The more I grow older, and hopefully a little deeper in understanding, the more I am aware of how religious traditions have wrestled with sexuality and gender in all kinds of extraordinary ways. For sexuality and gender have always been such powerful aspects of human lives and spirituality has therefore necessarily engaged with them as vital features of revelation and relationship, as well as repression and resistance. Sadly. so many 'sanitised' and narrowed readings of the Bible and religious traditions have significantly contributed to human distancing from intimate, celebratory and mature sexuality and gender identities. These are typically those which have much airplay today in wider media as well as conservative and fundamentalist circles. When however we look afresh at scripture and tradition, particularly through lenses of 'queer' experience, we find something very different. Some features can be quite confronting, even profoundly disturbing, full of extraordinary violence and subjugation. Some aspects can also be very different from our our contemporary contexts. Yet there are others, rightly viewed, which can help us face up to our own opportunities for growth towards richer sexual and gendered lives. They can be quite challenging but offer considerable liberative potential. Among these is the story (in Genesis 32.22-31) of Jacob's wresting with the divine, their wounding and blessing...
One of the most profound things about being a priest is sharing in great transition times in all kinds of people’s lives. Sometimes these are also marked in special ways at special times and/or places. Sadly, whilst they were much better at this in former ages (including adapting ‘pagan’ practices), Christians recently have often narrowed, and even exclusified, our human ‘rites of passage’ - with beautiful exceptions, like Dorothy McRae-McMahon, who have actively explored words and symbols for a much greater range of vital human experiences. In one sense ‘holy holding’ of transgender experiences is part of this, though particularly gorgeous! 😻🧚
I've shared in other similar occasions in recent times, but I’m really looking forward to this coming Sunday - partly as a contribution to the renewed unfolding of divine presence and naming, encouraging others to the same (seriously its not hard to do!), but above all for the opportunity to lead our parish in celebrating a beautiful person (and increasingly beloved friend) in our Milton Anglican community. The eye shadow may or may not be on show - and glitter is sadly out due to COVID-19 - but there will certainly be dancing in the heart of God. 💃🙏🦋
Recently I created a 're-membering' blessing ritual for a transgender female who was approaching genital reconstruction surgery. It was custom-made, reflecting aspects of her character and spirituality, not least her commitment to feminist transformation and Celtic spirituality Not all of it may therefore suit others. With her agreement, I offer it however - download a PDF copy here, or see the liturgy below - as a contribution to the development and encouragement of others. I also warmly invite constructive correspondence on this subject. For it is right and proper to mark vital thresholds in our lives as times of spiritual transformation - a point beautifully expressed by John O'Donohue in one quotation used in this liturgy. It is to the great shame of most received institutional spiritual forms that they have been so slow, or actively unwilling, to respond to such needs and joys. Such spiritual intentionality is a gift and invitation to fuller life, both for the person at the centre and for everyone else involved (as our group of friends who were involved in this liturgy experienced)
This particular ritual employs Christian themes and language in a contemporary framework, using and adapting other helpful resources. Such readings are examples and may of course be replaced by others more suitable. A key element is re-membering: the re-membering involved in the honouring of time and change (past, present and future), relationships, and the body (personal, communal and ecclesial), As such, as on the particular occasion of its use, an eucharistic celebration is also appropriate. This ritual also owes considerable inspiration to Jewish transgender ritual, particularly in the use of water - for whilst the mikveh, as a feature of significant Jewish transgender reflection, cannot be simply adopted by others, it points us towards depths of mystery and meaning. Other readings, such as those which speak of the transformative powers and thresholds of water within Christian scripture, might also be creatively employed.. A further element to be considered are appropriate colours, fabrics and symbols, including those which reflect the senses, In this case, reflecting Celtic connections, it was helpful to use candle lights and (en)circling. The ritual thus took place with friends gathered in a circle, later around a table for the eucharist, and, for the main part, around a deliberately placed rug. As the photo here shows, this represented a form of mandala, the different layers of a person's past and continuing journey, and ripples or waves of life and love surrounding and enfolding them. At the centre, as a focal point and for the washing, was an 'imperfect' bowl, deliberated shaped as such, representing the nature of creation and the transgender (and every human) life and body. For, like the work of creation, salvation and resurrection as a whole, we are sculptured by grace, which seeks not false ideals of perfection but ever new flourishing through love and healing. With my particular thanks to those who shared in this ceremony and every blessing to others on re-membering pathways. The liturgy follows below (click on Read More below the photo), or is downloadable here...
Some days we can glimpse why we were put on this earth. Yesterday was one such moving moment for me, as I led a short rite for a soul friend preparing for gender affirmation surgery. We made no extra special great fuss about this. Nor should we have to, for such signs of grace for LGBTI+ people are really very natural, if our world would but allow itself to know it. Yet it was profoundly significant in the journeys we are making at this time. For today's sea-change of understanding gender and sexuality not only brings healing and hope to specific individuals. It also offers vital hope and healing to tired aspects of our society, not least to religious groups and their members. In a profound sense it is thus sacramental: helping to reveal what has been hidden, opening up and helping to sustain fresh pathways of life and transformation. Our short rite yesterday was like that. It publicly honoured deep movements of life and spiritual wrestling which have not only been unacknowledged and unsupported, but often tragically dismissed and disastrously resisted. It also proclaimed that new life for all of us is to be found in the tender solidarity of us all, in the mystery of God's extraordinary and abundant grace and diversity. Our 'transgender' rite was just a small part of our usual Milton Anglicans Sunday parish eucharist. As such however, it was no 'hole in the wall' secret ceremony, but a truly grounded and open affirmation both of a remarkable sacred particular person and of our growing sense of what it means to re-create community and 'church' today. It felt like a renewing movement of spirit for our community, certainly for my own sense of priesthood, and a re-presentation of what it means to be differently ordered bodies together in the body of Christ. It also made us wonder why such things are not expected in the life of all spiritual communities...
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: