Wounded Healers — Saint Mary’s in Bassett, Nebraska

October 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

When I was planning this trip, I called the Diocese of Nebraska for recommendations in this state. The bishop’s secretary, Kate Baxley, said I could not miss a visit with Father Randy Goeke. Today, after lovingly prepared breakfast, Sue and Rod sent us on to him.

We were not prepared for what we would see. Almost all signs of civilization, as we in the east think of them, fell away. A two lane road waved upward in rapidly growing mounds as we crossed the Sand Hills of Nebraska. Soon, the shoulder of the road vanished into a low bank of sand and grass. Cows, mostly black (I believe Angus?) and black with white faces (Black Baldies?) dot landscape covered with grass and shrubs. In many areas, there is scarcely a tree in sight. It is fantastic to behold.

Father Randy was waiting for us in O’Neil. He wanted to share the mission church there, and I’m so glad he did. Though a new church, the electrifying feeling of grace hung in the air. The walls were decorated with paintings by a congregant, including the four archangels, beautiful cross paintings in multiple colors, and a painting of the artist’s own personal angel, her beloved dog friend who has seen her lovingly through many trials.

J and I joined Father Randy in his car and had a wonderful not-me-driving drive to visit our new friend, AJ, who had made us lunch. She lives on a Nebraska alfalfa farm with her husband in an amazing house that is almost a functional sculpture. The food–so healthful, rich and satisfying–warmed and uplifted us as we broke bread with these two beautiful souls.

Father Randy, himself, is electric. His eyes penetrate you and his sincerity drops all the walls. I threw my arms around him with relief at the sight of him. Our conversations on the phone and through email had already revealed him a brother of the soul. Our time together only drove the point home.

He told me about a book by Henri Nouwen called “Wounded Healers”. That really struck a chord. I am not calling myself a ‘healer’, but I am attempting to share my sorrow as a testament to God’s power to guide us through the pain of the world. Father Randy said, “You have to know what exclusion is to know what welcome is.”

That was the story for all the warm, loving people we met at Saint Mary’s. Our friends had a table prepared with gifts for our mission trip, as well as a sign in honor of our trip. Sandy and Tom showed me around the church with deep love and pride. It was such a comforting experience.

That is a good way to describe the company of these people. Comforting. Their love and easy natures made it easy to relax, to really soak in the rare feeling of deep understanding. We do share an understanding, the ethics that Christ taught regarding absolute love, compassion, forgiveness and humility. It was a room full of wounded healers. People open in love without judgment had come to the Episcopal Church seeking that very thing. We were all converts to the Episcopal Church, including Father Randy.

Cross made by wife and husband, Sandy and Tom of Saint Mary’s.

In the earlier part of his ministry, Father Randy had been ministering in another branch of the church. His love for God lead him to the ministry, but being gay meant hiding a big part of himself, and his life. To protect his deep desire to serve God, he wasn’t able to be honest about himself or about his loving life partner, Mike. It would have meant defrocking, and a separation from what he loved the most, sharing the message of Christ.

When Father Randy found the Episcopal church, it was a profound experience. To be fully accepted and openly loved for himself, wholly, was refreshing and new. At his ordination, then Bishop Joe Burnnet said, “Welcome home.”

He shared with me another book by Bill Cunningham, “Gifted by Otherness”. The author states that sometimes our otherness is God’s greatest gift to us. Statements like that make me want to dance and holler. As someone who has always been other, it frees me to see purpose in something that has separated me for so long. God is working some kind of magic here. I am almost holding my breath in anticipation of it.

Dinner with our friends was fantastic. Dinner was Nebraskan, beef with more beef, and biscuits. And barbecue sauce! Our new friends will laugh at this. Coming from another place, it’s cool to learn about things Nebraskan. It was delicious, satisfying, followed by coffee, and laced with discussions Episcopalian to a fault. What could be more fantastic.

Encountering this level of penetrating kindness leads one to ask an important question: What if we flipped the script, as a people, as communities? What if, instead of a race to the top, we had a race to the bottom? What would it look like if each and everyone of us really tried to do what Christ told us to do, to be servants to one another?

That is a scary thought. Living in a culture where possession and possessions are king, we think, “But what about all my stuff! What about what I want?”  But if everyone is serving everyone, then you are also going to get served. You’ll have your share of love, kindness, care, compassion, because we’d all be doing it and we’d all be getting it, at the same time.

“Yeah, but not everyone is going to do that,” you could say. True enough, still: More good is still better than more bad. Do it anyway. Do it even if you don’t “get yours”. Do it because it feels better than bitterness and anger. Do it because love heals and is healing, and when you love when it’s hard to love, you have more relief than grief.

That’s what they are doing at Saint Mary’s in Bassett, Nebraska. If I wanted to live in the vast, open expanse of the rim of the Sand Hills, we’d be tempted to stay. Our home is waiting for us, though, on another shore. As much as I’d like to just stop and rest, it’s back on the road tomorrow morning to deliver our lovingly donated items to their new homes. Thank you so deeply to all those who contributed to this gift. You people are awesome.

Also awesome are all of you who have emailed me since we visited with you. I will answer you soon but haven’t been able to yet. I’ve had some time and technical difficulties, but I heard every word and love you all from the bottom of my heart. This is just what I hoped would happen. Real kinships are forming. Yay, Episcopal Church! You rock! Raw, real and on the move!

And by that statement, you are now aware that I am delirious. Seriously, my arms are falling off and I am so sleepy from low doses of coffee and exertion. For now, sisters and brothers, goodnight.