’ve been listening to some podcasts. There’s a family of podcasts I’ve delved into for a while on a network called Maximum Fun, which is based in the USA and primarily hosts American podcasts. One that’s been on the network for a while but that I just hadn’t dived into yet is called FANTI (basically a discussion of problematic faves – you’re a fan, but also anti. Ie, how everyone would feel about everyone, including me, I’ll put my hand up rn, I am very problematic, so to all two of my fans out there, sorry for that!). Reminded by a friend on facebook (who shared a twitter thread from @mishellbaker about how to be less of a Clueless White Person) that one of the important ways to be an ally, particularly to people of colour, is to consume their work/listen to their voices/follow their twitter handles, and just listen and learn and acknowledge the convo may not be for me but can educate me, I thought, yes, it’s time, you know it’s going to be good, just start listening.
(AND at the moment, I’ve been quite stressed (medical reception during a pandemic with a half-arsed vaccination rollout anyone?) so especially weekends have been about doing “nothing” (playing a lot of Stardew Valley and listening to a LOT of podcasts so I have listened to quite a few eps so far. And it has been incredible. Educational, inspirational, challenging, heartwarming. And, because it’s American, they of course talk about a lot of people, places and things I know nothing about 😀 But that’s all good, the hosts and guests are so interesting and thoughtful, it’s been gold. I already support Max Fun so I ensured I added them to my list of pods I listen to so some of my widow’s mite will go to them in thanks and credit for their awesomeness.)
NOW, this podcast would be a SHOCK for a lot of the folks I know (probably a good reason to listen to it), their life and their culture is so different to the lives of a lot of the folks I know. But one of the HUGE things the two hosts and I have in common is growing up in church. And one of the eps I’ve listened to (and re-listened to) so far is titled “When Gospel Music Slaps… And Leaves a Mark”
The ep is focussed on gospel music but is ultimately an expoloration for the hosts and their guest Mychael Chinn of what it is to be Black, queer and religious.
Church is still a reasonably easy community for me to inhabit as a cis-het, white female, but we’ve all had a journey in our relationship with God. My sense of self-hate has some experiences of ‘othering’ tied into it, including in some church spaces, but I ultimately fit into the ‘norm’ of most churches I’ve experienced. Hosts Tre’Vell Anderson and Jerrett Hill spend some of the episode explaining why their relationship with church and God is not an experience of fitting in for the most part, and even of receiving hate.
For example, as Jerrett recounts his response to some words from a pastor during a sermon and his response, he says “what was coming out of the mouth of the pastor was not always what God had told him to say” “that was hate speech I heard on the playground”. “I’ve never been able to un-hear him saying that.” And Tre’Vell describes experiences of chastising and disciplining which would be recognised as abusive (imho) by most experts in psychology and should be recognised as anti-biblical even for those who agree with the reason Tre’Vell was being pressured into changing himself.
However, Tre’Vell in particular says “even though life has happened and a lot of shit has gone down in terms of my relationship with God and with religion…” he is a self-described “church queer”. And both hosts, and the guest Mychael discuss how gospel music in particular is a calming, loving, energising phenomenon in their lives. “The faith remains even if the religion doesn’t” is the conclusion Jerrett comes to. “I will always have a relationship with God, I was always have a gratitude for what God is doing and has done.”
So this is where so many of us are. Church especially, the presence of God on earth, can be a complicated community to be in, and, consequently, we face decision points about whether what we’re receiving from the church is what we’re receiving from God. For eg, as the hosts discuss, the gospel music which is so precious to them, often carries messages that they shouldn’t or don’t exist (always challenging to be told one doesn’t exist when one is there to hear the message one doesn’t exist), and yet there are also moments of transcendent glory. “I still love God and love Jesus and all of that”, “I cling to it”. Tre’Vell says, and that sums it up for so many of us. Transcendent glory mixed with hate and exclusion.
But when the hosts start discussing some songs that still do it for them, still bring that joy, remind them of God’s love, some words Jerrett shared just SLAPPED me in the face (ooh, so many layers to the word slap right now) in a good way. The words turn out to be from a song by Anthony Brown called Worth (Jerrett used it as an audition piece for a choir). The opening lyric:
“You thought I was worth saving”
You thought I was worth saving.
The gospel isn’t just about me. Jesus didn’t just come for me. But He would have. He would’ve come just for me.
Forget imagining myself as a rose. I am the person Jesus thought was worth saving as. i. am. I don’t need to be a rose, or a garbage heap, I’m just me. And He thought I was worth saving.
I can only hope and pray that Jerrett and Tre’Vell and Mychael and all of us will know that and feel that deep within us and be transformed and made whole by that love. And yes, I can’t help myself from visualising myself arm and arm with Tre’Vell and Jerrett in church singing that because I’ve listened to them a lot in the weird intimacy of total strangers speaking into your ears, my brain thinks I know them now and just want to hug them and go to church! And be welcomed and loved and know we belong. He thought I was worth saving. He thought Jerrett was worth saving. He thought Tre’Vell was worth saving. He thought Mychael was worth saving. He thought you were worth saving. That is the love of God toward us. He loves us.
And with all this percolating around in my mind, I “went” to church on Sunday, via Zoom, and indeed in another city, and we were looking at Jesus prayer for His disciples in John 17. End of a series looking at his final discourse, before his midnight arrest, trials and gruesome death. And in the middle of the talk/discussion, pastor Andrew took the time to dwell in verse 24 when Jesus says ““Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Andrew wanted to remind us Jesus is saying I want you to be with me. I want to keep you. I want you to be where I am. He thought you was worth saving, He did it, He wants to keep you.
Tre’Vell said people ask him “why he’s so religious” and I get that question to from some quarters, why are you there, how do you continue, how do you keep holding on to home, and for me, this is it. He loves me. He died for me. He wants to keep me. He has that love for you too. It’s not just for me. And that’s what I want for me, for all of us.
So, I still can’t imagine myself as a rose. I never can. It’s just not me. But I want to try to spend some time just sitting in that lyric. And indeed in the rest of the song:
“You thought I was worth saving
So you came and changed my life
You thought I was worth keeping
So you cleaned me up inside
You thought I was to die for
So you sacrificed your life
So I could be free
So I could be whole
So I could tell everyone I know
Glory to the God who changed my life
And I will praise you (Forever)
I’ll worship you (Forever)
I’ll give you glory (Forever)”
And I thank God for the beautiful and incredible gift of music that can bring this truth and not just as an idea but as an experience for our whole body, mind and soul of what the truth is.