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Editor's Note on Solitude

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My God╔ I hear You saying to me:

"I will give you what you desire. I will lead you into solitude. I will lead you by the way you cannot possibly understand, because I want it to be the quickest way.

"Therefore all the things around you will be armed against you, to deny you, to hurt you, to give you pain, and therefore to reduce you to solitude."

Thus begins the final meditation in Thomas Merton's autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. What is this "beata solitudo" that Merton longs for? Is it loneliness? Probabl1y not. Isolation? Independence? Perhaps. Peace of mind? Freedom from worldly expectation and cares? Contentment and satisfaction? Certainly, but probably more than all those. Mystical experience and union with Transcendence? Oh yes.

The meditation continues:

"They will cast you out and forsake you and reject you and you will be alone╔ All the good things that other people love and desire and seek will come to you, but only as murderers to cut you off from the world and its occupations╔you will be utterly forgotten and abandoned and you will be nothing, a dead thing, a rejection. And in that day you will begin to possess the solitude you have so long desired. And your solitude will bear immense fruit in the souls of men you will never see in earth."

Thomas Merton--freethinker tho' he was, even in the confines of the Roman Catholic Trappist Order--certainly didn't have gay people's experience in mind when he wrote those words in 1948. Indeed, he died in 1968, before Stonewall and the rise of modern politicized gay identity. And he wasn't gay himself; he wouldn't have understood the deep meaning those words might have for gay men. He was talking about monasticism. He was talking about his intense desire for oneness with God.

Yet precisely because we share that longing, however differently we might inflect it, the words have deep meaning for us. As gay people we have traditionally been the outcasts and rejects of society. We have been cast into solitude, sometimes in its most horrendous meanings. And many of us have found, somehow, in that the opportunity for spiritual growth and enlightenment. Because we've been made outsiders, we've been able to see beyond the world and its occupations. We can see that there's more to life than "the good things that other people love and desire and seek," i.e., the things cultural conservatives and traditional religious leaders call "family values."

The dictionary defines solitude as the state of being alone. Obviously it means that. But it also carries rich connotations that suggest so much more than that. For solitude often implies a sense of contentment and joy in the experience of aloneness, as when you stand before a mountain range or overlooking the ocean or gazing up at the full moon rising and feel yourself simultaneously tiny and insignificant yet also majestic and united with all of Nature itself. Then you see how you're part of everything and that your joy radiates out from you to "bear immense fruit in the souls of men you will never see on earth."

For gay men, indoctrinated with the threat of lonely old age and suffering from the fear of rejection and judgment even (or especially) by other gay men, solitude is a poignant theme. We can let it destroy us. Or we can transform its meaning and discover its joys. And discover the mystical experience behind it that so many of us were born for and that founds our contribution to humanity, so much bigger than just bringing more children into an overcrowded world.

Evidence that this theme touches gay souls is the number, richness, and variety of submissions White Crane has received on this topic--actually too many to include even in this expanded issue. There are some very interesting ideas in the pages that follow: from practical advice about overcoming loneliness to accounts of vision quests, from stories of suffering through grief to stories of discovering ecstasy, from philosophical discussion of what it means to be embodied to impassioned argument that mystical vision can be found even on the dance floor.

The quote from Joseph Campbell reminds us that the experiences of solitude and enlightenment need to be followed up with practical action to change the world: the "hero" who has done battle with self and selfishness to discover the deeper, truer Self beyond ego then returns to the world bringing boons. For many of us these boons include our work in the gay community as we thereby transform conventional notions about the meaning of sexuality and so help all of humanity as we enter the brave new world of the 3rd Millennium.

This, of course, is an important aspect of the Gay Spirituality Movement and a function of White Crane Journal.

Which brings us to a practical, housekeeping issue. This would be a good time to renew your subscription. Stating with the Spring 2001 issue, the subscription price is going to go up from $14 to $18 a year (that's US$20 to US$24 int'l). You can renew now--even for 2 or 3 years--and save some money. (It's not that I'm trying to raise capital. Rather I'm trying to reduce the amount of effort put into keeping subscribers current, stabilize the subscriber base, and expand the network for the sake of bearing fruit in the souls of men none of us will ever see on earth.) Please take a look at the "subscription renewal" statement on the back page. We've just done a little subscription campaign. To new subscribers, welcome. And to the many returning subscribers, welcome back.

Last update Sept 21 2000