Queer Creation

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This post has been written to participate in the queer theology synchroblog 2013

Earlier this year I was accused of blasphemy by a Christian group who had read a blog post on here about one of my paintings. This isn’t a tale of how I felt oppressed by homophobic attitudes in the church because I didn’t, instead I was interested in their critique of my work and where the accusation came from. One of the problems seemed to be that they felt I was equating the Eucharist with oral sex. As it happens I hadn’t thought of it that way but when I re–read my text I realised that there was plenty of room in the ambiguous way I had written for that interpretation to make sense. Perhaps that was the hidden intention of my subconscious all along (not that I’m assuming my subconscious is obsessed with oral sex of course). The more I thought about it the more that this reading resonated with me and my experience of Christ. I longed for his body not in an obsessive preoccupation with sex and the pursuit of an orgasm but with a whole body desire for the other.

The act of kneeling to receive the bread and wine in the communion service has all kinds of associations, one of which is kneeling in front of a lover. This is a beautiful and intimate action involving all the senses. Whether or not it seems blasphemous to consider Christ in that context depends a great deal on our thoughts about the nature of bodies, sex and our understanding of Jesus. As for me, I was grateful that a Christian group had led me to explore that association, even if it was broached under the banner of blasphemy. Now when I kneel, in whatever context, my soul is enriched by the deeper layers of that sacramental act.

Many years ago when I was wrestling with my identity, my life falling apart in the midst of depression, a minister was sitting with me whilst I cried and I said to her: “I just want to be a gay artist”. It turns out that both of those aspects of identity needed to be hard won. But looking back I realise now that I didn’t need to become a gay artist, I needed to realise that that was who I am and denying that identity (for all kinds of complex reasons) had done violence to the person God had made me to be.

It seems to me that both the gay identity and the creative obsession of the artist are prophetic ways of being.  Both entail a way of seeing and experiencing that fractures the world and breaks up comfortable formulations of identity, gender, relationships and theologies that some may see as blasphemous or disturbing.

There is an honesty and vulnerability that accompanies the self disclosure of the artist, just as there is in the process of coming out. In my experience, the more honest I am with my art the more deeply people respond to it; both positively and negatively. But I work out my theology, through prayer and meditation, with a paint brush in my hand and the smell of linseed oil in the air or with the touch and taste of another’s body. And perhaps a theology, a way of thinking about and of experiencing God, that isn’t hard won through vulnerability and self giving isn’t worth having.

With that in mind, here are three images I have been working on. All of them oil on canvases (1.0 x 1.5 m). I often work from photos and when this person modelled for me I noticed how the tilt of his head and the beauty of his body made me see Christ. And so I developed this triptych: Life, death and resurrection.

1. Life: The living Christ offers his body

[Jesus said] “This is my body, given for you” Luke 22:19

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2. Death: the disciple/lover holds Christ’s body

 …there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body… Matthew 27:57-59Image

3. Resurrection: The risen Christ invites the disciple/lover to enter his body

Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side…” John 20:27Image

 

Here are the other blog posts on the theme of ‘Queer Creation’:

Queering Our Reading of the Bible by Dwight Welch

Queer Creation in art: Who says God didn’t create Adam and Steve? by Kittrdge Cherry

Of The Creation of Identity (Also the Creation of Religion) by Colin & Terri

God, the Garden, & Gays: Homosexuality in Genesis by Brian G. Murphy, for Queer Theology

Created Queerly–Living My Truth by Casey O’Leary

Creating Theology by Fr. Shannon Kearns

Initiation by Blessed Harlot

B’reishit: The Divine Act of Self-Creation by Emily Aviva Kapor

Queer Creation: Queering the Image of God by Alan Hooker

Queer Creation by Ric Stott

Eunuch-Inclusive Esther–Queer Theology 101 by Peterson Toscano

Valley of Dry Bones by Jane Brazelle

Queer Creation: Queer Angel by Tony Street

The Great Welcoming by Anna Spencer

Queer Creation by Billy Flood

The Mystery of an Outlandishly Queer Creation by Susan Cottrell

We’ve Been Here All Along by Brian Gerald Murphy

God Hirself: A Theology by T. Thorn Coyle

The Objectification of God by Marg Herder

Coming Out As Embodiments of God Herself by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

An Interview by Katy

On Creation and Belonging by Andrew Watson

Creation by Liam Haakon Smith

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Seven Shrines of the Body: 7. Crown

The final shrine is the crown, the top of the head. It’s where many spiritual traditions locate the experience of the transcedent. A few weeks back I quoted Theresa of Avila who locates a powerful spiritual experience in this part of her body:

“As I write this, the noises in my head are so loud that I am beginning to wonder what is going on in it…My head sounds just as if it were full of brimming rivers, and then as if all the water in those rivers came suddenly rushing downward; and a host of little birds seem to be whistling, not in the ears, but in the upper part of the head, where the higher part of the soul is said to be; and I have held this view for a long time, for the spirit seems to move upward with great velocity.”

This shrine leads us up and out of our bodies to connect with the Other. But it is important to experience this in the context of the other shrines. Whilst it might seem that this is the highest point and the most important experience to pursue, in fact for us to genuinely experience the world (and God if that is part of your worldview) and live frutifully here we need to be aware of our whole bodies:

The grounding and earthiness of our sacral spine,

The urge to connect to others in our abdomen,

The power and will in our solar plexus,

The compassion of our heart,

The way we communicate with our throat,

The way we see and perceive the world with our eyes.

As well as the transcendent experience of all that is beyond us.

 

Here are images of the seventh shrine followed by a meditation:

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Your being stretches far and then farther beyond.

And somehow my fragile flesh may know that which is beyond all.

May I transcend all that I cling to, and as the detritus falls away may I ascend into union with the Great Mystery.

And so may I know fully even as I am fully known.

Seven Shrines of the Body: 6. Eyes

In some spiritual traditions the point between the eyes is known as the third eye, the centre of perception and insight.

In considering embodied experience with our eyes it seems to me that there are many layers of perception that go much deeper than simply what we think we can see right in front of us. With it’s fractured mirrors and disconcerting eye this shrine aims to lead us to those deeper places. In addition, it was also interesting watching people interacting with the shrines and checking their hair in the mirror.

Here are the images and meditation:

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You see me as I am

Yet I see through lenses of ego, culture and experience.

May the light that shines in and the light that shines out from my eyes illuminate and not deceive.

And so may I gaze on others with the eyes of Christ.