What do you first think of when you hear the word “light”? I cannot venture to guess what exactly what meaning it will carry for each individual, but I know what it always represents to me. For myself, it generally means something good, aligned with the type of positive thinking I strive to fill my thoughts, mind and life with.
So many common phrases in our culture utilize it: “I have seen the light,” “light of my life,” “seeing things in a better light,” “lighten up,” “shed some light on the subject/situation,” or “full of light,” to name just a few. There are countless more, and I could write several pages just about those. I do find it interesting that nearly every one of them carries with it a positive connotation, related to good things, joy, happiness, clarity, illumination and the eradication of darkness (a term which carries with it the negative opposite connotation, and is most often used to reference things, states, feelings, or situations opposite of those “light” is used to refer to.) Even references to the nature of the type of existence which may lay beyond life as we know it make reference to “going into the Light” as “going home to God,” and it is always referred to as a good place in that context.
Even other phrases, perhaps not directly related to matters spiritual on the surface level but which employ the use of the word “light” are also accompanied by generally positive connotations. For example, references concerning a “light meal” or “light snack” carry with them the meaning of something which offers sustenance without the detrimental effect of weighing someone down; and yet another meaning attributed to “light” is a lack of additional burden which could weigh someone down, giving them a sense of freedom, agility and ease of movement. A “light bulb going off in one’s head” is used to represent a sudden moment of clarity, hope and inspiration when dealing with some sort of complication or conundrum-an illumination which offers a previously unseen solution to difficulties one might encounter. And the list continues.
All of these can be positively referenced in a spiritual sense as well, in fact, quite appropriately, as embracing a healthy spirituality carries with it casting off many heavy burdens, which can weigh down the soul and prevent one from living fully, and instead rendering with a sense of being lithe, free and agile in spirit, and also enables us to have a vision of a better way or existence than we might have previously imagined possible given our newfound ability to view a situation with clarity rather than fear, darkness, and confusion regarding whatever matter might have been troubling or perplexing us and creating conflict either within ourselves or with others.
On a far more dramatic note, light is also used in the third verse of the Bible, in Genesis 1:3, when it states, “And God said, ‘Let there be Light’, and there was light,” citing these as being the first “words” spoken by God in the Bible. Granted, I do not view Genesis as a literal documentation of how everything was Created, but it is very obvious that the authors have the understanding that light is representative of the beginning of all good things.
In any case, “light” used in a spiritual context seems to represents life, wholeness, and the elimination of darkness. At its base level, it is the opposite of the negative, and the embodiment of the positive, just as I feel love represents all things positive, and fear all things negative on a spiritual level. Light seems to be the cure for most of what creates negative circumstances.
I have discovered this to be resoundingly true through my own personal experience. The majority of the time, whenever I hear it, it is always in the context of something good. Whenever it is used in a spiritual context-which more often than not it is anyway, if on no other level than a subconscious one-it always represents something good.
Is it any wonder, then, that much is made of the term in spiritual teachings – not only modern ones interpreted by those who read the Bible and attempt to extrapolate the messages which still carry meaning, relevance and guidelines for a better life in this modern day and age, but also a great many of those which Jesus Himself initially blessed us all with-including one he used on numerous occasions: “I am the Light Of The World,” and later letting all of us know that we are the light of the world as well. (I have to admit I am curious exactly how many times the term “light” is used in a positive context in the Bible, akin to the way “fear not” appears 365 times, enough for one each day of the year!)
I have long been of the firm belief that we are all intended to be the full recipients of all of the light God wishes to illuminate our lives with, and that part of our purpose, whoever we are Made to be and whatever unique elements our individuality God has intended for us to make use of in the ongoing process of Creation are designed for, is to be conduits for the light God brings into our won lives and into the lives of all others who need it, who are yearning for it, and who will benefit from it on a spiritual level (more on that later). But I had not really done a lot of research beyond the more well known verses making reference to light in the Bible, and thought it would be an interesting process.
Considering all of this, I did some research into the references Jesus made to light in His teachings as recorded in the New Testament, attempting to perhaps locate something new that I had not previously noticed. As it turned out, and is usually the case when I attempt to “ask, seek and knock,” I didn’t have to look too far. Interestingly enough, I came up with some illumination of my own regarding my own ongoing, and ever fascinating spiritual journey. For lack of a better term, it “shed some new light on things” in a wonderful way.
There are several verses I want to relate about, but there were two that really stood out to me as “brighter” (every pun intended) than the others, which directly related to my own journey and spiritual growth, as well as that of many others I have known and encountered in my life:
No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is deprived of light. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not absent. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it deprived of light, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays. (Luke 11:33-36)
The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be deprived of light. If then the light in you is extinguished, it will be like midnight! (Matthew 6:22-23)
The first thing I contemplated after reading these teachings of Jesus, which I had read and previously considered before but was about to see in a different light, was that these are Parables which refer predominantly to a matter of perspective – more specifically, our own manner of perspective on things. In this instance, sincerely feeling that Jesus was not literally referencing what we “see” with our physical eyes and what runs along the optic nerves to the mind and registers a literal visual image, I pondered what was being said about the eye.
At first, I thought about the “mind’s eye,” but then I came to the realization that He was referencing our perspective-that is, how we feel about and view God, life and things in general. Do we have a positive, healthy, and affirming outlook about God? Or are we still, on a personal level, groping in the darkness for a sense of true clarity and illumination within ourselves about what exactly God is and is not? Are we “seeing” God from a state of fear or one of love?
And suddenly, this teaching made complete sense to me. It is our point of view, our perspective about not only God but our very existence, life and consciousness which determines the measure of light which can enter into our being and allow us to more fully experience and be a part of God; that is not to say that I do not believe we are already deeply connected and a part of God, as I believe that we are. But we must allow the light in and the scales to be lifted from our metaphorical eyes before we can come to that full realization and understanding, and it requires a healthy perspective – which first has to come from within – in order for that to transpire.
After all, so many times and consistently in the teachings of Christ and what is recorded about His ministry, I notice that time and time again he reiterates that it is not merely He alone who is doing all of the healing, but that we take an active role in the process as well when we utilize the power of faith God has blessed each and every one of us with in abundance: take for example, the occurrences of healing where He openly states “According to your faith, let it be done to you”(Matthew 9:22), or “Your faith has made you well”( Matthew 9:29). He seems to me to be saying, “Look at the help God will give you, if you just have faith!” Granted, it took His message to help those experiencing a healing to know that God has blessed them with the ability to be healed, but I firmly believe that is one of the strongest and most affirming messages within the Bible; the testimony that faith truly can overcome the seemingly insurmountable circumstances, move mountains, and render what might have seemed impossible into the realm of possibility, and reality. I feel that Christ was telling us all that God will be there for us, but we too have to do our part – even if all that means is allowing our hearts, minds and souls to be open enough to let the light in, and allow faith to do the rest.
I did a brief personal inventory, and felt confident and secure that I have reached the point of having a “healthy eye” to the best of my ability at this point in my journey, although that was not always the case. One verse that drove that point home to me and brought me to a better level of understanding about my own journey really stood out among those two, and that was the following:
“If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it deprived of light, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.”
It brought back some memories of a time when I had embraced a healthy spirituality and a better way of thinking about God, but still had some dark corners within that needed to be dealt with and how I eventually dealt with them – in order that I might be able to fully “see the light” and shine it into the lives of those around me more effectively, as I feel God asks all of us to do in showing our gratitude for all of the blessings which have been bestowed upon us in our own lives.
Even after I had fully embraced the idea of an unconditionally Loving God – Who made me to be the person who I am and I had fully embraced, accepted and found joy in who that person is – bisexuality, quirkiness, unconventional and radical beliefs and all – there was still a part of me which was deprived of light, and it took a few occurrences for me to become aware of that and illuminate those areas as well. The part which remained trapped in the darkness was a part I have also seen remain in darkness in others – the subconscious. The conscious level is, for all of the challenges and difficulties that can arise in the process of rebuilding and reconstructing a new and positive spirituality and belief system after the old and unhealthy ones have either been discarded, have collapsed, or both, easy by comparison.
Let me explain a bit further what I mean. I had come to a place in my life not too many years ago where I knew, and felt in my heart that all of the old, detrimental, and negative ideas I had once held in regards to God were false, and all of the factors which in the past had prevented me from fully accepting myself and the fact that I was created to be a bisexual man. On a conscious level, and in my awareness, I had let go of the idea of a God of demands and requirements that demanded my unwavering, unquestioning obedience to rules and dogma that I rationally knew were the constructs of others in their own understanding, or attempts to understand God.
I was joyful, grateful and totally at peace with the knowledge that not only did God not judge me on the basis of my sexuality and sexual orientation, but that I was made to be who I was for a reason. I no longer lived in a state of anxiety about who I am, or the fact that I have a very different and radical understanding of God than some. I knew that I would not be judged, rebuked, or cast out of God’s Grace due to my being bisexual and what that means to me and how I live my life. There was no guilt, shame or fear about anything associated with my being bisexual, and no conflict with the fact that for me that means being honestly committed to both a woman and a man. I had reached a place where I no longer lived in panic of God chastising me simply for being who I was made to be. And I had come out fully as bisexual and out of the darkness of both the self imposed closet and the closet I had hid my true self from others in. I no longer feared being chastised or punished for being who I am.
As one of the elements of this newfound spiritual freedom and life, I spent a great amount of time and invested a great deal of personal time and energy in prayer, meditation, and doing whatever I could to express my gratitude. But after a while, both my partners, other friends and loved ones and myself began to see something happening which was a bit distressing.
Ten minutes of prayer each morning had become mandatory, rather than voluntary. It was not that I did not desire to pray; in fact, it was quite the opposite. Time spent in prayer remains to this day a very joyful, vital and important pleasure on the list of things I do every day. But what I had oddly began to do was be afraid that I was not being grateful enough. I felt that God had blessed me so much by loving and accepting me as I am that no matter how many times I said “thank you,” it would never be enough. Ten minutes grew to two hours or more some days, to the point of it becoming frighteningly ritualistic in a sense.
In addition, I was spending an amazing amount of time doing things for others – again, not a thing wrong with that as that is what I still believe we are called to do, and which I cannot help doing out of the desire to express gratitude to God for all that I have. The problem lay not in that I was being the Good Samaritan, but that I was doing things for others at the expense of my own well being. There was the time I began to assist others financially – another trait which I still possess, and which I consider to be a good thing as it is never wrong to give to others in need – but at a time I was doing so to the point where I was creating financial hardship for not only myself but others who depended on me, and I felt I was not giving enough when I did.
Then there was the issue of church. If I for some reason missed church on a Sunday, I was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. This was not the old form of guilt with imagined metaphors of the clouds opening up and lightning striking me, but it was a sense that somehow, I was not going to be there at church if someone needed to talk to me, or that somehow I was being ungrateful to God.
There were other issues too – was I praying for others enough, was I helping other enough, was I doing all I felt called to do enough? I still do firmly believe that what being a follower of Christ is all about is being there for others in need and striving to always be a source of light, hope, love and compassion in the lives of all in need of it, and everyone in general, as well as constantly expressing our gratitude to God. But at that time in my life (and this was before I learned that one of the very best ways to show our gratitude to God is through allowing ourselves to experience joy and letting that spill over into the lives of those around us) I was under the impression that I had to do so to the point where I was neglecting my own sense of spiritual health and well being, and that there was still some sort of personal suffering required of me; I still associated “spiritual” with some sort of self denial. It took me a while to finally have my own “light bulb” go off, and comprehend what I was doing, and what was going on.
I had arrived at a much better place and a higher plateau of spiritual awareness. But there was still a dark corner remaining in my soul at the time. Overall, I had the false feeling that no matter how devoted, no matter how reverent I was that I would never be capable of being a “true Christian,” because of the fact that my beliefs and understanding of God, despite how real they are to me, and despite all of the evidence on a personal level that they are genuine and sincere. The reason for this is that prior to my developing a real and genuine spirituality and seeking God earnestly and honestly, I had been ensnared in a very skewed idea and concept of what being a follower of Christ truly is; keep in mind that this concept is nowhere to be found in the Bible, or the teachings of Jesus, it was handed down to me by others who claim to speak for God and that they possess some sort of monopoly on the truth – which I, and many others know that no one can. There may only be one God, but are many truths – as unique, individual and different as the beautiful diversity of God’s Creation.
True, some things are constant and weave a common thread through the beliefs and spirituality of all, but for the most part those are very generalized. Even for the most dedicated, earnest and thoughtful spiritual seeker, the full, vast and magnificent nature of God remains a wonderful mystery that we often discover a little more of each day over time, rather than easily definable, stock answers handed to us on some sort of metaphysical silver platter.
Even though I had long since rejected the false concept that God imposed rules upon me to repress my sexuality and bisexuality or adhere to a legalistic belief system, I still had this shadow in the background of a God that demanded a specific amount of time spent in prayer and supplication each day (to the point where at one time, as previously mentioned I spent fevered hours in prayer; I now know in retrospect this was merely a manifestation of my mind coping with Panic/Anxiety Disorder rather than any sort of Divine Inspiration or “mandate”). I dared not miss one Sunday at church, and I dared not ever lose my temper, regardless of whether I apologized later or not. It was almost as if I was constantly still on “thin ice.” I constantly felt that no matter how kind or giving I was, how much time I invested, nothing was ever enough. If I wanted to continue to enjoy the newfound freedom I had discovered in letting go of the fearful concepts of God I had once had, I had to be extremely cautious and reverent. (Looking back at this, and my friends, family and partners both say the same, this was quite ironic, in that I was still a prisoner of fear). And to me, another glaring example of how detrimental and dysfunctional fundamentalist indoctrination can be render someone’s mental health into a state which can require a significant amount of recovery as mine did.
My rational mind, my heart and my soul knew that I no longer had to fear the concept of a God of strict personal rules, demands, and legalities regarding the person who I am. But the conditioning I had endured for a long time had unfortunately reached down to a subconscious level, and it was difficult on that plane to separate all of my old, unhealthy ideas about God from all of the positive, real and affirming ones I had embraced. My subconscious mind had unfortunately come to associate anything related to God, church, spirituality or Christianity from all of the negative chaff which had prevented me from developing a healthy spirituality for so long, and had obscured my view of what God, and following the spiritual teachings of Christ are all about. To compound matters further, there were still residual negative influences from others who chose to cite the difficulties I was having with panic attacks and in discarding the negative patterns of thinking and reconciling things within and the resulting “spiritual conundrum” as “evidence” (however flimsy) that their beliefs were the correct ones and that mine were faulty, flawed, and laden with error.
It had been so difficult for me to move past the idea of a fundamentalist God; so difficult that I had, in fact, created a “replacement.” Similar to the way someone who is able to cease destructive habits like alcohol or drug abuse will do a violent 180 degree turn into another equally self destructive and unhealthy behavior which continues to perpetuate the cycle of low self esteem, such as the former legalistic Christian who discards their faith and becomes what I have come to refer to as a “fundamentalist Atheist,” the former partier who becomes a hardcore legalist and becomes addicted to imposing their path and beliefs upon others – this is sweeping the real problems under the rug rather than healing.
Mine was different. I had let go of the idea of a God that demanded a strict, legalistic understanding and adherence to Scripture and dogma, but I had replaced that in my psyche with a different “God of demands,” or merely given the unhealthy idea of God which had kept me prisoner for so long a facelift and a new mask – fortunately, it was a thin one and I would soon be able to see a faint glimmer of the light which would eventually illuminate and eradicate this still dark place within my soul. For the time, I lived in fear of another “negative God.”
I was fully aware on a conscious level that this was not the case, yet it took a few instances to really wake me up and recognize what my subconscious mind was doing. Probably most notable was the episode that God allowed me to experience in such a way that it really drove the point home and enabled me to shine a light into the dark corner where I had not allowed it to reach yet; sometimes old habits die hard, and others, we become so used to and comfortable with uncomfortable feelings that we allow ourselves to fall into a rut and live with them because it’s the only way we know. Thankfully, faith and “circumstances” God lets us get into can get us out of that place.
The event that woke me up more than any other was a morning where I was supposed to attend church and to assist with the service – early, early in the morning, as a matter of fact. I received a phone call from a friend who was dealing with a severe personal (medical) crisis and needed my help. I won’t go into details as to the nature of it, but it was assuredly one of those situations where it is perfectly acceptable for a friend to call you in a time of need at 4am; they needed me there and they needed my help. From the sounds of it, I had no idea how long I would be gone helping them out, perhaps all night, all morning.
For one terrible moment, my only thought was, “I can’t. I have to be up in three hours for church.” It was panic, it was on my mind, but what I alternatively said as a reflex reaction was this: I paused as if I was about to hesitate, and then said, “Hang tough. I’m on the way. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
And the true impact of what had just transpired, as I had hastily thrown on some clothes and was driving to help my friend in need, hit me like a roundhouse or an ice cold bucket of water in the face. I was shocked and appalled at myself for placing my own foolish fears and anxieties over everything I know in my heart being a follower of the teachings of Christ is all about above all things.
It occurred to me at that moment that in my desire to appease this new idea of God by being at church the next morning, I was doing exactly the contrary to what I knew, everything my heart told me God would want me to do. Rather than do the true thing I felt Jesus would have done – to listen to and go and help my friend in a time of great need – I was instead going to elect to engage in what had become a sort of “religious ritual” instead. In that moment, I felt no better than one of the Pharisees that Jesus showed such disappointment with for their placing more value on religious ritual than doing the Loving thing. I had fallen into the same negative patterns from before, and allowed my subconscious mind to create a whole new ugly God of new strict and cruel requirements as bad if not worse than before, in that it nearly prevented me from doing the things I knew in my heart that God really does desire us to do – to be the light in the lives of others. Fear internalized and not fully confronted and properly dealt with over the years has the uncanny knack of rendering and knocking rationality out cold.
Similar to the way I had rejected a God who would ask that we repress who we are and become someone we are not in order to “conform” to a one size fits all idea of Christianity and to appease those who hold one idea about God, I needed to cast the proverbial scales from my eyes and abandon any concept of God that would influence me to engage in any type or form of religious ritual which would prevent me from truly practicing the Golden Rule, one that would keep me entrapped in fear which prevented me from not only fully having my own soul illuminated, but kept the light I was blessed with away from others who needed it as well. And it was that very morning as I became absorbed totally in helping someone else who needed me that I forever rejected the idea of a God who would create such demands that I would not be able to feel fully loved and cared for, and share that same type of unconditional love with others.
The negative outlook I had developed and allowed to fester in my subconscious mind due to conditioning (my therapist at the time referred to it as the “punitive superego,” which has nothing to do with God but who some can get confused with God) was that final dark corner I had to get the light into and deal with so that I could ensure that no part of me was deprived of light. Negative spiritual thinking fosters and creates and gives life to all sorts of detrimental, dysfunctional and self destructive thought patterns and neuroses, and this was the result of many years of such before I had begun to embark on a sincere spiritual path. Thankfully, today, clarity and common sense (with a healthy measure of faith and psychotherapy thrown in to assist the process) has kept me away from such patterns of self destructive, self defeating thinking.
True Spirituality – and a deep, honest and sincere relationship with God should never, ever feel forced. It should come as naturally as breathing; and require no further effort from an individual but merely opening up one’s heart, mind and soul and simply being and allowing ourselves to be fully aware that the Light and Unconditional Love of God is all around us, and in us. It should never involve fearful rituals, cautious prayers, or an ominous feeling that we “might not be doing it the right way.” It should never feel like a chore or an onerous task to pray. What it eventually took me to embrace this was to stop trying so much to “be Spiritual” or “be Christian” and allow myself simply to be, and I discovered that an even deeper and truer sense of spirituality followed naturally.
Jesus’ teachings on these matters seem very clear to me:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28) “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)
What I interpret from this is that to embrace what He taught is to be able to let go of religious ritual and dogma which may in the past have fully prevented us from being not only ourselves, but being full present to all the rest of God’s Children who need us, and being fully present in the moment and aware of God’s Presence everywhere. He is showing us a better way of thinking of God-one that is focused on Love, rather than fear or legalism, and which places compassion and love above all things. He is urging us to “let go and Let God” (to call up an often quoted phrase) and to comprehend that what He is teaching is not to oppress or repress, but to help us to not only be free from fear but understand that we never had to be afraid in the first place. When we are able to do this, we very often see that all the time we spent looking for God was in vain, as God was there all along. If I ever feel myself momentarily slipping into old, negative thought patterns due to stressful times, these verses provide spiritual nourishment and enable me to recall what is necessary to illuminate all the corners of my soul that I might have allowed to get deprived of light.
For those of us, LGBT and otherwise who might have in the past dealt with negative thought patterns about God or spirituality, I see one issue coming up constantly; I dealt with it, and I know others have as well.
As I was going through my own healing, I would post to message boards, contact others who had e-mailed me, or talk with others who were feeling anxious or afraid. I was always eager (and still am) to let someone know that God was not out to judge them and simply wanted them to live the truth of who they were made to be in a manner which was not hurtful to others, and instead helpful to as many as possible; and I helped quite a few people this way. But it took a long time to really allow the truth inherent in what I was saying to help me. I had to make the difficult admission at one time that I felt they were deserving, but I somehow was not (more of that negative junk that had to be undone and unraveled over time.) How could I hope to be there for or good to others when I would not even take care of myself, or be good to myself?
Although a large faction of fundamentalist or legalistic Christianity (including much of it that I was exposed to and indoctrinated by for a time) seems to be focused on self denial or martyrdom, it is not a sin by any definition of the term to want to feel good about oneself. How can we possibly be a source of inspiration, a ray of hope, the tiny spark that gives someone the strength to carry on through difficult times if we ourselves feel inadequate or cannot connect with the same inspiration? How can we pass on the gifts which God has blessed us with to others until we fully embrace them for ourselves? It has been said to me many times that “the best witness, the best testimony to faith one can gift another with is the evidence that it has worked miracles for you on a personal level.” After all, as Christ taught:
“You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 11:16)
If we are happy, joyful, and fulfilled, and are radiating that fact, others will see it. If we ourselves are fearful, anxious, unacceptable, inadequate or unhappy, how is that inspiring to others? I see being at peace with ourselves as being tantamount to encouraging others to know that they too can find peace in God, and in practicing the teachings of Christ. And as we are able to share that peace with others, it has a way of multiplying within ourselves.
It is not being selfish to want to take care of oneself. In fact, I feel that is a prerequisite in order to be a better person for others. Maintaining our own spiritual health only serves to enrich the light we can share with others. I feel and know now that God wants us to feel good about ourselves, whoever we are, for the very purpose of our discerning what plan is in store for us, and whatever is unique and special about us which could help someone else-to realize our full potential as an unique and individual child of God.
Most of all, I now know that we are closest of all to God when we are simply being, allowing ourselves to feel wholly loved by God, and allowing that Love to flow from us – like light, or electricity – to all others in need of it.
I had not given a lot of thought to the verses regarding our eye being a lamp and our whole body full of light for a while, and it brought back memories if a lot of the healing processes and times of personal growth I had to go through to arrive at this point of peace in my journey. I came away from all of this thinking about having developed another element of growth in my “spiritual toolbox” to deal with life – the understanding and realization that what Jesus was referring to when He talked about our “eye” being healthy was our perspective – a positive, loving and life-affirming outlook about the nature of God and life. For it is indeed that perspective which enables God’s Light to illuminate the dark corners and enrich our should, and be better prepared to share and radiate that brilliance into the lives of those around us – those who might be experiencing a darkness similar to that we once might have to fully experience it.
And I think that is precisely what we are called to do: once we have opened our eyes, mind, heart and soul and allowed God’s light to permeate our own souls, fill us with joy and gratitude for all we have in life, and replenish our strength during the challenges of life, we are then to think of ourselves as outlets, circuits or conduits for the same light that radiates for God to us to others. One need search no further than what Jesus had to say about it to see that He not only wanted to give us the gift of God’s Light but that we are being called to share it with others:
I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in the night but will have the light of life (John 8:12)
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God in Heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
These are probably the most often quoted passages attributed to Jesus about light, and I find it not coincidental that although He states many times that He is “the Light of the world,” He also continues to express that we, too are the Light of the world. Like so many of the beautiful truths He blessed us with in His ministry, this one makes resounding sense and continues to express the theme of the core of His teachings, that all of us are deeply connected to as opposed to separate of God, and embracing this reality is a significant part in the process of discovering a better way to live our lives and become even closer to God-or, more accurately in my opinion, to become more deeply aware of our connectedness to God, which we sometimes allow the trials and tribulations of life, stress, or our own anxieties and false expectations appearing real (fear) to obscure. The whole of His Ministry is the Light He brought form God to us, and we are asked to carry that light as messengers of God’s Love to others.
And as LGBT Christians, I feel that we have our own shades of light which God desires us to radiate out to others. I believe that God does not just want us to “come as we are,” but to be and live confidently and joyfully without fear, gult or shame as we are in order to serve a purpose. I feel each of us can illuminate the path others tread, others who also might be seeking, and others who can be enriched by our stories, our testimonies, our lives, and our perspectives.
Those who need to see our light the most are not those who are determined to live their lives, however fear based, in the limited colors of black and white and legalism. It is not our desire to change them or their minds about who they are, how they believe and what they are, as we would desire the same courtesy. It is rather those in the same dark and frightening places we ourselves once were, before God blessed and illuminated our path with self awareness and the Presence of Love and knowing we were made this way for a reason, so we might light their way to a better place, where they are at peace with themselves and God, and as the ultimate result, with others. After all, Jesus did say:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12)
This to me says that it is more of an imperative than ever that if we are especially called to reach out to those who are in need; while we should always strive to express love and compassion to all, I know for a fact there are a lot of people out there – LGBT and otherwise who are direly in need of some hope.
There are many out there who are very content and at peace with their spirituality – whatever shade it comes in. I think that’s wonderful, and wish them the best. And to me it would be in error to attempt to push my views on them, just as I would desire the same courtesy from them. So I don’t. I don’t attempt to convince those who do not understand the path which is right for me that it is, nor do I attempt to tell others that what I believe is the “best” or “only” way.
Instead I attempt reach out to those I encounter who are in the place I was once in (and God has a strange way of placing us where others need us most; I don’t understand a great many of the mysteries of God but that is one thing I have discovered is constant; we are always where we need to be if we just trust in that.) I have counseled with more than a few bisexuals such as myself, many of them who are in similar relationships to mine, some who are out to others and some who are not. I was working a bisexual support line. I would get telephone and e-mail requests constantly asking about faith and bisexuality, and I would be there for them, and I was not doing so for any other reason than it felt wonderful to pass on the hope and sense of inner peace God has blessed me with to another, to let them know they are in fact loved and accepted as they are. And some very interesting things have happened as a result.
At one time, even though I felt secure and comfortable in who I am, I felt certain that I was the only bisexual who felt that it was possible to be true to one’s faith as a Christian and still live the reality of an honest and committed relationship with both a female partner and a male partner, but interestingly enough, once I shared my feelings about this with others, I found a great many others who felt the same way. Just as I felt that regardless of one’s sexuality or sexual orientation there was a hunger and thirst for spirituality and a connection with God, and that it was not necessary to abandon or repress one for the other, there were others who either felt the same, or who were seeking answers and for hope as I had. Just as I had been able to let go of the lies I had heard form others that my sexuality, feelings and desires were “unnatural,” I was able to guide and help others through the same process of letting go of those fears. And there were an amazing number of people who shared many of the same concepts of faith that I did, and who yearned to somehow reconcile their spirituality and sexuality, but had merely been seeking others to talk to, to guide them along, to offer support. Giving hope often results in our receiving hope.
As I did, and continued to open my heart to share the light and hope God had blessed me with to others, I wondered how in the world I could have ever allowed fear to restrain me from fully experiencing life, and how I could have ever associated anything to do with God or Christ with fear, guilt, or shame. And it occurred to me that when we are doing that which makes us feel joy and simultaneously brings joy and hope to others, that is when our light shines the brightest, and that is when we are in alignment with what I feel God wants.
For I think that is one of the things God does best – helping us to help others, if we allow ourselves to be vessels for God’s Love to others, God’s Physical Presence and messengers – bringers of light in this world and a way of communicating Faith, Love and Hope to all of those in need we can reach.
Even though I have long since passed those days I referred to earlier when I still struggled with fears which had taken root in the subconscious mind, every so often, I still think to myself, “I don’t do enough.” I no longer wonder if I pray enough, or pray long enough. We don’t always make it to church; there are those weekends away, and “lazy Sundays” from time to time. And certainly, being there for someone in need always takes first priority over any type of religious devotion (I prefer that term to ritual) like church, prayer, or meditation.
And it isn’t that I don’t keep busy; in fact, in all likelihood, I still stay too busy. I am constantly on the go, whether I am working one of two and sometimes three jobs, running errands, or doing something. At times it feels like I am in perpetual motion even when I’m sleeping, which often isn’t much.
So when I make the statement that I don’t do enough, it isn’t for lack of activity. The lack of “enough” which comes to mind is my internal response to the question I ask myself to keep myself in check and spiritually grounded, especially during fast-paced, breakneck times in my life: “What am I doing to share the blessings God has given me, the unique gifts and talents I have been entrusted with, and the unique message that God wants me to give to others?” as well as “Did I take the opportunity to shine that light God has so graciously blessed me with into the life of another today who needs it as much as I did?” These things are absolutely not any sort of “requirements” or “quotas” I feel I am expected to live up to by any definition, but a real, true and sincere desire.
Sometimes I feel I come up short. I think of all of those in need of help to see things in a better, healthier and more affirming light. I wish there were more I could do, but when I feel as if I am not, I try to think of it in a different perspective; sometimes being a bringer of light is as simple as a smile or a have a nice day to someone who’s having a rough time, or an unexpected phone call to say hello and good wishes to a friend who looked down last time you saw them, or responding to someone’s kind gesture with a “thank you.”
As LGBT Christians, what special can we do to share our light with others?
Ideally, in a perfect world, we would all be out, happy, and accepted for who we are without question as equal. Unfortunately, God and all of us assisting God in the process aren’t quite there yet; that isn’t intended to be pessimistic, I am just seeing the reality of the way things are at the present. I realize that not everyone may be out as LGBT, For that manner, there are many LGBT people who are not out as Christians, and have another closet to deal with.
While someone out and living a happy and healthy life is the optimal situation to hope for, it isn’t necessary to shine the light God has blessed us with to others. I’m definitely out as both bisexual and Christian, but I don’t make a huge deal out of it when meeting no people. I don’t walk with one of my partners on each arm or introduce myself by saying, “Hi, I’m bisexual,” or “Hi, I’m a Christian.” Those are merely parts of who I am, but not all of who I am. Okay, I do wear a small bisexual pride bracelet, have the bi pride flag sticker on my car near the Jesus fish and I’m open with any and all who ask about my faith or sexual orientation, but it isn’t all that defines me any more than the type of music I like or what brand of coffee I drink or cigarettes I smoke or the fact that I indulge in reality TV shows sometimes as a guilty pleasure. Among those who know me but who may not understand or agree, it’s just a non-issue. In the cases of those who don’t want to discuss it, we don’t – we focus on our common ground instead. Life is too precious to spend arguing and debating with friends.
I just try to look for opportunities where I can reach out for others in need, and no matter what walk of life they are in or where they are, trying to radiate the happiness I have found in my faith, sense of wholeness, and the peace I have found with God and my faith, and I feel that if I can at least attempt to do that and if everyone attempted to, that would suffice. It need not even be related to sexual orientation or particulars or specific aspects of spiritual beliefs at all.
When it does relate to being LGBT, there is no need to take things to a truly uncomfortable level one is not prepared for yet. While true spiritual growth can carry with is some “growing pains,” I feel we all have to do what we feel ready to do. It is not necessary to martyr oneself by coming out in situations where you may not yet feel prepared to (only you and God can know the appropriate time for that) or where it could endanger you It’s not productive to go to extremes such as running into the local ultra-conservative mega church wearing Pride Garb and scream, “We’re here, we’re queer, and get used to it,” or holding open discussion in inappropriate places about what one does in their private lives amongst those who would not want to know those types of details.
It can be something as simple as just being willing to talk openly about your sexual orientation and your faith and how you reconciled things if and when someone asks, and especially when someone seeks you out to ask you about it.
It can be as simple as coming out to family and trusted friends not only as LGBT, but as a Christian. Never feel as if you have to engage in lengthy apologetics or offer a detailed analysis and deconstruction of your faith in order to justify it to others. Just let it be known that you are who you are. And an even better way, perhaps the best way to demonstrate the fact that you are a Christian is not by empty words or phrases, but by action. (Besides, so many who introduce themselves and include the phrase “and I’m a Christian” too often do not exemplify their self definition by their behavior; that is not always the case, but I have witnessed it more than a few times. I prefer to show and not tell, recalling my favorite hymn, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By our Love.”)
