Rumi: Poet and Sufi mystic inspired by same-sex love

Rumi and Shams together in a detail from “Dervish Whirl” by Shahriar Shahriari (RumiOnFire.com)

Rumi is a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic whose love for another man inspired some of the world’s best poems and led to the creation of a new religious order, the whirling dervishes. His birthday is today (Sept. 30).

With sensuous beauty and deep spiritual insight, Rumi writes about the sacred presence in ordinary experiences. His poetry is widely admired around the world and he is one of the most popular poets in America. One of his often-quoted poems begins:

If anyone asks you

how the perfect satisfaction

of all our sexual wanting

will look, lift your face

and say,

Like this.*

The homoeroticism of Rumi is hidden in plain sight. It is well known that his poems were inspired by his love for another man, but the queer implications are seldom discussed. There is no proof that Rumi and his beloved Shams of Tabriz had a sexual relationship, but the intensity of their same-sex love is undeniable.

Rumi was born Sept. 30, 1207 in Afghanistan, which was then part of the Persian Empire. His father, a Muslim scholar and mystic, moved the family to Roman Anatolia (present-day Turkey) to escape Mongol invaders when Rumi was a child. Rumi lived most of his life in this region and used it as the basis of his chosen name, which means “Roman.” His full name is Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi.

-continue reading at Jesus in Love Blog

 

God’s Rainbow Realm (Matthew 13:44-46)

The kindom of heaven is like a buried treasure found in a field. The ones who discovered it hid it again, and rejoicing at the discovery, went and sold all their possessions and bought that field.

Or again the kindom of heaven is like a merchant’s search for fine pearls. When one pearl of great value was found, the merchant went back and sold everything else and bought it.

Mathew 13: 44-46

Untitled Self Portrait with C.B.M. by Kim Leutwyler @ http://www.celesteprize.com/artwork/ido:56554/

Let’s play “word substitute.” Instead of “kindom of heaven,” let’s read “sexual orientation” and “sexual identity.” The parables then would read sexual orientation is like an unknown treasure that once discovered brings great rejoicing. And sexual identity once discerned is as rich and glorious as a pearl of the greatest value.

If you are playing this game with straight friends they will not get how freeing and affirming these parables are. For them, sexual orientation and sexual identity have never been hidden or sought after. It’s hardly a treasure but more of a given constant. For queers, however, the discernment of deep identity markers which set us apart from the (hetero) norm can be either an experience of anxiety or liberation – often a mixture of both. Even more reasons for us to identify with the thrill of these parables. Leutwyler’s self portrait captures the sense of  “neediness” which lends urgency to the searching and boundless joy in the finding

-continue reading at  The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture.

Leonardo Boff: How the absolute monarchical power of the popes took shape

We wrote earlier in these pages that the crisis of the hierarchical institutional Church lies in the absolute concentration of power in the person of the pope, power that is exerted in an absolutist way, distant from any participation of Christians and creating almost insurmountable obstacles to ecumenical dialogue with other denominations.

It wasn’t like that in the beginning. The Church was a fraternal community. The figure of the pope didn’t exist yet. The Church was ruled by the emperor since he was the Supreme Pontiff (Pontifex Maximus), not the bishop of Rome or Constantinople, the two capitals of the Empire. So Emperor Constantine convened the first ecumenical council of Nicea (325) to decide the question of Christ’s divinity. Still in the 6th century, Emperor Justinian, who reunited the two parts of the Empire, the West and the East, claimed for himself the primacy of law and not that of bishop of Rome. However, by virtue of the tombs of Peter and Paul being in Rome, the Roman Church enjoyed special prestige, as did its bishop who, before the others, had the “presidency in love” and “carried out the service of Peter” — that of “strengthening the faith”, not the supremacy of Peter in commanding.

-full commentary at Iglesia Descalza (translated by Rebel Girl)

Andrew Sullivan on Henri Nouwen and the “Blessing” of Homosexuality

Andrew Sullivan’s new book, Virtually Normal: An Argument about homosexuality, is on of the most intelligent and convincing pleas for complete social acceptability I have ever read.

Andrew Sullivan is a Catholic. He is just as open about being a Catholic as he is about being a homosexual. From his writing it becomes clear that he is not only a Catholic but also a deeply committed Catholic who takes his church’s teaching quite seriously. That makes his discussion of the church’s attitude toward homosexuality very compelling.

