You’re gonna carry that weight

It’s an odd bit of trivia that Asheville, so often characterized as a progressive bastion in its region, relegates celebrations of the LGBTQ community to October when most of the country holds those celebrations in June. The Stonewall Riots occurred in June, so the month has taken on a special meaning. Except in Asheville where, the story goes, prominent members of the tourism industry were concerned that open displays of LGBTQ pride would scare off families on vacation. Like any myth, it is a story that is true and may also have actually happened.

What’s true about it is that people are scared of seeing. We are scared of seeing others who we may not understand, and we are scared of seeing what we do not understand about ourselves. Sometimes I think that half the work of a priest is in not running out of the room screaming when someone shares a part of themselves that seems scary and unknowable. If it’s not scary enough for me to flee, maybe this person does not have to flee from themselves. And as a priest, part of what I hope is that my presence will in some small way be an opening to experiencing a much larger presence, the presence of one who knows this person more fully than I ever could.

C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory” suggests that if we really knew what it was to be in this presence, if we really knew what it meant to receive God’s attention, the desire to be seen by God would outstrip any other desire we could possibly imagine. The problem, it seems, is that we can’t quite wrap our heads around what that presence and that attention means. Lewis offers the idea that “glory” as it is understood in scripture is not the mere temporal fame and adulation we might associate with that word, but it is the experience of standing in the light of the one who sees us fully.

It’s conceivable that, as desirable as this attention from the divine might be, I could become so fixated upon it that it becomes, for me, a Veblen good akin to a Hublot watch or a Maybach sedan, Virtue, as we understand virtue these days, might dictate that I renounce this desire, to be unselfish. Lewis laments that this negative term has in so many was supplanted the more traditionally centric Christian virtue: love. Unselfishness simply requires me to stop wanting for myself; love challenges me to desire for another what I may not even be able to possess myself.

And we might be capable, Lewis speculates, of desiring for another that presence and attention from God that we cannot safely pursue for ourselves. (I imagine that the latter might wind up with me looking like a young boy on the edge of a swimming pool, begging a divine yet beleaguered parent to watch me do a cannonball. Again.) Perhaps I can hope for my beloved siblings of humanity to be seen, and to know that they are seen, fully and completely and with great affection. Lewis calls this carrying “the weight of glory” for one another. It sounds, in a sense, like the story of the dinner guests whose spoons were too long to feed themselves. They ate only by feeding one another.

And that seems to me to be the invitation of Pride month. I don’t know what it is like to be gay. I don’t know what it is like to come out. I don’t know what it is like to hear, either directly or through the wider culture, that God can’t bear to look at me when I express who I know myself to be. What I can do is want for the specific people I know in the LGBTQ community and for those I don’t know to experience the radiant and loving gaze of the God who does know each of them fully. We can be willing to carry that weight of glory for each other until it is finally revealed in us all.