And sometimes, it can be something as seemingly trivial as just being “that queer (or, if you are not of my mindset of “taking back” the term once used as derogatory, the LGBT person – no intent to offend anyone) who is happy and at peace with themselves” in the eyes of those around us. I cannot begin to relate how affirming and hope inspiring it was to me during the coming out process to have found other bisexuals who were willing to be a friend to me and to be there and help and support me with difficult issues and questions, and it was even more inspiring to find others who were Christian and in alternative/two partner relationships as well. So many friends I have found were answered prayers.
For some of us who choose to be bringers of light and both openly and confidently LGBT and Christian, there will be those who attempt to snuff it out with fear, ignorance, and a refusal to understand. It can be frightening at times, but rest assured God will walk with you through whatever trials you must endure in the process. It pays to remember that in His day, Jesus was accused of all sorts of heresy by the religious leaders of the time for His “radical” views. Those who are trapped in their own darkness of fear can scream up and down how they think we pervert the Scriptures, how we have nothing to do with anything Godly, or how we are somehow a “threat” to their faith, or even a threat to the safety of America. But here’s what I think when I hear those accusations:
I have seen more of a pure, sacred manifestation of God’s Love in people who aren’t even religious helping one another through a difficult circumstance than I have seen in many churches which claim to be “real Godly Christian churches, as opposed to those false liberal ones.”
I have seen those who claim to offer light to others and possess the “one true way to salvation” who offer nothing but darkness and fear which only prevents and obscures light and can lead to an “unhealthy eye,” and I have seen those who openly admit they have no answers about the mystery of God but only questions, and who offer others hope without judgment or expectation.
I have seen more random acts of kindness and truly Christian behavior from those who would likely not be welcome in conservative fundamentalist churches due to their sexuality – acts of kindness which were unsolicited and with no motive other than to be kind to another – than I have seen from those who make bold proclamations about what “good Christian people” they are within five minutes of meeting them and then behaved otherwise. A key difference was the people who truly displayed actions which were in alignment with what Jesus taught never once mentioned their faith other than to say “God Bless You.”
And should you feel that your light will not be seen as valid by those who might disagree or not understand, let it shine brightly regardless. For I have come to the full understanding that whatever someone’s sexuality, sexual orientation, or ethical expression of their desires is, God is far too big to indulge in our human embarrassments, lack of understanding, or fear of differences. God calls us to look past that which we might find different, distasteful or disagreeable to us and compels us to see the real person within rather than whatever it is about that person we might not like or disagree with. This point has repeatedly been brought profoundly home to me on numerous occasions.
As Eleanor Roosevelt once so eloquently stated, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Ignore anyone who claims that you cannot be a follower of Christ because of what they believe about who you are. Bring this to light for them: God has a plan for everyone, and that plan does not involve someone trying to be something they are not in order to please those who fear or cannot understand it. It calls for finding our unique place, purpose and niche in the world. We are called as we are for a reason. We’re all different for a purpose, one size is not supposed to fit all, and God is far more creative than to Create us and the world we live in in drab and boring shades of black and white.
Whatever light God has given you to shine, you might wonder, as I have “Exactly what difference does the unique light I have to offer make?” I’m always the first to say I know I am unconventional and at times, even the more liberal minded of Christians find my thinking and life radical due to the nature of who I am, just the very fact that I’m bisexual, my relationships, and my unorthodox perspective on things. At times I feel like a lone beacon out on my own somewhere.
But then I reconsider the fact that each one of us is illuminated with a light – however bright – and all of their own unique hue. Think of a television or a computer screen – each pixel is an individual dot of light. Individually, there may not seem to be much to them (although I have met many a web designers who insist that one pixel can make a world of a difference). But collectively, they represent the larger picture, a bright full image with clarity, and a purpose when all shine together and are joined together as one in unison and harmony, to gleam brightly with the brilliance God has given each and every one of us.
And I honestly feel that is how it is with each of us. If we all shine our individual light, in whatever way we feel guided or compelled to, or whatever shade it may be, together they merge to create a brilliant light which can help to illuminate the dark corners of not only each and every one of us, but those around us. In the process, never feel as if your light, the light God gifted and empowered you to bless others with, is insignificant or meaningless – even one small strand of light could offer a ray of hope and inspiration to another. It can have a huge impact on that one person who might need it who God sends your way for that very reason – and I can only speak from experience, but it does happen if you are open, awake and aware to the possibilities that God has in store for you.
So let there be light! Keep your “spiritual eye” healthy and let God’s Light shine fully on and into you – and then find where you were meant to shine your special, unique and individual light in the world – to illuminate a brighter path, a better way, a guide on their journey, and most of all, hope for all in need of it.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.