My own thoughts and emotions around this subject are very conflicted. Years of Catholic education and seminary training have caused me to internalize the Catholic Church’s position. Still, my emotional development and my friendships with many homosexual people, as well as the recent literature on the subject, have raised many questions for me. There is a huge gap between my internalized homophobia and my increasing conviction that homosexuality is not a curse but a blessing for our society. Andrew Sullivan is starting to help me to bridge this gap.

– Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, p27

(emphasis added)

 

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest and celebrated writer on spirituality, who struggled throughout his life with the conflict between his priestly vow of celibacy, and his human desire for a “particular friendship”, and his deep attraction to one particular member of his spiritual community, which he described in his book,  “The Inner Voice of Love”. The writer and theologian Chris Glaser has described how Nouwen had wanted to come out in that book, and disclose that the person to whom he was so attracted was a man – but was persuaded that doing so would limit the readership and label him as a “gay” writer, and so he instead kept the gender of this person undisclosed.

His biographer, Michael Ford (“Wounded Prophet”), told me that Nouwen wanted to come out with that book but had been persuaded its message would reach a broader audience if the gender of the friend were not revealed. Nouwen had mentioned to me his concern that his reach would be narrowed if he were defined by this one aspect of his character.

Shortly after his death in 1996, I was shocked to receive an e-mail from someone quoting “the gay theologian” Henri Nouwen — a verification of Henri’s concern.

-Glaser, Huffington Post

Glaser himself had the opposite experience, when early in his career he achieved transitory fame (or notoriety) as an openly gay candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian church, at a time when openly LGBT candidates were barred by church rules from ordination. As a result, he became labelled ever after as a “gay” theologian. (James Alison, another theologian, is careful to describe himself as a Catholic theologian writing “from a gay perspective”, but not as a gay theologian).

There are then, reasons to be careful about labelling Nouwen as a “gay saint”. He has not been formally recognized by the Vatican for canonization, but there is a case that he could be recognized as a saint by popular acclamation, based on the popularity and high regard for his spiritual writing. A more serious concern lies with the epithet “gay”. He was certainly celibate, and so any implication of sexual activity must be firmly rejected. Unlike Chris Glaser and James Alison, he also does not write from any explicitly gay perspective, or even acknowledge his own sexuality. (In the extract from Sabbatical Year quoted above, he refers to his “friends” who are homosexual, but not to his own sexuality).

But if he never acknowledged it publicly, he did so privately, as is now well known, and it does in fact directly influence much of his writing and spiritual insights:

He was indeed The Wounded Healer that he wrote of early in his career: those able to bring healing to others while acknowledging personal wounds. Nouwen’s spiritual breakthrough came when he drew too close to a member of his spiritual community, prompting intense self-scrutiny that led to his published journal, “The Inner Voice of Love,” in which he comes to the realization that people will try to hook you in your wounds, and “dismiss what God, through you, is saying to them.”

-Glaser, Huffington Post

September 21st was the anniversary of Nouwens death – what in Catholic hagiography is described as his “dies natale“, or day of birth into new life. Let us remember him not as in any way a “gay saint”, but as a notable and inspirational writer on spirituality, a candidate for sainthood by popular recognition, who is loved for the healing power of his writing. Who was, nevertheless, clearly of a homoerotic orientation.

“We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another. There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people, between gay people and straight people, between young people and old people, between sick people and healthy people, between prisoners and free people, between Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, Greek Catholics and Latin Catholics. There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the street once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might become neighbours.”

– Henri Nouwen

(quoted at   Prodigal Kiwi)

Video:

Sue Mosteller talks about Henri Nouwen on Salt and Light’s Witness Program

(With grateful thanks to Kittredge Cherry, who alerted me to his anniversary, and to the useful link to Chris Glaser’s reflection. Kittredge has her own post on Henri Nouwen at Jesus in Love blog).

Books:

Ford, Michael: Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen

Nouwen, Henri J. M: 

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Archbishop Nichols reminds Marriage Care to follow Church teaching

The Archbishop of Westminster has warned Marriage Care that it must conform to Catholic teaching after it emerged that the charity is offering marriage preparation services to same-sex couples.

The charity, which receives money from the Catholic Church, states: “Our counselling service is open to and welcomes everybody over the age of 16, married or not, straight or not.” It also offers marriage preparation and “welcome all couples considering a committed relationship such as marriage”.

