Friday, December 14, 2012

Coming Out as a Spiritual Person by Edmond Manning

Last week I read J.P. Barnaby’s Enlightened, the first in her Little Boy Lost series. In the first chapter, seventeen-year-old Brian struggles with a vicious, damning sermon delivered by a fag-hating preacher. Brian spends a week sadly pondering why God would hate him, why God would saddle him with this unique love if only to punish him for all eternity.

I read that chapter with anxiety and wondered if the whole book would follow this young man’s religious questioning. I thought, I don’t know if I can go through this again. I’m happy to say the book took an unexpected twist and resolved that plot early, allowing me to enjoy the unfolding (and steamy) love story.

But I was surprised and unnerved how much Barnaby’s skillful narration dredged up my own religious past as a Catholic. Actually, after meeting other Catholics in my college years and throughout adulthood, I now realize I was raised “Old School Catholic,” where nuns beat your hands and everything you did was a sin. Nobody talked about sex or feelings or deviation from church philosophy. To do so was (you guessed it) a sin. I now understand not all Catholics grew up with this feudal interpretation.

As a young man a few years older than the character Brian, I left the Catholic Church and its self-hating outreach program for gays: hate the sin, not the sinner. I raged that religion had tricked me into loathing myself, duped me into believing I was garbage—and destined to become worse garbage—because my damaged, soiled soul came out malformed from God’s factory.

For years I spit on religion and spirituality because anyone spiritual was a self-deluded fool, swallowing a carefully-packaged system sold to them by their own insecurities, fear of death, or seduced by a slick zealot who promised God In A Can.

Suckers.

But.

I could not deny my many life experiences, the small miracles that dazzled me, gifts of forgiveness and creative charity than inspired me, touched me, constantly catching me off-guard. Every time I tried to suppress my spirituality, new miracles bubbled up through nature, friendships, and men who I had loved. When my heart opened to being in love, yes I loved that one man, but other loves unlocked inside me, greater loves than just our two-person relationship. How could I explain that?

And then there were the dreams. I have always enjoyed an incredibly rich dream life, and over the years have distinguished between regular dreams and Big Life Dreams. During one of these special ones, I lounged under the Tree Of Life, and no fucking around, it was the motherfucking Tree Of Life. I could sense every leaf, witnessed every unique soul in its towering branches. I wept at its beauty and its love for me, waking up with tears streaming down my face. Twice I have met goddesses in dreams with life changing results. I have visited with the dead whose recurring messages for the living followed this theme: we love you. We’re rooting for you.

Note: Dreaming about zombies does not count as dreams about deceased loved ones.

In addition, I could not deny friends’ experiences, friends who loved their religion. Their religion (and yes, some of them were Catholic) loved people, loved God, and adopted a certain flexibility in this love, a positive questioning that I had not realized was acceptable. I didn’t think these friends deluded or suckers. They loved from a very different place. It mystified me and made me realize my narrow religious experiences had damaged my views of positive spirituality.

As much as I fought it, there came a point where I could no longer deny it — I was a spiritual person.

To this day, I have trouble defining what it means to be ‘a spiritual person.’ The very phrase makes me think of long-haired hippies smoking marijuana picking wildflowers and telling the tulip whose life they just snapped off the stem, “I love you, bro.”

Hrrrm. That’s not me.

Not exactly.

While my spirituality evolves into new minty flavors of love, I remain a product of Catholic influence. One of these new flavors is a softening of feeling toward the religion I grew up with. I will never return to the Catholic Church, but I am now free to love the stories of Jesus, his compassion, his transformational love. I love the values my church-lovin’ family instilled in me. While I refuse to ignore the intense dysfunction in that fucked-up papal hierarchy, I also celebrate the love I had once known in that world.

So I wrote a book about it.

They say a writer’s first novel is often highly autobiographical, the media an author uses to work through his issues. I must admit the truth in this, at least for me. King Perry is truly autobiographical as I used to explore my current and past spirituality.

Perry’s plot line focuses on the best of Christianity, following one man’s selfless service to the kingdom of man, and how that ends in his unique ability to open the passage between death and life. Perry is abandoned on a mountain top (like Jesus) is transformed in three days (like Jesus) and adopts a new nickname, The Forgiver King (one of Jesus’ many honorary titles).

In fact, all three main characters have nicknames.

King Aabee = The Father King
Perry Mangin = The painter’s son / The Forgiver King.
Vin Vanbly = The Human Ghost

The Father, Son, and Ghost? Really, it doesn’t get more Christian than that.

King Perry celebrates the joy of true Christianity, returning to the greater love by acknowledging your vulnerable and broken truths aloud: I hurt. I’m scared. I’m lost. Turn to the rising son and face all of loving creation, eagerly awaiting your magnificent return.

I included dozens of Christian references throughout the story, allusions to heaven and hell, twice comparing Perry to Jesus. Hell, I even included a duck, the original animal associated with Christianity until the Church decided ducks do not possess enough dignity to represent Christ. Think of how much kinder, more relaxed the Catholic Church would be today if they had only embraced a goofy, earnest, waddling duck.

King Perry’s second plot line focuses on the very worst of Catholicism—a group of men who rape children and are never caught, never brought to justice. The kids who suffered through that trauma are left alone to recover from that shattering experience.

While I made no mention of direct or implied mention Catholicism or priests, I definitely intended this dark plot to consider the horror of abusing children. How can a religion meant to unite people with the greater universal love knowingly allow their most trusted officers to rape children in decade after decade of unreported abuse?

How can a loving person place spiritual trust in such damaged clergy?

It puzzles me to this day.

I am unable to resolve these polarities in my old faith. In fact, I summarized my conflicting feelings over being raised Catholic with the last two lines of the book: “Bear versus fish. Totally surreal.”

These days, I worry less how to define my own spirituality. I feel it. I nurture it. I ask myself questions like ‘does this action make me more loving or less so? Does this open my heart or shut it down?’ I like calling my spiritual entity “The Sparkling Spirit,” because in my life, it fucking sparkles, blinding me with laughter, goofiness, solitude.

My spirituality is snow sparkling at dawn and chilly summer nights writing on my back deck by candle light. In my world, The Sparkling Spirit encourages grief as a way to connect us to each other. The Sparkling Spirit also advises me to be hard like a diamond sometimes, demanding safe boundaries and protecting others.

I believe this Sparkling Spirit dances throughout King Perry as well, manifesting in a kingdom where every man is the one true king and every woman its one true queen. They play, they weep, they greet the dawn. All flavors of spirituality are welcome here—current Catholics, former Catholics, and every label in between. The only price for admittance is that you must love with all your love, no holding back.

Come and greet the dawn.



Edmond Manning has always been fascinated by fiction: how ordinary words could be sculpted into heartfelt emotions, how heartfelt emotions could leave an imprint inside you stronger than the real world. Mr. Manning never felt worthy to seek publication until recently, when he accidentally stumbled into his own writer's voice that fit perfectly, like his favorite skull-print, fuzzy jammies. He finally realized that he didn’t have to write like Charles Dickens or Armistead Maupin, two author heroes, and that perhaps his own fiction was juuuuuuust right, because it was his true voice, so he looked around the scrappy word kingdom that he created for himself and shouted, "I'M HOME!" He is now a writer.

In addition to fiction, Edmond enjoys writing non-fiction on his blog, www.edmondmanning.com. When not writing, he can be found either picking raspberries in the back yard or eating panang curry in an overstuffed chair upstairs, reading comic books. You can find Edmond on Goodreads sometimes.

10 comments:

  1. No wonder your story touched me so deeply...

    And I'm thrilled to know a fellow sparkler. :) *hug*

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  2. Hello, Sparkles! *hug* Thanks for commenting today. And thank you for reading King Perry.

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  3. You know, I've always called myself a 'recovering Catholic', having also grown up 'old school Catholic' though without the knuckle ruler. I called it that for the joke alluding to Catholicism being like an addiction to kick. Because you try to get out, but the dealers (peers/parents/priests) suck you back in, pressuring you to conform. "You're nothing without us. You need us. You'll suffer without us in the worst way."

    But while reading this post, I stopped to think that perhaps there's more to the word 'recovering' than I was giving credit. Recovering a view of spirituality that doesn't have to exclude or judge or pity. I often defend myself from Bible Thumpers having a problem with my sexuality by asking them what specifically makes them hate LGBT people. Usually, it's the one man, one woman thing, said in its various ways throughout the old testament. Then I launch into the other things the old testament touts: multiple wives, concubines, abuse to children, wives 'obeying' their husbands. Do they condone that, too?

    Usually, I'm met with stony silence. Whether it's because they still hate me or because they have no answer, I don't presume. They don't exactly like me pointing out contradictions in their doctrine, or their preshus Book.

    I have no problem with spirituality if it means a person loves with all their love, like you said. I have religious friends who accept me for who I am, like Jesus did of the tax collectors (the lowest of the low in His time) and prostitutes and castaways. It's organized religion I have more of a problem with, though not every organized religion. I'd have to see what they're about first, then figure out my opinion.

    But to think of my own spirituality, I wonder at it. Did I lose it completely? Am I just not over what my upbringing in Catholic schools did to me and not yet ready to embrace a new definition of spirituality yet? Or do I believe that life itself is miraculous as is the world around us, but I don't chalk it up to a higher power because I think science is a miracle too, and more logical? *shrug*

    You've given me things to ponder, Edmond. As per usual.

    Also, I dig your sparkles. They shine bright, and I love them. They look good on you.

    -AJ

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    1. Hi AJ, loved your reply.

      I don't know what's up with you and your spirituality, so I must resist saying something trite like, "It's still in there..." or "I believe in you..."

      I think that each of us has a unique walk with spirituality in our lives and I can respect those who say, "Yeah, it's not resonating with me. Not now. Maybe not ever." I think that's a valid approach and I think the universe was designed for those people to be welcome and celebrated even if they don't believe in the celebration.

      So, whatever your level of spirituality, I hug you. You and I have sparkled together and it's so much fun to have met you on this path. I am grinning.

      Edmond

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  4. These posts are really making me think.

    It’s easy to get caught up in the many influences that surround us - popular culture, politics, families, societal pressures. To make the smart or snarky remark rather than the kind one. But when we feel the need to improve inner selves does that need have to come from God or a guardian spirit/angel? Or is it more a natural need to change things that are not working in our lives that makes us begin to question the influences around us?

    Over the years I have gone backwards and forwards on the self improvement path. Sometimes just getting out of bed has been a chore and I have let people down. At others I can be more open to what life brings me.

    I like the questions you ask yourself - "does this action make me more loving or less so? Does this open my heart or shut it down?’ I've copied this out and stuck it on my mirror as a reminder to myself at the start of the day to be more aware.

    Thanks for your post. *hugs*

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    1. I'm glad that sentence meant something to you, Alder. I love it. Y'know, some days, getting up and getting dressed is all I can do.

      One of the things I love about 'sparkling' is that the only way something sparkles is if it goes dim for a moment and then sunlight hits it again. I'm okay with my down days, my dull days, the days where I do expense reports and shovel the snow off my sidewalk. Maybe tomorrow I will create an opportunity to shine right back at the sun.

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

      Edmond

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  5. I did note those references and the underlying spiritual aspects in King Perry but totally missed the significance of the duck - I love it. Organized religion would vastly benefit from the ability to take itself and it's (varying) beliefs a bit more lightly, to have a little give in the framework so someone pushing the boundaries doesn't just hit a wall of limits to forgiveness. In the same way, I sometimes wish the American national bird had been the turkey, as Ben Franklin suggested, and not the eagle. We could stand to take ourselves less seriously.

    I love your Sparkling Spirit questions - ‘does this action make me more loving or less so? Does this open my heart or shut it down?’ I'm not really the type to sparkle, but those are my words to live by, said better than I can. Thank you. Great post.

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    1. Far be it from me to call you names, Kaje, but you're a liar. You *do* sparkle. You do. I've seen it.

      I don't think sparkling means you have to sing show tunes on stage in a shimmery red dress...you sparkle with the kids you serve on the YA list. You sparkle in mentoring me with feedback, love, and advice. You and I shared a memorable, wonderful moment at GRL that sparkles in my memory as a heartfelt, touching moment.

      To the people in your life, you shine. You sparkle. It's not a matter of 'showy' so much as showing up. And you show up big. What more sparkle do you want or need?

      Okay. I'm officially done calling you a liar. :-)

      Oh my gosh...think of how much fun it would be if America's bird was a turkey?! LOL. I do think Christianity took a 'wrong turn' in getting rid of the duck...that the religion started taking itself too seriously.

      They say that Christ laughed with children. He had dinner with prostitutes. What the hell do they think he talked about with prostitutes? Economic reform? C'mon.

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    2. Aw, first time I've liked being called a liar. Thank you. (not that I'm any kind of mentor - we have a mutual support thing going.)

      A sense of humor is second only to a sense of compassion on my list of essential human traits.

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  6. God loves you, sweetheart - you just have to shovel through the church's rhetoric in order to hear it. I don't have a problem with spirituality, it's the static organized religion puts around the message that bothers me. It makes our kids work that much harder to find acceptance just for being the beautiful people they are.

    And you know I loved King Perry too - so it's an extra special thrill when authors I admire like by work.

    Thank you so much. <3

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