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Queer Spirituality
by Rev. Nano Boye Nagle
Beltane 2003, Vol 2-3
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MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
Traditional usage from Webster's 1828 Dictionary

QUEER: Odd; singular; hence, whimsical.

Modern usage from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

Queer: kwîr

ADJECTIVE: Inflected forms: queer·er, queer·est
1. Deviating from the expected or normal; strange: a queer situation.
2. Odd/ unconventional, as in behavior; eccentric.

"What Do You Mean By Queer Spirituality"

Dedicated to the magic of Queer Spirituality, this column is for those of us who live spiritual lives on the fringes of mainstream society. Written from a perspective of woman-identified Queer Spirituality, it will not be a religious column; it will, however, include religious philosophy. For me Goddess and God are sometimes interchangeable and other times refer to specific archetypes. Please replace them with whatever words/names work for your truth.

By using the epithet Queer I risk conflict with those who are offended by the word because it does not define their experience. I apologize in advance for any offence. I write to give voice to the truth in my heart, not to challenge the truth in yours. This is not an act of rebellion; it is an act of reason -- when I attempt to comply with expected behavior I fail beyond reason. Therefore it is more reasonable for me to live authentically than to expect to be considered normal.

Spiritual teachers and prophets such as: Buddha, Gandhi, Mohamed, Ra'bia, Mother Teresa, Maya Angelou, Starhawk and even Jesus live(d) on the fringe or in exile. They each challenge(d) the illusions of the majority, choosing to live outside their assigned box, and proclaimed the need to embrace those who were being marginalized. Jesus, the taproot of western patriarchy, hung out on the fringes of society, with the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the revolutionaries. If he were alive today, he'd be hanging out in San Francisco in the Tenderloin or in the drag bars; Rabia, the Islamic saint (who traveled alone and preferred to be without clothing), would be writing her poetry at women's music festivals.

The Sufis say the God of religions is rigid and outside of the self.(1) The God that lives in the heart of the individual is the God that interests me, the child of the Goddess ungendered and omnigendered. She is the core of Queer spirituality. Queer Spirituality is a personal experience, not religious tradition. There is no doctrine or institution, but there are spiritual practices that are intrinsic to queer life.

There are elements of Queer life that have become the foundations of Queer Spirituality. Elements, which become spiritual practices, open us to both the Goddess and the Gods. They are:

  1. Coming Out It is in coming out that Queer Spirituality is born. Coming out is about claiming ourselves as blessed by the Goddess/God. This isn't "a one walk dog," for the process of living from our authentic self as creations of the Goddess has many initiations and is a life long process.
    Authenticity is wonderfully insidious; it creeps into our hearts and bursts into all areas of our lives. Everybody, gay or straight, is coming out all the time; coming out occurs the moment we decide to tell the truth about who we are inside. When we are forced to face our greatest fears, to live who we are, it is easier to tell the truth about any of the choices we make.
  2. Letting Go To live authentically as Queers we must be willing to let go of the privileges that come with the heterosexual life. Let go of life at the center of society and embrace the exile. This supports letting go in everyday life. The ability to let go is the first step to finding a life of peace.
  3. Justice Making The loss of standing we experience by coming out forces us to birth spiritual community in the margins. The need to fully embrace our sexuality and our spirituality forces us to look at our own privilege and 'isms. One definition of spirituality I use is "a life lived with meaning and value to self and community." As Queers attempting to live spiritual lives, we challenge society and traditional religion to face its own inauthenticity. We challenge them to live the essential meaning of their doctrines and give value to everyone in the community. Queer Spirituality says to everyone, "You must be more inclusive, and more open, more embracing." We understand that all oppressions are linked and seek to name all discrimination.
    As people who do not conform to the restrictions of a binary system we are forced to look outside the lines. We push the edges of our culture, push it to grow and evolve; we are essential to its development. The culture in general may not see the gifts we bring, but the truth is that mainstream culture will stagnate and eventually die without us.
    Writers became our saints and our mystics if their work spoke to life on the fringe of mainstream society or echoed our sense of social justice and the need for unity without uniformity. We claimed them as "queer mystics" regardless of their sexual preference, because their work spoke to our hearts and illuminated our connection to something greater than ourselves.
  4. Queer Lexicon Divina The accepted translations of the world's sacred texts have, at best, ignored us and our role as spiritual leaders. At worse, they have declared our love a sin. We found books and poets who provided positive images of our love and made them our Queer sacred books. The content of these books did not have to be overtly spiritual as long as they spoke to our experience and recognized our place in the universe. Writers became our saints and our mystics if their work spoke to life on the fringe of mainstream society or echoed our sense of social justice and the need for unity without uniformity. We claimed them as "queer mystics" regardless of their sexual preference, because their work spoke to our hearts and illuminated our connection to something greater than ourselves. The Beloved has always spoken thought artists and writers, because they are the expression of living creation..

    Mystics of Queer Spirituality

    Audre Lorde, Judy Grahn, Walt Whitman, Rumi, Starhawk, Andrew Harvey, Rita Mae Brown, Alice Walker, Armistead Maupin, Dorothy Allison, Alison Bechtel, Lillian Faderman Leslie Feinberg Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Paul Monette, Joan Nestle, Mary Oliver, Minnie Bruce Pratt, John Preston, Adrienne Rich, Randy Shilts, and Edmund White, et al.

    Recently theologians like Mona West, Richard Hardy, M.R.Ritley, and Troy Perry are reinterpreting the Christian bible from a feminist, queer perspective. Those who make their spiritual connection through the Christ energy of Jesus have been freed by this work. I believe we must also reinterpret the sacred texts of other major world religions with queer eyes, and look beyond the patriarchal stories, for the Goddess stories on which they were based.
    Only men have been recognized as the Prophets for mainstream religions, but what is not recognized is that they were influenced by living in cultures where the religions of the Goddess were alive and fertile. She must have influenced their cosmology, their morality and their experience of divinity. The cosmology of a society defines its culture. Until we can rewrite these books to include the voice of the Divine Mother and the Sacred Queer, queer children will continue to be defined by biased translations of the Qur'an, the Bible, the Torah etc.
    All sacred texts contain the power of word magic. Power charged by prayer, belief and faith over time; power of the old-ways, the craft and women's mysteries. Power encoded in words, numbers, and in intervals in sacred music. Power they stole from us. If we dismiss these texts as patriarchal, we continue to deny ourselves this elemental power, which could perhaps be the keystone of the patriarchal dynasty.
  5. Prayer There are a million ways to pray, some formal, most not. When we honor the Goddess in everything and everyone; anytime we feel gratitude and say thank you; anytime we do good work or hold the hand of a grieving friend, these are all forms of prayer. Queer spirituality embraces the old prayers, writing new words and then infusing them with the passion that is intrinsic to our nature. These prayers become less about a conversation with a God outside of the self and more about conversation with the Goddess, the breath of intent holding everything together.
    Queer spirituality rejects the myth of the separation between body and spirit. We embody our prayers through dance and song, while claiming our bodies as manifestations of the divine and reclaiming sex as a sacred act. We welcome all varieties of sexual preference practiced under the "Law of Three." We see all forms of gender expression as faces of the Goddess. All expressions of Love must be, of their very nature, a blessing.
    Prayer is different from spell craft, which is also part of Queer Spirituality. In spell craft, we honor our responsibility in the cycle of creation that is the Goddess. "I was a hidden treasure and I loved that I be known, so I created the creation in order to be known." We accept our responsibility to participate in the recreation of the world that honors life and the Law of Three.
  6. Ritual and Worship We have created holidays and events all over the world that celebrate our culture and our values, from the gay games to gay pride. We worship in techno masses, women's festivals, Wiccan rituals, gay churches and gay synagogues.
    Queer identity is about opening up to life. It is time to own our multiple identities, queer up everything and open the containers. Even though we are lesbian or gay, and we may fight for social justice or follow woman-centered Goddess religions, we may continue to be addicted to the idea of binary reality; for example, it is much safer to be gay than bi-sexual in either a gay or a religious setting. Frequently it's easier to come out as a lesbian to your church than it is to come out as Christian to your lesbian/gay friends. We are struggling with the inherited tradition of 'demonizing', those we consider "other," those who are outside of our binary comfort zone. Overt bigotry or intolerance may not be acceptable in most lesbian and gay groups, but we have mastered the ability to kill spirits with tolerance -- I will talk more about this another time -- and we confuse unity with uniformity.

Whatever your path, your belief, your religion; wherever and however you experience the touch of the infinite as the greatest of all human experience, I honor you. The attraction of the blossoming Queer Spirituality is the possibility of freedom from the bondage of duality, or uniformity. It is about the freedom to see differences as manifestations of the infinite faces of the Beloved, the children of the Mother.

In future columns I will continue to expand upon my experience of Queer spirituality and the connections between the religions of the world, known and unknown. I will strive to make this work live up to the traditional definition of Queer, "Odd; singular; hence, whimsical," while celebrating the joys, passions, humor and ironies of Queer life and Queer Spirituality. I promise to deviate from the expected or the norm, and expect to be considered strange, odd, unconventional, and eccentric.

So Mote It Be. Blessings and Peace...The Rev.

Notes
(1)
My favorite definition of a Sufi is that the Sufi regards every thought, feeling, and perception that he or she has (including his or her sense of self) as a manifestation of the Beloved or as a particular view of the Beloved's face ("Wherever you turn there is God's face"--Qur'an).This means that every person and thing she encounters is also a manifestation of the Beloved and should be treated accordingly.

References
+ Richard Hardy - Pacific School of Religion - First Queer Ministry Convention -2000.
+ M.R.Ritley - Pacific School of Religion - First Queer Ministry Convention -2000.
+ Mona West - Pacific School of Religion - First Queer Ministry Convention -2000.
+ The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

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