A spokesman for Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of Marriage Care, said his role was exercised “solely on the basis that the charitable objects… are to provide relationship counselling, marriage preparation and relationship education services to ‘promote and support marriage and family life in accordance with the Church’s vision of marriage as a vocation of life and love’.”

He added: “It is the legal and fiduciary responsibility of the directors of the company to ensure that the charitable objects of Catholic Marriage Care Limited are observed and fulfilled. The provision of services in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church is also a requirement for Catholic Marriage Care Limited to maintain its continued use of the title Catholic within its designation and to retain the patronage of one of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales.”

– CatholicHerald.co.uk.

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Henri Nouwen, Gay Priest and “Wounded Healer”

b. January 24, 1932

d. September 21, 1996

Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection.

A Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books about spirituality. Nouwen’s books, which are still being read today, include The Wounded HealerIn the Name of JesusClowning in RomeLife of the Belovedand The Way of the Heart.. The results of a Christian Century magazine survey conducted in 2003 indicate that Nouwen’s work was a first choice of authors for Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy.One of his most famous works is Inner Voice of Love, his diary from December 1987 to June 1988 during one of his most serious bouts with clinical depression – which was rooted in part, in his early conflicts over sexuality and celibacy.

 

Nouwen is thought to have struggled with his sexuality. “Although his homosexuality was known by those close to him, he never publicly claimed a homosexual identity.” Although he never directly addressed the matter of his sexuality in the writings he published during his lifetime, it is said that he acknowledged the struggle both in his private journals and in discussions with friends, both of which were extensively referenced by Michael Ford in the biography Wounded Prophet, which was published after Nouwen’s death. Ford suggests that Nouwen only became fully comfortable with his sexual orientation in the last few years of his life, and that Nouwen’s depression was caused in part by the conflict between his priestly vows of celibacy and the sense of loneliness and longing for intimacy that he experienced. Ford conjectured, “This took an enormous emotional, spiritual and physical toll on his life and may have contributed to his early death.” There is no evidence that Nouwen ever broke his vow of celibacy

His spirituality was influenced notably by his friendship with Jean Vanier. At the invitation of Vanier, Nouwen visited L’Arche in France, the first of over 130 communities around the world where people with developmental disabilities live with those who care for them. In 1986 Nouwen accepted the position of pastor for a L’Arche community called “Daybreak” in Canada, near Toronto. Nouwen wrote about his relationship with Adam, a core member at L’Arche Daybreak with profound developmental disabilities, in a book titled Adam: God’s Beloved. Father Nouwen was a good friend of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

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The Queer Rights Movement as an Extension of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13:31-33 // Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-21)

Jesus presented another parable to the crowds: “The kindom of heaven is like the mustard seed which a farmer sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows it is the biggest shrub of all – it becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come to perch in its branches.”

Jesus offered them still another parable: “The kindom of heaven is like the yeast a baker took and mixed in with three measures of flour until it was leavened all through.”

Mathew 13: 31-33 (Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-21)

Humble Beginnings by Nickola McCoy-Snell
@ http://fineartamerica.com/featured/humble-beginnings-nickola-mccoy-snell.html

It is almost cliché to note that these two parables are about “humble beginnings.” It is cliché until we take a look at what “humble” refers to: insignificant and rag-tag. That is, out of dismissible events and people grow God’s great Empire.

For example, few observers would have suspected that a hole-in-the-wall tranny-bar would become the match to light the modern Gay Rights Movement in the United States. Yet the name Stonewall is now known the world over. In its wake queer sexuality is seen less and less as a predilection and more and more as a life-affirming path.

McCoy-Snell’s painting reminds us that the greatness of a person or even a movement is often masked by the circumstances of their conception and birth.

