Making the Invitation; Or Dropping Keys to All the Beautiful, Rowdy, Prisoners
Two friends from seminary recently shared an incredibly beautiful story about their family. I didn’t know Mac and Katy that well in seminary- they were seniors when I was just starting. I remember Mac the best. He was tall and had this huge, beautiful mane of long, blond hair.
Their family now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where Mac pastors a Presbyterian church. They recently gave an interview to WUNC, their public radio station. They told the story of how their first child, Hunter, initially came out to them as a gay boy in the seventh grade and later that year discovered her identity as a transgendered girl. It was challenging for Mac and Katy to hear the news of Hunter being gay, but they were able to get their heads around that. Hunter was their child, and nothing would get in the way of that. But it took Hunter three attempts before she was really able to invite them into the conversation about her identifying as a girl rather than a boy.
Katy recalls being frustrated. Just because Hunter was an artist and gay and into beautiful things didn’t make Hunter a girl. Mac struggled, too. Once, at the end of a fashion design camp Hunter attended they were going to have a fashion show. Hunter asked Mac if it was ok to wear high heels. Mac remembers inside being like, “No, no, no, no!” On the outside he was just able to affirm that it would be ok.
Real conversations are dangerous. We never know quite where they will lead. We may discover a voice in ourselves or in the other we neither expected nor wanted. Or we find we are losing an aspect of our lives we aren’t quite ready to let go of just yet. This was a real conversation Hunter was inviting herself and her parents to have; it was a conversation that was not going away.
One of the conversations that shaped David Whyte growing up was Celtic Christianity. The stories of scripture and the saints fill his writing. In Coleman’s Bed he tells the story of St. Coleman, who converted the Picts of Ireland not by the sword or any kind of violence; he converted them through conversation. And in those kinds of conversations, everyone walks away changed.
Make a nesting now, a place to which
the birds can come, think of Kevin’s
prayerful palm holding the blackbird’s egg
and be the one, looking out from this place
who warms interior forms into light.
Feel the way the cliff at your back
gives shelter to your outward view
and then bring in from those horizons
all discordant elements that seek a home.
Be taught now, among the trees and rocks,
how the discarded is woven into shelter,
learn the way things hidden and unspoken
slowly proclaim their voice in the world.
Find that far inward symmetry
to all outward appearances, apprentice
yourself to yourself, begin to welcome back
all you sent away, be a new annunciation,
make yourself a door through which
to be hospitable, even to the stranger in you.
See with every turning day,
how each season makes a child
of you again, wants you to become
a seeker after rainfall and birdsong,
watch now, how it weathers you
to a testing in the tried and true,
admonishes you with each falling leaf,
to be courageous, to be something
that has come through, to be the last thing
you want to see before you leave the world.
Above all, be alone with it all,
a hiving off, a corner of silence
amidst the noise, refuse to talk,
even to yourself, and stay in this place
until the current of the story
is strong enough to float you out.
Ghost then, to where others
in this place have come before,
under the hazel, by the ruined chapel,
below the cave where Coleman slept,
become the source that makes
the river flow, and then the sea
beyond. Live in this place
as you were meant to and then,
surprised by your abilities,
become the ancestor of it all,
the quiet, robust and blessed Saint
that your future happiness
will always remember.
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Hunter apprenticed herself to herself becoming a door through which she learned to be hospitable even to the strangers in her and her parents. Mac and Katy were courageous, becoming parents well able to show up and risk being present to Hunter’s invitations. They are now parents who have come through, a family enduring the testing of the tried and true. And through these conversations, you can sense them all becoming the quiet, robust and blessed Saints that their future happiness will always remember.
Mac once gave Hunter a poem by Hafiz, and she turned this poem into the striking piece of art at the top of this post.
The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low
Keeps dropping keys all night long
My sense is that invitations to real conversations are like these keys being dropped to us all night long, keys just waiting to break us free- beautiful, rowdy, prisoners all.