Imagine you came to a conference about reconciliation. Imagine you are gay, and you discovered that nothing on the agenda explores this dimension of human life. How would you feel, and what would you do? A dear friend just had this experience. I hope you find her story inspiring. I did.
Her first response was isolation and depression. Sensing the group to be fairly conservative, she felt utterly alone, and quite desperate about it, to the point of almost changing her flight and going home early. She kept meditating and praying, and woke up on the third day with an entirely different orientation. She took the microphone, let everyone know that she was gay, and made herself available to talk with people about anything related to the topic that they wanted. I see this as precisely the courage of nonviolence that I have been writing about often. She combined, in this act, radical vulnerability combined with service. Despite her emotional discomfort, she didn’t ask for anything, she didn’t attempt to justify anything, she only made herself available.
And people started coming. A pastor who wanted to talk with her about how to work with gay people who come out to her as well as with other members of the congregation who are against homosexuality. A woman who worked closely with someone without knowing he was gay until she learned that his partner had died and found out he was a man. She was so confused she didn’t know what to say, and never acknowledged this to anyone, not even her close coworker who had just lost his partner. Over the remaining days she met with a steady stream of people who had no previous context for exploring their feelings and concerns. Instead of trying to get them to agree with her position, as so many of us are wont to do, she connected with the deepest places of caring in both of them, and found communion beyond, or underneath attachment to position or to being right about anything. With some no words were exchanged, only a hug, or a smile.
Towards the end my friend experienced a sense of community with people who for the most part had an entirely different position on the issues. No matter. They were all human. They all cared about reconciliation and human connection. They all wanted to live in integrity with their values, whatever their values, and they all wanted to find ways of engaging with their uncertainty about their positions, to open up just a little more to the complexity of life. There was no need to agree, which had the surprising effect of creating so much more freedom for my friend. As she said, this was reconciliation in action, more powerful than any learning or methodology she could get from the officially scheduled presentations.
When I shared with her how moved and touched I was by her story, she added that she didn’t have a sense of having done something, more that it happened to her through grace. Knowing how easily we don’t give ourselves credit, I embarked with her on an exploration of grace and volition. I imagine we all know, intuitively, that we cannot bring grace to us through intention. And yet my friend easily conceded that any one of us could, and she did, make ourselves ready for grace. What does it take? Inner clarity, release of attachment to outcome or to knowing, a kind of ultimate surrender, without resistance, without agenda. Nothing guarantees that grace would then come to us, of course. It only prepares us for receiving. In addition, when grace arrives, as it did for this friend, we still accept or refuse the invitation. My friend did, with astonishing results. I hope when called to do so I will, too.