Living True: Lesbian Women Share Stories of Faith is a collection of the faith journeys of 21 lesbian women who identify as Catholic. The collection, gathered between 2008 and 2011, was edited by Sister Margaret O’Gorman, a Franciscan Sister of Mercy and minister to LGBT persons, and Anne Peper Perkins, a married lesbian Catholic woman and retired university professor.
Living True is a book of stories. In O’Gorman’s words, these are
“[n]ot just coming-out stories, although there are a number of them included in the following pages, but stories about spirituality: how lesbian and bisexual women find faith and live it: how God guides our lives; how we find our identity; and how much we contribute as couple, family, neighbors, and members of our parishes. It is about what makes our lives, our faith, and our spirituality flourish. It is about how we nourish our spirituality and how our faith community helps us on our journey.”
In January 2008, O’Gorman gathered a group of lesbian and bisexual women for monthly meetings. Perkins was in the original group. The women all had some association, current or not, with Roman Catholicism. The initial group numbered about 20 women, ranging in age from 30s to 60s. Some women had been Catholic nuns; some were in committed relationships, with or without children (and grandchildren); a few had been in heterosexual marriages previously. A number had been or were currently connected to the same parish in St. Louis.
O’Gorman, along with facilitator Sharon Orlet, led a process by which the women shared and wrote their stories. As Perkins’ described the process:
“Marge and Sharon asked us to begin writing our stories and suggested that we bring our first drafts to the group for encouragement and helpful criticism. We were given a number of questions to use as a starting point, questions like, ‘How is my spirituality flourishing?’ and ‘Who helps me on my journey?’ There was a good deal of laughter – and some tears – and an increasing sense of closeness in the group.”
About half of the essays in the book come from this group, which met for approximately a year. The remaining essays came from women who did not participate in the group process.
The idea for the book developed out of O’Gorman’s desire to give voice to the lived experiences of lesbian women. O’Gorman had participated in a New Ways Ministry (NWM) “Next Steps” workshop in 2008, at which the participants were challenged to develop a mission, goals and objectives for their LGBT ministry. After Living True was published, O’Gorman reported back to NWM that the book is the final product of her mission and goals developed at that workshop.
The faith stories in Living True are organized into sections reflecting five emotional states: “Awakening,” “Healing,” “Trusting,” “Appreciating,” and “Celebrating.” Each section is identified by an image of a female couple and an apt quotation. The sections are framed by O’Gorman’s “Recollections” and “Reflections,” which provide “both the general atmosphere of [the] meetings and the emotional and spiritual content of the stories themselves.”
The book opens with an introduction by O’Gorman and Perkins. Marie Lynette Adalpa offered prayer beseeching the Good Shepherd to send “shepherds here on earth who, like you, know us, feed us, care for us, and invite us to your table.” In an Afterword, O’Gorman reflects on the women who initially responded to the project but “who could not, would not, or did not write.” The book concludes with an Appendix of suggestions about how the reader can support lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.
One person you will meet in this collection is Dorothy, whose foundational experience of God’s presence when she was a young nun sustained her through her decision not to take final vows, her gradual awareness that she is a lesbian, and the painful rejection by her own father. Through her experiences, Dorothy came to believe deeply that she is loved by God and belongs to God. She concluded her essay:
“In this gift of Life, I continually circle back to the beginnings, the promise that no matter what, God is and will be with me, with us all. Jesus told Nicodemus that the Spirit is like the wind – one has no idea where it comes from or where it is going, but one feels it nonetheless. Surely, my life is a work-in-progress carried by the Spirit’s breeze. Surely, the power and intimacy of a thirty-three-year loving relationship continues to reveal the sweetness and mercy of God to me. Surely, tears and joys will continue to be a gifted part of my life, your life. For certain, I have begun to experience the blessing of a sort of freedom that feels like pure grace. Always, a sense of gratitude continues to spread throughout each day. No doubt we belong – our whole Earth family – to a God beyond all names or imagination. How I hope that you, the reader, profoundly experience this beautiful mystery.”
Dorothy’s story and the other stories in Living True are meant to be read reflectively. They can be spiritual nourishment for the reader willing to enter into them. Lesbian readers will find common ground with these women and their experiences. Non-lesbian readers, too, will be enriched by the Christian witness revealed in these stories. I heartily recommend Living True to all our readers. You can order a copy through amazon.com by clicking here.
–Cynthia Nordone, New Ways Ministry