My cousin lost her husband to an untimely death last week. As I sat in the LDS chapel singing hymns for the funeral service I couldn't help but compare my current experience singing hymns with my past experience.
The opening hymn was "How Great Thou Art," one of my past favorites. I realized as I sang along I didn't feel nearly as connected to that song as I used to. I also realized the reason I don't is because I don't feel dependent on the mercy of a Savior to rescue my soul from oblivion. I'm not sure I can adequately describe what that song meant to me back then. In a nutshell, I believed the only reason my consumption of oxygen in this life was tolerated was because there was a Savior who loved me, understood me and would intervene on my behalf to shield me from the vengeance of a Just God.
In my mind, Jesus was the only person who understood what it was like to live inside my skin. He was the only person who loved me without reservation, because surely my family would, at best, pity me if the things in my mind ever found voice. Pierced ears: sin. Fashion conscious: sin. Rock and roll: sin. Kissing anyone, never mind boys: sin. Sin. SIN.
As I sat there and listened to one speaker drone on and on (OMG, that guy loved the sound of his own voice) about the hope that is offered in The Gospel of Jesus Christ™, I couldn't help but think, "Yes, but in order for the kind of hope you are talking about to have any power or even meaning, there has to be some part of you that feels hopeless." I'm sorry, I just can't believe in or worship a god who sets up creation such that—even on the tiniest level—his creations must live in terror of his wrath.
Do I feel hopeless now? No. Have I moved beyond that frame of mind where fear holds sway? Also, no. There is still a part of me that fears the Wrath of God, that is metaphorically looking over his shoulder for the Avenging Angel. As I went through school and got my MSW, it was rather disturbing to realize that a lot of my inner processes and emotional responses mirror those who have been subject to abuse. Disturbing mostly because I have no memory of any kind of abuse that I feel would qualify. And yet as I write, the parallels between my past relationship to God and the relationship of an abuse victim to their abuser seem somewhat less than subtle. Is that where it comes from? Some kind of fucked up PTSD because I lived so long in fear putting one toe out of line and being subject to Divine Retribution?
I didn't know my cousin's husband very well. I had only met "Bob" on a few occasions. My cousin and I had the best of intentions to reconnect and spend more time together, but life has a way of getting in the way, especially when everyone is struggling just to make ends meet. Bob's death was an accident, and not even an I-was-doing-something-crazy-that-I-loved accident. It didn't have to happen. And yet, based on the glimpse I had into his family and his life (from his long-time friend who delivered a touching eulogy that was actually about Bob), it makes me wonder what fears Bob wrestled with and wonder also if maybe we might have had more in common than either of us knew.
Rest in peace, Bob.