Monday, April 27, 2015

Christina Rossetti: Queer writer of Christmas carols and lesbian poetry

Cover illustration for Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market and Other Poems” (1862) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

Portrait of Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Georgina Rossetti was a 19th-century English poet whose work ranged from Christmas carols to sensuous lesbian love poetry. A devout Christian who never married, she has been called a “queer virgin” and “gay mystic.” Her feast day is today (April 27) on the Episcopal and Church of England calendars.

Many consider her to be one of Britain’s greatest Victorian poets. Rossetti’s best-known works are the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Goblin Market,” a surprisingly erotic poem about the redemptive love between two sisters who overcome temptation by goblins. The homoeroticism is unmistakable in verses such as these:

She cried, “...Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me…”

She clung about her sister,
Kiss’d and kiss’d and kiss’d her…
She kiss’d and kiss’d her with a hungry mouth.

Some of these verses were set to music in a choral piece commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir: “Heartland” by Matthew Hindson.

There is no direct evidence that Rossetti was sexually involved with another woman, but historian Rictor Norton reports that her brother destroyed her love poems addressed to women when he edited her poetry for publication. Rossetti is included in “Essential Gay Mystics” by Andrew Harvey.  A comprehensive chapter titled “Christina Rossetti: The Female Queer Virgin” appears in “Same Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture” by Frederick S. Roden. Rossetti is also important to feminist scholars who reclaimed her in the 1980s and 1990s as they sought women’s voices hidden in the church’s patriarchal past.

Rossetti (Dec. 5, 1830 - Dec. 29, 1894) was born in London as the youngest child in an artistic family. Her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti became a famous Pre-Raphaelite poet and artist. Encouraged by her family, she began writing and dating her poems starting at age 12.

When Rossetti was 14 she started experiencing bouts of illness and depression and became deeply involved in the Anglo-Catholic Movement of the Church of England. The rest of her life would be shaped by prolonged illness and passionate religious devotion. She broke off marriage engagements with two different men on religious grounds. She stayed single, living with her mother and aunt for most of her life.

Christina posed
for this Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
During this period she served as the model for the Virgin Mary in a couple of her brother’s most famous paintings, including his 1850 vision of the Annunciation, “Ecce Ancilla Domini” (“Behold the Handmaid of God.”)

Starting in 1859, Rossetti worked for 10 years as a volunteer at the St. Mary Magdalene “house of charity” in Highgate, a shelter for unwed mothers and former prostitutes run by Anglican nuns. Some suggest that “Goblin Market” was inspired by and/or written for the “fallen women” she met there.

Goblin Market” was published in 1862, when Rossetti was 31. The poem is about Laura and Lizzie, two sisters who live alone together and share one bed. They sleep as a couple, in Rossetti’s vivid words:

Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Lock’d together in one nest.

But “goblin men” tempt them with luscious forbidden fruit and Laura succumbs. After one night of indulgence she can no longer find the goblins and begins wasting away. Desperate to help her sister, Lizzie tries to buy fruit from the goblins, but they refuse and try to make her eat the fruit. She resists even when they attack and try to force the fruit into her mouth. Lizzie, drenched in fruit juice and pulp, returns home and invites Laura to lick the juices from her in the verses quoted earlier. The juicy kisses revive Laura and the two sisters go on to lead long lives as wives and mothers.

“Goblin Market” can be read as an innocent childhood nursery rhyme, a warning about the dangers of sexuality, a feminist critique of marriage or a Christian allegory. Lizzie becomes a Christ figure who sacrifices to save her sister from sin and gives life with her Eucharistic invitation to “Eat me, drink me, love me…” The two sisters of “Goblin Market” are often interpreted as lesbian lovers, which means that Lizzie can justifiably be interpreted as a lesbian Christ.

In 1872 Rossetti was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an auto-immune thyroid disorder, which caused her to spend her last 15 years as a recluse in her home. She died of cancer on Dec. 29, 1894 at age 64.

She wrote the words to “In the Bleak Midwinter” in 1872 in response to a request from Scribner’s Magazine for a Christmas poem. It was published posthumously in 1904 and became a popular carol after composer Gustav Holst set it to music in 1906. Her poem “Love Came Down at Christmas” (1885) is also a well known carol.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” continues to be sung frequently in churches, by choirs, and on recordings by artists such as Julie Andrews (video below), Sarah McLaughlin, Loreena McKennitt and James Taylor. The haunting song includes these verses:


In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ....

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.


The Episcopal Church devotes a feast day to Christina Rossetti on April 27 with this official prayer:

O God, whom heaven cannot hold, you inspired Christina Rossetti to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poems: Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ, who is love; and who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Rossetti herself may well have felt ambivalent about being honored by the church or outed as a queer. She shared her own thoughts for posterity in her poem “When I am dead, my dearest” (1862):


When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.


___
Related links:

Christina Rossetti profile (glbtq.com)

The Many Weird and Wonderful Illustrations for Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (Unpretentious Blabberings)



____
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, 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.

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





Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day: LGBTQ theologians join in protecting the environment

Kittredge Cherry visits a green-cross sculpture honoring the early environmental movement

Protection of the environment is celebrated today on Earth Day (April 22) by people around the world, including queer theologians.

LGBT Christians are transforming the larger church with a message of inclusion and embodiment, showing that God’s all-inclusive love goes beyond traditional categories to welcome every sexual orientation and gender expression. A few pioneering LGBTQ green theologians are taking the next step to extend the church’s welcome to the earth itself.

“My passion for the Earth came with the recognition of queer Christian inclusion and the radical inclusive mission of Jesus,” says Robert Shore-Goss, a theologian and pastor who brings together queer and green spiritualities.

He wrote a comprehensive chapter called “Grace is Green: Incarnational Inclusivities” in the 2013 book that he co-edited, “Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians.”

“Christian blood atonement theologies have historically been violent, if not bloodthirsty -- scapegoating Jews, women, Muslims, indigenous peoples, non-Christian religions, and LGBT folks,” he writes in the chapter. By contrast, he says, “The green cross includes all life everywhere.”

Shore-Goss puts queer green theology into practice as pastor of Metropolitan Community Church / United Church of Christ in the Valley in North Hollywood, California. His mostly LGBT congregation installed solar panels, jack-hammered an asphalt area to make a garden on their property, and found many ways to cut their church’s use of energy and water. As described on his website mischievousspiritandtheology.com, water conservation became a spiritual discipline for Lent and gardening was an Easter practice.

“We understood the Earth as a living being, producing and evolving diverse life forms,” he wrote in his chapter. “We made the Earth a member of the church on one Earth Day Sunday to symbolize the great commandment that loving God and loving our neighbor included loving the Earth and taking responsibility for diversity of life.”

Green spirituality has been explored by many people, from ecofeminists to radical faeries, but Shore-Goss is among only a handful of theologians who have written about the connections between ecology and Christianity from a LGBTQ perspective. Others include:

* Kathy Rudy, lesbian feminist activist and associate professor of ethics and women’s studies at Duke University, applies her experience of the LGBT liberation movement to animal rights in her book “Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy.”

* John Michael Clark, who taught English and religious studies at various colleges in Atlanta, shows the contribution that the LGBT liberation movement makes in an eclectic ecological vision with his book“Beyond Our Ghettos: Gay Theology in Ecological Perspective.”

* Daniel T. Spencer, who teaches environmental studies at the University of Montana, weaves together gay and ecological perspectives to build a solid Christian ethic in his book “Gay and Gaia: Ethics, Ecology, and the Erotic.”

The photo at the top of this post shows Jesus in Love founder Kittredge Cherry with a monument honoring the early environmental movement. A female Christ figure stands in front of a green cross with arms outstretched over a pile of tree stumps and sawed-off logs. Her plea is stated on the pedestal: “Help save our trees.”

“Miss American Green Cross” was sculpted in 1928 by artist Frederick Willard Potter for the Green Cross Society, an ecology group based in Glendale, California. According to press reports, “It is the first of dozens of statues to be erected all over America as part of the doctrine of saving the nation’s forests.” The organization disbanded in the 1930s, but the statue and its strikingly contemporary message remain.

Some have mistaken the mysterious Miss American Green Cross for Joan of Arc about to be burned at the stake. But this goddess-like bronze figure appears to be a female Christ, embodiment of Holy Wisdom (Sophia). She seems to express the theology of the green cross described by Shore-Goss and others, drawing parallels between the destruction of forests and the crucifixion of Jesus. The sculpture is located at the Brand Library in Glendale. The photographer was Audrey Lockwood.

Cherry, a lesbian author ordained by MCC, wrote an animal blessing in the book she co-edited, “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies and Celebrations.”Here is an excerpt:

Animals are important in the lives of many lesbian and gay people. Cats and dogs often become surrogate children for same-sex couples…. The discrimination faced by lesbian and gay people is linked to attitudes that devalue animals and the rest of nature. Western thought sets up dualities in which spirit is better than body, male is better than female, human is better than animal, intellectual is better than sexual -- and sexuality defines gays and lesbians in this way of thinking. Gays and lesbians, like nature itself, are seen as something that must be controlled. The result is a sterile, exclusive church and a polluted earth. Many lesbians and gay men seek to remedy this situation by healing the spirit-body split in Christianity. For all these reasons, it is appropriate to bless animals in the context of lesbian and gay spirituality….

May we remember that humanity is but one small, fragile strand in the interdependent web of life.

May we remember that we human beings are not the only ones created to look at flowers, to taste cool water, to listen to the wind, and to feel the earth beneath our feet.

May we remember that what befalls the earth befalls all who live on her lovely shores.

May we never forget that to harm the Earth is to scorn the Creator.

We pray for the animals who are our companions.

We pray for the wildlife displaced as we develop land for human use.

We pray for the animals who work for us, including the seeing-eye dog, the carriage horse, and the laboratory rat.

We pray for animals who are bought and sold, animals who live in cages, and animals who live free.

We pray for animals indigenous to this particular place, including [name a few species].

We pray for the animals who have made our lives possible by becoming food and clothing for us.

We pray for endangered species, including the giant panda and the California condor, and we remember the dinosaurs, passenger pigeons, and other extinct species.

We pray for all human beings who have felt degraded by being compared to animals.

God, we know that you hear all or prayers, those spoken and those that we hold silently in our hearts. We claim your loving presence with us now.

____
This post is part of the LGBT Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

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


Bookmark and Share

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sor Juana de la Cruz: Nun who loved a countess in 17th-century Mexico City

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
By Lewis Williams, SFO trinitystores.com

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a 17th-century Mexican nun whose critically acclaimed writings include lesbian love poetry. She is considered one of the greatest Latin American poets, an early advocate of women’s rights, and some say, North America's first lesbian feminist writer. Her feast day is today (April 17).

Sor Juana (Nov. 12, 1648 - April 17, 1695) was born out of wedlock near Mexico City in what was then New Spain. She was a witty, intellectually gifted girl who loved learning. Girls of her time were rarely educated, but she learned to read in her grandfather’s book-filled house.
When she was 16, she asked for her parents’ permission to disguise herself as a male student in order to attend university, which did not accept women. They refused, and instead she entered the convent in 1667. In her world, the convent was the only place where a woman could pursue education.

Sor Juana’s convent cell became Mexico City’s intellectual hub. Instead of an ascetic room, Sor Juana had a suite that was like a modern apartment. Her library contained an estimated 4,000 books, the largest collection in Mexico. The following portrait from 1750 shows her in her amazing library, surrounded by her many books.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera, 1750 (Wikimedia Commons)

She turned her nun’s quarters into a salon, visited by the city’s intellectual elite. Among them was Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes, vicereine of Mexico. The two women became passionate friends. It’s unclear whether they were lesbians by today’s definition, but Maria Luisa inspired Sor Juana to write amorous love poems, such as:

That you’re a woman far away
is no hindrance to my love:
for the soul, as you well know,
distance and sex don’t count.

Click here for more of Sor Juana’s lesbian poems in English and Spanish.

The romance between Sor Juana and Maria Luisa continues to be an inspiration for contemporary writers and film makers. Poet and Chicano studies scholar Alicia Gaspar de Alba writes about it vividly in her novel “Sor Juana’s Second Dream.” The novel became the basis for the play “The Nun and the Countess” by Odalys Nanín.

Production began in fall 2014 on a movie based on Gaspar de Alba's novel. Mexican actress Ana de La Reguera will play Sor Juana in "Juana de Asbaje," the film adaptation of Gaspar de Alba’s novel. She co-wrote the screenplay with the film's director, Rene Bueno.

Gaspar de Alba also writes about Sor Juana in her new book “[Un]framing the ‘Bad Woman’: Sor Juana, Malinche, Coyolxauhqui, and Other Rebels with a Cause.” It was published in 2014 by the University of Texas.

Church authorities cracked down on Sor Juana, not because of her lesbian poetry, but for “La Respuesta,” her classic defense of women’s rights in response to opposition from the clergy. Threatened by the Inquisition, Sor Juana was silenced for the final three years of her life. At age 46, she died after taking care of her sisters in an outbreak of plague.

She is not recognized as a saint by the male-dominated church hierarchy that she criticized, but Sor Juana holds a place in the informal communion of saints honored by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith and our allies.  She is especially revered as a role model by Latina feminists.

The icon at the top was painted by Colorado artist Lewis Williams of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). Sor Juana sits between Mexico City’s two volcanoes, the male Popocatépetl and the female Iztaccíhuatl, symbolizing the conflict between men and women that she experienced in trying to get an education. She holds a book with a quote from her writings: “The most unforgivable crime is to place people’s stature in doubt.”

___
Related links:

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife)

Sor Juana de la Cruz: La monja le encantó la Condesa en la Cidade do México en el siglo 17 (Santos Queer)

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


Icons of Sor Juana de la Cruz and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores





Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Day of Silence Prayer: Stop bullying God's LGBTQ youth


A new prayer by Jesus in Love founder Kittredge Cherry is one of the few religious voices supporting Day of Silence, a national student-led protest of anti-LGBT bullying. It happens tomorrow on Friday, April 17.

Another LGBT-affirming spiritual resource is “For Mary’s Child,” a Facebook page calling on faith communities to support Day of Silence.

Christianity has been used to justify the harassment that Day of Silence seeks to prevent. The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family even organized an annual event in opposition to Day of Silence. Day of Dialogue, which is happening today (April 16) encourages students to speak up about “God's design for sexuality.”

Once again religious faith gets equated with discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression. I wrote the Rainbow Day of Silence prayer to give voice to the deeper truth that LGBTQ people are part of God’s good creation.

Day of Silence Prayer (Twitter version)
by Kittredge Cherry
Silence is memory
Remembering those
Driven to suicide by bullies

Silence is action
Calling attention to those who are silenced
When bigotry is disguised as humor

Silence is solidarity
Students, family, teachers, friends
Who stand with the queer & questioning

Silence is pride, LGBTQ pride
Ignoring bullies,
Claiming our right to be
Part of God’s rainbow.

Silence is prayer
When any child is bullied,
Christ is bullied.
Listen in the silence
For God.


Day of Silence Prayer (long version)
by Kittredge Cherry

Silence is memory....
Remembering those who died young,
Driven to suicide by bullying
Or killed
Because of who they loved
Because of the way God created them
Because they were called
Gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, sodomite…
Remembering Tyler Clementi, Leelah Alcorn, Brandon Teena, Matthew Shepard, Gwen Araujo, Haylee Fentress, Paige Moravetz, and many, many more.

Silence is action….
Calling attention to how people are silenced
When bigotry is disguised as humor,
When prejudice turns into threats
And even violence.

Silence is solidarity…
Students, family, teachers, friends
Who care enough
To share the stigma,
To stand with the queer and questioning
Stopping hate with compassion.

Silence is pride, LGBTQ pride…
Not letting the bullies win.
Claiming our right to be.
With dignity
Part of God’s rainbow.

Silence is prayer…
For Mary’s child.
Whenever any child is bullied,
Christ is bullied.
Whenever any child is called names,
Christ is called names.
Mary’s child said,
“Whatever you do to the least of these,
you do to me.”
With sighs too deep for words,
Listening in the silence
For the still small voice of God.
Amen.

Founded in 1996, the Day of Silence is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The first Day of Silence was organized at the University of Virginia in response to a class assignment on non-violent protest. More than 8,000 schools have participated in the event, which is held every year in April.

(Credit: The image at the top of this post comes from For Mary's Child: A Way of Hope)
___
Related links:

Dayofsilence.org (official website)

DayofdDialogue.com (official website)

Day of Silence Prayer by Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer (ucc.org, 2007)

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

____
This post is part of the LGBT Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Kuan Yin: A queer Buddhist Christ figure

“Avalokitishvara” by Tony O’Connell

“Kwan Yin is Coming” by Stephen Mead

Kuan Yin, the androgynous spirit of compassion in Buddhism, is sometimes thought of as a queer Christ figure or LGBT role model. Buddhists celebrate the birth of Kuan Yin today (April 7 this year).

Christians honor Christ as savior, and Kuan Yin is a type of Buddhist savior figure called a bodhisattva -- an enlightened person who is able to reach nirvana (heaven) but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save others from suffering.

Artists often show Kuan Yin with eyes in her/his hands and feed. They are like the wounds of Christ, but Kuan Yin can see with them.

Kuan Yin is sometimes known as the goddess of mercy and goes by different names in different places, including Avalokiteshvara in India, Tara (female) or Chenrezig (male) in Tibet, and Kannon in Japan.

Writers and scholars who have explored the queer side of Kuan Yin include Patrick S. Cheng, theology professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge; Hsiao-Lan Hu, religious studies professor at the University of Detroit Mercy; and Toby Johnson, a former Catholic monk turned author and comparative religion scholar.

In the introduction to his 2003 essay “Kuan Yin: Mirror of the Queer Asian Christ,” Cheng explains:

"Kuan Yin, the Asian goddess of compassion, can serve as a mirror of the queer experience. Specifically, Kuan Yin affirms three aspects in the life of queer people that are often missing from traditional images of the divine: (1) queer compassion; (2) queer sexuality; and (3) gender fluidity. In other words, Kuan Yin can be an important means by which gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people can see ourselves as being made in the image of God."

Cheng writes clearly about the connection between Kuan Yin and Christ in the section where he describes his personal search for queer Asian Christ figures:

Olga’s Kuan Yin
By William Hart McNichols ©
www.fatherbill.org
"I have been intrigued by the possibility of Kuan Yin serving as a christological figure for queer Asian people. For me, it has been difficult to envision the Jesus Christ of the gospels and the Western Christian tradition as being both queer and Asian (although I do recognize that queer theologians and Asian theologians have tried to do so in their respective areas). It is my thesis that Kuan Yin might serve as a symbol of salvation and wholeness for queer Asian people of faith...."

Click for the whole essay “Kuan Yin: Mirror of the Queer Asian Christ” in English or in Spanish.

Cheng's latest book Rainbow Theology: Bridging Race, Sexuality, and Spirit was published in 2013. He is also the author of “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ”, “Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology.” His series on “Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today” was one of the most popular stories of 2010 at the Jesus in Love Blog.

Hsiao-Lan Hu presented a paper on “Queering Avalokiteśvara” at the 2012 American Academy of Religion annual meeting. She noted that the Lotus Sutra says that Avalokitesvara will appear to teach different beings in different forms, based on what they can accept.

In the summary of her paper, Hu writes, “Of the 33 forms listed in the Lotus Sutra, 7 are explicitly female, indicating that the Bodhisattva of Compassion transcends gender identity…. What is the theoretical ground in the Buddhadharma (Buddha’s teaching) that justify or even propel such conceptualization? How does that theoretical ground compare to modern-day queer theory?”

She summed up her paper in the 2013 Women’s and Gender Studies Newsletter from the University of Detroit Mercy: “Avalokiteśvara's multi-morphic manifestation affirms different beings in their specific identities, while his/her transformability points to the possibility of moving beyond the confinement of any particular identity. For people of minority identities, the Bodhisattva thus can be both a source of comfort and a model for coping with reality in which they often need to perform different roles.”

Hu is the author of This-Worldly Nibbana: A Buddhist-Feminist Social Ethic for Peacemaking in the Global Community.

Another LGBT perspective on Kuan Yin is provided by Toby Johnson in Kuan Yin: Androgynous spirit of compassion, which he wrote for the Jesus in Love Blog. Johnson begins by retelling the traditional story of Kuan Yin. Then he explains that it is “a nice myth for gay people” because:

"It says we’re really all One, all reflections of one another, that the distinction between male and female is illusory and needs to be transcended and that transcending gender is part and parcel with experiencing heaven now."

A student of Joseph Campbell, Johnson has written 10 books, including the classic Gay Spirituality and Two Spirits. He is production manager of Lethe Press and former editor of White Crane Journal. Johnson discusses Kuan Yin as an androgynous figure who embodies compassion in his articles “Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara” and “Avalokiteshvara at the Baths.”

Queer theologian Robert Shore-Goss applies the bodhisattva concept to queer Christian life in “Bodhisattva Christianity: A Case of Multiple Religious Belonging” in the 2013 book “Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians.” Goss is pastoring Metropolitan Community Church in the Valley (North Hollywood, CA) after serving as chair of the religious studies department at Webster University in St. Louis.

Images of Kuan Yin posted here were created by Tony O’Connell, Stephen Mead, Ralfka Gonzalez and William Hart McNichols. Mead is a gay artist and poet based in New York whose work has appeared internationally in cyberspace, books, and galleries. McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been criticized by church leaders for making LGBT-friendly icons of saints not approved by the church. His icons have been commissioned by churches, celebrities and national publications.

O’Connell is a gay artist based in Liverpool. Raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, he has been a practicing Buddhist since 1995. He creates an artwork celebrating Avalokitishvara / Kuan Yin every year on his/her birthday. Viewers who look closely at his painting here will see an eye in the palm of the Compassionate One's hand.

“There is an amazing statue of Avalokiteshvara in a Liverpool museum with a text that explains how the mustache was painted over to alter his gender as the people who met the monks on the spice routes from India struggled with the idea of a manifestation of compassion being male and wanted to see him as female. It occurs to me that there are subtle ranges of the same personality between Avalokitishvara, Kuan Yin and Tara as one gender ambiguous enlightened mind,” O’Connell said.

He explains that Tara came into being in compassionate response to samsara, the cycle of birth and death: “There is a beautiful scripture that talks about how even with all his enlightened abilities to benefit living beings, Avalokiteshvara saw the suffering of samsara was almost beyond measure. His heart broke for living beings and he wept tears of compassion. When the first tear hit the ground a lotus flower grew up and blossomed to reveal Tara. Her first words as a Buddha were, 'Do not weep- I will help you.'”

For more about Tony O’Connell and his art, see my previous posts Reclaiming sainthood: Gay artist Tony O’Connell finds holiness in LGBT people and places and Olympics: Spiritual art supports Russia’s LGBT rights struggle.

Guadalupe as Chenrezig by Ralfka Gonzalez

Outsider artist Ralfka Gonzalez links Kuan Yin not with Christ, but with his mother by painting Chenrezig as Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the Gonzalez image, he/she is wrapped in Juan Diego's cloak.

His interpretation fits with the practices of Japan’s “hidden Christians,” who created statues of Mary disguised as Kuan Yin (Maria Kannon) when Christianity was outlawed from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Pictured here is the first of many “Buddha Lupe” images painted by Gonzalez. He is a self-taught Chicano artist and gay Latino activist who divides his time between Oaxaca, Mexico and San Francisco. He often paints Mexican and/or gay themes in a colorful folk-art style.

An in-depth discussion of this post happened on my Facebook page with various people adding valuable background info on Kuan Yin and his/her many incarnations:




___
Related links:

Korean Christ” icon by Robert Lentz

Christ Sophia” by Br. Michael Reyes, OFM (Christ with Chinese characters and lotus blossom)

Art by He Qi

Kuan Yin: Espejo del Cristo queer asiático by Patrick Cheng

_________
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.



Bookmark and Share