How do you picture a new beginning - or. alternatively, offer a revelation of eternal (re)creation? As an epic year of many new beginnings in my family's life comes towards a close, it was terrific today to find this picture from the art exhibition we held in St Luke's Toowoomba a year ago. Entitled Mary walks with Eve (A New Dawn), it was painted (in oil) by Toowoomba artist Cindy Duncan. It was but one of many wonderful different views into the Advent and Christmas story which that exhibition encouraged us to explore. How does it then speak to you, I wonder? For me, it is a beautiful female expression of the new dawn, or new creation, which we find spiritually and symbolically in the Judaeo-Christian story. Of course Cindy is not the first to pick up on the idea of Mary as the New Eve (a theme which can be found in much Christian feminism from its first wave onwards). I love this particular portrayal however, especially for the tenderness of the exchange between Eve and Mary, and for the sparkle (of course!), stars and Spirit (symbolised by the dove) which speak of new creation (linking past, present and future, in a very humble and accessible, yet powerfully cosmological manner). The two trees offer a different kind of balance than some, often very harsh and crude, traditional 'male' portrayals of a very singular tree of life. Like the 'northern lights' (and their declaration/promise of eternal light), the colours of the (heavenly) background also dance into the (earthly) foreground as the two women connect. Above all perhaps, it is an image of fruitfulness, with Eve still holding the apple and adorned with a garland and her flowing locks, and Mary's pregnant form promising a rich new unfolding. Even the snake is a colourful green and Mary's foot upon it a less violent redemptive check than many others. In recapitulating, and transforming, the so-called theological "Fall', this is not therefore about judgement and destruction, but mercy and renewal. In Mary there is thus a gathered stillness as she meets the moving vulnerability of Eve, and there is a deep acceptance of one another and all they are: a mutual encounter of a very human but divinely healing and enriching kind. At the end of a year of great upheavals, in many of our personal lives and publicly (not least in relation to marriage equality and LGBTI+ affirmation), it is a delightful vision of both same sex/gender love and the divine feminine at work. It certainly speaks deeply and intimately to me about how God in Mary has met, and continues to meet, the Eve in me. May it therefore be a further blessing to others this Christmas and to all who need transformation.
When I worked in a hostel for ex-offenders, one of our residents was a young man whom his family routinely called 'rat boy'. Little wonder perhaps that he became a delinquent glue-sniffer and ended up in juvenile detention. Most of us know how great a lie the infamous saying is:'sticks and stones may break my bones, but cruel words can't hurt me.' How we are called, and the consequent image we have of ourselves, shapes us greatly. In contrast, the power of a name, and the process of renaming, can enable amazing flourishing. for individuals and communities. Such is part of the gift of transgender naming. It certainly is for me...
"So how do you cope with your enemies?', asked my spiritual director recently. I laughed, with a mixture of emotions. 'Well, I certainly realise I have plenty now', I replied! For you don't have to be paranoid to recognise when some people are out to get you. It is particularly sad however when they are part of your own faith tradition...
How will we respond, in this trans awareness month, to the backlash gender diverse people have been facing? In Australia the postal survey has been particularly difficult for trans and gender diverse people. We have suffered all that the LGBTI+ community as a whole has endured, as our lives, bodies and mental health have been put on the line. In addition however, we have experienced a powerful, determined and unprecedented coordinated attack on our very existence and identities, with very little scope for response. For, frequently ignoring the actual postal survey question altogether, the 'no' campaign has spent so much of its time and money on whipping up fear through attacks on us and associated 'issues' like the vital initiatives of Safe Schools. Understandably the 'yes' campaign has been reluctant to be drawn into this, preferring to stick to its clear strategy of addressing the substantive marriage issues. This has left many trans and gender diverse people, not only in a war zone with other LGBTI+ people, but feeling quite defenceless at times. For many of us have been strengthened and immensely grateful for the support of our lesbian, gay and bi sisters and brothers, and many allies. Yet general awareness has been set back in many quarters and momentum gained by those who oppose us. So how will we move forward again together?...
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: