Tuesday, April 30, 2013

LGBT rights versus Christian faith: International Day Against Homophobia calls for prayers

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff

Christian and LGBT values clash in a new cartoon for the International Day Against Homophobia by Brazilian artist Carlos Latuff.

The International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) on May 17 raises awareness of LGBT rights violations around the world and supports a progressive vision of sexual and gender diversity. It includes a “multi-faith global prayer initiative.”

Freedom of religion and LGBT rights are often seen as opposites, as in Latuff’s illustration. LGBT Christians get caught in the middle, embodying both viewpoints.

In Latuff’s image, the lesbian in a rainbow shirt brandishes a transgender symbol while shielding herself with the Constitution (Constituição in Portuguese). The Christian uses the Bible as a shield while he waves a cross. I imagine that the lesbian is in touch with her spiritual power, the power of Christ who broke rules and crossed boundaries: touching lepers, reaching out to women, eating with prostitutes, talking to foreigners, being accused of blasphemy.

For more info about Latuff, see my previous post, Gay Christ wears rainbow flag in art by Latuff.

Latuff created this image specifically to promote Brazil’s National March Against Homophobia (Marcha Nacional Contra Homofobia), which will be held May 15 in Brasília. The twin towers in his cartoon are the government buildings in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer.

Related link:
International Day Against Homophobia website:

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

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Christina Rossetti: Queer writer of Christmas carols and lesbian poetry

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

Portrait of Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Christina Rossetti: Queer writer of Christmas carols and lesbian poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related links:

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

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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Jesus Appears to His Friends (Gay Passion of Christ series)

21. Jesus Appears to His Friends (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard (Collection of Bill Carpenter)

“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see.” -- Luke 24:39 (RSV)

Friends react with joy -- and some doubt -- to the return of the risen Christ in “Jesus Appears to His Friends” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. Jesus allows himself to be embraced and examined by his diverse friendship group. He gets hugs from his Beloved Disciple and an elderly woman with a cane. Smiling beside them is a young black woman, apparently Mary Magdalene. Meanwhile a bald skeptic in a suit inspects his wounded wrist. Other disciples watch from behind. The red gash in Jesus’ side stands out against his manly physique.

Jesus has been to hell and back. He’s managed to return to the land of the living. The same room and some of the same people are pictured in Blanchard’s Last Supper, but here the mood is transformed from a dark-toned goodbye to a happy hello, lit up with lavender and with warm flesh tones. Misty moonlight pours in from the back window in the shape of an ascending dove, hinting at the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Everyone else in Blanchard’s painting is delighted to see Jesus, while the bald Doubting Thomas figure in the tie and glasses is busy fact-checking. Jesus affirms the believers, but doesn’t push away the pragmatist. He is welcome to check the wounds scientifically. Thomas provides a positive role model as someone who tries to engage religion without falling for any mystical trickery. Many people, queer or otherwise, share the skeptic’s desire to develop a belief system based on direct experience and not get caught up in all the hoopla about Jesus.

The Bibles offers differing accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his friends. Taken as a whole, the gospels describe how the disciples were hiding from authorities behind closed doors when Jesus “came and stood among them.” He calmed their fears and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. One disciple, Thomas, had rejected earlier reports that Jesus was still alive. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe,” [John 20:25 RSV] he insisted. His doubt turned to faith when Jesus invited him to do just that.

As usual in the gay Passion series, Jesus attracts a surprisingly varied group. The imagery and title emphasize that the people around Jesus were not just his followers. They were his friends. As he told them at the Last Supper, “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from God I have made known to you.” (John 15:15 Inc Lang Lect) It was the focus on friendship that led Bill Carpenter to acquire this particular painting when Blanchard’s gay Passion series was displayed at the 2007 National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art in Taos, New Mexico.

Carpenter is one of the leaders of Soulforce, a civil-rights group that works to free LGBT people from religious and political oppression. He went to Taos to teach nonviolent resistance in preparation for anti-LGBT attacks, which fortunately did not materialize. “I chose ‘Jesus Appears To His Friends’ because, through it, I connected with the humanity of Jesus…He had friends! And, because Doug showed Jesus’ friends as a beautifully diverse collection of humanity…just like our world…and I felt that Jesus truly welcomed each and every soul into his world…with no qualification or judgment and I wanted to be reminded of that potential within me,” Carpenter said.

The painting fits into the long artistic tradition of Doubting Thomas, a common subject at least since the sixth century. Perhaps the most famous version was painted in 1602 by Italian artist Caravaggio with unflinching realism and street people as models. Artists mostly stopped portraying the Doubting Thomas scene after the Baroque period ended in the 18th century, even though his skepticism sums up the spirit of the modern era. Blanchard contributes to the standard repertoire of Doubting Thomas iconography by putting him in a larger vision of equality where same-sex love has an honored place. Another contemporary gay version was done by Spanish photographer Fernando Bayona Gonzalez. He accentuates the homoeroticism of Thomas touching the wound in Jesus’ side in his 2009 “Circus Christi” series.

“Jesus Appears of His Friends” affirms themes of vital importance to the LGBT community: Friendship, because many have been cut of from their biological families. Touch, because touching someone of the same gender has been taboo. And doubt, because religion has been used to justify violence against LGBT people. Crossing the boundary from death to life, Jesus touches those who live in the borderlands between male and female, between doubt and faith.

“The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” -- John 20:26 (RSV)

Jesus’ friends were hiding together, afraid of the authorities who killed their beloved teacher. The doors were shut, but somehow Jesus got inside and stood among them. They couldn’t believe it! He urged them to touch him, and even invited them to inspect the wounds from his crucifixion. As they felt his warm skin, their doubts and fears turned into joy. Jesus liked touch. He often touched people in order to heal them, and he let people touch him. He defied taboos and allowed himself to be touched by women and people with diseases. He understood human sexuality, befriending prostitutes and other sexual outcasts. LGBT sometimes hide themselves in closets of shame, but Jesus wasn’t like that. He was pleased with own human body, even after it was wounded.

Jesus, can I really touch you?

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.

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.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

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

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

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

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Nun who loved a countess in 17th-century Mexico City

Sor Juana (Nov. 12, 1648 - April 17, 1695) was born out of wedlock near Mexico City in what was then New Spain. She was a witty, intellectually gifted girl who loved learning. Girls of her time were rarely educated, but she learned to read in her grandfather’s book-filled house.

When she was 16, she asked for her parents’ permission to disguise herself as a male student in order to attend university, which did not accept women. They refused, and instead she entered the convent in 1667. In her world, the convent was the only place where a woman could pursue education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

María Luisa Bemberg, one of Latin America’s foremost female directors, explored the love between the nun and the countess in “I, the Worst of All” (Spanish: Yo, la peor de todas). The 1990 film was Argentina’s Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Language Film that year. The DVD cover uses a quote from the Boston Globe to describe the film: “Lesbian passion seething behind convent walls.” It includes woman-to-woman eroticism without objectifying the women. The movie is based on “Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith” by Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz of Mexico.

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

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

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

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

Related links:

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz at the Legacy Project

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

Related books:

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Feminist Reconstruction of Biography” (2014) by Theresa A. Yugar with a foreword by Rosemary Radford Ruether

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works” (2015), translated by Edith Grossman with an introduction by Julia Alvarez

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.

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

Saturday, April 13, 2013

LGBT litany of the saints: Harvey Milk, pray for us; Joan of Arc, pray for us...

A Dignity Litany of the Saints
By Dr. Rachel Waltz, 2013

Lord have Mercy
Christ have Mercy
Lord have Mercy

Mary, Mother of God; Pray for us

Harvey Milk; Pray for us

St. Joan of Arc; Pray for us

Our brothers and sisters who died at the hands of strangers; Pray for us

Matthew Shepard; Pray for us

Our sisters and brothers who died in concentration camps; Pray for us

St. Anselm, who called another man “Beloved”; Pray for us

All those who died not knowing their worth; Pray for us

St. George, the androgynous warrior; Pray for us

Our sisters and brothers who died at the hands of loved ones; Pray for us

Mary, Mother of us all; Pray for us

Saints Perpetua and Felicity, who bestowed the kiss of peace on each other before being martyred; Pray for us

All Ye Holy Men and Women; Pray for us

Those taken from us by AIDS; Pray for us

St. John the Evangelist, who loved Christ fiercely; Pray for us

All Ye Holy Women and Men; Pray for us

Notes from Kittredge Cherry:
This prayer stunned me with its direct approach: Let’s just ask the queer saints to pray for us!

I have been blogging about LGBT saints since 2009, but I never thought of putting them into a traditional prayer format like this.

I was so moved by this prayer that I asked Dr. Rachel Waltz to let me share it on the Jesus in Love Blog. She wrote the prayer for Dignity, an organization supporting LGBT rights in the Roman Catholic Church. Thank you, Rachel, for permission to post your prayer here!

The standard Litany of the Saints is a formal prayer used in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Lutheran traditions. The usual version does address a few queer saints, including the same Perpetua and Felicity who are named in the Dignity version.

Visit the LGBT Saints page at jesusinlove.org/saints.php for more info on saints of special interest to queer people and our allies. It provides easy access to my profiles of 55 LGBT saints: 31 traditional Christian saints and 24 alternative figures. Along with the official saints, there are martyrs, prophets, mystics, witnesses, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to LGBTQ people and our allies.

Image credits:

Most of the icons shown can be purchased as cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, and framed prints from TrinityStores.com.

"Harvey Milk of San Francisco" by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, TrinityStores.com

"St. Joan of Arc" by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, TrinityStores.com

"Saints Perpetua and Felicity" by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, TrinityStores.com

“The Passion of Matthew Shepard” by William Hart McNichols © www.fatherbill.org

"Christ the Bridegroom" (John the Evangelist with Jesus) by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, TrinityStores.com

Related links:

Why we need LGBT saints (A queer theology of sainthood by Kittredge Cherry)

Rainbow Christ prayer (by Kittredge Cherry and Patrick Cheng)

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Jesus Appears at Emmaus (Gay Passion of Christ series)

20. Jesus Appears at Emmaus (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard
Collection of Jodi and Michael Simmons

“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” -- Luke 24:30-31 (RSV)

Three travelers share a meal together in “Jesus Appears at Emmaus” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. Three travelers share a meal together in “Jesus Appears at Emmaus.” Jesus is hard to recognize with his hair hidden under a bright blue ski cap. He sits at a restaurant table, breaking a loaf of bread. His companions, a man and a woman, touch in an attitude of prayer. The setting looks like a contemporary airport lounge with large windows. The table is nicely set with a red rose and generic salt and pepper shakers. Suitcases in the foreground confirm that they are traveling. It is a normal scene of friends eating together, until the viewer recognizes Jesus. And that is the point.

The painting illustrates the Biblical story of two disciples who met the risen Christ on the road, but didn’t recognize him at first. A disciple named Cleopas and his unnamed companion encountered the stranger on the way to Emmaus, a village seven miles from Jerusalem. They confided in him about their sadness over Jesus’ crucifixion and the disappearance of his corpse. The mysterious stranger listened and comforted them by using scripture to explain what happened. Impressed, the disciples persuaded him to join them for supper in Emmaus. When the stranger blessed and broke the bread, they connected completely. Suddenly they recognized Jesus.

The Emmaus story fits the mythic pattern of the magical traveling companion who appears unexpectedly and offers help. Such legends were common in medieval Europe when the practice of pilgrimage was important and widespread. Artists have been depicting Emmaus since the fifth century, but in the Middle Ages they gave more attention to the scene of encounter on the road. Jesus wore a large pilgrim’s hat to explain why his disciples failed to identify him. Pilgrimage fell out of favor in the 16th century with the Reformation. The supper scene, with all its Eucharistic implications, became increasingly prevalent. Artists began to focus on the dramatic moment of recognition, with famous versions painted by Rembrandt in the Netherlands and Caravaggio in Italy. In modern times the supper at Emmaus lost much of its appeal to artists. The mood and style of Blanchard’s Emmaus are reminiscent of 20th-century American painter Edward Hopper. Like Hopper, Blanchard finds the poetry in an anonymous urban environment, capturing the elusive interaction of people in a quiet moment just before something happens.

Artists of the past generally assumed that both disciples at Emmaus were male, but Blanchard brings the episode into the present and makes one disciple female, subtly communicating that gender does not limit a person’s relationship with God. The woman wears a headscarf, perhaps a hijab. Jesus may be sharing a meal with Muslim refugees. That possibility is especially powerful because Blanchard painted his Passion series in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks by Islamic terrorists. He strategically places the red rose so it blooms over Jesus’ heart, echoing the Sacred Heart motif in which Jesus exposes his physical heart as a symbol of his love and sacrifice.

Blanchard’s Emmaus painting now hangs in the kitchen of Jodi and Michael Simmons. They owned JHS Gallery in Taos, New Mexico, when Blanchard’s gay Passion series was displayed there in a 2007 group show. “We purchased the painting because we felt it most accurately captured the spirit of what we intended by the entire exhibition ‘Who Do You Say That I Am? Visions of Christ, Gender, and Justice,’” Jodi explained. “The Supper at Emmaus has always been one of both Michael and my favorite Gospel stories. I think it is the best example of ‘mature’ Christianity. Life is a journey; we meet many travelers and experiences along the way. To be able to be clear and awake enough to recognize the Light and Presence of God in all places, with all people, is a great, great milestone. Michael and I both think that it is absolutely the best image of this difficult to convey spiritual reality that we have ever seen.”

The Emmaus story has parallels with the queer spiritual journey. The disciples discovered Jesus after they left their faith community in Jerusalem. Most of the others were hiding there in fear, refusing to believe in the resurrection. The disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus are like LGBT people who turn their backs on their churches of origin -- and then find God on the outside! In the Bible narrative Jesus disappears as soon as he is recognized. The disciples return immediately to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what happened. Likewise, some LGBT Christians feel called to return to religious institutions to proclaim their fresh understanding of the all-inclusive Christ.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” -- Matthew 18:20 (RSV)

Two travelers met a stranger on the way to a village called Emmaus. While on the road they told the stranger about Jesus: the hopes he stirred in them, his horrific execution, and Mary’s unbelievable story that he was still alive. Their hearts burned as the stranger reframed it for them, putting it in a larger context. They convinced him to stay and join them for dinner in Emmaus. As the meal began, he blessed the bread and gave it to them. It was one of those moments when the presence of God breaks through ordinary life. Suddenly they saw: The stranger was Jesus! He had been with them all along. Sometimes even devout Christians are unable to see God’s image in people who are strangers to them, such as LGBT people or others who have less social status. People can also be blind to their own sacred worth. But at any moment, the grace of an unexpected encounter can open our eyes.

Come and travel with me, Jesus. Or are you already here?

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.

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.