There are probably as many versions of "gay spirituality" as there are gay and lesbian persons. Some are fairly traditional and some are new age and beyond. All are on a journey to God, however this person or phenomenon is believed or visualized. I believe it is a journey to wholeness that we live. We are Radical Faeries, drag queens, dykes, fems, leathermen and women, Christians, Jews, Moslems, non-religious, and others. Ideally, we do not judge one another but instead give support in our journeys. My gay spirituality involves participation with my Dignity family and Defenders, and is rooted in Catholic Christianity and the Paschal Mystery -- the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Living our spiritualities involves accepting the reality in which we find ourselves. This involves dealing with suffering in our lives just as it did in the life of Jesus Christ. It involves dealing with the suffering I found in my own life.
Many of us suffered the confusion of discovering our own gayness. What were these feelings that society and church preached against? Many of us knew that we were different but did not have the words for it. Why did we have these feelings that others made fun of?
Some of us got married heterosexually because we could not face our feelings, because we thought marriage could and would change us, or even because we were not sure we were gay. Later we had to suffer the breakdown of our families including separation from our children.
Some of us went into reparative or conversion therapy in order to attempt the impossible task of changing our basic gay personality. Some of us coped by turning to heavy drugs or compulsive addictions.
Some of us may have escaped these ways of dealing and embraced our sexuality only to discover that we have little rights in our church or society. Some of us positively experience our sexuality but still must deal with discrimination, prejudice, loss of jobs and careers, rejection, and religious judgment by the very ones we expect would or should love us – our families, our faith communities and religious traditions.
Because many organized religions and society have taught us to fear our homosexuality, to repress its expression, to separate "being" from "act," many of us have had a more difficult time integrating our sexuality and spirituality. We are on the margins of our faith traditions and our society. In order to reach integration, I believe that we must transcend our institutions and yet still accept that we live on the margins.
In his book, Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person James Empereur, S.J. has referred to this as a "desert experience." Others have called it "the dark night of the soul" or "our exile." We must not escape this "desert experience." While we may still experience positive elements during this "exile" by coming out or loving another person of our own sex, we are still marginalized in society and in our religious traditions.
If we willingly accept our dark night, our marginalization, then I believe we can be transformed. This dark night is painful and we often do not know how to get around it or out of it. In fact, we must go through it! We then may begin to search for a compassionate God and we embark on a spiritual journey based on faith.
We can see this in the context of the Crucified Christ. In his life, Christ showed God's favor for the poor and marginalized in his society. Christ turned the values of his Jewish culture and religion upside down. He said that obeying ritual laws would not bring happiness or salvation and were important only if they helped us to love one another. Christ taught that love was the ultimate and the summation of all the commandments. He showed that no group or class of people is better than any other. He preached equality and justice. Christ told the Jewish leaders that the first in the society would be the last in the kingdom if they did not remove the bondages from the people. He threatened the status quo and was killed.
Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist-Cistercian monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani, was a prolific writer. Some of the things he said were deeply profound and very true as shown in the following quotes:
A life without risks is not worth living.
The first place you look for God's will is in your nature.
Find the place that God has given you and take root there.
We must find God in what is. We go to God through reality, not through unreality.
For me to be a saint means to be myself…discovering my true self.
We have had to learn to love our physicality, our bodies, our sexual feelings as the place where we will find not only ourselves, but also our God. To find ourselves and God we must affirm the goodness of our homosexual orientation and integrate our sexuality and spirituality. As gay men and lesbians, we have to learn to trust our experience of goodness and of God.
I believe that the death of Christ led to his resurrection, to new life. Our marginalization, our "dark night" can also lead to our resurrection and new life. Once we experience our coming out we can then recognize the goodness of God in ourselves, our sexuality, our friends, and our community. We see reality in a new way. Let us look at how this participation in Christ's resurrection can also be our entrance into new life by looking at the gifts we bring to the world as gay people.
In studying the lives of gay men, Carl Jung, the great psychotherapist and founder of Jungian psychology, believed that we had a
"great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men, and may even rescue friendship between the sexes from its limbo of the impossible. He may have good taste and an aesthetic sense…He may be supremely gifted as a teacher…He is likely to have a feeling for history, and to be conservative in the best sense and cherish the values of the past. Often he is endowed with a wealth of religious feelings, which help him to bring the ecclesia spiritualis into reality, and a spiritual receptivity which makes him responsive to revelation.
Although Jung references gay men in the above quote, I believe that his insights are true for our lesbian sisters and others including those who are bisexual or transgendered. Witness the faith and commitment that are so apparent at our Dignity liturgies and at the faith-filled celebrations during the religious services of other gay faith communities. Before our gay pride celebrations every June, we often gather in prayer to ask God's blessings upon our festivities. We hunger for true spiritual values. I believe we hunger for God.
I believe that gay Christians have an innate sense of the Incarnation -- God becoming Flesh. Gays celebrate the beauty of the body and our sexuality. There are some persons on the conservative right who would deny us the necessity of using the body to express the inner and spiritual part of being human. They would condemn us into an alienation and isolation so extreme as to be unchristian and inhuman. We can counter that belief with our witness that the body is beautiful and is meant to give expression to our feelings, thoughts and values. And we only have to go dancing at a gay bar to see that gay persons know how to give witness to this goodness by dancing. We know how to "let go." I also know that many often pray for and sense God's blessings before engaging in sexual activities. We celebrate our physicality.
We also learn to accept and love one another as brothers and sisters, equally on a journey together. Many people have remarked at our love for one another during this AIDS crisis. It was our community that began many, if not most, of the social services set up for those sick in our community. When AIDS also began to filter into the straight community, we taught them how to do ministry and care for their sick. Our gifts are compassion and an understanding heart.
Think of our contribution to the world in terms of art, literature, and beauty. The world would be far darker without the gifts of Michelangelo, Leonardo Di Vinci, Walt Whitman, and many others. Often it is our community that restores old sections of our cities and brings them back to life. With our artwork, our artistic flair and our written word, gays have given form, shape, color and texture to human feelings, thoughts, and visions.
Think of our contribution to the world in terms of the intimacy that we share with one another. We pull down the walls that separate us. I cannot speak for my lesbian sisters, but I do know that gay men often share an intimacy that our straight brothers would die for. We share our joys and pains, ecstasies and sufferings. This often includes sharing the personal stories of our inner and even our sexual lives. We know how to do camp! We know how to bring humor to the world. We have a freedom that others envy. As one religious sister said to my partner and me, "You bring intimacy into the world." I believe we all do.
Heterosexual relations can lead to new life in children and this can be a witness to God's graciousness. Homosexual relations can also lead to new life by giving witness to the ways we gift the world: our witness to the goodness of the body, of sexuality, of art and music, and in our intimacy and love. In these ways, we participate in Christ's Incarnation, the Creator's song, and the work of the Spirit.
By uniting ourselves to Christ and his Paschal Mystery, we take on his values and beliefs. We can help to bring about a reversal of values and roles in our society and church. We can join in the struggle for justice and equality. But there are risks in doing this.
We can become stuck in our anger and pain, shaking our fists, and using our Truth as a weapon against those with whom we disagree. I do not believe it helps to bring about the change we seek if we do so with a militantly angry heart, denigrating and shaming others or condemning our opposition.
We can also use our Truth to show others the goodness of God in our lives. I believe it does make a difference if we do so with a heart that forgives our opposition while still standing firm in our beliefs. I believe it does make a difference if we do so with a heart that accepts our Truth and shows this by the living of our lives.
After dealing with shame, guilt, and anger, we witness to the world that love is fundamental. We live out this love in our relationships and in our struggle for social justice. Showing forth our Truth can take many forms. We can demonstrate, hold vigils, march, write our letters, vote, educate others, give talks, hold our signs, and pray for our opposition. All are important because we give contemplative witness to the Truth by our lives. This Truth will bring about the difference we seek and even though it may not totally happen in our lifetime, change is coming. The difference in our churches and in society since 1968, when I came out, is remarkably more accepting even if they both have a long way to go.
The first place we look for God's will is in our own nature. If we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, then this is a part of our spirituality. It is the way we stand before ourselves, others, and our God. It is, in fact, the way we journey with and to God. (If leather is also an aspect of our sexuality, then we must find God in this leather sexuality.) Our acceptance of our homosexuality does not lead us away from God; it can, in fact, lead us right into the arms of this loving Being. Because of my almost 20-year relationship with my beloved Leo, I have learned to love, to be emotionally and physically intimate with another human being and because of that, I am more intimate with God. I now accept who I am before God as a gay, sexual, Catholic man who loves leather, and I feel congruent and whole. Wholeness, spelled with a "w" is holiness, spelled with an "h." Let us thank God for allowing us the privilege of being gay.
Copyright © 2001: Joseph M. Gentilini, Ph.D.