Seen and Loved

by M. Todd Null

I’ve spent most of my life deeply desiring to be seen by God.  In a bitter irony, I’ve also spent most of that time trying to be invisible.

I was raised in a Fundamentalist Evangelical tradition that gifted me with many things.  It inspired my love of music and vocal harmony.  It taught me to cherish Scripture and the Truth it reveals.  It embedded in my DNA a deep respect and gratitude for the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. I’m grateful for each of these gifts.

Unfortunately, they were accompanied by less healthy ideas: an overtly restrictive purity culture, an all-consuming fear of eternal damnation, and the subtle but pervasive message that there were parts of me that God could not accept.  I was among those who lived just beyond the margins of God’s grace.

As a result, my participation at, and service to, church required a form of invisibility – the creation of an acceptable façade.  It was the cost of discipleship, which I reluctantly accepted because I could see no alternative.

I began attending services at St. John’s almost a year ago, and in the words of Paul, the experience has shown me a “still more excellent” way.

In these months, I’ve adopted a new church vocabulary, using words like vestments, narthex, chancel, nave, parish, and rector with ease.  I’ve embraced the liturgical tradition and experienced the joys of female priests, kneeling in communal prayer, and sipping a sturdy red at the communion rail.  But the most profound gift has been simple visibility.  My façade is no longer necessary. I no longer work to stay invisible. 

There is space to bring all of me to Church – including my doubts, quirks, questions, and identities.  At every interaction, the people of St. John’s have responded with warmth, kindness, genuine curiosity, and gracious support.  Now I experience Church as a place, and a people, that affirms and celebrates me because of who I am, not in spite of it. 

I feel fully seen and loved by God because I am fully seen and loved by the Body of Christ.  Learning to embrace and rest in this knowledge has healed wounds I did not even realize I was carrying.

Abrahamic faith traditions teach that the first person to give God a name was a frightened, abused, foreign slave. After Hagar became forcibly pregnant with Abram’s child, Sarai grew jealous and abusive, so Hagar ran away.  A Messenger of God came to her and promised that she would bear a son named Ishmael. In response to these words, Hagar audaciously gave God a name: El Roi – “the God who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13)

Because of St. John’s Episcopal Church, I can also call God El Roi.  Thank you for seeing me and demonstrating through your eyes that God sees me too.  Thank you for loving me and demonstrating through your heart that God loves me too.  Thank you for being The Church.  And thank you for giving me the gift of El Roi, “the God who sees me!”

Photo Credit: David Hungate