Advent celebrates the mystery of the Word made flesh — an important concept in queer spirituality.
LGBTQ people and allies are creating new ways to honor Advent, the time of expectant waiting for Christ’s birth starting four Sundays before Christmas.
“This Advent I am reflecting on what it might mean for us as LGBTIQ people to give birth to, and to reveal to the world, the Queer Face of God in our time, and in our culture,” spirituality author Michael Bernard Kelly told the Jesus in Love Blog.
Kelly is the author of “The Erotic Contemplative” video/lecture series and Seduced by Grace: Contemporary Spirituality, Gay Experience and Christian Faith. He has a Ph.D. in Christian mysticism and contemporary gay experience from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
“Advent and Christmas call us to embrace the mystery of that love which always exceeds our grasp, and yet which is given, age after age, into our hand,” he added.
Some welcome Advent by considering the virgin birth with queer eyes. A recurring theme for lesbian artists is Mary with her female lover, sometimes with references to the virgin birth and its and its similarity to artificial insemination. Lesbians sometimes identify Mary’s virgin birth with using artificial insemination to have babies without heterosexual sex.
The Madonna and her female lover are portrayed by a real lesbian couple, seven months’ pregnant through artificial insemination in “Annunciation” from the “Ecce Homo” series by Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin and Becki Jayne Harrelson. The angel Gabriel comes in the form of their gay male friend, who floats in with a message from God—and a test tube for insemination.
A Bible quote is displayed with the photo: “The angel said to her, “ ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.’” (Luke 1:30-31)
It’s important to imagine the Christmas story in new and different ways because it empowers people to grow in their relationship with each other and with God. Imagining the Madonna as a lesbian may be shocking, but it reminds the viewer that the story of Jesus’ birth has always been radical. It was scandalous that God’s son was born to an unwed mother in poverty. God became flesh—a shockingly total identification with all people.
“Annunciation” is the opening image in the Swedish photographer’s series titled Ecce Homo, a pun meaning “See the human being” and “See the homosexual.” Each image is haunting and sharply beautiful, with a fashion-photo clarity and documentary truth that makes the familiar story become acutely real.
All hell broke loose when Ohlson Wallin recreated twelve scenes from Christ’s life using contemporary LGBT models and locations. Her Ecce Homo series toured Europe, often in churches, but the Pope expressed disapproval by canceling a planned audience with the Swedish archbishop. Opponents vandalized the art, threw rocks at the artist and issued death threats. This kind of religious bigotry is exactly why images of a queer Christ are needed.
“I wanted Jesus for me and my own sexual sense,” Ohlson Wallin explains. “I wanted to be able to identify with Jesus. There are millions and billions of Jesus pictures for heterosexuals to identify with. In Africa they have black Jesus. In China they have Chinese Jesus. Lots of different countries each have a different Jesus.”
Two lesbian mothers cuddle the Christ child in “Madonna, Lover and Son” by Atlanta painter Becki Jayne Harrelson. She puts her queer Holy Family into the same landscape as Da Vinci’s “Madonna of the Rocks.”
In Harrelson’s version, the Madonna has a classic stylized halo while the landscape forms a natural sunlit halo around her blonde lover (based on the woman who has been Harrelson’s partner since 1995). The contrasting halos are Harrelson’s way of saying that lesbians are a natural part of creation, as opposed to the roles of wife and mother imposed by patriarchal religion. A turkey baster is concealed in the bushes, a play on artificial insemination and virgin birth. “I think God has a sense of humor—where I get mine I like to think,” Harrelson laughed.
Pro-woman views of the virgin birth go back at least as far as the famous 1851 speech by abolitionist Sojourner Truth who had been born into slavery. “Where did your Christ come from?” Truth asked. “From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”
Another LGBTQ way to celebrate Advent is offered by Chris Glaser, a gay Christian minister, activist and author of LGBT spirituality books including Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends. Here is an excerpt from his “Rite for Advent,” published in Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations:
One: The closet may be a fertile place:
creativity bursts out of a lonely hell,
and from a closet fertilized with hope,
the spirit leaps from a monastic cell.
Many: Those born in darkness
have seen life.
One: Out of dark soil sprouts new life,
from darkness springs embodied hope.
Both stretch for the illumination
of the cosmic landscape.
Many: Those born in darkness
have seen life.
One: Dear God,
Many: We seek your Word embodied
in life rooted in fertile darkness.
In life stretching for illumination,
we await your transforming Word.
Top image credit: Advent wreath from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California by Susan Russell
Advent resources (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Institute for Welcoming Resources)
This post is part of the LGBTQ Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, events in LGBTQ history, 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.
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