-continue reading at  The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture

 

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard’s name is one to be reckoned with. Although today we usually use the term “Renaissance Man” to indicate one with a wide range of learning to his credit, perhaps we should also recognize in a similar way some extraordinary medieval women -such as Hildegard, and others who entered convents and applied themselves with distinction to learning over many fields.
Even in some distinguished company, Hildegard stands out. Her music is highly regarded, as are her literary output and her mystical writings – which of course is what makes her particularly honoured inside the church. To round out her skills, she was also recognized as a notable poet, artist, healer and scientist.  What makes her of particular interest at this site, is that she also had an intense attachment to a fellow nun, Richardis, who may have inspired some of her finest writing.
I have known a little (very little) about Hildegard for some time, and have come across suggestions of her possible lesbianism, but have not had enough knowledge to write about her myself. I was delighted then to find that my colleague Kittredge Cherry has done some digging, and produced a wonderful extended post on this great woman. As one of Kitt’s readers put it in a comment,

 

This is my favorite post of the year!! Imagine trying to get the help of a Pope to prevent a lesbian split up LOL.

What an inspiration, and her music is incredible too. We need to build a lesbian chapel in her honor somewhere, and fill it with paintings!

A truly great woman, indeed.

This are some extracts from Kitt’s post:

St. Hildegard of Bingen was a brilliant medieval German mystic, poet, artist, composer, healer and scientist who wrote with passion about the Virgin Mary. Some say she was a lesbian because of her strong emotional attachment to women, especially her personal assistant Richardis von Stade. Her feast day is today (Sept. 17).
She had visions throughout her life, starting at age 3 when she says that she first saw “the Shade of the Living Light.” She hesitated to tell others about her visions, sharing them only with her teacher Jutta.

When she was 42, Hildegard had a vision in which God instructed her to record her spiritual experiences. Still hesitant, she became physically ill before she was persuaded to begin her first visionary work, the Scivias (Know the Ways of God).

In 1151, Hildegard completed the Scivias and trouble arose between her and her beloved Richardis. An archbishop, the brother of Richardis, arranged for his sister to become abbess of a distant convent. Hildegard urged Richardis to stay, and even asked the Pope to stop the move. But Richardis left anyway, over Hildegard’s objections.
Richardis died suddenly in October 1151, when she was only about 28 years old. On her deathbed, she tearfully expressed her longing for Hildegard and her intention to return.

Hildegard’s grief apparently fueled further artistic creation. Many believe that Richardis was the inspiration for Ordo Virtutum(“Play of Virtues”}, a musical morality play about a soul who is tempted away by the devil and then repents. According toWikipedia, “It is the earliest morality play by more than a century, and the only Medieval musical drama to survive with an attribution for both the text and the music.”

In an era when few women wrote, Hildegard went on to create two more major visionary works, a collection of songs, and several scientific treatises. She was especially interested in women’s health. Her medical writings even include what may be the first description of a female orgasm.

Impressed? Now go across and read Kitt’s full, thoroughly researched post atJesus in Love Blog, in her series on LGBT saints. (Hildegard’s feast day was yesterday, September 17th.)

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Weed – Not Necessarily for Smoking (Matthew 13: 24-30)

Jesus presented another parable to those gathered: “The kindom of heaven is like a farmer who sowed good seed in a field. While everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and then made off. When the crop began to mature and yield grain, the weeds became evident as well.

“The farmer’s workers came and asked, ‘Did you not sow good seed in your field? Where are the weeds coming from?’

“The farmer replied, ‘I see an enemy’s hand in this.’

“They in turn asked, ‘Do you want us to go out and pull them up/”

“‘No,’ replied the farmer, ‘if you pull up the weeds, you might take the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until the harvest, then at harvest time I will order the harvesters first to collect the weeds and bundle them up to burn, then to gather the wheat into my barn.’”

-Mathew 13: 24-30

 

Seek Patience @ http://www.artabandoned.com/index.php/2012/01/patience

Growing up in and among Kentucky farmers – a long and glorious family lineage – I know how important a good harvest is to the stability of the family. What the enemy has done not only “bests” a rival, but demoralizes and subverts the family as well. Twice the “enemy” is mentioned and the parable develops around the action of this adversary. The concern is the outcome of the enemy’s action and how to neutralize the opponent’s influence.

This parable about the Empire of God appears in the midst of a section of Matthew’s gospel dealing with the nascent rejection of Jesus and his message. It is an early warning that not all will turn out satisfactory in the Jesus story.

I think there is a lesson here for the LGBTQIA community. We certainly know about enemies – those detractors who for one reason or another still point to us as “unnatural.” We are familiar with the weeds they seek to plant among us – hateful and hurtful attitudes which serve only to destabilize our innate orientation. We have set about pulling these weeds with great energy and hope. Yet the weeds spring back.

-continue reading at  The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture.