Friday, May 22, 2015

Harvey Milk Day celebrates equality

“Harvey Milk of San Francisco” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. (TrinityStores.com)

Equality for all is celebrated today (May 22) on Harvey Milk Day, the birthday of LGBT rights pioneer Harvey Milk.

As America’s first openly gay man elected to public office in a major city*, Milk was responsible for passing a tough gay-rights law in San Francisco before his assassination on Nov. 27, 1978. He has been called a martyr for LGBT rights -- and for all human rights.

Milk (1930-1978) served only 11 months on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was killed, but in that short time he fought for the rights of the elderly, small business owners, and the many ethnic communities in his district as well as for the growing LGBT community.

Harvey Milk Day March,
by Show Me No Hate
St. Louis, MO
Harvey Milk Day events happen all across America, especially in California, where it became an official state holiday in 2009 and public schools are encouraged to teach suitable commemorative lessons about the LGBT rights activist. Milk is the only openly gay person in the United States to receive such a distinction.

The Harvey Milk Day Facebook page offers updates. A calendar of events and other resources are available at HarveyMilkDay.co, the official home of Harvey Milk Day.  Their materials emphasize that Milk was more than an LGBT rights activist, but a “social and political pioneer” who ”fought for the rights and equality of all” and inspires “disenfranchised communities.”

Harvey Milk Day events often include showing one of the two Oscar-winning movies about his life, the documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984) or the biographical drama “Milk” (2008), which stars Sean Penn as Milk. The definitive book about his life include “The Mayor of Castro Street” by Randy Shilts.

Milk has received many honors for his visionary courage and commitment to equality. In 2009 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the California Hall of Fame. He was included in the Time “100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century” for being “a symbol of what gays can accomplish and the dangers they face in doing so.”

Milk became the public face of the GLBT rights movement, and his reputation has continued to grow since his assassination.

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country,” Milk said. Two bullets did enter his brain, and his vision of queer people living openly is also coming true.

Haunted by the sense that he would be killed for political reasons, Milk recorded tapes to be played in the event of his assassination. His message, recorded nine days before his death, included this powerful statement:

“I ask for the movement to continue, for the movement to grow, because last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person, hope. And after all, that's what this is all about. It's not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power — it's about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, hope. You gotta give them hope.”

Shots fired by conservative fellow supervisor Dan White cut Milk’s life short. More than 30 years later, the hope and the movement for LGBT rights are more alive than ever.

The Harvey Milk icon painted by Robert Lentz (pictured above) was hailed as a “national gay treasure” by gay author/activist Toby Johnson. Milk holds a candle and wears an armband with a pink triangle, the Nazi symbol for gay men, expressing solidarity with all who were tortured or killed because of their sexuality. It is one of 40 icons featured in the book “Christ in the Margins” by Robert Lentz and Edwina Gateley.

The Harvey Milk icon sparked a church controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for this and nine other controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. All 10 were displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”

The icon has also been criticized for portraying Milk, a secular Jew, in a iconographic style rooted in Christian tradition. “The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!” He is honored in the interfaith LGBTQ Saints series here as a martyr who died in the struggle for LGBT rights.

Harvey Milk is assassinated as Jesus falls in “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud

Milk’s assassination is juxtaposed with Jesus falling under the weight of his cross in the image at the top of this post: Station 9 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button. Using bold colors and collage, Button puts Jesus' suffering into a queer context by matching scenes from his journey to Golgotha with milestones from the last 100 years of LGBT history. For an overview of all 15 paintings in the series, see my article LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.

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[*Note: When Milk was elected, two gay politicians were already in office: lesbian Massachusetts State Representative Elaine Noble and Minnesota State Senator Allan Spear, who came out after he won re-election.]

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Related links:
Harvey Milk Day Quotes 2015: 11 Inspiring Sayings That Still Ring True Today (International Business Times)

Icons of Harvey Milk and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com




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This post is part of the LGBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts



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Friday, May 15, 2015

Resurrection song: “Sometimes religion rubs me wrong”



A queer sensibility shines through revolutionary new lyrics about resurrection in a song performed on Easter at LGBT-affirming Founders Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles.

Lucia Chappelle, minster of social justice at Founders MCC, wrote new words for a melody made popular by Paul Simon as “American Tune.” The same music is also  known as the traditional hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”

Chappelle's version begins:

I think of the questionable history,
I think of the fascination with death,
I think of the role of Christianity
In spreading human distress,
But it's alright, it's alright,
The Resurrection's here!
Though the institution may be our cross to bear,
We're called to persevere, we're called to persevere…

(Full text is at the end of this post.)

Titled “The Resurrection’s Here,” the song premiered on Easter morning when singer-guitarist Garrett Wolfe performed it during communion.

Garrett Wolfe

In typical MCC style, communion was served with touch and personalized prayer to individuals, couples and groups, thereby affirming queer families along with everyone else.

In a video of the song’s debut, Jesus in Love publisher Kittredge Cherry can be seen receiving communion with her partner Audrey Lockwood starting at minute 1:45.

Founders MCC is the first church in a denomination that has served the LGBT community since 1968. Chappelle has been part of MCC since 1972. She pastored DeColores MCC, a lesbian feminist-womanist collective congregation in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The DeColores MCC Hymnal includes more of her new lyrics to familiar hymns, such as her Christmas carol “Silent Night, Raging Night,” plus songs and liturgies contributed by many other women from DeColores and beyond.

There is also a queer connection to the tune's better-known hymn lyrics, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” Those words are based on a homoerotic poem by Bernard of Clairvaux. For more info, see Saints Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy: Honey-tongued abbot and the archbishop he loved.

Thanks, Lucia, for writing these liberating lyrics and sharing them on the Jesus in Love Blog!

Lucia Chappelle, center, shares a joyous moment with Kittredge Cherry, left, and Audrey Lockwood after the Easter premiere of her resurrection song

The Resurrection's Here!
By Lucia Chappelle

I think of the questionable history,
I think of the fascination with death,
I think of the role of Christianity
In spreading human distress,
But it's alright, it's alright,
The Resurrection's here!
Though the institution may be our cross to bear,
We're called to persevere, we're called to persevere.

Sometimes the church just drives me crazy,
Sometimes religion rubs me wrong,
Sometimes the meaning gets so hazy,
Like I don't really belong,
But I'm alright, I'm alright,
The Resurrection's here!
Even when you seem to get crucified again,
It always reappears, it always reappears.

And I live in the vortex --
A place where my faith grows exponentially,
Experientially,
Blessed dichotomy!
And I dream of the promise --
I honor a voice crying inside of me,
Full of complexity,
"Here's where you need to be."
So I live in the vortex.

We look for the Resurrection morning,
We look for a supernatural event,
We look past the simple springtime flowering
For some new sacrament,
But it's alright, it's alright,
The Resurrection's here!
So when it seems to be playing hard to get
Just use your eyes and ears, just use your eyes and ears.

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Related links:
eclecticlucialand.blogspot.com (Lucia Chapelle’s blog)


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Friday, May 08, 2015

Julian of Norwich: Celebrating Mother Jesus

“Julian of Norwich,” a memorial drawing for his cat Betty, by Douglas Blanchard

“Julian of Norwich” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, TrinityStores.com

Julian of Norwich is a medieval English mystic who celebrated “Mother Jesus.” It’s not known if Julian herself was queer, but some of her ideas were. Julian is often listed with LGBT saints because of her genderbending visions of Jesus and God. Her feast day (May 8) always falls near Mother’s Day (May 10, 2015).

Her discussions of Jesus as a mother sound radical even now, more than 600 years later. In today’s understanding, Julian’s Jesus can seem to be transgender! Her omnigendered vision of the Trinity fits with contemporary feminist and queer theology.

Mother’s Day is also a great time to honor mothers whose love for their gay children helped launch LGBT organizations, including: Jeanne Manford and Adele Starr, founders of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); and Edith “Mom” Perry of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC).

Julian of Norwich (c.1342-1416) is the first woman to write a book in English. The book, “Revelations of Divine Love,” recounts a series of 16 visions that she experienced from May 8-13, 1373 during a severe illness when she was 30 years old. The book includes Julian’s most famous saying, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” -- words spoken to her by God in one of Julian’s visions.

Julian of Norwich
from Wikimedia Commons

Later Julian went on to become an anchoress, a type of recluse who lives in a cell attached to a church and does contemplative prayer. Her hermit’s cell was at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich. The cell had two windows, one opening to the church and the other opening to the street. She became known throughout England for the spiritual counseling that she gave there.

A longstanding legend tells of Julian’s friendship with her cat companion, depicted in the paintings at the top of this post. As an anchoress, Julian probably lived alone. It is said that the only other being to share her room was a cat -- for the practical purpose of keeping it free from rats and mice.

Julian is considered the first Catholic to write at length about God as mother. Her profound ideas speak powerfully today to women and queer people of faith. “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” Julian wrote.

Here are a few short quotes from Julian’s extensive writings about “Mother Jesus”:


“So Jesus Christ who sets good against evil is our real Mother. We owe our being to him--and this is the essence of motherhood! --and all the delightful, loving protection which ever follows. God is as really our Mother as he is our Father.“ (Chapter 59)

“So Jesus is our true Mother by nature at our first creation, and he is our true Mother in grace by taking on our created nature.” (Chapter 59)

“A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most courteously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament, which is the precious food of life itself… The mother can lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender mother Jesus, he can familiarly lead us to his blessed breast through his sweet open side….” (Chapter 60)


These quotes come from modern English translations of “Revelations of Divine Love” by Elizabeth Spearing and Clifton Wolters. For longer quotations Click here.

The sacred feminine is just one of the many revelations that have endeared Julian to the public. She also uses objects from ordinary life to illustrate God’s loving, forgiving nature. For example, in one vision God shows Julian a small object like a hazel-nut in the palm of her hand. Julian writes:


“I looked at it and thought, 'What can this be?' And the answer came to me, 'It is all that is made.' I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer in my mind was, 'It lasts and will last forever because God loves it; and in the same way everything exists through the love of God'.” (Chapter 5)


Julian lived a long life. The date of her death is unknown, but records show that she was still alive at age 73 to receive an inheritance. She was never formally canonized, but Julian is considered a saint by popular devotion. The Episcopal and Lutheran Churches keep her feast day on May 8.

New York painter Douglas Blanchard shows the saint with the artist’s own cat Betty in a drawing done as a memorial tribute to a beloved feline companion who died in 2013. He includes a favorite quote from Julian:

“He that made all things for love,
by that same love keepeth them,
and shall keep them without end.”

Blanchard is best known for his epic series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” which is now available as a book. He teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York

The other icon of Julian and her cat was created by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar based in New York. Known for his innovative icons, he was rebuked by the church for painting LGBT saints and God as female.

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To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Juliana de Norwich: Celebración de la Madre Jesús (Santos Queer)
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Related links for Mother's Day:
Jeanne Manford: PFLAG founder loved her gay son

Adele Starr and others: Patron saints for straight allies of LGBT people

Edith “Mom” Perry, mother of Troy Perry and first heterosexual member of the Metropolitan Community Churches
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This post is part of the LGBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.
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Icons of Julian of Norwich and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com





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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Author interview: "Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman" by Dominic Janes


Christianity’s impact in shaping LGBT culture is explored in the new book “Visions of Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman” by British professor Dominic Janes.

“Queer lives are not just about negotiating sin but have often been places of spiritual and physical heroism,” he says in the following interview with Kittredge Cherry, publisher of the Jesus in Love Blog.

The book opens with a chapter on Cardinal John Henry Newman as a queer martyr suffering for Christ in the ecclesiastical closet. Janes goes on to examine liturgical expressions of same-sex desire, the role of Victorian monasteries and other religious institutions in forming queer families, and how the Biblical story of Jonathan and David became a model for same-sex partnerships.

Janes writes that Christianity has ongoing significance in modern homoerotic works such as the films of Derek Jarman and the literature of Oscar Wilde. The book focuses primarily on male same-sex desire, but includes discussion of lesbian author Radclyffe Hall.

About 50 illustrations are featured in the book. They include the alluring stained-glass Jesus at the top of this post. This little-known gem was photographed by the author himself at the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Frome, a town in Somerset, England where accused heretic W.J.E. Bennett served as vicar in the 19th century. His incarnational theology provoked officials into putting him on trial for heresy.

Janes is professor at the University of the Arts in London, and a reader in cultural history and visual studies at Birkbeck College, University of London. His other books include “Picturing the Closet: Male Secrecy and Homosexual Visibility in Britain.”


Kittredge Cherry: When people see “queer martyrdom” in your book title, they may think of people who were killed for being queer. How do you define “queer martyrdom”?

Dominic Janes
(photo by Cameron Spencer)
Dominic Janes: Martyrdom in the Christian tradition has sometimes been about being killed, but it has also been used at various times to refer to states of exemplary suffering. I use the term queer to refer not only to same-sex desire but also to alternative traditions within religious practice. This book is about ‘visions’ of ‘queer martyrdom. In other words it is about the ways in which various figures have been seen as suffering in the context both of religious belief and of same-sex desire.


KC: What kind of impact has Christianity had on the evolution of homosexual/LGBTQ culture?

DJ: I have found in my own life that many Christians are wary of LGBTQ people and vice versa. This wariness sometimes extends to the notion that there is something incompatible about the two realms. I, however, think that aspects of the lesbian and gay liberation movement emerged from Christian environments that offered tacit if not explicit support for lives of witness to Christ on the part of lesbians and gay men. What those surroundings did not do, however, was to support same-sex relationships that were overtly sexual.


KC: Your book examines “a British cultural tradition that centered on an iconic image of Christ as an unmarried, suffering, beautiful, queer martyr.” Please give an example.

DJ: Eucharistic theology played a key role in the Anglo-Catholic tradition that emerged from the Oxford Movement for catholic revival in the nineteenth-century Church of England. One chapter of my book explores some of the ways in which the Mass offered worshippers contact with the perfect body of Christ. In particular I examine a heresy prosecution against W.J.E. Bennett, an Anglo-Catholic priest who wrote that for him the perfect form of Christ became visible in the Eucharist. Adorned with highly aestheticized crucifixes and other images of Christ certain churches became places where men could experience intense encounters with Jesus not only as a symbol, or as flesh, but as a perfect and (homo)eroticized body.


KC: Many Jesus in Love readers are fans of John Henry Newman, but he’s not generally considered a martyr since he died of natural causes in old age. In what way is he a queer martyr who is important for LGBT people today?

DJ: The introductory chapter of the book is called ‘The bitter tears of John Henry Newman’. This does not pronounce on whether Newman was, to use a later nomenclature, ‘homosexual’. What it does do is to look at some of the ways which he has been viewed not simply as a queer Christian but also as one who lived a life that encompassed great emotional suffering. This, it can be argued resulted from his struggles to accommodate his personal tastes within the institutional demands of the contemporary Church. As a major thinker, and indeed a Roman Catholic saint, who was buried with his best male friend, his witness is of huge importance to many members of the LGBTQ community today.


KC: British film director Derek Jarman is also popular on my blog, especially with readers in the United Kingdom. Why did you include him in a book on queer martyrdom?

DJ: The book begins in the mid-nineteenth century but I wanted to make clear that the earlier cultures that it explores continue to influence contemporary forms of art and belief. Derek Jarman was not religious in a conventional sense, but he was deeply preoccupied with Christian ideas and cultural heritage. He not only included images of martyrdom in many of his films but was held to be a queer martyr by many people because of his life of witness to LGBTQ values in the context of his premature death as a result of AIDS.


KC: You teach visual art history, so what is your favorite artwork depicting Christ as a queer martyr?

DJ: My understanding of images of Christ is that they obtain their meaning when they are viewed and appreciated. In other words if you look for Jesus as a queer martyr you will quickly find him in images that are not afraid to call attention to his suffering and to his humanity as including a sexual dimension that is open to appreciation by everyone.


KC: How does your understanding of the queer martyrs affect your own life and spiritual journey?

DJ: Queer martyrdom calls attention to the ways in which LGBTQ lives have frequently involved huge sacrifice and suffering. This is not to say that anyone should seek to suffer, let alone to die for the truth, including the sexual truths of a diverse world. However, paying attention to those who have done so can help us appreciate that queer lives are not just about negotiating sin but have often been places of spiritual and physical heroism. Thinking about queer martyrdom has been of huge importance to me in helping to bridge the gap between my Christian heritage and my personal desires.

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Image credit:
Stained glass Christ figure by Clayton and Bell in the chancel at the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist at Frome in Somerset, England. (Photo by Dominic Janes)

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This post is part of the Queer Christ series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Madre Juana de la Cruz: Queer saint of 16th-century Spain

Portrait of Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez from Cubas de la Sagra, Madrid, Spain, circa 1600 (Wikipedia)

Madre Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez was an abbess in 16th-century Spain who insisted that God changed her gender in the womb, transforming her from male to female. Her feast day is May 3 -- which is both her birthday and also the day she died.

Juana was so controversial in her own time that her beatification was quashed, but modern scholars rediscovered her and last month the Vatican put her back on track for sainthood after an extensive review of her writings.. Pope Francis issued a decree in March 2015 approving Juana’s “heroic virtues” and raising her to the status of “Venerable.”

She also saw Jesus in queer ways, saying that Christ becomes whatever the seeker needs: father, mother, husband, wife, or friend. She blended sexuality and spirituality by envisioning the streets of heaven lined with marriage beds, each with God and a male or female saint.

Madre Juana’s genderbending life and theology are explored in the following article, written for the Jesus in Love Blog by Franciscan scholar Kevin Elphick.

She is often called “Santa Juana” (Saint Juana) or “Madre Juana” (Mother Juana), but she is also known as Juana de Azaña, Juana de Cubas. She is a different person from another famous nun who had the same name: Sor Juana de la Cruz of 17th-century Mexico.

“Madre Juana de la Cruz” by Lewis Williams

Madre Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez (1481 - 1534)

Imagine this scenario. You are talking to a woman who believes that she was originally conceived as a male, but in utero, became a female. This woman points to her Adam’s apple as evidence of her claim. She shares that when her family wanted her to be married off to a suitable gentleman, she fled her family home dressed as a man to escape. Likely by now, you might be speculating that this person might be transgender. But before you reach this conclusion, one more fact to add: This person was born in the year 1481. Unlike us, the 15th century had no technical language to describe being transgender. But what might the stories of our transgender ancestors sound like? Perhaps something like the story of Juana de la Cruz I suspect.

Although never canonized, in Spain Mother Juana is known as “Santa Juana de la Cruz,” Saint Juana of the Cross. Each year pilgrims in Spain recreate the journey of young Juana leaving her family and traveling to the safety of the Franciscan convent. Every April, they contemplate a young girl dressed as a man, traveling to a refuge where she could remove those clothes and put on the clothing of yet another man, spending the rest of her life dressed in the habit of St. Francis.

Venerable Juana could not be a more timely saint. What does she say to us today? I believe her message for us today is a vision of claiming whatever gender elements we experience as our own, and heroically integrating and accentuating them into our lives regardless of what critics say. Her creative and sensitive reimaging of Biblical stories challenges us to translate our sacred Scriptures and Traditions into stories relevant and palatable for our listeners today. And Juana’s own integration in her own person of male and female roles and attributes, models for us the challenge to achieve the same. In the midst of the Inquisition, she was an abbess, preacher, parish leader, visionary, theologian, and tender advocate for her own community of women. Given the many paradoxes she embodied, it speaks to her remarkable character and sanctity that she not only traversed Inquisitional scrutiny, she locally came to be venerated as a saint.

Juana was born to farmers in the Spanish village of Azaña (today: Numancia de la Sagra) in Spain on May 3, 1481. She would later tell her community that God had been originally fashioning her as a male in the womb of her mother, but upon the intervention of the Blessed Virgin, she was changed into a female. As proof of this miracle, Juana pointed to her Adam’s Apple (in Spanish “nuez … en la garganta,” literally “nut in the throat”), as evidence of divine intervention. By the time she was 15, her family had identified a man to espouse her, but Juana would have nothing of this plan. Instead, she dressed in men’s clothing and fled her family home, walking to a community of women religious to begin a new life for herself. Each March, Christians continue to recreate her journey annually, pilgrimaging to Cubas de la Sagra (near Madrid) to visit the convent of “Santa Juana” -- officially known as the Convent of Santa María de la Cruz.

Where a woman dressing as a man might seem odd as part of the story of a female saint, one need only think of St. Joan of Arc as a model for this pattern of holiness. Like St. Joan, depictions of Juana, her iconography, show her sanctity by portraying her dressed as a man. Other cross-dressing female saints include: Eugenia of Alexandria, Euphrosyne, Galla, Paula of Avila, Pelagia, and Wilgefortis. But for Juana, this dressing as a common man was transitory. Her goal was ultimately to clothe herself in the habit of another man, St. Francis of Assisi, by joining a community of Franciscan women. Now where some contemporary attitudes might find the homogenous celibate life of monasteries and convents to be potentially oppressive, in the past these homosocial communities were one of the few socially acceptable options for LGT persons to avoid otherwise socially prescribed heterosexual marriages.

In 1497 Juana professed as a member of the Franciscan sisters there in Cubas, Spain. By 1509, Juana was elected as Abbess of the community and became “Mother Juana.” Her community was unique in that it maintained a parish church and appointed its priest. Juana prudently appointed her own brother. Even more unique was Juana’s role in preaching lengthy locutions, giving detailed elaborations of Bible events and Jesus’ and Mary’s lives. These sermons were eventually collected in the book, El Libro del Conorte. It speaks to Juana’s personal charisma and vision, that in the midst of the Inquisition, she was both preaching and exercising oversight of a parish. To her credit, she sagely named God as the source and inspiration of her sermons, thereby placing the inquisitors in the position whereby if they questioned her, they were questioning God as well.

Juana’s expansive understanding of gender extended beyond herself. For her, Christ was both male and female as well. The blood and sweat of the Crucified Christ are evidence to Juana that at the cross, Jesus gave birth to us as our Mother. 

Most interestingly, in her Sermon on the Holy Innocents, Jesus addresses the martyred female infants and says to them: "I also am a little girl (niña) like you, because I am the child of a woman."

Juana is also partial to the gospel image of Jesus as the brooding mother hen (“Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” Matt. 23:37). For Juana, to imitate Christ is to imitate Mother Christ who keeps nestling souls safe beneath her protective wings. And still, this same Jesus is so expansive, that one gender alone is not adequate.

In one of Juana’s sermons, Jesus says: “And all those who seek in me a father, will find in me a father. And those who seek in me a mother, will find in me a mother. And those who seek in me a husband, will find in me a husband. And those who seek in me a bride, will find in me a bride. And those who seek in me a brother, or a friend, or a neighbor, or a companion, likewise will find in me everything they desire…”

[“E todos los que me quisieredes en padre, en padre me fallares. E los que me quisieredes en madre, en madre me falleres. E los que me quisieren en esposo, en esposo me fallaran. E los que me quisieren en esposa, en esposa me fallaran. E los que me quisieren en hermano o en amigo o en proximo o en conpanero, por semejante me fallaran para todo lo quisieren...”]

(Unless otherwise noted, the page references are quotes from: Ronald E Surtz, The Guitar of God: Gender, Power, and Authority in the Visionary World of Mother Juana de la Cruz; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. pp. 95-96.) Juana’s characterization of Jesus himself as a bride is unique in Christian mystical literature. Ronald E Surtz, one of the primary authors to introduce Juana to English readers, explains that “…in Mother Juana’s visionary world the differences between the sexes are blurred.” p. 94. More than blurred, in Mother Juana the two genders are each hyper-accentuated, and attributes of both are unearthed and lauded in each person she encounters and sermonizes.

As a devout follower of St. Francis and St. Clare, Mother Juana was very faithful to the tradition of gender-bending that the Franciscan family had engendered. In many ways Juana follows the Franciscan trajectory of gender liminality to its logical outcomes. During his life, St. Francis had had a vision of himself as a mother hen with multitudes of Franciscan children beneath his wings. Juana describes Francis as “the hen [that] labors to brood the eggs” (p. 44) [“…la gallina se trabaja por sacar los huevos…” p. 153] and has God fondly refer to him in Heaven as God’s own “little brown hen.” (p. 45) [“la gallina morenita” p. 153] Juana believes herself to imitate both Francis and Jesus by her own maternal brooding over souls seeking heaven.

St. Clare had had a vision in which she nursed at the breast of a lactating St. Francis. Juana builds upon this vision, having Christ ask to see St. Francis’ breasts. (p. 45) Francis complies and indicates that he nurses all of his followers: “My breasts, O Lord, here they are for these that I bring with me …the breast of my desires.” (Surtz, p. 45) [“ ‘Muestrame tus tetas…’ ‘Mis tetas, Senor, helas aqui, que estos que aqui traigo comigo fueron last etas de mis deseos’ p.59] Where Clare had experienced an interior encounter with Francis as nursing mother, Juana universalizes the lactating Mother Francis as a source of maternal nourishment for all his followers, endorsed by Christ himself.

In her sermon for the Feast of St. Francis, Mother Juana completes the gender transformation of St. Francis by declaring him the Bride and Wife of Christ. The Lord asks Francis “If you want to be my wife” and more pointedly “...if you want to be united and have relations with me …” [Si quieres ser mi muger y si te quieres unir y ayuntar conmigo.] So when Francis consents, he explains: “I will be united with you like the wife is united with the husband.” [me ayuntare contigo, asi como la esposa se ayunta con el esposo., p. 154] Jesus invites him to realize this union by sharing in the intensity of his Passion, to which Francis agrees. Juana then explains as narrator “And he was so united with him in that hour that He [Jesus] imprinted him with his five wounds after the same manner he received them on the cross.” (p. 154) [y que asi fue tan ayuntado con el en aquella hora que le imprimio las sus cinco llagas de la manera que rescibio en la cruz, p. 154] Surtz explains that the verb Juana uses for unite, “ayuntar,” includes the meaning “to have sexual intercourse…” thereby adding a “sexual semantic charge” to the verb. (p. 95) For Juana, Francis not only becomes Christ’s wife, but in the moment of marital consummation, his flesh is also penetrated by the Passion of Christ. For a 15th-century celibate, Juana could not be more explicit.

Juana uses this same verb to equally describe the Lord’s embrace of St. Clare. In a sermon for the Feast of St. Clare, Juana describes God’s intimacy with Clare as so fecund, that she mystically births the Christ Child. For Juana, the ultimate union with God is a mystical marriage. She herself experienced this same union. And as a Franciscan, her spiritual experience was deeply embodied and physical. She described it this way: “The Lord embraced me and placed his feet on my feet and his knees on my knees…and his palms on mine and his head and body against mine.” (p. 68) [Entonces abrazome el Senor y puso sus pies en mis pies y sus rodillas en mis rodillas… e sus palmas en las mias e su caveza e cuerpo todo junto con el mio. p. 68]

A 17th-century Cardinal reviewing Juana’s cause for beatification censured this experience from her writings, noting chidingly “corpus corpori copulante.” But for Juana the spiritual experience is very physical, and in no way diminished by this physicality. Like Francis, her union with Christ necessitates sharing his bodily passion, and still it fills her “with his presence and with the taste and sweetness of his love.” (p. 68) [Inchavase con la presencia suya e con el gusto y dulcor de su amor. p. 68] In a vision described in the “Vida” of her life, Christ explains that their wedded union to each other necessitates shared mutual suffering. “Since you chose me…. as husband and spouse, and you were wedded to me…there has been such intimacy, [that] surely some of my frailty had to infect you. Therefore, whoever loves well must suffer from the lover whatever befalls…” (p. 37). As a fellow bride of Christ, like Francis, Juana received the stigmata. (However, she prayed that it be taken away, and her gentle Spouse complied.)

In point of fact, Juana’s eschatology appears to be largely that of a heaven of marital bliss. She uniquely imagines a heaven where the streets are lined with marriage beds. 

In her sermon, she places this vision in the mouth of God. “Just two persons were seated on each one of those loveliest of marriage beds that were along all the streets and corners of the kingdom of Heaven; one of them was [God] himself and the other was a male or female saint…the number of the elect …. will be many and incomparable, but …only two are to be united in faith and love, namely God and the soul.” (p. 96) [“…estavan en aquellos talamos preciosos que avia por todas las calles e cantones del reino de los cielos asentados en cada uno d’ellos solas dos personas, la una d’ellas hera El mesmo e la otra hera un santo o santa … el numero de los escogidos… mas que solos dos an de ser los ayuntados en una fe e amor, conviene a saber, Dios y el anima…” p. 96]

Juana does not flinch in envisioning marriage beds with same-sex or opposite-sexed pairings. For her what matters is the consummation of the Two united together. 

She explains of Christ that “when he came into the world to be incarnated…. He did not come for any reason other than to invite [us] to nuptials…” (p. 119) [“Porque quando El vino en el mundo a encarnar…Mas quando El venia …no venia a otra cosa sino a conbidar a bodas…” p. 119]

Juana can envision herself as male and Francis as female because for her, gender is not an exclusive and firm-boundaried experience. No one has exclusive rights to define either gender. In her native Spanish with its gendering of nouns, Juana explains that our soul (anima - feminine) and spirit (espiritu - masculine) point toward the reality that the human person is a composite of both female and male.

 “Because if woman has a soul, which is by name female, likewise man too has a soul… by name female, so that every man and woman can be called female. And, conversely, man and woman can be said ‘male’, because if man has a living and everlasting spirit, likewise woman has a living and everlasting spirit. Thus… man can be said ‘woman’ and woman can be said ‘man’, for both have a spirit and a living soul.” (p. 25) [Porque si la muger tiene anima, la qual se llama fenbra, por semejante tiene tanbien el honbre anima… llamada fenbra, de manera que todo honbre e muger se puede llamar fenbra. E por el contrario puede ser dicho el honbre e la muger varon porque si el honbre tiene espiritu biviente e permaneciente para siempre, por semejante tiene la muger espiritu biviente e permaneciente para siempre. Assi que honbre e muger todo es una cosa e un espiritu e un anima en cuanto el honbre puede ser dicho muger puede ser dicha honbre, pues entramos tienen espiritu e anima biviente. p. 25]

C. G. Jung would be pleased to have been so anticipated by Juana. Her tenacity and conviction that each gender is necessarily present and mutually essential extends even to the salvific event itself. For Juana, a solitary male Savior at Calvary is not sufficient. In Juana’s soteriology, the Passions of both Jesus and Mary are essential and salvific. An unwitnessed Passion cannot save. There must be the Suffering Servant and a witness, the Virgin, who voluntarily co-participates.

In Juana’s view, a man and woman occasioned the fall; equally so a woman and man remedy it. Juana envisions Mary’s co-participation in the work of the passion so that “…she was fully crucified in her soul, as he was in the body.” [“… era toda crucificada en el anima, asi como el lo era en el cuerpo”] [Jessica A. Boon’s “Mother Juana de la Cruz: Marian Visions and Female Preaching” in A New Companion to Hispanic Mysticism, ed. Hilaire Kallendorf, Boston: Brill, 2010., p. 147] The mutuality of this shared salvific experience is so thorough, that Juana changes the words of the cry of abandonment of Jesus from the cross to include also his mother. Instead of solely: “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” Juana adds these words: “My powerful Father! Why have you abandoned me, that I and my mother die?” [Padre mio poderoso! Por que me has desamparado que morimos yo y mi madre? p. 147] In the depths of the passion, Juana necessitates a gender mutuality in which both male and female are actors in the remedy of human salvation.

Uniquely, Mother Juana died on her birthday in the odor of sanctity on May 3, 1534 at the age of 53. Her community continues to this day, although it has transitioned to a community of Franciscan Poor Clare nuns. In 1997, the Fraternity of Santa Juana was created in association with the Poor Clares, advocating anew for Juana’s canonization. In his book, Writing Women in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain: The Mothers of Saint Teresa of Avila, Surtz depicts Santa Juana as a literary “mother” to St. Teresa. Pope Francis has declared 2014-2015 as a Jubilee in Spain to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Teresa’s birth. It would seem fitting in this jubilee birthday celebration to ensure that the fiesta includes honoring the Mother also. Santa Juana is well worth celebrating. Pope Francis has been canonizing saints who have a long history of local veneration as “saint.” We may yet hear a declaration proclaiming her universally as the Saint she is.

It is my hope that one day Santa Juana will come to be formally recognized for her courage, sanctity, and leadership, all the more so as a patron saint for the LGBT community.

While it is miracle enough that Juana's cause for canonization was resurrected nearly 500 years after her death, and after extensive re-scrutinizing of her writings, the Vatican will now be looking for two more miracles to advance her cause to formal sainthood for the universal Church. Would it not be telling and affirming if Madre Juana decided to bestow these two miracles upon LGBTQ individuals? Imagine the witness and affirmation Juana would be giving from her place of divine nuptials in heaven to today's Church.

Holy Juana, pray for us your LGBT family and progeny.


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Kevin Elphick is both a Franciscan scholar and a supervisor on a suicide prevention hotline in New York. He wrote a thesis on “Gender Liminality in the Franciscan Sources” for a master’s degree in Franciscan studies from St. Bonaventure University in New York. Elphick also has a master's degree in Religious Studies from Mundelein College in Chicago and a Doctorate in Ministry from Graduate Theological Foundation with a focus in ecumenism. He writes regularly for the Jesus in Love Blog about queer Franciscan subjects, including Francis of Assisi, Blessed Bartolo and Vivaldo, and Blessed John of La Verna. Elphick joined the Sisters of St. Francis in New York as a lay associate in 2014.

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Related links:

Pope gives first step to beatify nun Juana de la Cruz (lainfo.es)

Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez bio (Wikipedia)

Images of Santa Juana de la Cruz (most are from the convent of Santa Maria de la Cruz in Cubas)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Madre Juana de la Cruz: ¿Una Santa Transgénero en la España del siglo XVI? (Santos Queer)

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Icons of Madre Juana de la Cruz and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



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