I've loved kaleidoscopes since I was a child. The first time I looked into one I felt my eyes were opened to so many new possibilities. For, in the days before computers and digital design, they were the nearest thing to re-shaping and re-colouring a child's world. Telescopes, and microscopes, could be fun too, but kaleidoscopes were the real magic. After all, a telescope, or microscope, can help focus, examination and perspective, but a kaleidoscope opens up the imagination. Whereas a telescope, or microscope, is essentially binary, and, at best, three dimensional, a kaleidoscope is full of changing elements. A telescope, or microscope, can indeed also disclose amazing aspects of the heavens or the tiniest details of life. A kaleidoscope however can open up the soul, nurturing engaged wonder in the interaction of eye and hand, and the power of human creation in the play of perception and desire, In other words, In its glistening, altering patterns and creative transitions, it can become an icon of spirituality, constantly re-defining identity. It is, if you like, a symbol and means of transfiguration. For a little child like me, knowing I was different, it certainly helped me sense that the world could be much more diverse and colourful than the bounds of simplistic explanation offered. It also encouraged me to realise that, as with a kaleidoscope, I might come to change the patterns of my world, and perhaps even - who knows how - my own body into a more glorious expression...
You do not have to be transgender, I hope, to appreciate what I am saying. It certainly does not harm however to look at life this way - with transgender eyes. For our world is full of binary ways of seeing and being, with limited dimensions, and, all too often, restrictive consequences. With our moral and philosophical telescopes and microscopes, we have identified and categorised many things, but at the exclusion of others. We have thus painted the world in different ways: sometimes just black and white, sometimes with primary colours, perhaps with the occasional pastel. Yet we have missed the multi-dimensions, the shimmering, ever changing, colours, and the sheer dynamism of kaleidoscopic vision - of kaleidoscopic love.
the dance of light
Significantly, the kaleidoscope operates using two principles of science. The first is the law of reflection, which states that when a light hits a smooth and shiny surface at a certain angle, the light is reflected away from that surface at the same angle. In more technical terms, the law of reflection states that the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. In a kaleidoscope, the light waves reflect back and forth inside the tube allowing the creation of multiple images. The second principle is that white light is a combination of all the visible colors of the rainbow: In other words, kaleidoscopic creation involves moving, dancing, light in its multiplicity of distinct, yet intimately interconnected forms. What a beautiful symbol of divine, creative, love!
deepening the rainbow
Is that how we envisage our lives and world, together, moving forward? As a queer person, I love the rainbow as a symbol of not just human, but cosmic diversity. I love its vibrancy, its sense of hope, and its inclusion. I also recognise that the rainbow as a reality, is profoundly mysterious. Richard Dawkins in fact taught me that, with his eyes of scientific wonder which see beyond the harsh primary colours of fundamentalist vision. Yet the rainbow, in itself, is not enough, for me, if it is not also a kaleidoscope engaged in the ever-changing dance of imagination and re-creation. That, I believe, is part of what gender diverse people bring as a gift to our lives and world. It is not about adding new flags to the rainbow flag, though our distinct colours are important. Even more vital is he reminder, by our Indigenous sistergirls and brotherboys, that all the colours of light come from black, the womb of colour itself. Yet, for all that, whilst flags and enlarged definitions may be vital, what is also needed is a deeper, more transcendent, understanding and way of living - a kaleidoscopic pathway, if you will.
Some of the most beautiful kaleidoscopes in the world are made here in Australia, at Eaglehawk Neck, by the Tasmanian Kaleidoscope Company, handcrafted in those extraordinary Tasmanian timbers (including Myrtle, Huon Pine, Blackwood and Blackheart Sassafras). Yet each and every one of us can make our own kaleidoscope, in our hearts and lives. That is the divine invitation of God, who, after all, is so much more like a Tasmanian craftsperson than a controller of the heavens or scrutineer of our inner life. Ben Kurczok, who runs the Tasmanian Kaleidoscope Company, says that he never tires of looking through kaleidoscope, for 'I've never seen one that's the same.' Isn't that the truth of human lives and bodies?! That is part of what we celebrate today. Not a single one of us is the same, or has ever been the same. Nor, crucially, do any of us ever remain the same. Maybe some transgender people appear to do this more obviously, but every one of us transitions. For each of us is changing, and must change, all the time. We have to do to live, and to live fully. We are not created as fixed entities. At least subtly, we are called to shape shift, forming fresh configurations of colour in the kaleidoscopic patterns of our lives and world.
Cyndi Lauper was right - wasn't she? - when she sang about showing our true colours, and encouraging others to do the same? 'True colors are beautiful / Like a rainbow.' Yet our true colours are not settled. With every twist and turn of our kaleidoscopic world, and with every twist and turn of our response to divine creativity, we have the ability to fashion them afresh. That is the exciting invitation to us all, right now. Can we look into our hearts and minds and identify our distinctive colours, and let them shine afresh? Can we feel the promptings of our bodies and souls and dare to give them glittering new expression? Can we see and value the unique colours of others and create dynamic patterns of beauty, truth, and love? Our universe, and its divine source, is shape shifting the rainbow all the time, in so many original forms. Will we live life kaleidoscopically too? What does that look like, to you? What does that look like for us together?
Jo Inkpin, for the Sanctus Gathering 'Celebrating Human Diversity', on the eve of the Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31) 2019, Chapel of the Holy Spirit Milton.
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: