Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saints Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy: Honey-tongued abbot and the archbishop he loved

“Bernard of Clairvaux” by Rowan Lewgalon

See how I yearn, and longing turn to Thee!
Yield to my love, and draw me unto Thee!
--Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux was a medieval French abbot who wrote homoerotic poetry about Jesus had a passionate same-sex friendship with the Irish archbishop Malachy of Armagh. Bernard is best known for founding 70 monasteries around Europe and for his mystical writings. His feast day is Aug. 20 (today).

His first love was Jesus, but he showered Malachy with kisses during his lifetime. After Malachy died in his arms, they exchanged clothes. Malachy was buried in Bernard’s habit. Bernard put on Malachy’s habit to lead the funeral and wore it until his own death five years later. Bernard was buried beside Malachy, again in Malachy’s habit. Malachy (1094-1148) became the first native born Irish saint to be canonized.

Bernard (1090-1153) was advisor to five Popes and a monastic reformer who built the Cistercian order of monks and nuns. He is known as the last of the Church Fathers. The most famous saying attributed to him is: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

He was a man of his time who engaged in rigorous ascetic practices and supported church teachings on celibacy. People today might say that he had a homosexual orientation while abstaining from sexual contact. Medieval mystics created alternative forms of sexuality that defy contemporary categories, but might be encompassed by the term “queer.” They directed their sexuality toward God and experienced God’s love through passionate friendship with another human being.

Monasteries and convents provided a social structure outside marriage, attracting many people that today would be defined as LGBT. Medieval monks and nuns who lived in same-sex communities under a vow of celibacy developed alternative ways of same-sex living and loving.

“Christ Embracing St. Bernard of Clairvaux” by Francisco Ribalta

Bernard’s strict asceticism was balanced by sweetly erotic visions that earned him the title Doctor Mellifluus (“honey-tongued doctor.”) He chose to use the Song of Songs, the most erotic book in the Bible, as a major vehicle for his teaching. He began his “Sermons on the Song of Songs” in 1135 and had completed 86 sermons when he died nearly 20 years later with the series still unfinished.

“Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart,” he wrote in his 15th sermon on the Song of Songs.

His lesser known works include “Life of Saint Malachy of Armagh,” which is his idealized tribute to the man he loved, and “Salve Mundi Salutare” (quoted below), a love poem to Jesus whose original homoeroticism has been suppressed. It became the basis for the popular English hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

Bernard of Clairvaux’s legacy is a mixed blessing for contemporary progressive readers because he also helped rally soldiers to kill Muslims in the Second Crusade and undermined the work of theologian Peter Abelard, a champion of reason. But he spoke out against Christian mistreatment of Jews and supported another queer mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, in her efforts to get her visions published.

Bernard was born to a noble family in 1090 on the outskirts of Dijon in Burgundy. According to legend, his mother had a dream during her pregnancy that a white puppy was barking in her womb. This was interpreted to mean that she would give birth to God’s watchdog. The white dog became one of Bernard’s attributes, a symbol used in images of the saint.

Bernard and a white dog, both with icy blue eyes, appear together in a striking contemporary portrait by Rowan Lewgalon. She is a spiritual artist based in Germany and a cleric in the Old Catholic Apostolic Church.

When Bernard was 19, his mother died and he decided to join a small new community that had just started in the area. They were called the Cistercians, and their aim was to reform monasticism with a return to the more austere rules of St. Benedict. Within three years Bernard was sent to found a monastery nearby in a place whose name has become part of his own: Clairvaux.

About 25 years later Bernard met Malachy (whose Irish name is Maelmhaedhoc O’Morgair). He was primate of all Ireland when he first visited Clairvaux around 1139. Bernard was nearly 50 years old and Malachy was four years younger. They soon became devoted, passionate friends. Malachy even asked the Pope for permission to become a Cistercian, but the Pope refused.

Malachy traveled to see Bernard again in 1142. They were so close that Bernard covered him with kisses in a scene that is described well by Orthodox priest Richard Cleaver in “Know My Name: A Gay Liberation Theology”: “Bernard's account makes deeply romantic reading for a modern gay man. “Oscula rui,” Bernard says of their reunion: “I showered him with kisses.”

Their relationship had lasted almost a decade when Malachy reunited with Bernard for the third and final time. Malachy fell sick when he arrived in Clairvaux in 1148. He died in Bernard’s arms on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2. Again Cleaver tells the details based on accounts by Geoffrey, Bernard’s secretary and traveling companion:

“Geoffrey of Auxerre tells us what happened later. Bernard put on the habit taken from Malachy's body as it was being prepared for burial at Clairvaux, and we wore it to celebrate the funeral mass. He chose to sing not a requiem mass but the mass of a confessor bishop: a personal canonization and, incidentally, an example of using liturgy to do theology. Bernard himself was later buried next to Malachy, in Malachy’s habit. For Bernard, as for us today, this kind of passionate love for another human being was an indispensable channel for experiencing the God of love.”

After Malachy’s death Bernard lived on for another five years. He forbid sculptures and paintings at the monastery during his lifetime, but by the late 15th century the altarpiece at the Clairvaux Abbey had a painting of Christ’s baptism jointly witnessed by Bernard and Malachy.

Bernard died on Aug. 20, 1153 at age 63. He was buried at the Clairvaux Abbey next to Malachy, wearing Malachy’s habit. He had lived for 40 years in community with other men whose loving relations with each other brought them closer to God.

“Bernard of Clairvaux” by Tobias Haller

“Bernard of Clairvaux” was sketched as an intense man with a rusty beard by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He 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.

A prayer written by Bernard’s secretary Geoffrey shows how the community at Clairvaux understood and celebrated the man-to-man love between Bernard and Malachy. He thanks God for these “two stars of such surpassing brightness” and “twofold treasure.”

As a monk, Bernard naturally directed much of his erotic energy toward Jesus Christ. This attitude is beautifully expressed in his poem “Salve Mundi Salutare” (Savior of the World, I Greet You). He wrote seven sections, each addressed to a different parts of Jesus’ crucified body: his feet, knees, hands, side, chest, face, and finally his heart.

The poem is traditionally attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, although some modern scholars believe it may have been written by another Cistercian abbot, Arnulf of Leuven. It is also known as the “Oratio rhythmica ad singula membra Christi a cruce pendentis” (Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members of Jesus Hanging on the Cross), or more simply as the Rhythmica oratio.

The original poem, in all its erotic glory, is generally not included in books that collect Bernard’s “essential writings.” It lives on in ancient, hard-to-find editions and heavily edited versions and translations that remove much of the homoeroticism and sometimes even add heterosexual references that are absent from Bernard’s original Latin. The original is also blessedly free from churchy terms like “Lord,” speaking only of the love between “I” and “thou.”

The poem is the basis for important musical works such as the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” and the Baroque oratorio “Membra Jesu Nostri” (usually translated as “The Limbs of Our Jesus”) written by Baroque Danish composer Dieterich Buxtehude in 1680, more than 500 years after Bernard died. The cycle of seven cantatas is considered to be the first Lutheran oratorio. The entire oratorio can be heard on video at this link.

The rapture of this poem is expressed in the painting at the top of this post: “Christ Embracing St. Bernard” by Francisco Ribalta. The Spanish Baroque artist apparently painted this masterpiece for the Carthusian monastery of Porta Coeli in Valencia, Spain around 1625.

The website for Spain’s Prado Museum in Madrid, where it is now housed, states: “The scene is based on one of the saint’s mystical visions, drawn from one of the most popular religious books of the Baroque era: Pedro de Ribadeneyra’s ‘Flos Sanctorum’ or ‘Book of the Lives of the Saints,’ published in 1599.”

The whole poem contains 74 verses of five lines each -- way too many to reproduce here. But it is extremely hard to find, so a selection of the more erotic, lesser known verses are reproduced here in the original Latin with an English translation from by Emily Mary Shapcote. Her translation was published in the 1881 book “St. Bonaventure’s Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The online version of that book contains the entire poem in its appendix.

In a few cases a computer-generated English translation is also included here because it captures the directness and immediacy of the original. Much of the homoeroticism is implicit in the fact that this love poem was written by one man to another -- from Bernard to Jesus with love.

References to this poem and numerous paintings of Bernard with Christ are included in a whole chapter devoted to Bernard 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.

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To the Hands
Ad Manus

IX.
O Jesus, place Thy sacred Hands on me,
With transport let me kiss them tenderly,
With groans and tears embrace them fervently;
And, O for these deep wounds I worship Thee;
And for the blessed drops that fall on me.

Manus sanctse vos amplector,
Et gemendo condelector,
Grates ago plangis tantis
Clavis duris, guttis sanctis,
Dans lacrymas cum osoulis


To the Side
Ad Latus

VII.
Lord, with my mouth I touch and worship Thee,
With all the strength I have I cling to Thee,
With all my love I plunge my heart in Thee,
My very life-blood would I draw from Thee,
Jesus, Jesus I draw me into Thee.

Google translate version:
You happen to my mouth,
And I ardently embrace
SOAK you in my heart,
And a warm heart, tongue,
Me all over you.

Ore meo te contingo,
Et ardenter ad me stringo
In te meum cor intingo,
Et ferventi corde lingo,
Me totum in te traiice.

To the Breast
Ad Pectus

VIII.
Abyss of wisdom from eternity,
The harmonies of angels worship Thee;
Entrancing sweetness flows, Breast, from Thee
John tasted it as he lay rapt on Thee;
Grant me thus that I may dwell in Thee.

Tu abyssus es sophise,
Angelorum harmonise
Te collaudant, ex te fluxit
Quod Joannes Cubans suxit,
In te fac ut iuliabitem.


To the Heart
Ad Cor

VI.
O sinner as I am, I come to Thee;
My very vitals throb and call for Thee;
O Love, sweet love, draw hither unto me!
O Heart of Love, my heart would ravished be,
And sicken with the wound of love for Thee!

Per medullam cordis mei,
Peccatoris atque rei,
Tuus amor transferatur,
Quo cor totum rapiatur,
Languens amoris vuluere.

VII.
Dilate and open, Heart of love, for me,
And like a rose of wond'rous fragrance be,
Sweet Heart of love, united unto me;
Anoint and pierce my heart, O Love, with Thee,
How can he suffer, Lord, who loveth Thee?

Google Translate version:
Spread, open,
Wonderfully smelling like a rose,
Join you in my heart,
MARK and anoint it,
Who does what he loves you!

Dilatare, aperire,
Tanquam rosa fragrans mire,
Cordi meo te conjunge,
Unge illud et compunge,
Qui amat te quid patitur!

IX.
Mv living heart, O Love, cries out for Thee;
With all its strength, O Love, my soul loves Thee;
O Heart of Love, incline Thou unto me,
That I with burning love may turn to Thee,
And with devoted breast recline on Thee.

Viva cordis voce clamo,
Dulce cor, te namque amo;
Ad cor meum inclinare,
Ut se possit applicare,
Devoto tibi pectore.

XI.
Thou Rose of wondrous fragrance, open wide,
And bring my heart into Thy wounded Side,
O sweet Heart, open! Draw Thy loving bride,
All panting with desires intensified,
And satisfy her love unsatisfied.

Rosa cordis aperire,
Cujus odor fragrat mire,
Te dignare dilitare,
Fac cor meum anhelare,
Flam ma desiderii.

[Note that the original Latin has absolutely no references to brides or any gender at all. This is the only verse quoted here that is also included in Buxtehude’s oratorio “Membra Jesu Nostri”.]

XIII.
O Jesus, draw my heart within Thy Breast,
That it may be by Thee alone possessed.
O Love, in that sweet pain it would find rest,
In that entrancing sorrow would be blest,
And lose itself in joy upon Thy Breast.

Google Translate version:
Put in your pocket
Heart, that you should take a neighbor,
Joyful in pain,
With ugly and beautiful
That hardly contain himself.

Infer tuum intra sinum
Cor, ut tibi sit vicinum,
In dolore gaudioso,
Cum deformi specioso,
Quod vix seipsum capiat.
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*Quotation at the top is Shapekote's translation of:
Cordis mei Cor dilectum,
In te meum fer aflectum,
Hoc est quod opto plurimum.

Direct translation:
Heart of my heart, beloved,
You bring in my feelings,
This is what I love most.

___
To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
San Bernardo de Claraval y San Malaquías: "el doctor meloso" y el arzobispo a quien amaba
It includes an original Latin-to-Spanish translation of the poem exclusively for Santos Queer by an important professor in Argentina: Dr. Luis Angel Sanchez, Professor of Latin Language and Culture at the University of Cordoba.
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Related links:
Catholic Queer Families: SS Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy (Queering the Church)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s Life of Saint Malachy of Armagh (full text)

Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members of Jesus Hanging Upon the Cross” by Bernard of Clairvaux. Full text in Latin and English. (scroll down to find is as an appendix of “St. Bonaventure's Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”)

Life of St. Malachy by Bernard of Clairvaux

Malachy of Armagh: Same-sex soulmate to Bernard of Clairvaux (Jesus in Love)
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Thursday, August 18, 2016

“Womansword” by Kittredge Cherry will be published by Stone Bridge Press


Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women” by Jesus in Love founder Kittredge Cherry will be published in a 30th anniversary edition on Nov. 15 by Stone Bridge Press.

The book provides a portrait of Japanese womanhood with linguistic, sociological, and historical insight into issues central to the lives of women everywhere. The New York Times praised it as “extraordinarily revealing.”

Before she became a minister and launched the Jesus in Love Blog, Cherry studied in Japan on a Rotary International Journalism scholarship at Kobe College and International Christian University in Tokyo. She wrote about Japan for many publications, including Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Cherry holds degrees in journalism, art history, and religion. She continues to blog on Japan at her new website, JapanAdvise.com.

Cherry's unusual journey from Japan journalism to LGBTQ ministry is one of the subjects she discusses in the introduction to the 30th anniversary edition. The new introduction also highlights many revealing, useful, and fun new woman-related words that entered the Japanese language in the last three decades. It shows how things have—and haven't—changed.

Michael Bronski, professor in the department of women, gender and sexuality studies at Harvard, has endorsed “Womansword” as well as Cherry’s more recent books on LGBTQ Christian themes.

“Kitt Cherry has a long, storied career balancing and brokering the values of tradition with the excitement of the modern,” Bronski said. “‘Womansword’ charts, though evolving language, changes that have radically transformed Japanese women – and Japan -- for decades. From tom-boy fashion ("Prince Lolita") to national discussions of a possible female emperor, Cherry captures the vibrancy of the new Japan. This book is a vital read for feminists, linguists, and everyone interested in how culture changes.”

Bronski has written extensively on culture, gender, sexuality and politics, including “A Queer History of the United States,” winner of the Lambda Literary Award for non-fiction.

Thirty years after its first publication, "Womansword" remains a timely, provocative work on how words reflect female roles in modern Japan. Short, lively essays cover identity, girlhood, marriage, motherhood, work, sexuality, and aging.

Emerging trends in Japanese culture, for example, have brought high-achieving “science-women” and opened the way for the androgynous “x-gender.” The Japanese government began promoting “womenomics.” Three decades ago Japanese women hurried to find a husband by age 25 to avoid becoming stale “Christmas cakes.” Now they wait longer to marry, but still risk being called “New Year’s Eve noodles” if they don’t wed by age 31. “Maternity marks” help them navigate pregnancy, while “retirement divorces” are on the rise.

The book will be available in digital format as an e-book for the first time in its 30-year history.

The New York Times gave “Womansword” a glowing review on Feb 7, 1988:

“A very graceful, erudite job… Brief essays that are packed with interesting linguistic, sociological and historical details about Japanese women and the words that describe them … Insights that will enlighten those readers who know nothing about Japanese women and those who do know something, those who do not speak Japanese and those who do. Many of the expressions Ms. Cherry presents are extraordinarily revealing.”

The new edition is also recommended by Ayako Kano, associate professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.

“After three decades, ‘Womansword’ still cuts to the core of gender dynamics in Japanese society. With a new Introduction giving us updates on various topics and a plethora of recent words, this book remains one of the most accessible and intriguing guides to the status of women in Japanese society,” says Kano. She is the author of “Japanese Feminist Debates: A Century of Contention on Sex, Love, and Labor.”

Cherry’s specialties include writing about women’s issues, language, culture, sexuality, religion and communication. Her books have been translated into Chinese, German, Japanese, and Polish. She holds degrees in journalism, art history, and religion.

Stone Bridge Press was established in Berkeley, California, in 1989. It has some 150 titles in print, covering such Japan- and Asia-related areas as language, business, literature, manga, design, and culture.

“Stone Bridge is the right press for the new edition of ‘Womansword’ both because of its excellence in publishing Japan books and because its founder Peter Goodman was present for the creation of the original version at Kodansha International 30 years ago,” Cherry said.

“Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women” (30th anniversary edition) is available now for pre-order.

“Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women”
Print ISBN: 978-1611720297
Ebook ISBN: 9781-611729191
$19.95 / $25.99 CAN|176 pages| Trim 5.50 x 8.50

Pre-Order now from Amazon.

Monday, August 15, 2016

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

Mary, left, took over the Aug. 15 holiday from the goddess Diana, right

A mid-August holiday was once the festival of the lesbian goddess Diana (Artemis), but it has been adapted into a feast day for the Virgin Mary.

Midsummer feasts have celebrated the divine feminine on Aug. 15 since before the time of Christ. Now devoted to Mary, the holiday known as the Feast of the Assumption (or Dormition) carries the torch of lesbian spiritual power to a new generation on the same date.

Saint Mary, mother of Jesus, is honored by churches on Aug. 15 in a major feast day marking her death and entrance into heaven. Catholic and Orthodox churches call it the Feast of the Assumption or Dormition because they believe that Mary was “assumed” into heaven, body and soul.

The connections between Diana and Mary raise many questions. The concept of virginity has been used to control women, but sometimes it is a code word for lesbian. What shade of meaning is implied by the “virginity” of these two heavenly queens? Did the church patriarchs substitute wild lesbian Artemis with mild straight Mary -- or is Mary more versatile and dynamic than many thought?

The Virgin Mary’s holiday was adapted -- some would say appropriated -- from an ancient Roman festival for Diana, the virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt. Diana, or Artemis in Greek, is sometimes called a lesbian goddess because of her love for woman and her vow never to marry a man. The ancient Roman Festival of Torches (Nemoralia) was held from Aug. 13-15 as Diana’s chief festival.

According to mythology, Diana preferred the company of women and surrounded herself with female companions. They took an oath of virginity and lived as a group in the woods, where they hunted and danced together. Homoerotic art and speculations often focus on Diana’s relationship with the princess Callisto. The god Jupiter (Zeus) lusted after Callisto, so he disguised himself as Diana and seduced Callisto in a woman-to-woman embrace. (For the full story, see glbtq.com.) The lesbian love scene is painted by artists such as Francois Boucher in “Jupiter and Callisto” (below).

“Jupiter (disguised as Diana) and Callisto” by Francois Boucher (Wikimedia Commons)
There are many more stories about Diana and the women, nymphs and goddesses whom she loved. The goddess Britomaris was another favorite of Diana. When the lustful king Minos pursued Britomaris, she escaped by leaping into the sea. Diana rescued her and, some say, fell in love with her. Diana also showed love for various princesses.  She gave the princess Cyrene a pair of magical dogs and granted the princess Daphne the gift of shooting straight. The princess Atalanta almost died of exposure as a baby girl after her father abandoned her because he wanted a son. Diana saved her and, with the help of a she-bear, Atalanta grew up to become one of Diana’s beloved companions. And this is just the beginning.

Diana’s main holiday was the Festival of Torches or Nemoralia. Hundreds of women and girls carried torches and candles in a night-time procession through the woods. They wore wreaths of flowers -- and even put flowers on the hunting dogs who walked with them. The group hiked a few miles from Rome to a sacred site, the circle-shaped Lake Nemi. The dark waters reflected the moon and the torchlight of the pilgrims. There they left offerings of apples, garlic, statues and prayers handwritten on ribbons. Click here for a vivid description of the festival. Ovid, a Roman poet who lived before Christ, described the magic of the festival:

Often does a woman whose prayers Diana answered,
With a wreath of flowers crowning her head,
Walk from Rome carrying a burning torch...

Click here for a beautiful painting of “Diana Asleep in the Woods” by surrealist Giorgio de Chirico. Diana sleeps beside an offering of fruit, her bow and arrow, and her large black-and-white spotted dog.

Artemis of Ephesus
Aspects of Diana and Artemis were taken over by the church more than 1,300 years ago. The Festival of Torches became the Feast of the Assumption. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Turkey was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, with an awe-inspiring statue of the “many-breasted” Artemis. The temple was destroyed and replaced by the Church of Mary. The Virgin Mary even assumed some titles once given to Artemis, including Queen of Heaven.

Books such as Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary by cultural historian Marina Warner show how the figure of Mary was shaped by goddess legends and other historical circumstances, resulting in an inferior status for women. In the novel “Mary and the Goddess of Ephesus: The Continued Life of the Mother of Jesus,” former seminarian Melanie Bacon explores the little-known tradition that after Jesus died, his mother spent most of her adult life in a community dedicated to worshiping Artemis.

Feminists praise Diana/Artemis as an archetype of female power, a triple goddess who represents all phases of womanhood. She is the maiden, wild and free, with no need for a man. She is the “many-breasted” mother who nurtures all life. She is the crone, the mature hunter who provides swift death with her arrows in harmony with the cycles of nature.

LGBT people and allies may be inspired by the queer origins of this midsummer holiday. May the Queen of Heaven, by whatever name, continue to bless those who remember her.
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Related links:
Are there any lesbian goddesseses?

Black Madonna becomes lesbian defender: Erzuli Dantor and Our Lady of Czestochowa (Jesus in Love)

Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon (Jesus in Love)


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Related books:
Mother of God Similar to Fire” with icons by William Hart McNichols and reflections by Mirabai Starr presents a wide of variety of liberating icons of Mary, including a black Madonna. McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been rebuked by church leaders for making icons of LGBT-affirming martyrs and saints not approved by the church.

Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology” by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow. Two pioneering leaders in the study of women and religion discuss the nature of God / Goddess.

Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary” by cultural historian Marina Warner shows how the figure of Mary was shaped by goddess legends and other historical circumstances, resulting in an inferior status for women.

Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie,” edited by Susan Perry, includes many black Madonnas in an art book to nourish devotion to Mary with reflections by diverse women.

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Image credits:

“Diana of Versailles,” Roman artwork, Imperial Era (1st-2nd centuries CE). Found in Italy. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Assumption of Mary” by Guido Remi, 1642 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Artemis of Ephesus,” 1st century CE Roman copy of the “many breasted” Artemis stattue of the Temple of Ephesus (Wikimedia Commons)
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Icons of the Assumption of Mary and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com





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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts



Friday, August 12, 2016

Radclyffe Hall: Queer Christian themes mark banned book "Well of Loneliness"


A queer Christ figure is the main character in the world’s best known lesbian novel, “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall. She was born on  this date (Aug. 12) in 1880.

The book was banned for obscenity in England in 1928, not just because it portrayed lesbian love, but also for using religious arguments to support “inverts” -- a 1920s term for LGBTQ people. Hall, a devoutly Catholic British lesbian, was herself pictured being nailed to the cross in a satirical cartoon from the era.

Radclyffe Hall
Hall (1880-1943) is widely recognized as a pioneering lesbian (or perhaps transgender) author. But her Christian side is often downplayed because of the conflict between Christianity and homosexuality -- what was then called “congenital sexual inversion.” Hall lived with those contradictions and tried to reconcile them in her books. Today the Jesus in Love Blog focuses on the role of Christianity in Hall’s life and work.

The Well of Loneliness” ends with a desperate prayer that has been echoed by countless LGBTQ people and still rings true now. The prayer is uttered by the novel’s protagonist, Stephen Gordon. She was born on Christmas Eve and named after the first Christian martyr. As a girl she had a dream “that in some queer way she was Jesus.” Like Hall, Stephen grows up to become a masculine woman who wears men’s clothes, has romantic relationships with women, and identifies as an “invert.”

At the climax of the novel Stephen has a vision of being thronged by millions of inverts from throughout time: living, dead and unborn. They beg her to speak with God for them, and then they possess her. She speaks for queer people from the past, present and future as she gives passionate voice to their collective prayer:

“God,” she gasped, “We believe; we have told You we believe…We have not denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!”

Such themes led to obscenity trials for “The Well of Loneliness,” even though the novel is not sexually explicit. It gets no more risqué than saying, “She kissed her full on the lips, as a lover.” In Britain it was condemned and all copies were ordered destroyed. It was only published in America after a court battle.

British judge Chartres Biron was especially outraged that Hall defended LGBTQI people by affirming that they are part of God’s creation. In his decision Biron wrote::

“I confess that the way in which the Deity is introduced into this book seems to me singularly inappropriate and disgusting. There is a plea for existence at the end. That of course means a plea for existence in which the invert is to be recognized and tolerated, and not treated with condemnation, as they are at present, by all decent people. This being the tenor of the book, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that it is an obscene libel, that it would tend to corrupt those into whose hands it should fall, and that the publication of this book is an offence against public decency, and obscene libel, and I shall order it to be destroyed.”

Both sides of the controversy were satirized in “The Sink of Solitude,” a series of cartoons including “Saint Stephen” by Beresford Egan. One drawing shows Hall nailed to a cross wearing her trademark sombrero. A near-nude Sappho leaps in front of the martyred author and Cupid perches on the crossbeam. The crucifixion is witnessed by the evangelical Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks, who helped enforce the censorship order.

Hall was upset to see herself portrayed in a way that she considered blasphemous. The drawing strengthened her resolve to write a modern version of Christ’s life as her next novel. Titled “The Master of the House,” it concerns Christophe, a compassionate carpenter born in Provence, France to a carpenter called Jouse and his wife Marie. He ends up being crucified during the First World War.

Writing the book was so spiritually intense that Hall developed stigmata on the palms of her hands during the two-year creative process. She believed it was her best book, but it got bad reviews and sales slumped. In America the book was seized not by police, but by creditors because her publisher went bankrupt.

Almost all references to “The Master of the House” describe it as a deeply religious book without further explanation. Actually it is an adaptation of Christ’s story for modern times. One of the only detailed summaries comes from the Delphi Classics edition of “The Complete Works of Radclyffe Hall.” It states:

“This 1932 novel concerns Christophe Benedict, a carpenter who lives in Provence. Almost saint-like, he is deeply spiritual, compassionate and experiences visions of a previous life as the Carpenter of Nazareth. He is attracted to girls, but refrains from having a relationship, held back by some unknown power -- his closest friend is his male cousin Jan, (but this is not a novel about homosexuality). When the 1914-1918 war begins, he enlists and is posted to Palestine. A close encounter with the enemy leads to a dramatic turn of events.”

Hall’s religious devotion dates back to 1912, when she was in her early 30s. She converted to the Roman Catholic Church under the influence of her first long-term lover, Mabel “Ladye” Batten. Her baptismal name was Antonia and she chose Anthony as her patron saint. Together they worshiped at London’s fashionable Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, known as the Brompton Oratory.

Hall and Batten made a pilgrimage to Rome, where a financial donation led Pope Pius X to bless them in a semi-private audience at the Vatican in 1913. “They went to confession and mass in St. Peter’s and bought triptychs, gilt angels and an alabaster Madonna,” biographer Diane Souhami reports in “The Trials of Radclyffe Hall.”

Batten, who died in 1916, was a Catholic convert too, as was Hall’s next lover, Una Troubridge (1887-1963). All three of them were part of a trend. A surprising number of upper-class English lesbians and intellectuals converted to Catholicism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in a trend related to the Oxford Movement. Conversion was a way of rebelling against English society while maintaining connection with tradition. Hall was also interested in Spiritualism.

An independently wealthy heiress, Hall gave generously to the church. In the 1930s she and Troubridge made their home in Rye, a village in East Sussex where many writers lived. The Catholic Church of Saint Anthony of Padua was constructing a new building when they moved to Rye, and biographer Souhami reports that Hall “poured money into this church” to bring it to completion and furnish it.

“She paid for its roof, pews, paintings of the Stations of the Cross and a rood screen of Christ the King. A tribute to Ladye was engraved on a brass plaque set into the floor:
Of your charity
Pray for the soul of Mabel Veronica Batten
In memory of whom this rood was given.
She paid off all the outstanding debts of the church… Masses, benedictions, processions and venerations stemmed from her beneficence.

One source says that she and Troubridge left their money to the church after their deaths. Hall died of colon cancer at age 63 on October 7, 1943. She is buried with Ladye in London’s Highgate Cemetery.

At the time of her death, “The Well of Loneliness” had been translated into 14 languages and was selling more than 100,000 copies per year. It has never gone out of print. For decades it was the only lesbian book generally available, and therefore it made an enormous impact on generations of queer people. It remains on many lists of the top LGBT books.

Hall is the subject of several book-length biographies, including not only “The Trials of Radclyffe Hall” by Diana Souhami, but also “Our Three Selves: The Life of Radclyffe Hall” by Michael Baker, “Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John” by Sally Cline, and “Radclyffe Hall: A Life in the Writing” by Richard Dellamora.

“The Well of Loneliness” has sparked controversy not only from conservatives, but also among the LGBTQ community. The novel is often criticized for expressing shame and self-hatred, defining all lesbians as masculine, and presenting a stereotyped butch-femme lifestyle. Hall has long been classified as a lesbian, but now there is debate over whether she was a transgender man. Secular LGBT readers tend to dismiss the religious aspects as embarrassing and irrelevant relics of a bygone era.

One scholar who affirms the role of religion in Hall’s work is Ed Madden, English professor at the University of South Carolina. His article “The Well of Loneliness, or the Gospel According to Radclyffe Hall” is included in the 2003 book "Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture,” edited by Raymond-Jean Frontain. It was originally published in the Journal of Homosexuality, where the abstract summarizes it this way::

“Radclyffe Hall's 1928 novel, 'The Well of Loneliness,' is repeatedly described as a "bible" of lesbian literature. The novel itself repeatedly alludes to biblical stories, especially the story of Christ. Yet there has been little sustained analysis of the biblical language of the novel. Most feminist and lesbian critics have dismissed the biblical allusions and language as unfortunate and politically regressive; religious critics have ignored the novel. This essay reexamines the biblical nature of the novel, especially its portrayal of the lesbian Stephen Gordon as a Christ figure. The study further claims a creative and interventionary power in Hall's use of biblical narratives and tropes, a power traceable in public reception to the novel and in courtroom reactions to the use of spiritual language in a text about lesbianism. By writing the life of a lesbian as a kind of gospel of inversion, Hall turns a language of condemnation into a language of validation, making her use of biblical language a kind of Foucauldian "reverse discourse." The novel's power lies in its portrayal of a lesbian messiah, and in its joining of sexological and religious discourses.”

Another scholar who writes in depth about the queer Christian aspect of Hall’s work is Isabella Cooper. She was a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at the University of Maryland in College Park when she wrote “The Passion of Stephen Gordon: The Messianic Lesbian Artist in Radclyffe Hall’s 'The Well of Loneliness.'” The article appeared in the Transverse Journal in 2011. In the article she states:

“The Well’s readers have frequently noticed the deliberate parallels Hall draws between Stephen and Christ; they have also noticed Hall’s identification with both. Some readers have mocked the novel for precisely this reason. Hall’s strategy of creating an alter-ego/ protagonist and identifying her with Christ reflects her understanding of her role as a Christian lesbian artist. She attempts in this novel to perform a powerful work of redemption for those whose desires society and the Church label sinful. In order to combat the stigma of sinfulness, Hall fashions (and speaks through) a protagonist whose Christ-like suffering and self-sacrifice challenge her readers, and whose ability (by the novel’s end) to reconcile her commitments to her faith, her art, and her sexual identity enable her to take on a messianic role.”

Hall would probably be the first to insist that she was no saint, but she is included in the LGBT Saints series here at the Jesus in Love Blog because was a pioneer in the effort to reconcile Christianity and homosexuality. Thank you, Radclyffe, for voicing a prayer from queer people of all times: “Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!”

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Related links:
Radclyffe Hall, E. Lynn Harris, and Franz Kafka: Christianity, Queerness, and the Politics of Normalcy” by Margaret Soenser Breen (International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies)

Joan of Arc and Radclyffe Hall: Inspiration and Influence” by Steven Macnamara

Full text of "The Well of Loneliness" free online (Gutenberg.net)

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Top image credit:
Lesbian author Radclyffe Hall is a crucified Christ figure in a 1928 cartoon by Beresford Egan

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year. It is also part of the Queer Christ series,which gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts



Thursday, August 11, 2016

Blessed John Henry Newman and Ambrose St. John: Gay saint and his "earthly light" share romantic friendship


John Henry Newman, a renowned scholar-priest and Britain’s most famous 19th-century convert to Catholicism, was beatified in 2010 amid rampant speculation that he was gay. Newman’s feast day is today (Aug. 11) in the Anglican church and Oct. 9 in the Catholic church.

Newman and another priest, Ambrose St. John, lived together for 32 years and share the same grave. Some say they shared a “romantic friendship” or “communitarian life.” It seems likely that both men had a homosexual orientation while abstaining from sex. Newman described St. John as “my earthly light.” The men were inseparable.

“Blessed Cardinal
John Henry Newman:
Lead Kindly Light”
by William Hart McNichols ©
Newman (Feb. 21, 1801 - Aug. 11, 1890) is considered by many to be the greatest Catholic thinker from the English-speaking world. He was born in London and ordained as an Anglican priest. He became a leader in the Oxford Movement, which aimed to return the Church of England to many Catholic traditions. On Oct. 9, 1845 he converted to Catholicism. He had to give up his post as an Oxford professor due to his conversion, but eventually he rose to the rank of cardinal.

Ambrose Saint John (1815 -1875) apparently met Newman in 1841. They lived together for 32 years, starting in 1843. St. John was about 14 years younger than Newman. He compared their meeting to a Biblical same-sex couple, Ruth and Naomi.  In Newman’s own words, St. John “came to me as Ruth came to Naomi” during the difficult years right before he left the Anglican church.

After converting together to Catholicism, they studied together in Rome, where they were ordained priests at the same time. When St. John was confirmed in the Catholic faith, he asked if he could take a vow of obedience to Newman, but the request was refused. Newman recalled their early years in this way:

“From the first he loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable. At Rome 28 years ago he was always so working for and relieving me of all trouble, that being young and Saxon-looking, the Romans called him my Angel Guardian.”

Portrait of John Henry Newman, right, and Ambrose Saint John by Maria Giberne, 1847

A portrait of Newman and St. John together in Rome was painted by Maria Giberne, an amateur artist and a lifelong friend of the Newman family who followed him into the Catholic church. She painted the couple sitting together with their books in one of their rooms at the Propaganda College in Rome on June 9, 1847. Standing between them is Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, who appears to be blessing and watching over the priests who loved each other.

St. John, a scholar and linguist in his own right, helped Newman with his scholarship and shared other aspects of daily life as if they were a couple in a same-sex marriage. John Cornwell, author of Newman's Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint, told National Public Radio that St. John’s support for Newman included “even doing things like packing his bags before he went away, making sure he was taking his medicine, making sure he kept dental appointments, that sort of thing. So it was almost like a wife, but without the marital bed.”

They lived together until St. John died on May 24, 1875. He was only about 60 years old. According to a memorial letter written by Newman himself, St. John died of a stroke that “arose from his overwork in translating Fessler, which he did for me to back up my letter to the Duke of Norfolk.” Newman needed a translation of the German theologian Joseph Fessler's important book in the wake of the First Vatican Council.

In the memorial letter Newman goes on to describe their dramatic last moments together, including how St. John clung to him closely on the bed and clasped his hand tightly. Newman, unaware that his beloved companion was dying, asked others to unlock his fingers before saying the goodbye that turned out to be their last.

Newman was heartbroken by the loss of his beloved partner. “I have always thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband’s or wife’s, but I feel it difficult to believe that anyone’s sorrow can be greater than mine,” Newman wrote.

He insisted three different times that he be buried in the same grave with St. John: “I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Father Ambrose St. John’s grave -- and I give this as my last, my imperative will,” he wrote, later adding: “This I confirm and insist on.”

John Henry Newman, left, and Ambrose St. John

Newman died of pneumonia on Aug. 11, 1890 at age 89. According to his express wishes, he was buried with St. John. The shroud over his coffin bore his personal coat of arms with the Latin motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur” (Heart speaks to heart), which he adopted when he became cardinal. Their joint memorial stone is inscribed with a Latin motto chosen by Newman: “Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem.”(Out of the shadows and reflections into the truth.”) They share a small grave site in the central English town of Rednal.

John Henry Newman’s coat of arms with the motto “heart speaks to heart” (Wikimedia Commons)

During the beatification process, the Vatican tried to violate Newman’s desire to be buried with his beloved companion. Vatican officials hoped to excavate and move his remains to a specially built sarcophagus in Birmingham in preparation for his beatification. Controversy arose as some LGBT activists saw the decision to disturb the shared grave as an attempt to separate them and cover up the queer side of Newman’s life. However when the grave was opened in 2008, the remains had completely decomposed, leaving nothing that could be separated.

“John Henry Newman”
by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. ©
www.trinitystores.com
Newman’s legacy is wide-ranging. Because Newman was an excellent scholar, Catholic centers on U.S. college campuses are named after him. Newman tells his own story in his acclaimed spiritual autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua . He is known for writing the poem “The Dream of Gerontius” and the popular hymn “Lead, Kindly Light.”

His theology of friendship and his emphasis on conscience are both significant for LGBT people and allies. Although the Catholic church tends to frown on special friendships among priests, nuns or monks, Newman taught, “The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men.” He preached, “The best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to cultivate our intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us.”

Terence Weldon at Queering the Church explains how Newman’s teaching on conscience laid the groundwork for LGBT Christians today. “As a theologian, Cardinal Newman played an important role in developing the modern formulation of the primacy of conscience, which is of fundamental importance to LGBT Catholics who reject in good conscience the standard teaching on sexuality – or the high proportion of heterosexual couples who reject ‘Humanae Vitae,’” Weldon writes.

This post is illustrated with icons of Newman by Robert Lentz and William McNichols. Both artists faced controversy for their alternative and LGBT-affirming images.

Newman is honored by Catholics on Oct. 9, the anniversary of his 1845 conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism. Naturally Anglicans chose a different date for Newman’s feast day -- the anniversary of his death on Aug. 11.

With beatification, Blessed Newman is now only one step away from official sainthood. He is already a saint in the hearts of many, including the LGBT people who are inspired by his life and love.

His name is invoked in an official Catholic prayer:

O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman
the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church;
graciously grant that, through his intercession and example,
we may be led out of shadows and images
into the fulness of your truth.

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Author’s note: I decided to write this comprehensive piece about the love between Newman and St. John when I discovered that it had not been done yet on the Internet from a LGBT-positive viewpoint. I was one of many bloggers on both sides who wrote about whether Newman was gay at the time of his beatification, citing a few facts. I thought I would just do a quick update to focus on his achievements and his relationship with St. John.

But as I got into the research, I was surprised both by how compelling their love story is, and how hard it was to find an overview of their relationship on the Internet. Details of their deep love for each other are available on the Web, but mostly on websites that aim to prove they were not homosexual. It’s odd how they end up supporting the very point that they are trying to discredit. So I put it all together from a queer point of view.

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Related links:
Was Cardinal John Henry Newman Gay? (NPR)

Was a would-be saint gay? (Time.com)

Cardinal John Henry Newman and Father Ambrose St John (Idle Speculations Blog) (with extensive quotes from Newman’s writing about St. John)

Reflections on the Life and Legacy of John Henry Newman (Wild Reed)

Author interview: "Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman" by Dominic Janes (Jesus in Love)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Beato John Henry Newman y Ambrose St. John: Un santo gay y su "luz terrenal" comparten una amistad romántica

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Top photo credit:
A rare photo of John Henry Newman and Ambrose Saint John together

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This post is part of the GLBT 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.

Icons of John Henry Newman and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com