St John of the Cross: 14th December

John of the Cross is important for queer Catholics, especially gay men, for two reasons. First, because he is a great teacher of spirituality, and the cultivation of spiritual practice, by enabling a more direct experience of the divine, is an excellent way to immunize ourselves from toxic and misguided teaching on human sexuality. Second, and more interestingly, because his language at times uses imagery which is plainly homoerotic, and so easily usable by gay men in their own prayer.

From the Calendar of LGBT Saints:

1542-1591

St. John of the Cross was one of the great Spanish mystics, whose outstanding Dark Night of the Soul is still read by all interested in Catholic mysticism. He also wrote a series of intense religious canticles. St. John, like other mystics such as St. Theresa of Avila, used the language of courtly love to describe his relationship with Christ. He also discussed, with rare candor, the sexual stimulation of prayer, the fact that mystics experience sexual arousal during prayer. With the male Christ of course, this amounts to a homoeroticism of prayer. It must be said that St. John was not entirely happy with this aspect of prayer. He was beatified by Clement X in 1675, canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726, and declared a Doctor of Church Universal by Pius XI in 1926

Quoted at The Wild Reed:

(from ) On a Dark Night

……..

……..
“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

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“Very Insightful Blogposts on LGBTQ Spirituality” – Theology Degrees On-Line.

Theology Degrees On-line has an intriguing list of “50 Very Insightful Blog Posts on GLBTQ Spirituality“. Introducing the list, there is this important statement on the proliferation of sites available that write on matters of faith and queer sexuality:

At first glance, one would assume that religion and spirituality gels little with the GLBTQ community and their associated quest for Civil Rights. Considering the very vocal opposition by many prominent religious figures and marginalization of ANY members who do not conform to very regimented expectations, that mindset is certainly understandable. However, polls have shown a growing acceptance of GLBTQ individuals in different houses of worship – and the numbers only continue to climb. The more one researches the subject of the relationship between homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, transgender and religion, the more one unearths a diverse number of opinions, meditations, hardships and practices…no difference from heterosexuals, really. The following blog posts provide some excellent insight on how these men and women have approached their religious beliefs in order to find solace, peace of mind and acceptance. Contrary to popular belief, it can be done.

Top of the list is a post on Black lesbian prayers and art from Jesus in Love Blog, about which the writer says “Almost the entirety of the Jesus in Love Blog could fill up this list“. Congratulations to Kitt Cherry, who runs this useful site.

Personally, I was flattered to be included with two entries – one from “Queering the Church” at number two (on coming out as a Catechism command), and at number eight, a post on James Alison’s thoughts on growing up gay and Catholic.

The full list includes a fascinating array of reflections from a diverse range of faith backgrounds, both traditional and modern. Some sites are familiar to me, many others are new – and some of I welcome as worth following regularly. I recommend exploring the list for the specific posts selected, and also for the full sites from which they are drawn.

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The Rosary for October: Subversive, Queer. (Repost, with Update)

May is Mary’s month and I
Muse at that and wonder why?
Her feasts follow reason
Dated due to season:
Candlemas, Lady Day
But the Lady Month, May
Why fasten that upon her
With a feasting in her honour?

-GM Hopkins, the May Magnificat

virgin-mary-statue

Why, indeed?  For reasons I have never clearly understood, this is one of my favourite poems by the gay English Jesuit GM Hopkins,  which has stuck firmly in my memory since my school days.  ( It was note even one that I studied in school, but one I found in my own exploration of Hopkins’ work, inspired by those poems we did study. Apologies to GMH if my memory has failed me and I have misquoted him).

October too is a Marian month, and a time to be thinking particularly of the rosary.

The extract above, and that which follows, are taken from a post I wrote for October last year. The original post drew some encouraging comment, October is still the rosary month, and it is still useful to consider how we pray the rosary.  That alone makes it worth re-posting. However there is another reason to consider this afresh.

Last month, some weeks in advance of October and its rosary devotions, the original post drew a comment from the original developer of the Relational Mysteries,  raising some important questions which I think are worth thinking about. Read the opening of the original post for a sense of the original, cross to here if you like for the full post, read the comment after this excerpt,  read my response – and then consider your own reaction.

 

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Homoerotic Spirituality

Jesus Christ, in His recorded words, said nothing at all about sex.  Indeed, He spoke against adultery – which in Jewish eyes was a sin against a man’s ‘property’ (as women were viewed), not against sex.  He spoke against lust – at least, against lusting after another man’s wife; and He spoke against divorce.  But as far as we know, He never spoke a word against sex itself:  not inside marriage, not before marriage, not between unmarried partners, not between men, not between women. Nothing.  Zilch.

How is it then, that the Christian Church, and  Catholicism, in particular, have become so firmly linked in the public mind with the idea of sex as sin? For Catholics, all sex outside marriage is officially taboo.  Even inside marriage, sex is viewed with suspicion unless it is open to the possibility of procreation.  It is only recently that grudging recognition was given to the unitive value of sex – even inside marriage.  Yet it is clear to all that few Catholics pay any more than lip service to the official catechism on sin.  Whether as jerking – off schoolboys (or girls, or adults), as horny teenagers, engaged couples, cheating spouses, as faithful loving couples choosing to limit their families, as lonely divorcees, as gay men and lesbians, or as priests and other religious ignoring their vows of celibacy, the overwhelming majority of us are, in one form or another sexual transgressors in the eyes of the Church.

Is it any wonder that in the public mind, the equation “sex=sin” goes hand in hand with another:   “Catholicism = Guilt”?

The Confessional

 

But I do not want to dig deeper into the unpleasantness today.  (There is time for that later.  I will return to it soon, as part of my continuing series on clerical abuse.)

Other faiths do not make the same connection between sex and sin.  Judaism, for all that it has extensive purity laws and complex moral and legal codes, unequivocally supports and praises the unitive value of  sex, at least within marriage.  Part of the obligation of the spouses is said to include offering each other sexual satisfaction.   Muslims take a similar view:  part of the supposed motivation for suicide bombers in our day is the prospect of a martyr’s reward in heaven:  1000 virgins to satisfy their male needs.   Hindus celebrate sex as part of spiritual practice, with the promotion of tantric sex, the Kama Sutra, and famed erotic images on temple walls.  Many pagan religions employed temple prostitutes (of either gender) to heighten the spiritual experience of worshippers.

Hindu Temple art

It is useful, then to recognise the increasing signs that more and more people are recognising that sexual expression is not only not necessarily sinful, but can be a positive expression of the sacred, and has a close association with spirituality. With great synchronicity, this message was brought home to me from four different sources over the past week.

At the Wild Reed, Michael Bayley has a great piece on this theme.

Shocked? Well, get over it.

Anyway, it’s really not such an outlandish idea – even for Catholics (actually, especially for Catholics!). I mean, if you’re going to dismiss what I’m suggesting, then you’d better be willing to also dismiss any number of saints and their highly erotic experiences of the sacred.

Erotic experiences of God?! (Okay, if you’re still shocked maybe this blog isn’t for you.) But seriously, I appreciate the perspective of Jean Houston, who points out that: “Eros has a mission with the soul. Without Eros, the soul cannot grow; the psyche remains infantile. Eros gives psyche its yearning, its impetus, its desire for the fullness of life.”

Much of the great tradition of mystical writing in the Catholic Church is expressed in clearly sensuous, even erotic language (see, for instance, St Theresa of Avila). Michael  quotes in particular St John of the Cross, whose wonderful mystical poetry is also frankly and explicitly homoerotic:

 

Nude couple profile

“Of course as a gay man, (Michael writes) the thing that appeals to me most about John’s poem is that it depicts his lover as another man:

(from ) On a Dark Night

……..

……..


“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

Go ahead, cross to The Wild Reed and read the full poem, with Michael’s commentary.

 

Gay Spirituality

Gay Spirituality

At Nihil Obstat, Censor Librorum has posted without comment two versions of the ad campaign for “Catholics Support Condoms”.  Leaving aside (for now) the issue of the condoms, what caught my attention was the first two lines in the copy:

“We believe in God.
We believe that sex is sacred.”

Indeed.  So it is, so it is.

 

Essential Gay Mystics

While doing some bibliographical research yesterday for my expanding book pages, I was struck by the number of worthwhile books I came across on the topic, from Catholic perspectives and other traditions, from gay, lesbian, transgfendered and other perspectives .  Thes will soon be added to the Book Club (a small selection are highlighted alongside this post).

Last Sunday afternoon, I was privileged to join a dozen other people from our Soho Masses group to hear Michael B. Kelly, writer ofSeduced by Grace“, discussing his paper Unlikely Prophets of an Erotic God.” Michael has forged a career as a spiritual director and academic specialising in the erotic, and specifically gay men’s erotic experience, as a valuable pathway to the spiritual. He is currently in the United states for an extended visit.  If any of my US readers have a chance to meet or hear him – grab the opportunity.)

 

Seduced by Grace

Seduced by Grace: Michael B Kelly

He too pointed to the rich vein of the erotic in traditional mystical writing, referring also to St Theresa and St John of the Cross in particular , using as illustration the same poem as that posted on the Wild Reed.   He also discussed the obvious fact that far too much of the Church’s writing and teaching on sex has been done by “celibate men in frocks”, who self-evidently either had no practical experience, or were unable to disclose any that they had. To counter this, it is important that we as laity need to speak much more frankly about sex. There was much more, but I will not go into the rest in this post:  he deserves a full analysis later, which I am working on. I do, though, want to point out his central point: while it is clear to many that erotic experience (including gay men’s experience) is valuable in spirituality, this has received limited recognition or scholarly attention.  He is currently engaged in doctoral research, using personal stories as raw material.  He urges us all to speak out openly and frankly of our own experiences, to bring the truth to wider attention.  This is a sentiment I heartily endorse.  I have promised to send to Michael my own stories, and urge my readers to do the same.  (If you want to take me up on this offer, just post a brief comment, and I will send you an email address, if you do not have an alternate access)

 

In the same spirit of openness, I have posted on my personal page on this site, a deeply personal story of my own homoerotic retreat experience. (Health warning:  if you are squeamish or sceptical of claims about ‘mystical’ experiences, by all means stay away.  I would once have reacted in the same way.  But if you are more open – minded, take a look and make up your own mind.  I simply tell it as it happened.)  Read the story at  “6 days that changed my life” .

More  books on lesbian & gay spirituality:

Boisvert, Donald L: Out on Holy Ground: Meditations on Gay Men’s Spirituality

Glaser, Chris: Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends

Glaser, Chris: Coming out As Sacrament

Harvey, Andrew:  Essential Gay Mystics

Helminiak, Daniel: Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

Coming Out as Spiritual Experience

Over 40 years since Stonewall, it has become commonplace to recognise the value of coming out as a growth experience, bringing benefits to mental health, self-esteem and personal integrity. Less widely recognised is the value of coming out as spiritual growth. This idea, which well deserves to be better known, gets extensive treatment in Daniel Helminiak’s book, Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth.

(Helminiak is an openly gay Catholic priest with doctorates in both spirituality and psychology, who teaches spirituality in a faculty of psychology – so he is eminently well qualified to write on the subject. For more  on Daniel Helminiak, see his own website, “Visions of Daniel)

Sex and Sacred

In his preface, Helminiak notes that the argumetns in the early days of the gay liberation movement were purely reactive & defensive, making the case that homosexuality is NOT a sin, NOT a sickness, and NOT a mental disorder. Read the rest of this entry »

“To the Tune of a Welcoming God”

Michael Bayley at The Wild Reed has drawn my attention to David Weiss’ book “To the Tune of a Welcoming God”, and posts two excerpts from the book.

To theTtune of a Welcoming GodIn the first, David describes his journey in coming out – not as gay, but as a gay ally.  The second is a prose poem,   “Words Offered at the End of the Day to an Unknown Friend Living in Fear”. Both are worth reading:  we as LGBT people of faith need to speak up opnely and in our own voices, but we also need allies, and we need to hold firmly to the knowledge that God is always welcoming:  not “in spite” of our sexuality, but just because we are all God’s people.

I do not reproduce the text here, but encourage you to read it.  Go to Read the rest of this entry »

“Coming Out” as Wrestling with the Divine

At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibility and coming out.

After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject.  So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome:  Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.

First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society .  For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society.  He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .

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