Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Erotic Encounter With the Divine

“Let Me In: Young Gay Kiss” by James Wielson, Wikimedia Commons

By Eric L. Hays-Strom

I never thought about the relationship between sexuality and spirituality until several years ago. If the two words came up in conjunction with each other at all, my first thought, indeed my only thought, was that they were totally unrelated.

That all began to change in January 2000 when three of us set off on a road trip to southern California. Scott and I and our dearest friend, Karla, were on our way to a meeting in Palm Springs. While there, we took the opportunity to visit the headquarters of our denomination, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

While perusing the resources available there, we discovered a tape series about spirituality and sexuality, “The Erotic Contemplative” by Michael Bernard Kelly. I was immediately intrigued. On our two-ay drive home from Los Angeles to Omaha, we started listening to the tapes and discussing the questions that came in a guide with the tapes. It was probably amongst the most intimate conversations of sex, sexuality and spirituality I have ever had. At one point I recall going into extreme detail in answer to a question from Karla, “Just what is it two gay men do when they have sex?” Oral sex was obvious to her, but what else if anything? And so I told her!

The tapes, and that discussion, were for me the beginning of a quest to incorporate my sexuality and my spirituality. Though in truth, I now know they’ve always been intertwined. My quest became to understand that relationship. I’m still a long way from finishing that quest.

The quest opened me to new experiences of the sacred, both in regards to spirituality and exploration of my sexuality and sexual expression. My first realization was that within the bounds of love, nothing sexual could be taboo as long as both parties consent to the experience, and no other parties are hurt. If I want to explore something untried, if Scott is okay with it, we do it. Some things we decide just are not for us. Others are. This freedom of sexual experience is only to be found within the confines of our relationship. We remain faithful to each other. Though, we have from time to time discussed the option of including another in our lovemaking.

Through the years our lovemaking has risen to an entirely new level when we intentionally invite God to be present to and with us. That is, when we prayerfully invite God’s Divine Presence to bless our lovemaking and to join with us in our lovemaking.

In my blog (http://scottneric.com/ontheroad) I have written about several experiences in my life in which I have known God’s presence, either as God or in the person of Jesus or of the Holy Spirit. So, in my own heart, and in my own soul, I know what the ecstatic experience of the Divine is like.

However, there is one experience I have not written about elsewhere. It involves the intersection of the ecstatic with the erotic, an experience of Divine Presence unlike any other I’ve encountered.

Soon after I began silently inviting the Divine Presence to be with us during lovemaking, I noticed that both Scott and I became more aware of each other’s bodies and more focused on finding those areas that the other enjoyed having stimulated. One day, Scott and I took a lazy spring afternoon off from housework to, as we euphemistically phrase it, Play. With a capital P.

After some time in intimate exploration, I invited Scott to enter me. There are several possible positions for this form of lovemaking, but one or two are especially conducive to a more loving intimacy. Scott chose one of these. Scott wrapped me in his arms and I surrendered to the intimacy of the moment. I prayed, thanking God for God’s Presence, and for having brought Scott into my life.

As I prayed, an awareness of God’s Divine Presence flooded over me. I knew Jesus to be with us, joining with us in our lovemaking. Every one of my senses was heightened. I felt exquisitely the caress of hands, smelled a scent that was heady beyond belief. I heard the beating of Scott’s heart, my heart... another heart. And though my eyes were closed, it seemed that a soft diffuse light glowed just in front of me.

At the very moment that climax arrived, all else washed away except for an overpowering feeling of love unlike anything I have ever experienced. I felt wrapped in arms from both sides, my breath stopped for what seemed an eternity. Both Scott and I commented afterwards that our lovemaking had never before lasted such a long time.

Ever since that day, I’ve longed for more of those experiences. While I have felt God’s Divine Presence on numerous occasions during Scott’s and my lovemaking, none have ever equaled that one very special event in which time stood still.
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Eric L. Hays-Strom has led a colorful life that includes living in Kenya as an exchange student and serving in the U.S. Army. He earned a Masters Degree in Catholic Life and Worship from St. Meinrad School of Theology in southern Indiana. He and his husband, Scott, live in Iowa.

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P.S. A lively discussion of this post is also underway at:
http://queeringthechurch.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/finding-god-in-gay-lovemaking

Michael Bernard Kelly is also the author of Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Modern gay martyr: Matthew Shepard

The Passion of Matthew Shepard By William Hart McNichols © www.fatherbill.org
 
Matthew Shepard (1976-1998) brought international attention to anti-gay hate crimes when he died on Oct. 12, 1998.

 The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepard Act on Thursday (Oct. 8), broadening the federal hate-crimes law to cover violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate is expected to vote on it within days.

Shepard was a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming at the time of his death. He was brutally attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6-7, 1998 by two men who later claimed that they were driven temporarily insane by “gay panic” due to Shepard’s alleged sexual advances. Shepard was beaten and left to die. The officer who found him said that he was covered with blood -- except for the white streaks left by his tears. Father William Hart McNichols created a striking icon based on his report. McNichols dedicated his icon The Passion of Matthew Shepard to the 1,470 gay and lesbian youth of commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered. Now the Matthew Shepard Foundation seeks to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. McNichols is a renowned iconographer and Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico. After earning a Master of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute in New York, he studied icon painting with the Russian-American master Robert Lentz. Like Lentz, he paints some icons with contemporary subjects, as well as many with classical themes. McNichols’ own moving spiritual journey and two of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry. P.S. President Obama signed "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" into law on Oct. 28, 2009.
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This post is part of the new GLBT 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.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Equality March starts with prayer

A powerful invocation prayer launched the speeches at National Equality March today in Washington DC. Rev. Troy Perry, the proudly gay founder of Metropolitan Community Churches, set the spiritual tone for the GLBT-rights march with a rousing invocation of history’s great gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender leaders. He also read a letter of support from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, black anti-apartheid activist from South Africa. The video of the invocation is well worth watching -- and is very hard to find online now. It was inspiring to hear speaker after speaker stand up for equality. I felt especially happy to see so many young people involved and energized to take the GLBT movement to the next level. Aside from the invocation, there wasn’t much spiritual or religious content in the speeches. I did find out that the Mormon Church is represented in the Utah state senate by the first openly gay state senator in Utah (Scott McCoy)! And I loved it when March organizer Cleve Jones told the crowd, “We are equal in the eyes of God and we demand equality in the eyes of the law.”

National Coming Out Day -- hooray!

Coming out the closet as a lesbian played a huge role in my life, so I celebrate National Coming Out Day today with a video, links, prayer and book except. I wrote about the process in depth in my book Hide and Speak: A Coming Out Guide, which was recently translated into Polish. I reflect on my own coming out process in the short video above. It’s my most popular video, with 2,383 views and counting. I made it for the Human Rights Campaign Fund’s video contest. This year I also submitted it to the coming-out campaign of the Equality March being held this weekend in Washington, DC. My book Hide and Speak tells positive ways to come out to yourself, create a circle of supporters and deal with family, job and school. Each chapter includes real-life examples and tested, highly effective exercises that I used in coming-out workshops nationwide. Readers will learn how to live proud, free and balanced. Here is an excerpt from Hide and Speak:
“Many people, myself included, assumed that LGBT visibility would make books like this obsolete. That day is still well in the future. The difficulties of coming out in the twenty-first century hit home for me recently when a younger relative finally told me he was gay. His big sister, a lesbian activist, had come out to the family twenty years before, but her example didn’t seem to make it any easier for her brother. “It was something I had to figure out and deal with on my own terms,” he explained to me. The newly visible LGBT community is no more appealing to him than the old stereotypes had been to me and my peers.”
I’ll close with an excerpt from a Coming-Out Liturgy by Malcolm Boyd, from the book Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations:
“Leader: Have you been forced to play a dishonest role in order to survive? Participant: I have. My family seemed often to require it, at least to desire it. At school it was necessary, and whenever I dropped my mask I was punished. The same was true of my life at work where I sought acceptance and advancement. What I had to confront made me feel confused, emotionally fatigued, and often worthless. Any kind of a relationship posed a threat and a danger. I wondered how much rejection I could stand. When I reached out for understanding or help, I usually received yet another rebuke. However, I just could not be who I'm not. It nearly killed me when I tried so hard and found it hopeless. Community: We offer you validation for yourself as you have been created and celebration of your gayness as a gift of God.”

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Gay saints and lovers: Sergius and Bacchus

Saints Sergius and Bacchus
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM.Copyright 1994
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)
Collection of the Living Circle, Chicago, IL

Saints Sergius and Bacchus were Roman soldiers, Christian martyrs and gay men who loved each other. They were killed around 303 in present-day Syria. Their feast day is observed on Oct. 7. The couple was openly gay, but secretly Christian -- the opposite of today’s closeted Christians.

The close bond between the two men has been emphasized since the earliest accounts, and recent scholarship has revealed their homosexuality. The oldest record of their martyrdom describes them as erastai (Greek for “lovers”). Scholars believe that they may have been united in the rite of adelphopoiesis (brother-making), a kind of early Christian same-sex marriage.

A classic example of paired saints, Sergius and Bacchus were high-ranking young officers. Sergius was primicerius (commander) and Bacchus was secundarius (subaltern officer). They were tortured to death after they refused to attend sacrifices to Zeus, thus revealing their secret Christianity.

The men were arrested and paraded through the streets in women’s clothing in an unsuccessful effort to humiliate them. Early accounts say that they responded by chanting that they were dressed as brides of Christ. They told their captors that women’s dress never stopped women from worshipping Christ, so it wouldn’t stop them, either. Then Sergius and Bacchus were separated and beaten so severely that Bacchus died.

According to the early manuscripts, Bacchus appeared to Sergius that night with a face as radiant as an angel’s, dressed once again as a soldier. He urged Sergius not to give up because they would be reunited in heaven as lovers. His statement is unique in the history of martyrs. Usually the promised reward is union with God, not with a lover. Over the next days Sergius was tortured and eventually beheaded.

Sergius’ tomb became a famous shrine, and for nearly 1,000 years the couple was revered as the official patrons of the Byzantine army. Many early churches were named after Sergius, sometimes with Bacchus. They are recognized as martyrs by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The pair was venerated through the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Latin America and among the Slavs. Sergius and Bacchus continue to be popular saints with Christian Arabs and now among GLBT Christians and their allies.

The icon above was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. “Saints Sergius and Bacchus” is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy a few years ago.

Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda. They caused such a stir that in order to keep the peace between his Franciscan province and the Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Lentz gave away the copyright for the 10 controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. Lentz had his name removed from those images on the Trinity website, but later reclaimed authorship. All 10 are now displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.” The group includes gay-positive, women-affirming and pagan-oriented icons. Lentz’ own moving spiritual journey and some of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry.

To learn more about Sergius and Bacchus, check out “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe” by John Boswell and “Passionate Holiness” by Dennis O’Neill.

P.S. Be sure to read the comments for more details about the historical accuracy of Sergius and Bacchus as “gay lovers.”
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This post is part of the new GLBT 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.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

We bless the animals

“I love my moms” dog T-shirt from CafePress.com
Animals are important in the lives of many GLBT people, and some are taking their pets to be blessed today. Contemporary animal blessings are often done on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Oct. 4. I wrote an Animal Blessing Service for “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations.” Here are highlights: Animals are important in the lives of many lesbian and gay people. Cats and dogs often become surrogate children for same-sex couples. The health benefits provided by living with an animal companion are well-known, and in several cities gay and lesbian people have helped create unique organizations such as PAWS (Pets are Wonderful Support) dedicated to enabling people with AIDS to keep their pets. On a more philosophical level, 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 and 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.