Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Welcome the New Year with rainbow candles! Bridge of Light honors LGBT culture

"Rainbow Reflections" by Kittredge Cherry

Welcome the new year by lighting rainbow candles for Bridge of Light, a new winter holiday honoring LGBT culture.


Rainbow Arch candle holder
People celebrate Bridge of Light by lighting six candles, one for each color of the rainbow flag, on New Year’s Eve -- or from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, one candle per day.

Each candle stands for a spiritual principle and its expression in the lives and history of LGBT and queer people. Feel free to improvise other methods, such as using colored paper to fold origami cranes.

The candles are intended to provide a starting point for individual and group meditations on these principles:

1. Red - The Root of Spirit (Community)
2. Orange - The Fire of Spirit (Eros, sexuality, passion)
3. Yellow - The Core of Spirit (Self-esteem, courage)
4. Green - The Heart of Spirit (Love)
5. Blue - The Voice of Spirit (Justice, self-expression)
6. Purple - The Eye of Spirit (Wisdom)
7. All Candles - The Crown of Spirit (Spirituality)

Together these colors form a rainbow, a time-honored symbol of a bridge between two worlds: heaven and earth, East and West, male and female, queer and non-queer.

The principles are beautifully expressed in a new benediction prayer written for Bridge of Light by Yewtree (Yvonne Aburrow) of the Dance of the Elements Blog:

Let us embody the values of the rainbow flag of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Red is the root of spirit, found in beloved community,
Orange is for Eros, the fire of spirit, the experience of erotic connection,
Yellow is for self-esteem, the strong core of spirit,
Green is for love, the heart of spirit, the verdant growth of the soul,
Blue is for self-expression, the voice of spirit, calling out for justice,
Purple is the eye of spirit, which sees inwardly with the eye of wisdom.
And all the colours together form the crown of spirit, the experience of spirituality.

Joe Perez, author of “Soulfully Gay,” founded Bridge of Light in 2004. It has obvious parallels to Kwanzaa, the African-American cultural holiday started by Ron Karenga in 1966.

“Bridge of Light is an interfaith and omni-denominational cultural and spiritual tradition,” Perez says. “The annual winter ritual...has helped to draw attention to the positive contributions made by members of the LGBT community in the areas of spiritual growth, inner transformation, and religious leadership.” One of his articles on the subject is The Seven (Revised) Principles of Bridge of Light. (GaySpirituality.com)

The following summary of the seven principles of Bridge of Light includes historical time periods, foods and more about the chakras, the energy centers of the human body. I synthesized and developed this info based on the resource links at the end of this post. For Jesus in Love readers I highlighted Christian history with links to LGBT Saints. The seven principles are also matched with the seven models of the queer Christ from gay theologian Patrick S. Cheng’s new book “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ.. A variety of systems have developed to associate each chakra with a power animal. A few are suggested here, but feel free to follow your intuition.

1. Red - The Root of Spirit (Community)

Red evokes life, energy and blood. Shadow side: violence/death.

Affirmation: I am.

Time period: Before Christ / Before the Common Era
Celebrate same-sex love in goddess worship, paganism and other pre-patriarchal spiritualities, in ancient myths and cultures, and in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament.

Living and Self-Loving Christ (sin as shame, grace as pride)

Mary, Diana and Artemis: Feast of Assumption has lesbian goddess roots

David and Jonathan

Ruth and Naomi

Foods: Root vegetables (carrots, beets, potatoes, etc.), protein-rich foods, sweet and spicy tastes.

Animals: Elephant, snake, mole, underground creatures.


2. Orange - The Fire of Spirit (Eros)

Orange evokes fire, passion, sexuality and relationships. Shadow side: lust/addiction.

Affirmation : I feel.

Time period: 1st - 4th centuries
Celebrate same-sex love in the life of Christ, among early Christians, in the late Roman Empire and other cultures.

Erotic Christ (sin as exploitation; grace as mutuality)

Historical Jesus and the Beloved Disciple

Mary and Martha

Sergius and Bacchus

Perpetua and Felicity

Foods: Foods growing from ground-level to 2 feet (melons, strawberries, squash, etc.), sweet and salty tastes.

Animals: Crocodile, dolphin, underwater creatures.


3. Yellow - The Core of Spirit (Self-Esteem)

Yellow evokes courage, confidence and personal power. Shadow side: fear/anger.

Affirmation: I do.

Time period: Middle Ages, 4th - 15th centuries
Celebrate same-sex love in medieval times. Queer medieval Christians include pairs of lovers in monasteries and convents, writers of homoerotic verse, and cross-dressing women. Medieval mystics describe erotic-ecstatic union with God.

Out Christ (sin as the closet; grace as coming out)

Brigid and Darlughdach (c.451-525)
Symeon of Emessa and John (c. 522-c. 588)
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Aelred of Rievaulx (c.1110-1167)
Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)
Rumi (1207 - 1273)
Julian of Norwich (1342-c. 1417)

Foods: Foods growing 2-6 feet above the ground (grains, sunflower seeds etc.), bitter and minty tastes.

Animals: Ram, bear, birds, flying creatures.


4. Green - The Heart of Spirit (Love)

Green evokes growth, nature, balance and compassion. Shadow side: jealousy/greed, hatred.

Affirmation: I love.

Time period: Renaissance, 15th-17th centuries (c. 1400-1699)
Celebrate same-sex love in the era that included the Age of Discovery, the Protestant Reformation and the invention of the printing press.

Transgressive Christ (sin as conformity; grace as deviance)

Joan of Arc (c.1412-1431)
John of the Cross (1542-1591)
Juana de la Cruz (1648-1695)
Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites (Queering the Church Blog)

Foods: Green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, green tea, etc.), sour and savory tastes.

Animals: Antelope, wolf, mammals.


5. Blue - The Voice of Spirit (Justice and Self-Expression)

Blue evokes peace, communication and independence. Shadow side: depression/arrogance.

Affirmation: I speak

Time period: Modern, 1700 to 1950
Celebrate same-sex love in modern times, including gender role evolution in Romanticism, Transcendentalism, secular philosophy, and the movements for women’s suffrage and abolition.

Liberator Christ (sin as apathy; grace as activism)

Bernardo de Hoyos (1711-1735): Mystical same-sex marriage with Jesus
Jemima Wilkinson / Publick Universal Friend (1752-1819) Queer American preacher
John Henry Newman (1801-1890) and Ambrose St. John
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) Poet who wrote Christmas carols
We’wha of Zuni (1849-1896)

Foods: Food that grows 6 feet or more above ground (apples, oranges, avocadoes, etc.), sour and salty tastes.

Animal: White elephant, personal power animal, humanity.


6. Purple - The Eye of Spirit (Wisdom)

Purple evokes vision, intuition and understanding. Shadow side: passivity/nightmares.

Affirmation: I perceive

Time period: 1950 to present
Celebrate same-sex love and gender role defiance in recent LGBT, queer, feminist and black liberation movements, including the struggle for LGBT religious rights. LGBT-affirming churches and religious institutions are founded. Pluralistic expressions of sexuality and gender multiply, but some are martyred in anti-gay hate crimes.

Interconnected Christ (sin as isolation, grace as interdependence)

Saints of Stonewall
Harvey Milk
Bayard Rustin
Mychal Judge: Gay saint of 9/11
Matthew Shepherd
Pauli Murray

Foods: Dark purple foods (blueberries, purple grapes, red wine, etc.), subtle tastes (poppyseed, lavender, etc.).

Animal: None. Ancestors and spirit guides.


7. All Colors / White - The Crown of Spirit (Spirituality)

When all the colors of the rainbow mix, they create white light, evoking universal consciousness.

Affirmation: I understand.

Time period: Now and the future
Celebrate same-sex love now and in the future! Be a witness of love in all its expressions. Sainthood is a state to which all are called.

Hybrid and All-Encompassing Christ (sin as singularity; grace as hybridity)

Animal: Egg, eagle, Rainbow Serpent.

Foods: Fasting. Instead of eating, inhale incense and smudging herbs such as sage. Or… Celebrate with a slice of rainbow cake!


“Rainbow Cake with Jelly Beans” (Flickr.com)

Bridge of Light continues to evolve. Aburrow suggested adding sacred foods, such as “rainbow-tinted marble cake maybe, or one food of each colour?”

I like the idea of doing a daily candle for each color, but every year Dec. 26-31 is such a busy week for me! I wonder if Bridge of Light could also be celebrated at the summer solstice in connection with LGBTQ Pride?

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Links to other resources for Bridge of Light:

Rainbow Christ Prayer: LGBT flag reveals the queer Christ (Kittredge Cherry and Patrick Cheng)

"Seven Shrines of the Body" by artist Richard Stott

Animal Chakra Symbols

Rainbow Bridge of Jose Argüelles

The Story of the "Queer Saints and Martyrs" by Terence Weldon

Author Carolyn Myss connects the seven chakras with the seven sacraments of the church in her book “Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing.”

CD set of meditations based on the chakras, “Activating Your Chakras Through the Light Rays.” It’s definitely “new age,” but it’s the best of its kind.

S(t)even Years: A 7-year art project based on the chakras by Steven Reigns

The Myth, Magic, and Science of the Rainbow” by by Cedar Stevens

Happy Bridge of Light, everybody!  Like the rainbow, may we embody all the colors of the world! Be renewed and refreshed as the New Year begins! May 2014 bring everyone peace, health and prosperity!

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Image credits:

Chakra images by Anodea Judith of SacredCenters.com

Rainbow 7th chakra image: Thousand-petaled lotus flower (Sahasrara) carrying a sacred flame (Namam) from Wikimedia Commons

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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 LGBT 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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

David and Jonathan: Love between men in the Bible


For a new version of this article, click this link at Qspirit.net:
David and Jonathan: Love between men in the Bible

David and Jonathan window (detail) from St. Mark's Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1882

Love between men is celebrated in the Bible with the story of David and Jonathan. They lived about 3,000 years ago, but they still inspire LGBT people of faith -- and many others. David’s feast day is today (Dec. 29).

The two men met when David was a ruddy young shepherd.  Jonathan, a courageous warrior, had returned victorious from battle.  Jonathan was the eldest son of Saul, Israel’s first king. David was taken to see King Saul right after beheading the Philistine giant Goliath. Scholars estimate that David was about 18 and Jonathan was at least 10 years older.

Jonathan fell in love at first sight of the handsome young hero. As the Bible says, “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.” Their story gets more chapters in the Bible than any other human love story.

David, the second king of Israel, was an acclaimed warrior, musician and poet. He is credited with composing many of the psalms in the Bible. The gospel genealogies list David as an ancestor of Jesus.

The modern idea of sexual orientation didn’t exist in Biblical times, but the powerful love story of Jonathan and David in 1 and 2 Samuel suggests that same-sex couples are affirmed and blessed by God.

Sixteeenth-century Spanish mystic John of the Cross is one of the many writers who used their same-sex love as a model for divine love. “The love Jonathan bore for David was so intimate that it knitted his soul to David's. If the love of one man for another was that strong, what will be the tie caused through the soul's love for God, the Bridegroom?” John of the Cross asked in “The Spiritual Canticle.”

Artists throughout the ages have tried to capture the drama and passion of their story, beginning with the moment that David and Jonathan met.  A beautiful romantic version of their first meeting appears on their stained-glass window at St. Mark's Portobello, a Scottish Episcopal church in Edinburgh. The inscription states, “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David” (1 Samuel 18:1).

David and Jonathan window from St. Mark's Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1882

Created in 1882, the window has a dedication at the bottom: “In loving memory of George Frederick Paterson of Castle Huntly who died at Portobello, 30th Sept. 1890, aged 33.” All that is known about Paterson is that he was in the army and unmarried. The window was paid for by "a friend."

Another stained-glass window of David and Jonathan is located at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania. It was created in the Tiffany style by Robert L. Dodge in 1906. The window is dedicated to the memory of John Sutton and A.W. Wilson, founders of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It can be seen online at Stained Glass Resources Inc., which restored the window in 2000.

