Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rosa Bonheur: Cross-dressing painter honored “androgyne Christ”

“Rosa Bonheur” by Ria Brodell

Rosa Bonheur, the most famous female painter of the 19th century, was a queer cross-dresser who honored what she called the “androgyne Christ.” She had two consecutive long-term relationships with women. She died on this date (May 25) in 1899.

Born in France in 1822, Bonheur received much acclaim in her lifetime for her paintings of animals. In recent decades she has been celebrated as a queer pioneer, feminist icon, and role model for the LGBT community. Her achievements grew out of an unusual religious upbringing in the proto-feminist Saint-Simonian sect, and the queer Christian ideals that she expressed in adulthood. Bonheur’s gender-bending lifestyle has been covered extensively by scholars, but her spirituality has received much less attention.

Her parents raised her in Saint-Simonianism, a French utopian Christian-socialist movement that advocated equality for women and prophesied the coming of a female messiah. Her father was an artist and an ardent apostle for the Saint-Simonian religion. Bonheur writes a whole chapter about growing up as a Saint-Simonian in the book “Rosa Bonheur: The Artist's (Auto)biography,” which she wrote with her companion Anna Klumpke.

The Saint-Simonian concept of gender equality paved the way for Bonheur’s father to train her as a painter -- and for her own defiance of gender norms. As she put it, “To his doctrines I owe my great and glorious ambition for the sex to which I proudly belong and whose independence I shall defend until my dying day.”

Rosa Bonheur's
Permission to cross-dress
(Wikimedia Commons)
Cross-dressing was illegal in France at that time, but she got permission from the police to wear men’s trousers so she could sketch at such male-dominated places as horse fairs and slaughterhouses. She broke rules of feminine behavior by smoking cigars and wearing her hair short. She was never arrested for wearing men’s clothes, but she was arrested once in female attire when a policeman thought she was a man pretending to be a woman!

Bonheur had two female companions in her lifetime. She spent 50 years living with her childhood sweetheart Nathalie Micas, who died in 1889. Bonheur grieved deeply and then shared the last years of her life with a new companion, American artist Anna Klumpke.

One of their joint projects was writing Bonheur’s autobiography. In it she discusses her religious beliefs, stating, “I get blamed for not going to church! I may have more religion than the folks who, instead of doing their best to lead a blameless life, go mutter prayers there every day in a language they don’t understand…. I’ve written my own versions of the most important Catholic prayers.”

Here are some excerpts from prayers written by Bonheur and published in her autobiography:

Bonheur’s version of the Hail Mary prayer:

Hail, O earth full of grace, the living God is with you. Blessed are you among all the planets, the fruit of your womb is our salvation. Holy earth, mother of love, pour out your grace on those who suffer, now and in our divine transformation.

From Bonheur’s Creed:

I believe in God the all-powerful, everlasting Father, creator of all things eternal. I believe in his beloved Son, the saving Two, androgyne Christ, the highest point of human transformation, the sublime manifestation of the living God who is in everything that is.

Bonheur died at age 77, and Klumpke went on to champion Bonheur’s work until she died in 1942. They are buried together in a grave in Paris. Bonheur’s most famous paintings are “The Horse Fair” and “Plowing in the Nivernais,” but she leaves a large legacy of art depicting horses, cattle, sheep, lions, dogs, and many other creatures. A selection of her work is posted below.

The portrait at the top of this post is part of the “Butch Heroes” series by Ria Brodell, a culturally Catholic gender-queer artist in the Boston area. For more about Brodell, see my previous post “Artist paints history’s butch heroes: Ria Brodell interview.”

"Royalty at Home" by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)

"The Horse Fair" by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)

"Relay Hunting" by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)

“Plowing in the Nivernais” by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)

"Sultan and Rosette" by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)
Related links:

Rosa Bonheur (Art History Archive)

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery. It also highlights great queer artists from history, with an emphasis on their spiritual lives.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Harvey Milk Day celebrates equality

“Harvey Milk of San Francisco” by Robert Lentz)

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.

Resources tend to emphasize that Milk was more than an LGBT rights activist, but also 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 in an performance that won an Academy Award for best actor. The movie tells how he rose to become one of America’s first openly gay elected leaders, only to be killed by an assassin’s bullet. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film got eight Academy Award nominations.

The definitive book about his life include “The Mayor of Castro Street” by Randy Shilts.

Milk became the public face of the LGBT 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.

Milk has received much recognition for his visionary courage and commitment to equality.  In 2014 the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor, with the rainbow colors of the LGBT pride flag appear as a vertical strip in the top left corner. Other LGBT people have appeared on U.S. stamps, but this is the first to feature someone specifically for LGBT activism.

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.”

The Harvey Milk icon painted by Robert Lentz 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. Lentz discusses the icon in a YouTube video.

The Harvey Milk icon is one of 10 icons that 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.

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco features photos of Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Gwen Araujo and others.

[*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.]

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

Harvey Milk at the Legacy Project

SF City Hall Unveils Harvey Milk Tribute ( (Bronze bust by Daub Firmin Hendrickson sculpture group)

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

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.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Silencing LGBTQ voices at Methodist conference inspires protest and art

Protests over silencing of LGBTQ voices at the United Methodist Church conference this week inspired a new artwork of a queer Christ.

Dozens of protestors at the UMC General Conference put rainbow duct tape over their mouths in a May 14 protest to symbolize how the church has silenced LGBTQ people and remained silent about them. 

Canadian artist David Hayward, also known as Naked Pastor, created a Christ figure with a halo, a crown of thorns -- and the same kind of rainbow duct tape over his mouth. He calls it “The Silencing of the LGBTQ Community.”

The Methodists are reviewing 100 pieces of legislation on the role of LGBT in the church, including allowing ordination of LGBTQ clergy, same-sex weddings and changing the current position that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” So far almost all the LGBT-related measures were voted down in subcommittee meetings, according to news reports. In addition to the duct-tape demonostration, other LGBTQ protests continued throughout the week.

Update: In the end, the Methodists voted to postpone justice by forming a commission (later) to discuss same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.

More than 100 Methodist pastors, deacons, elders and clergy candidates came out publicly as LGBTQI in a widely circulated letter released one day before the conference began.

The letter closes with these words of prayer:

Our prayer, as the church begins its time of discernment, is that you will remember that there are nameless ones around the world, hungry for a word of hope and healing. LGBTQI people and their families exist in every church in every continent of this denomination. They are seeking to remain in faithful relationship with you, even when you refuse, because they know God’s tender mercies and great faithfulness.

Dear church, our prayers are with you, with all of us, in the coming days. May we all be surprised by the Spirit who continues to breathe new life in unexpected ways. May we find the body of Christ stronger at the end of our time together, not weaker or more deeply harmed. May we provide a powerful witness of finding unity even in our differences to a world fractured by fear and mistrust.

The global 10-day conference ran through May 20 in Portland, Oregon.

“Homosexuals Who Practice” by David Hayward

The Methodist church has struggled with LGBTQ rights for decades. Hayward was prophetic in 2014 when he drew the cartoon “Homosexuals Who Practice” to highlighting the Methodist mistreatment of LGBTQ people. The image was used this year on Facebook to help organize LGBTQ protests at the Methodist conference.

It shows two crucified figures: Jesus and a person whose LGBTQ identity is revealed by a rainbow tunic. Red flames of the Methodist logo flare beside the cross where the rainbow figure hangs. A sign over the crucified queer explains,
A homosexual who practiced!
United Methodist Church
Book of Discipline
Paragraph 304.3

In his blog commentary, Hayward quotes the notorious paragraph, which remains in force at the end of the 2016 conference. It states:

“The PRACTICE of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The United Methodist Church does not condone the PRACTICE of homosexuality. Therefore self-avowed PRACTICING homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”

Hayward has a master's degree in theology and 30 years of pastoral experience. His books include “The Art of Coming Out: Cartoons for the LGBTQ Community” and his autobiography “Questions are the Answer.” Prints of “The Silencing of the LGBTQ Community” are available from Naked Pastor’s online shop.

Top image credit: “The Silencing of the LGBTQ Community” by David Hayward
Related links:

Delegates, supporters stand with LGBTQ people (

Outpouring Of Methodist Clergy Pledge Support To LGBT Colleagues (Huffington Post)

Photos of the Methodist protest with rainbow duct tape (Love Prevails)

Methodists postpone debate of gay issues that could split denomination (Religion News Service)

LGBT protest photos and info (Love Prevails)

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.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost: Holy Spirit brings LGBTQ visions

23. The Holy Spirit Arrives (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit, an important aspect of God for LGBTQ people and our allies. This year Pentecost is today (May 15). The Spirit brings flaming gender fluidity and inspires change in the church.

On Pentecost the church remembers the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles in tongues of flame. Here the Pentecost is envisioned through queer art and literature,

LGBTQ Christians and our allies recognize the work of the Holy Spirit when churches bless same-sex marriages, ordain openly LGBTQ clergy, teach queer theology, and embrace people of all sexual orientations and gender expressions. The Spirit’s unusual mix of male and female provides added incentive.

In church tradition, the Holy Spirit is often presented as the female (and easily ignored) person of the Trinity. She is sometimes called Sophia, the embodiment of Wisdom. But at other times She is referred to as “He.” Sounds rather queer, doesn’t it?

This post also takes a multi-layered approach to Pentecost, sometimes known as WhitSunday. It has two parts: 1) a reflection on the painting “The Holy Spirit Arrives” by Douglas Blanchard, from his series showing Jesus as a contemporary gay man, and 2) an excerpt from the novel “At the Cross” by Kittredge Cherry.

In the Bible account of Pentecost (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit arrives as tongues of flame that land on Jesus’ disciples. Inspired by the Spirit, they speak in other tongues and a crowd gathers. People from all over the world are amazed to hear the mighty works of God in their own languages. But some scoff, so Peter explains by quoting the prophecy that begins the following reflection.

Pentecost in art
“There appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” -- Acts 2:3-4 (RSV)

A winged woman literally lights up a crowd in “The Holy Spirit Arrives” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. This is a modern version of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire to the disciples of Jesus and inspired them to speak in other languages. Pentecost is a major church holiday celebrated today (May 19, 2013) this year. It is also known as Whitsunday.

In Blanchard’s painting the Holy Spirit floats like an angel above the people at an intersection where darkened city streets meet at odd angles. Carrying flares in both hands, she looks like a flame in her golden gown. The dusky sky and unlit buildings strike a mysterious mood, making miracles possible. Tongues of fire literally flame up from the heads of the people on the streets. Many are arm in arm, forming a circle. Filled with the spirit, they make strange alliances. A soldier, a gangbanger, and a businessman wrap their arms around each other. An older woman and a younger woman embrace. The person in the wheelchair appears to be the same hothead who demanded the death of Christ in 10. Jesus Before the People. Looming behind them is a large building under construction.

The painting gives visual form to a moment of spiritual transcendence. “The Holy Spirit Arrives” is the only painting in Blanchard’s Passion series that does not show Jesus. And yet Jesus IS present within the people. They have been transformed by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. Everyone is enflamed -- not just the twelve apostles. Christ has multiple manifestations both inside and outside the church in today’s pluralistic society. The painting also hints that Jesus is present in the form of the Holy Spirit. They both have the same face. This, Blanchard says, is deliberate. By making Jesus and the Holy Spirit look alike, he emphasizes that they are one being. Christ, who is both male and female, can easily change genders.

The story of Pentecost is told in Acts 2 of the Bible. The apostles were sitting together indoors early one morning when they heard wind rushing. Tongues of fire landed on each of them. Inspired by the Spirit, they spoke in other tongues and a crowd gathered. Devout people from all over the world were amazed to hear the mighty works of God in their own languages. But some scoffed, so Peter explained by quoting a prophecy from the Book of Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and the young shall see visions, and the old shall dream dreams.” -- Acts 2:17 (Inclusive Language Lectionary) Jesus himself predicted that the Holy Spirit would come after him to empower his disciples to do “even greater things” than he did. He referred to the Holy Spirit with the Greek term paraclete, which means advocate, comforter, or teacher. The word rendered as “Spirit” also denotes wind or breath. The early church taught that the arrival of the Holy Spirit reopened paradise, which had been closed by human sin. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit continues to inspire believers in the present, especially in times of trouble or celebration.

Blanchard takes Pentecost out into the streets and humanizes it by presenting the Holy Spirit as a woman. In church texts the Holy Spirit is sometimes described as the female person of the Trinity. She is known as Sophia, the embodiment of Wisdom. But at other times She is referred to as “He,” a rather queer blurring of gender duality. Blanchard’s bold female Holy Spirit is one of the most unusual features of this painting from an art historical perspective. Artists generally depict the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a descending dove, not as a woman. Blanchard gives her the wings of a dove. The shape of the building behind the Holy Spirit also looks like a dove, mirroring the shape in the background of “21. Jesus Appears to His Friends.” Paintings of Pentecost are often called “The Descent of the Holy Spirit,” but Blanchard removes the top-down implications by titling it “The Holy Spirit Arrives.”

Earlier in the Passion series the crowd strained to touch Christ or follow his lead, but now they have absorbed his teachings and indeed his spirit. The transformation of the crowd on Pentecost becomes more visible when contrasted with the masses who marched with Jesus on Palm Sunday. Blanchard’s second painting and the second-to-last paintings are paired, just like the first and last. In the past the crowd marched into the city carrying signs, but they didn’t look at each other. Now they have no need for placards or slogans. Turning to each other, they find among themselves the freedom and justice that they had sought to gain. They have been tested in ways that were unimaginable on Palm Sunday and forged into true community. They experience God effortlessly, involuntarily. Despite their otherworldly flames, they are more present in the world than they were before. The Palm Sunday setting was sterile and empty except for the triumphal arch, but this crowd gathers on a realistic city street where people actually live.

The Biblical idea of a fire burning on one’s head is scary as well as implausible, but the flames brought by Blanchard’s Holy Spirit look friendly and tame, like birthday candles. Sometimes Pentecost is called the birthday of the church. Like the burning bush of Moses, the holy fire doesn’t consume. The building under construction in the background can be interpreted as the foundation of the Christian church. The artist himself offered an alternative view: “I prefer to think of it as a reference to the story of the Tower of Babel.” The Holy Spirit turns her back on the half-built structure that symbolizes ungodly human arrogance, destined to be toppled by God.

Many of the previous paintings have a tight, sometimes claustrophobic focus. Blanchard’s Pentecost comes like a breath of fresh air that shows the big picture at last. The past comes into perspective and the viewer can see the neighborhood where Jesus lived and died. Blanchard says that he did not intend any particular location. Intersections like this are common in New York City. One of the many places it resembles is the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where 146 garment workers died, the deadliest industrial disaster in New York history. That destructive fire contrasts with the transformative flames of the Spirit.

Viewers may be surprised to find Pentecost in a series on the Passion of Christ. Artists do not always conclude the Passion narrative with Jesus’ death, resurrection, or even his ascension. Blanchard acknowledges that one of the inspirations for this series is Albrecht Durer’s Albrecht Durer’s Small Passion. He follows the Durer’s example by continuing the Passion for two more panels after the Ascension. Both artists portray Pentecost as the next-to-last image. In Blanchard’s gay Passion, Pentecost is a stopping point near the end of the road from prison to paradise

Progressive Christians recognize the work of the Spirit when churches begin to embrace LGBT members, bless same-sex marriages, ordain openly LGBT clergy, and teach queer theology. In light of Pentecost, it may be significant that the most outrageously effeminate gay men have been disparaged as “flaming.” The bundles of sticks used to burn heretics were called “faggots,” now an insult for gay men.

The Pentecost story is good news for LGBT people because the Holy Spirit comes to ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Spirit ignites the desire to be true to oneself, even when that means being fully, flagrantly queer. LGBT people can identify with the Holy Spirit’s combustible mix of male and female. The Holy Spirit, whose own gender is ambiguous, welcomes those who are called bulldykes or fairies, amazons or eunuchs, transfolk or genderqueer, two-spirit or third-gender. Every language has words for queer people, and the story of Jesus has been translated into many languages. Thanks to the multi-lingual marvels of Pentecost, the gospel is now available with a gay accent.

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and the young shall see visions, and the old shall dream dreams.” -- Acts 2:17  (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

Jesus promised his friends that the Holy Spirit would come to empower them. They were together in the city on Pentecost when suddenly they heard a strong windstorm blowing in the sky. Tongues of fire appeared and separated to land on each one of them. Jesus’ friends were flaming, on fire with the Holy Spirit! Soon the Spirit led them to speak in other languages. All the excitement drew a big crowd. Good people from every race and nation came from all over the city. They brought their beautiful selves like the colors of the rainbow. Each one was able to hear about God in his or her own language. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we too can hear and speak God’s story. We are the flaming friends of Christ!

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle a flame of love in my heart.

This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here. The book version of “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” was published in 2014 by Apocryphile Press.

Pentecost in literature
Pentecost is the final scene in “Jesus in Love: At the Cross,” a novel about an erotically alive Christ by lesbian Christian author Kittredge Cherry. Speaking in first person, Jesus blends male and female as he does humanity and divinity. The book includes a gay love story between Jesus and his disciple John. Here is an excerpt that imagines the Pentecost from the viewpoint of the risen Christ.

When the Holy Spirit loved me, our contact produced a ripple of energy similar to a heartbeat. She was ringing me like a bell, and the “sound” would roll on forever.

“It is without end, because it is without beginning,” She said. She rang me again, and this time when the edge of her heart crossed mine, the rapture made me lose control and we melted into One.

Our union was so powerful that the people there could actually see and hear Us, like tongues of fire and a whoosh of wind. Our appearance didn’t scare them because they had been expecting Us. Some of my disciples stopped singing long enough to exclaim, “It’s the Holy Spirit!”

We kissed everyone in the room, being careful to cool Our kisses to a comfortable temperature for humans. We licked them with Our flaming tongues. They welcomed Our electric kisses. Each of them inhaled sharply and deeply in preparation for a sigh. We swept into them as breath, passed through each soul’s new doorway and fertilized the sacred chamber within. At the same time, their sparkling souls penetrated my divine heart and swam into a new womblike space that had just unfurled for them. The glorious friction made me feel flushed. Holy Spirit and human spirit were wedded, catalyzing a chain reaction of power bursts. Every soul in the room ignited in such a way that flames appeared to blaze from each person’s body. They looked around at each other’s auras in astonished admiration.

All that happened on one inhalation. When they exhaled, they could taste how much God loved them as We flowed over their tongues. They let their tongues flutter and writhe in ecstatic abandon. Each one released the tension of the wedding consummation in his or her own unique speaking style. Some of it sounded like gibberish to them as they praised God. Others spoke in exalted words.

For John, it came out as a quotation from the prophet Isaiah: “My whole being rejoices in my God, for He has wrapped me in the robe of justice, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

The Holy Spirit and I rode the sound waves of their voices, still actively making love. We granted everyone within listening range the same gift that I had received that morning: the ability to hear pure thought.

…Two passersby from far-flung Phrygia were the first to speak up. “Hey, do you hear that?” asked one.

“Somebody’s speaking Phrygian! Let’s go see who it is,” the other replied.

They hurried to the upper room and knocked on the door. My disciples were still jabbering their thanks to God, no longer afraid to let others see and hear them. They propped the door open for the crowd that was gathering as the ecstatic voices carried me to people from every nation who were living in Jerusalem.

Related links:
Pentecost comes alive with erotic Christ (excerpt from the novel “At the Cross”)

The queer day of Pentecost (

Pentecost is the Day the Church Came Out! By Robert Coats

Gender of the Holy Spirit at Wikipedia

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.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations are from the Inclusive Language Lectionary, copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Julian of Norwich: Celebrating Mother Jesus

“Julian of Norwich” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM,

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. This year her feast day falls on Mother’s Day (May 8, 2016).

Her discussions of Jesus as a mother sound radical even now, more than 600 years later.  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.

Julian is considered the first Catholics 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.

“Dame Julian’s Hazelnut” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM,

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)

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

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

Another 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.

“Julian of Norwich” by Tobias Haller

An elderly “Julian of Norwich” was sketched against a lavender background by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

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.

Julian’s famous words are set to music in the song “All Will Be Well” by Meg Barnhouse, a Texas-based Unitarian minister and singer/songwriter. The moving song comes from her album “Mango Thoughts in a Meatloaf Town” and is available on YouTube.


To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Juliana de Norwich: Celebración de la Madre Jesús (Santos Queer)
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
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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Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Icons of Julian of Norwich and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at