Dare to Speak Its Name: Finding the Courage to Create An Ethics of Love

ethics (noun):

    1. moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior.

    2. the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles.

“Morality is of the highest importance — but for us, not for God.” Albert Einstein

Last May, on the final afternoon of the retreat that marked at the end of the first year of my interspiritual seminary, one of the founding deans invited all the gay, lesbian, transgender, queer and two-spirit students to come to the front of the room to be celebrated. She did this because she recognized that most religious institutions have not merely excluded but more often persecuted those of us who do not identify as heterosexual. Being applauded by my loving classmates was one of the most profound moments of my life — but not because it was the first time a group had publicly acknowledged me for being out: I have had that affirming experience as a spokesperson for the gay community. It was because, for the first time in my life, I felt part of a spiritual organization that was celebrating, prioritizing, embracing Love.

From the time I was a little girl and all the way through adulthood, I have been told over and over again that Love and my spiritual practice would never be compatible. 

Although my mother called me her “best friend”, she refused ever to acknowledge my relationship or my partner, because she feared that if she did, she would go to Hell. Almost all of my mother’s closest friends, and certainly all of the most influential people in her career as a costume designer, were gay men. I grew up with many gay "uncles", all of whom my mother (and I) absolutely adored. Toward the end of her life, she even mentored a young gay man who had similar interests in architectural design and historic preservation. So, the issue wasn’t a blanket condemnation of homosexuality, the issue was me — or more truthfully, her fear that, if she acknowledged my “lifestyle” she would be damned. Although many of her friends told her they thought she was cutting off own nose to spite her face, she replied that her fear of retribution was too great for her to risk accepting love.

When she died, my mother left her money to a religious organization.. The man who headed the foundation on its behalf was left with the impression that she did this because she could not condone my lifestyle and thus was unable to give me an inheritance. But since my mother had been telling me since I was eight years old that she did not believe in leaving children money, but rather that I should make my own way in the world, either she was incredibly prescient, or she lied to him. Which, one would think, would be at least as “sinful” as my “lifestyle”. And, as if her behavior wasn’t hurtful enough, I inferred that he agreed with her.

For over two decades, my spiritual practice has been the central part of my life. But in my longest relationship, my partner told me that my metaphysical beliefs were so “crazy” and that I would never ever find anyone who wouldn’t think I was nuts. When I met my best friend Pamela, I screwed up the courage to tell her about my “crazy” ideas about spirituality. She looked at me and said, “I’ve always believed that what you think is true.” In that moment, my heart cracked open and I had the courage to leave what had been a very dark and difficult ten-year relationship and begin to seek the path on which I now find myself — a path on which Love and spirituality are the double helix of my life.

The problem is that, at some core level, I believed those lies told by the people closest to me. Their judgment wormed its way into my psyche; their fears had taken up permanent residence in the darkest nooks and crannies of my mind and heart. Every day I have struggled to feel that who I am and how I love and the way I pray really are OK. Those issues more than other have been the core of a lifelong self-loathing that has tried to kneecap me every day of my adult life. So what that dean did for me that day was HUGE! She mirrored back the inextricable intertwining of Love and spirituality I had always felt must be at the core of any practice, community or institution and she embraced me, all of us, in Love. It may have been the most beautiful, inclusive, affirming, hopeful, and healing moment of my entire life. 

Over the course of this past month, however. that healing began to unravel when, once again, Love and spirituality collided in my life and in my seminary at the place where they collide at so many institutions -- around the practice of "ethics". To my immense heartbreak, a few individuals at this school dedicated to the teaching of love-based learning seemed to throw both love and learning out the window and instead invite fear to walk right in the front door. . .letting fear do what fear does best — making us afraid of the only thing that really matters in this whole wide world — Love!

From the time I was a teenager, one of my great heroines was Lillian Hellman, who had the courage to stand up to the House Un-American Activities Committee that had accused her of Communism, and famously said, “I refuse to cut my conscience to this year’s fashions.” But the sad fact is that, unlike my lifelong heroine, I have always cut my conscience to suit someone else’s fashions. I have chosen fear over Love again and again and again.

Until now.

It takes courage for individuals and institutions to face our fears and then to choose Love. It also takes a radical willingness to resist the comforts of black-and-white, right-and-wrong thinking, and to humbly say: I don’t know. Let’s figure this out together in Love. When institutions and individuals are too afraid to do this, we fall back on the familiar ground of fear-based, moralistic “safety” — and we lose the opportunity for our greatest growth — the growth that comes from walking hand in hand in Love and figuring out our next steps. . .together

In this era of legalistic anxiety, how can an institution operate from a fluid loving place and still dot all their legal i’s and cross all their moral t’s? I’m with Einstein. The concessions that both we as individuals as well as our institutions sometimes need to make should be recognized as just that — concessions. Because, at the end of the day, if we really are all here to wake up to what is already true — that we already are One, already are the loved of Love — then those concessions are really only about facilitating that process, and always from a place of love and healing.

In everything I have done, written, said, or been as an adult, I have been guided by something I learned on a cross-country road trip taken when I was 23 years old. I noticed that wildflowers grew in profusion by the sides of the road, and found myself wondering why they weren’t growing in the “prettier” places — like out in the fields. I was told that wildflowers grow best where the soil is disturbed. That metaphor became my guiding principle in everything I do — to recognize that it is in the liminal spaces where our soil is disturbed that we find our greatest challenges, greatest creativity, and greatest opportunities for growth. My ethics have been forged not in the scenic countryside, nor the bustling highway, but in those sometimes ugly often destitute usually ignored places in between. Those are the places in which I am interested. Those are the places about which we must think deeply. Those are the places I have always lived my life. And it is there that my personal code of ethics continues to struggle its way into daily being.

Until this past month, I believed with a kind of childlike hope that my seminary could be that gloriously disturbed soil where the seeds of love and spirituality are sown, watered, tended, and encouraged to grow together into beautifully unruly wildflowers — a fertile spiritual ground for seekers who have not been able to find a place of belonging in more traditional environments. I thought I had finally found a spiritual institution that embodied my wildflower ethos! 

So when I found myself once again in the crosshairs of ethics and love — I hoped we would all see it as an opportunity to come together in that disturbed soil which is the liminal space between ethics and love, a place avoided or ignored or paved over by most mainstream religious institutions. Because I believe we are all wildflowers, who must continue to ask ourselves: How can we use any difficult situation to grow in grace, to learn in love AND to help us fine tune our institutional and personal ethics of love? 

At the end of the day, I believe that ethics, love, life, all come down to the same thing — each of us trying to do the next right thing, paying attention to the gaps we are told to pave over or ignore, listening to whomever we are with with wherever we may find ourselves right here and right now in this disturbed soil of our lives, being the gorgeous wildflowers that the world wants to eradicate, as each of us bloom into our own beautiful rightness. And the only way we can only do this is by choosing Love not fear every single moment of every single day — even when, especially when, we are scared shitless to do that. Even when — maybe especially when — we are being convinced that fear is right and Love is wrong.

Fear, as we are learning from the current political nightmare in which the United States finds itself, is a very very powerful persuader. But if I have learned anything in my spiritual studies, it is that there is Only One Path — the Path of Love — on which we all learn to love one another as we love ourselves. Only on that journey do we find our way back home to our Sacred Heart.

In Truth, there is only Love. But in this world, fear often wins. As it appears to have done, when some individuals charged with moving a beautiful place of love and learning forward into a "new era" by redefining its “ethics”, chose to listen to the voices of fear instead of leaning on that institution's unshakeable Legacy of Love.

And so, very very sadly, my hopeful journey of healing in my seminary program must come to an end — just a few months short of my eagerly-anticipated graduation alongside my beloved classmates and deans. It has come to an end, because I can no longer let fear cut my conscience.

I choose Love.

Oscar Wilde famously spoke of “The Love that dare snot speak its name" as “that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo. . . It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. .  .That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.”

I refuse to silence Love any longer! I refuse to let fear win. Although a few fearful individuals appear to have missed a beautiful opportunity to co-create a true ethics of love, I will not shirk that responsibility in my own life any longer -- to stand in that disturbed soil, that fertile ground where fear and love, right and wrong, institutional ethics and individual actions meet -- and to risk being the wildflower I have always known myself to be.

We are all wildflowers living in the uncomfortable interstices between fear and love. Let us all refuse to be mowed down. And, by standing in the Ground of Love, let us be blossomed back Whole!! Now, more than ever, in this fear and hate-mongering world, we all need to dare to speak Love. Every single moment of every single day.

So, from now on -- even from, maybe especially from, this broken-hearted place -- I vow to follow in the footsteps of those other Prophets of Love who have come before me, and to never ever ever stop speaking the Name of Love.

“In the end, only three things matter: How much you loved, how gently you lived, how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”  Buddha

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love another.” Jesus Christ

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Rumi

“If you love someone, don’t wait for them to give you a sign, cause it might never come. Don’t let people happen to you. . .Go scream it and be with them in meaningful ways because that is beautiful and that is generous and that is what loving someone is, that is raw and that is unguarded, and that is all that is worth anything, really.”  Harvey Milk

“Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star…”  e.e.cummings



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