As we begin a new year, the need for a renewing transforming spirituality is ever more evident, particularly in the face of much 'traditional' religion which continues to choose death over life. One expressive icon is that of the dragonfly, which, literally and metaphorically, I have personally encountered richly recently. For dragonflies are extraordinary creatures. No wonder they have become powerful symbols for transgender people. The picture above is thus a little creation of mine from a silent retreat I took in December, pointing to some expressive elements for everyone.. For whilst these have particular resonance for transgender people, they can also speak helpfully to others, as and when we open ourselves to more life-giving spiritual pathways for our communities and planet...
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...
(This post was written for the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2018 - check out others' posts here)
As I have frequently affirmed. I profoundly agree with John O'Donohue that:
once we see God as an artist, everything changes
Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become
(in To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings).
I also continue to hold that, at its best, the church (in the words of the great Catholic Modernist Fr.George Tyrrell) is an 'art school of divine-majesty'. In other words, as a human being, I am both a creative force myself (in the image of God the great creative) and a product of arts of living, belonging and believing which have brought me forth and shape me afresh. In particular, as a trans woman in 'transition', I am an unique art-work. So what kind of 'art-work' am I?...
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.
What does remembering mean for gender diverse people and the body of Christ? I ask that question because, on this All Saints Day, we begin a period of remembrance in both church and world: not least of saints, heroes and role models; of loved ones departed; of the destruction of war; and (in the Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20 November) of transgender and gender diverse people murdered across the globe. My sense is that these things are not unconnected and that they come together because (whatever kind of spirituality we have) all human beings need some dedicated time and space in the cycles of the seasons to engage in what is the 'sacred' task of re-membering. November works, globally, for us all in this: for in the southern hemisphere it marks the drawing to the close of the working year and, in the northern, it marks the coming of the darkness of winter. Not for nothing have human beings also traditionally begun preparing for a mid or end of year festival of light and celebration (known variously but to most today as Christmas). To do that properly however - particularly where death, violence, loss, grief and/or family separation are still real - we need to re-member. So what truths, healing and fresh purpose are we seeking to affirm, and receive, in this, as gender diverse people?...
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: