Friday, December 24, 2010

On the Eve of Nativity: Shekinah

What fires our devotion to either masculine or feminine aspects of the Divine–in Its intrinsic nature, Its relation to the world, Its presence enthroned in our souls? Why does such imagery feel so essential at one stage of the journey, then less so at another? And how does all this relate to the sexual identities of queer men?

The very traditional crucifix I bought when I was twenty-one was gaunt and Germanic. It freaked out more than one of my best friends–and especially those with strong feminist commitments. Jesus wasn’t just undeniably dead, but undeniably male, and I was hardly the first conflicted gay youth who needed the dying Christ as the one lean, naked man he could adore without enduring a toxic amalgam of crushing shame and guilt. I certainly won't be the last. Eventually the crucifix came down off the wall when I fled Christianity entirely for fifteen years. When that long sabbatical was over, my pieties had shifted.

Still, I needed to find room within the life of God for my own embodiment–for what was unmistakably transcendent and sacred in my erotic experience; for what was undeniably erotic in my devotion. By dwelling on the gender and sexuality of Jesus, as resolutely as mainstream Christian religiosity works to strip him at least of the latter, if not always the former, I staked an essential claim to my wholeness as a sexual being with a spiritual life and a spiritual being with a sexual life. St. John of the Cross, riffing on the Song of Songs with a homoeroticism that hid in plain sight, gave voice to the roiling welter of my longings. Theodore Jennings’ The Man Jesus Loved (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2003), opened for me a vision of queer men’s marginalized experience enshrined at the heart of the Christian tradition–as did Terence McNally’s sometimes maligned but courageous and moving play, Corpus Christi.

And then–something shifted. Profoundly. Slowly. Starting with a day given over entirely to imagery of the Goddess at the Body Electric School’s Erotic Temple retreat. In digging deeper into Julian of Norwich’s vision of God as both Father and Mother. In building an outdoor altar that turned out to be disastrously and arrogantly incomplete in its failure to honor God’s feminine aspect in the world. In praying for Luke, a friend’s grandson born dangerously premature: I knew nothing better that I could ask on his behalf, but that God’s Shekinah–her Presence–would enfold him as the womb he still so desperately needed in order to survive--and realizing that, when all was said and done, Luke and I were in the same boat. Finally, in my spiritual director's encouragement to meditate on Jesus’s own experience of Advent–the whole of which he spent in amniotic fluid.

The shift has been, and continues to be, a wondrous discovery. After years of needing an image of God in which I could recognize myself in order find validation, I surprise myself by taking rich comfort in the enfolding Shekinah of God as Mother; in a validation prior to all our searching, all our striving. I have no idea how long I’ll float here, before the next stage in the journey. I only know that this is a place of safety and of deep, unspoken joy.

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