 

“Jonathan Greeting David, after David killed Goliath” by Gottfried Bernhard Goez, 1708-1774 (Wikimedia Commons)

Soon after David and Jonathan met, the two men expressed their commitment by making a covenant with each other. The dramatic moment is described in 1 Samuel 18:3-4: “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”

California artist Ryan Grant Long emphasizes the homoeroticism of the gesture as Jonathan strips off his robe and wraps it around David with a kiss on the neck in the image at the top of this post. For more about Long, see my previous post Artist paints history's gay couples.

“David and Jonathan” by Ryan Grant Long

Artist Brandon Buehring imagined both men stripped bare in a private encounter between Jonathan and David in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” He uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

“Jonathan and David” by Brandon Buehring

A more traditional view is presented by 16th-century Italian painter Cima da Conegliano. In both images David is still carrying the head of Goliath as he bonds with his new friend Jonathan, hinting at the union of violence and eroticism.

“David and Jonathan” by Italian painter Cima da Conegliano, 1505-1510 (Wikimedia Commons)
“Jonathan Made
a Covenant with David”
by Trudie Barreras
Collection of
City of Light /
First Metropolitan
Community Church
of Atlanta

In contrast New Mexico artist Trudie Barreras shows the new friends both putting aside their armor to make a covenant with each other (left).

The Bible chronicles the ups and downs of David and Jonathan’s relationship over the next 15 years, including tears and kisses. King Saul is jealous of David's popularity and keeps trying to kill him, while his son Jonathan rescues his friend in various ways. An 18th-century German “friendship medal” (below) captures another highlight as Jonathan pledges to David, “I will do the desires of your heart” (“Ich will die thun was dein Herz begehrt”) from 1 Samuel 20:4.

German friendship medal of Jonathan and David by Philipp Heinrich Müller, c.1710 (Wikimedia Commons)

Other artists focus on a dramatic moment that came later when Jonathan met David at a pile (or "ezel") of stone to warn him that Saul intended to kill him. An 1860 woodcut by German artist Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld illustrates that tearful farewell scene from 1 Samuel 20: 41-42:

"Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most. Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’”

“David and Jonathan” woodcut for "Die Bibel in Bildern", 1860, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (Wikimedia Commons)

Detail from "David and Jonathan
at the Stone Ezel"
by Edward Hicks
Another version of the farewell scene was painted by American folk artist and Quaker minister Edward Hicks in 1847.  In both paintings a boy can be seen carrying away their weapons.  In the lower right Hicks places a scene of the Good Samaritan rescuing a downtrodden man.  Interestingly, the Jonathan and David window at St. Mark's Portobello is also paired with a window showing the Good Samaritan. Scholar Mitch Gould analyzes the painting for the Jesus in Love Blog in his article Biblical same-sex love found in “David and Jonathan” art by Edward Hicks.

"David and Jonathan at the Stone Ezel" by Edward Hicks, 1847

David and Jonathan became so close that it looked like someday they would rule Israel together. But that day never came because Jonathan was killed in battle. David mourned deeply for him with a famous lament.

There are many translations of 2 Samuel 1:26, each one expressing how the love between Jonathan and David was “greater than,” “more wonderful than,” “deeper than” or otherwise “surpassing the love of women.”

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.

The love between the two men is honored in a golden icon by Brother Robert Lentz. Unlike most images of Jonathan and David, the Lentz icon shows Christ above blessing their relationship. It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a controversy in 2005 when conservative Roman Catholic leaders accused Lentz of glorifying sin.

Jonathan and David by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM
www.trinitystores.com

Contemporary gay Israeli artist Adi Nes gives shocking clarity to David and Jonathan by using images of homoeroticism and homelessness to subvert stereotypes about people in the Bible. The triumph of David over Goliath is often used to symbolize Israel’s military victories over its enemies, but Nes chooses to depict David as a vulnerable youth with a crutch, leaning on another young man for love and support. Dirty and unkempt, they embrace beneath an industrial overpass covered by graffiti. They look battered, perhaps from a gay bashing. The tender moment suggests the scenes when “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David” or when “they kissed each other and wept together.” (For more about Adi Nes, see my previous post “Gay Israeli artist Adi Nes humanizes Bible stories. “

“Untitled (David and Jonathan)” by Adi Nes

Gay-positive Bible scholars have written extensively about the relationship between David and Jonathan. The classic book on the subject is “Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times” by Thomas Horner.

Jonathan and David embrace.
Manuscript illustration, circa 1300
La Somme le roy
The love between the two men is also celebrated in literature, including the poem “The Meeting of David and Jonathan” by 19th-century English poet John Addington Symonds. He is known as an early advocate of male love (homosexuality) and wrote many poems inspired by his own homosexual affairs. In “The Meeting of David and Jonathan” he writes:

There by an ancient holm-oak huge and tough,
Clasping the firm rock with gnarled roots and rough,
He stayed their steps; and in his arms of strength
Took David, and for sore love found at length
Solace in speech, and pressure, and the breath
Wherewith the mouth of yearning winnoweth
Hearts overcharged for utterance. In that kiss
Soul unto soul was knit and bliss to bliss.

The full poem appears in “Many Moods: A Volume of Verse” by Symonds.

Epic same-sex love between David and Jonathan is fleshed out in the 2016 historical novel "The Prince's Psalm" by Eric Shaw Quinnby a New York Times-bestselling author. Beginning with young David slaying Goliath, the book shows how he won the heart of Prince Jonathan, heir to the throne of Israel. The star-crossed warrior-lovers face conflicts with King Saul and others as the Biblical story unfolds and David grows to become a king himself. The author uses artistry and restraint to present sex scenes between David and Jonathan (and each man with his own wife). With meticulous research and dynamic storytelling skills, he brings alive the dramatic same-sex love story at the core of religious tradition. The author is a celebrity ghostwriter who wrote novelizations of the TV series “Queer as Folk.”

It’s impossible to know whether David and Jonathan expressed their love sexually. Some consider David to be bisexual, since the Hebrew scriptures also recount how he committed adultery with Bathsheba and later made her one of his eight wives. There is no doubt that many people today do honor David and Jonathan as gay saints.

Their story is used by contemporary LGBT Christians to counteract conservatives who claim that the Bible condemns homosexuality. The “David loved Jonathan” billboard below is part of the Would Jesus Discriminate project sponsored by Metropolitan Community Churches. It states boldly, “David loved Jonathan more than women. II Samuel 1:26.” For more info on the billboards, see our previous post, “Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.”

David loved Jonathan billboard from GLBT Christian billboards from WouldJesusDiscriminte.com and WouldJesusDiscriminte.org

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Related links:

David and Jonathan: Why did God focus on their intimate partnership? (GayChristian101)

Homosexuality and Tradition: David and Jonathan (Pharsea’s World)

David the Prophet and Jonathan, His Lover (Queer Saints and Martyrs - And Others)

David y Jonatán: El amor entre hombres en la Biblia (Santos Queer)

Bible story of David and Jonathan’s first meeting: 1 Samuel 18

Bible story of Jonathan’s death: 2 Samuel 1

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Related books:

The Love of David and Jonathan: Ideology, Text, Reception” by James E. Harding (2014)

Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times” by Tom M. Horner (1978)

The Prince's Psalm” by Eric Shaw Quinn (2016) (historical novel about the homosexual love between Jonathan and David)
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Special thanks to Ruth Innes for the photo and info on the stained-glass window at St. Mark's Portobello.

Special thanks to Mitch Gould, curator of LeavesOfGrass.org, for introducing me to David and Jonathan at the Stone Ezel by Edward Hicks.  It is part of their project on LGBT Quaker history.

Special thanks to Kevin Elphick for pointing out the quote from John of the Cross.

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.
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Icons of Jonathan and David and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores



Sunday, December 27, 2015

John the Evangelist: Beloved Disciple of Jesus

“Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” by Laurie Gudim

“John the Apostle resting on the bosom of Christ,” Swabia/Lake Constance, early 14th century. Photo by Andreas Praefcke. (Wikimedia Commons)

John the Evangelist is commonly considered to be Jesus’ “Beloved Disciple” -- and possibly his lover. His feast day is today (Dec. 27).

The love between Jesus and John has been celebrated by artists since medieval times. And the idea that they were homosexual lovers has been causing controversy at least since the 16th century.

John was an apostle of Jesus and is the presumed author of the Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation and the Epistles of John. The Bible describes their warm relationship on multiple occasions. John left his life as a fisherman to follow Jesus, who nicknamed him “Son of Thunder.” John participated in many of the main events in Christ’s ministry. He was one of the three who witnessed the raising of Jairus' daughter, the transfiguration and Jesus' agony in Gethsemane.

The unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved” is referenced five times in the gospel of John (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:22, 21:7, 20). Church tradition identifies him as John himself. He reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, resting his head on Jesus’ chest. He was the only male disciple present at the crucifixion. From the cross, Jesus entrusted the Beloved Disciple and his mother Mary into each other’s care. There is even a medieval European tradition that John and Jesus were the bridal couple at the Cana wedding feast.

The idea that Jesus and his Beloved Disciple had a sexual relationship dates back at least to the early 16th century, when English playwright Christopher Marlowe was tried for blasphemy on the charge of claiming that “St. John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom, that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma.” In 1550 Francesco Calcagno, a citizen of Venice, was investigated by the Inquisition for making the heretical claim that “St. John was Christ’s catamite,” which means a boy or young man in a pederastic sexual relationship with an older man.

Many modern scholars have expressed belief that Jesus and his Beloved Disciple shared a an erotic physical relationship. They include Hugh Montefiore, Robert Williams, Sjef van Tilborg, John McNeill, Rollan McCleary, Robert E. Goss and James Neill. A thorough analysis is included in “The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament” by Theodore Jennings, Biblical theology professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. He finds the evidence “inconclusive” as to whether the beloved disciple was John, but it leaves no doubt that Jesus had a male lover.

“A close reading of the texts in which the beloved disciple appears supports the hypothesis that the relationship between him and Jesus may be understood as that of lovers. As it happens, both Jesus and the beloved are male, meaning that their relationship may be said to be, in modern terms, a ‘homosexual’ relationship,” Jennings writes (p. 34).

An entire chapter is dedicated to John as the bride of Christ in the 2013 book “Saintly Brides and Bridegrooms: The Mystic Marriage in Renaissance Art” by Carolyn D. Muir, art professor at the University of Hong Kong.

After Jesus died, John went on to build a close, loving relationship with his younger disciple and scribe, Prochorus, bishop of Nicomedia. Tradition says that John was the only one of Christ's original 12 apostles to live to old age, and the only one not killed for his faith. He died in Ephesus around 100 AD.

“The Calling of St. John,” a 12th-century miniature, shows Jesus coaxing John away from his bride, and John resting his head Jesus’ chest. The Latin text means, "Get up, leave the breast of your bride, and rest on the breast of the Lord Jesus." *

One of the earliest images of John and Jesus together is a little-known 12th-century miniature, “The Calling of St. John.” It depicts two scenes: Christ calling the disciple John to leave his bride and follow him, and John resting his head on the breast. Jesus cups the chin of his beloved, an artistic convention used to indicate romantic intimacy.

John in a detail from “Crucifixion” by Christopher Olwage

"Crucifixion"
by Christopher Olwage
Over the centuries many artworks have illustrated the deep love between Jesus and his Beloved Disciple. One of the newest is a gay-affirming crucifixion painted in 2015 by New Zealand artist Christopher Olwage. John kneels and throws his head back as he gazes up at Jesus on the cross. This "Crucifixion" shows a group of men reacting in various ways to the execution of their beloved Jesus. All are figures that Bible scholars believe may have had male-male sexual relationships. Next to John is Lazarus, who bows his head in sorrowful prayer beneath a rainbow hood. The Centurion and the servant “who was dear to him” stare out at the viewer from both edges of the frame. For more about Olwage’s art, see the previous post Gay Jesus painting shown in New Zealand: Christopher Olwage paints LGBT Christian scenes.

Another recent work is the 2012 icon “Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” by Laurie Gudim near the top of this post. Based in Colorado, Gudim is an artist, Jungian psychotherapist and progressive Episcopalian. Her work uses a motif dating back at least to the 13th century.

The long artistic tradition depicts John as the Beloved Disciple resting his head on the breast of Jesus. It can be seen in an early 13th-century stained-glass window at the Cathedral of St. Etienne at Bourges and in “Christus Johannes Gruppe” (Christ John Group) by the unknown Master of Oberschwaben. This sculpture spent many centuries in an Augustinian convent in Inzigkofen, a town in the region of Sigmaringen in southwestern Germany.  A museum in Berlin acquired in it the early 20th century, and it is now housed in the Bode Museum of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

“Christus Johannes Gruppe” (Christ John Group) by the unknown Master of Oberschwaben, oak sculpture, 1320.

The loving embrace between John and Christ was a popular subject during the early 1300s in Swabia, the region of Germany on the Swiss border near Bodenese (Lake Constance). Prolific artists created many versions. Today one of them is housed in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio.

Another fine early sculpture in this style is "St. John Resting on Jesus' Chest," circa 1320, which is housed at the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp.  It can be seen online at the Web Gallery of Art. The sculpture was created by Master Heinrich of Constance for the the Dominican convent of St. Catherine's valley in Switzerland. These were devotional images intended to help viewers deepen their connection to Christ.

In Germany the image is so important and iconic that it has even been made into a postage stamp. The subject is known as "Christus Johannes Gruppe" (Christ John Group) or Johannesminne (John Love), with minne being a Middle High German word for erotic-emotional love. Many of these images were actually created for women, not men, to contemplate. Most if not all of the Johannesminne statues were created for Dominican convents and nunneries. Wikimedia Commons displays a set of 10 statues of “John Love” (Johannesminne) in Germany at this link.

1967 German Stamp with "Christ-John Group" (Wikimedia Commons)

“Johannesminne of Heiligkreuztal” by Tobias Haller

“Johannesminne” was sketched by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. His sketch is based on the Johannesminne sculpture in the convent at Heiligkreuztal in Altheim, Germany. Haller 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.

John's intimacy with Jesus at the Last Supper continued to fascinate artists as the centuries passed. Examples from the 1500s include an Albrecht Durer print and a sculpture at the Italian basilica known as Sacro Monte di Varallo (Sacred Mountain of Varallo).

Detail from “The Last Supper” by from the Small Passion by Albrecht Durer, 1511

Detail from “The Last Supper” by an unknown master, ca. 1500-05 at Sacro Monte di Varallo in Piedmont, Italty (Photo by Stefano Bistolfi, Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1600s French painter Valentin de Boulogne presented a more humanistic view of Jesus and John. His painting uses dark shadows to heighten the emotional impact.

“St. John and Jesus at the Last Supper” by Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) (Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1800s the intimate bond between the two men is emphasized in “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved” by the French painter Ary Scheffer (1795-1858).

“One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved” by Ary Scheffer

A variety of contemporary artists have done new interpretations of John and Jesus together. They include “Christ the Bridegroom” by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar known for his innovative icons. Author-priest Henri Nouwen, famous but struggling with a secret gay identity, commissioned it in 1983. He asked for an icon that symbolized the act of offering his own sexuality and affection to Christ. Research and reflection led Lentz to paint Christ being embraced by his beloved disciple John, based on an icon from medieval Crete.

Christ the Bridegroom, Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, © 1985.

“Henri used it to come to grips with his own homosexuality,” Lentz said in an interview for my book “Art That Dares,” which includes this icon and the story behind it. “I was told he carried it with him everywhere and it was one of the most precious things in his life.” Nouwen’s goal was celibacy and he did not come out publicly as gay before his death in 1996. The icon takes the Biblical theme of Christ as bridegroom and joins it to the medieval motif of Christ with John. The resulting image expresses their intimate friendship with exquisite subtlety.

Atlanta artist Becki Jayne Harrelson painted another especially loving version of Jesus and the Beloved at the center of her “Last Supper.” Unlike the classic icons of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, her painting shows the two men gazing at each other and holding hands. She is a contemporary lesbian artist who uses LGBT people as models in her religious art. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, she uses art to express her passion for justice. Her story is also told in “Art That Dares.”

Detail from Study for The Last Supper
by Becki Jayne Harrelson

Another icon celebrating the love between Jesus and the beloved disciple was painted by Jim Ru (below). It was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.

“Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” by Jim Ru

In recent years some artists have adapted the classic iconography to other racial and ethnic groups. For example, John Giuliani's “Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” shows the figures in the native dress of the Aymara Indians, descendants of the Incas who still live in the Andean regions of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Giuliani is an Italian-American artist and Catholic priest who is known for making Christian icons with Native American symbols. He studied icon painting under a master in the Russian Orthodox style, but chose to expand the concept of holiness to include Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the Americas.

“Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” by John Giuliani, 1996

One more picture of Jesus and his beloved must be mentioned, even though permission was not granted to display it here on the Jesus in Love Blog (yet). It is well worthwhile to click the title to see this stunningly beautiful photo of Jesus and his Beloved Disciple as black Africans:


Fani-Kayode (1955-1989) was a Nigerian photographer who explored themes of sexual and cultural difference, homoerotic desire, spirituality and the black male body, often in collaboration with his late partner Alex Hirst. Their last joint work was "Every Moment Counts" from 1989. In it a beloved disciple leans against black Christ figure who wears pearls over his dreadlocks as he gazes toward heaven. “The hero points the way forward for the lost boys of the world - the young street-dreads, the nightclub-chickens, the junkies and the doomed,” Hirst explains on their website.

A poem that addresses the homoerotic love between Jesus and John as is “The Third Dance of Christmas: A Fiddle Dance for St. John’s Day” by a poet who wants to be known only as Joe. It begins:

Sweet John was a dancer
on the shore of old Capernaum
a lovely boy not fit for fishing
or carpentry, or marrying.
They tell he left his empty boat
for the sake of the bold young fellow
who looked at him that April morn
and said, my love, come follow.

The whole poem is posted at this link.

I also wrote about John as the beloved disciple in my novels “Jesus in Love” and “At the Cross.” In honor of John’s feast day, I post this scene from “Jesus in Love: A Novel.” Jesus, the narrator, remembers the day he met John:

I became distracted by the not unwelcome presence of somebody standing close behind me, closer than necessary in the loosely packed crowd. I sensed that it was John, and spun around to see him planted there like a tall cedar tree. He leaned against me, eyes flashing. “I can’t wait for the Messiah to come. I’ve seen him in visions.”

“Really? Tell me what you remember.” It was exciting to find someone who was aware of God’s efforts to communicate.

“The Messiah is like a gentle lamb who sits on a throne with a rainbow around it. And yet his eyes flame with fire, and a sharp sword comes out of his mouth to strike down evildoers.”

“The truth is large,” I said.

“Are you saying my vision isn’t true?” he challenged.

“No, I’m not saying that. I expect that you will see more.”

When John smiled, his faced crinkled into a fascinating landscape of wrinkles. His eyes felt black and mysterious like the midnight sky as they roamed over me. “Do you want a prayer partner tonight?” he asked.

If anyone else had asked, I would have said no, but I looked again at John’s handsome, bejeweled soul and his long, sinewy body.

“Sure,” I agreed impulsively.

Only then did I notice that the Baptist had finished preaching. John steered me toward the caves where the Baptist and his inner circle of disciples lived. Lower-ranking disciples were ready with water vessels and towels to assist everyone with ritual purification before we ate a spartan meal of locusts and wild honey. One of them approached me.

“Wash up, and we’ll get together after supper,” John said as we parted.


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Related links:


St John the Evangelist and Prochorus” (Queer Saints and Martyrs)



Jesus’ Gay Wedding at Cana (Queering the Church)


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Special thanks to Ann Fontaine for the introduction to Laurie Gudim and to Kevin Elphick for various suggestions.

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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.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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Icons of Christ the Bridegroom, John the Evangelist and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores