The last two years have been some of the hardest, most grueling times in my life. The pandemic, the lockdowns, the quarantines, the social distancing that we’ve been through, not to mention the death and mass disability that this wretched scourge has changed me, and has changed all of us. As the pandemic removed so many things from my life: the intimacy of community, shared space, shared meals, I learned more about who I was, what my desires were, and what my experiences were.
At the start of the pandemic, one of the ways I kept myself from feeling the pain of the moment, was by doing the right thing and encouraging others to do the same. It was a source of pride to make sacrifices for the great good, for the vulnerability, for the disabled, for the elderly. Wearing a mask, social distancing, and even isolating are honorable and good things. For a while, for me, they kept me from the pain of the experience. I was joining others on a mission to keep people safe. Two years later, I still think it’s important for us to do our part, but I want to be clear that it was a painful and revealing process. We need to live into the pain of the experience, the oppression of the experience, in order to grow from it.
Ironically, as we masked up and socially distanced from one another, I saw things more clearly about myself. The pandemic revealed things about my experiences, my desires, my passions, my hopes. It shed away the layers of protection that insulated me from my pain, from the spiritual and emotional abuse I’ve felt, and the racism I’ve experienced. I could finally feel things that I felt I had pushed away from myself because the things I placed in my life to cope with that suffering were removed, and more than that the suffering we felt during the pandemic eclipsed the suffering we felt before.
When we suffered beyond our normal, we learned that it was OK to desire more for ourselves. When we were further oppressed, we learned that praying for liberation was OK. The pandemic oppressed all of us, and for a least a few months, or maybe a few years, we learned how the oppressed cry out for their freedom. Even within my own oppressed body, I learned more deeply how I was oppressed. And more than that I learned that I could actually express myself fully, live my life fully, and try to achieve the things I thought were impossible.
I think for oppressed people we either deny our circumstances, cope with our circumstances, or try to strive beyond them to achieve liberation, joy, and hope. The pandemic put us all in that position. We could deny it was happening, cope with it, or strive for liberation. Through this work in the pandemic, I was also able to learn more about the harm I’ve faced, how I’ve coped it, and after two years in the pandemic, I’m wondering who I can be now. I learned what desires I had, what I longed for, and what I could have. The pandemic took so much away, and it revealed to us what our former lives took away as well.
The new desires I had were bringing up feelings of condemnation and rejection. It was hard to admit to myself I desired things that I withheld for my whole life – or things others taught me to withhold. Faced with my newfound desires, I wondered how I might find God in it. I uttered to my spiritual director that I can’t find God in my desires. She looked at my and said “God thinks you’re gorgeous.” I cried. I’ve never described myself as gorgeous, as beautiful, and she was telling me that God thinks that I am. I loved hearing that. God thinks you’re gorgeous too. God thinks your skin color is gorgeous, your sexuality is gorgeous, your body is gorgeous.
My spiritual director went on to say, “God delights in your delight.” And those who don’t delight in our delight, my friends, are not of God. Those institutions that don’t delight in our delight, they are not of God. We ought to be delighted. We ought to be joyful. We ought to be hopeful. Too often it is the white, powerful men, who keep us from being delighted and joyful. Women feel this in particular, BIPOC and QBIPOC disabled women especially, but to an extent, all racial, sexual, and disabled minorities feel it. Our delight and joy is inconvenient, and it may seem to take away someone else’s delight. But there is room for all of us at the table. None of us are too much. The idea that we should endure our suffering because such things are not worth pursuing is oppression. We will certainly endure suffering, but we will endure it for the sake of liberation, not for the sake of oppression.
The Psalmist tells us Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. God delights in our delight, we delight in God in return. When we delight in God, God will give us the desires of our heart. That is to say, God will supply us with our desires as well as fulfill our desires. How will we know what God will offer us and what God will fulfill in us if we don’t allow ourselves to know our desires, our yearnings, our longings? God will offer us fulfillment in those areas, and acceptance also for how we pursue them.
Too often, we are taught to tuck away our desires, our sexual desires, our desires for justice, our desires for joy. But I think a better approach is to fully live into them, so they don’t come out in ways that are unusual, surprising, or unintentional in us. We can’t live without them, so hiding them away doesn’t work. But if we are aware of them, we can pray for God’s fulfillment of them, as we worship and delight in God. When we develop that love relationship with God, we’ll find too, that God delights in our delight.