These words keep coming back to me as I navigate the emotions unleashed by the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI."[. . . ] every rebellion begins with the ideathat conquerors on horsebackare not many-legged gods, that they too drownif plunged in the river"
Growing up Catholic, the Pope was God's representative on Earth.
And even though I left the church many years ago, the Pope continued to be, for me, the personification of a faith that insisted that I was born tainted with sin and could only hope to be saved from it by renouncing the body I was born into and its desires, and making penance for every time I failed to hold them at bay.
But yesterday, when Benedict XVI announced that he would again become Joseph Ratzinger, the child inside me was finally able to see the man behind the curtain, and realize that neither he, nor the false god he represents, have any any power over. And since then the rage and grief I didn't let myself feel for years have been pouring out through me. And behind them, I feel a sense of freedom I never knew was possible.
In many ways, I was one of the lucky ones. I never endured any physical abuse. My hell was all in my own head and my own heart.
Despite coming from a liberal family, I was an oddly devout and conservative Catholic as a kid. I wanted desperately to know and experience the divine. And I considered myself utterly wretched, rescued by grace I did not deserve, grace that would run out before I could make myself worthy of love.
For years I would joke about it: how at 13, when I went to bed, I would pray for forgiveness for all the "impure thoughts" I had during the day. But as I prayed, thoughts and images of sex would come slipping in around the edges of my mind. So I would pray for forgiveness again. But my prayers could never keep up with my libido. And I would wake up the next morning, afraid I was going to hell.
When I tell the story now, grief and rage come as I see the ways I was denied a chance to experience the goodness, the power, and the wild innocence of my body and its pleasures.
Praying over and over again, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you," robbed me of my sense of my own goodness. I kept looking to some outside authority to finally absolve and bless me long after I stopped consciously believing the theology that told me I was a sinner in need of forgiveness.
With the Pope's abdication, that scared 13 year old inside me can finally see the hollowness, the powerlessness, and the cruelty of all claims to authority over my soul by anyone other than my highest self.
And I realize that the denial of the goodness, the innocence, the blessedness, the divinity of every one of us is the root of all the church's crimes from the Inquisition to the blessing of genocide in the Americas to the Magdalane laundries to the coverup of the rape of children to the silencing of the prophetic voices within its own fold who speak out against oppression and corruption and violence.
And so I pray:
By the Holly that guards the darkness,
my innocence is protected
By the Hawthorn that opens the gate,
what left this world returns,
By the fire of Devil's Club,
I step forward in the fullness of who I am.
Blessed be my wildness
Blessed be my humanity
Blessed be my divinity
In the name of my Godself I am free.