Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

No Longer Playing Small

No Longer Playing Small

I know what it’s like to be seen as a freak. I know what it is to be misunderstood, to have to hide parts of myself, to feel embarrassed or even ashamed in a religious community—like who I am isn’t good enough or doesn’t fit. I also know what it’s like to feel the power and strength of that “freakdom.” While I’ve been in many religious communities and felt welcome, I’ve more often felt sort of sideways, like something wasn’t quite right.

It was in the mid-90s and a dear friend and I were walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot. He was going to work. We were in our leather jackets. His hair was black and he was 6’4”. His box cutter ring was on his hand. I looked like the big dyke I was, though I had perfectly “normal” clothes beneath my jacket. A skirt, shirt, hiking boots. My uniform of the time.

A woman walked toward us with her children, and she gathered them to her as we approached. She looked as though we were a threat to her family. I laughed, but not unkindly. We scared her because we were different from the way people were supposed to look.

IMG_0004It was a time I felt the mantle of difference. Of fat, queer, tough-femme, threatening difference. My friend is a heterosexual cis-man and rail-thin. In any case, we made quite the pair, all in black, clearly owning what felt like freakdom, and “scaring the horses,” as my ex-fiancée used to say.

Other times. And especially a bit later in my life, I tended to wear all black, and I grew my hair out longer. More femme but also more Goth, and I still wore my jacket with the cuffs and cockring.

Eventually, my two closest friends and I would go to Four Quarters regularly. I named one of them Shadowdrake, after his dark swoopiness, fire performances, and love of dragons. At Four Quarters, we were among other freaks. We were around other people in a co-culture of magic and unusual or flamboyant self-expression. We were among the Radical Faeries, the poly people, the queer people, and the people who hadn’t found other religious or spiritual homes.

IMG_0005To be able to be whole in a spiritual context is a tremendous gift. I know about the times that gift has not been given, or has been snatched away when I dared to express some part of my core self.

To be what others call a “freak” has all kinds of consequences. Coming out got me alienated and eventually ejected from an early religious community. Being involved with Roman Catholic sisters had me taking out my piercings and cutting out the colored parts of my hair. Being a minister, and even more, becoming a minister, has had me terrified of my own “freakdom.”

But when my wife turned to me and said, “Honey, I say this with all the love in my heart:  STOP trying to be respectable,” she was right. To paraphrase Marianne Williamson, who am I to play small? And who are you to play small?

I suspect there are parts of you that you feel you can’t talk about, especially in a spiritual context. I suspect that some of you feel ashamed or even just embarrassed to talk about the ways you feel outrageous, or wish you were. I suspect you may feel unsafe even in your closest religious or spiritual contexts and relationships.

I want to help change that.

I know what it is to be different—even wildly different—from what you see around you. I know what it is to compare your insides to other people’s outsides—and your own outsides to other people’s outsides. I know what it is to have to be brave, just to be yourself. And you do, too.

The Way of the River is a safe place for all of who you are. For your queer, radical, disabled, kinkster, fat, whatever-gorgeous-gender, secretly unorthodox (oh yes, hiding and frustrated religious leaders, I’m inviting you!), alternatively spiritual, selves. I also invite those of you who have never been part of a spiritual or religious community because there seemed to be nothing that spoke to your authentic selves.

There is something else that is important to say here. I am white, and have been warmly invited and received into African Diaspora religious community at various times in my life. Nonetheless, I don’t presume to understand or embody the experience of being a person of color. People of color are certainly welcome into my practice; I am a comrade in the struggle for an anti-racist and just culture. I warmly invite a conversation, free of charge, to discuss what it might be like to work together.

My point here is that I have been excluded. I have been afraid. I have been squished. I have been to many of the places you may have been, and I am here for you. You are a blessing. You are just who you are meant to be—while all of us have behaviors we’d like to change—you are just who you are meant to be. And I would be privileged to come to know who that is, that person who is blessing the world.

One of the great places for us to do this work, to come to know one another is in spiritual accompaniment. It’s a series of one-on-one meetings, where I have the chance to hear and hold your stories in confidence and blessing. If you’re interested or have questions, please go to one of the links above to get more information, or be in touch through the contact page. I’d love to hear from you.

I’d love the honor of getting to know you in your beauty and power and “freakdom.”

8 Responses

  1. Several years ago, I saw a psycho-spiritual counselor, a nun, unlike any I had met, who not 30 minutes into our first session told me I was a square peg trying desperately to fit into a round whole. She encouraged me to consider, what she said was occurring, that I had a gift that could not be taught in any school, that I was experiencing a spiritual emergence, and there were few who could support my journey. Until that day, I was always trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to fit into my surroundings. You’ve always been wonderful, in my eyes, just the way you are, easy to love and to be with, in community. Thanks, once again, for sharing your journey with this misfit.

    1. My first spiritual director/counselor was a sister named Paula. as well. She saw right into my spirit. Such a gift. Thank you for your comment, my dear. You–like most of us–are only a misfit when the fit is wrong. It’s not that YOU are wrong, but you know that. So much love.

  2. Catharine, this is really beautiful. I frequently find myself moved by your spiritual writing. Thank you for putting your lovely freakdom out into the world and walking with us!

    1. Thank you so much for writing, Mary. I have always had a lot of support that has allowed me to “be a freak” in ways that other people haven’t always been able to do. They may have wished to express those parts of themselves, but have felt squashed by the cultures in which they move. I hope to offer an unsquashing place. 🙂 Be well, be blessed. I hope your Lent is fruitful and that Easter is joyful for you.

  3. Well put, Catharine. I would add emphasis on the struggle to KNOW one’s authentic self, which may need to precede the struggle to live out that self. The knowing may be harder with our culture’s intense quest for control and conformity, which insidiously invades our thinking and feeling.

    1. It does invade our thinking and feeling. You’re absolutely right. We work daily not to be colonized into conformity, eh?

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