'I will not be silent, nor hidden forever. For I am a transgender woman and I will come to birth. Though my birthing is painful, messy and rocks the cradle, it offers tidings of great joy, and a more just, diverse and beautiful world. It overturns powers and principalities, lifting up the lowly, ransoming my people from darkness, silence and death.'
- so begins the reflection below, entitled I Am That I Will Be: for the transgender Christa who is coming to birth (after Marcella Althaus Reid). I wrote this recently on retreat, pondering the great themes of Advent (particularly regarding Mary and the birthing of Christ(a)) in the context of the continuing struggles of transgender people to come fully to birth in our world, in its secular and religious spaces. It is an affirmation of transgender strength and joy in the midst of current birth-pangs, and of the promise contained in the liberation of gender diverse people. It is, in part, a tribute to Marcella Althaus Reid, for her contribution in opening up the way spiritually, not least through her proclamation and call to Indecent Theology. Just as she encouraged us to rework our received ideas and symbols by embracing the experience of the despised and marginalised, so my own cry is for the liberating story of Mary and her child to be revisited and reshaped by transgender experience. It is thus partly a protest against the taming, and spiritually over-decorous confining of Mary and her child, in the transforming spirit of the Magnificat and the renaming and reordering of God and world. It is not intended to dismiss the life-giving insights others find in traditional readings of Advent or aspects of Mariology. It is however a contribution to greater light and generative life in this season and beyond...
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.
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: