The chapel at Mount Calvary Retreat House overlooking Santa Barbara
When I was finishing my first book, Uncommon Calling, I took my typewriter and my manuscript to Mount Calvary for two weeks. Here I worked on the final chapter, recounting the painful defeat of efforts to obtain ordination of gays and lesbians in my denomination and describing the meaning of that defeat for me.
As I wrote, I found deeply buried grief and pain and anger resurrected within me. Also, the knowledge that I had yet to find a publisher for my book haunted me. I wondered if anyone even wanted to hear my story. I took my many feelings into my prayer life during my working retreat, praying for understanding, for resolution, and for healing from these overpowering and painful feelings.
I began to look more intently at the crucifixes on the walls in Mount Calvary, especially the one carved of wood in the chapel. Monasticism has deeply influenced my spiritual life, but I had formerly maintained a Reformed dislike for the contemplation of Christ’s suffering on the cross. Those who contemplate it are likely to duplicate it, it had seemed to me. And I offered hearty Protestant applause to those who avoided crosses and lived “Easter lives,” or, better yet, to those who took action that removed the crosses of others so that they might live out the resurrection.
Reviewing and editing my manuscript, my book seemed to me to be filled with crosses for myself and others. I had enjoyed my life, my ministry, and even the church. Why did the cross overshadow my joy? Perhaps I had avoided contemplating crucifixes because I had witnessed too many crucifixions of lesbian and gay Christians in the church.
During one morning’s Eucharist, as Christ’s body was broken and Christ’s blood was spilled again, I looked toward the figure of Jesus on the cross above the sacrament. What I witnessed at that moment may prove offensive to some: instead of simply seeing a limp and lifeless body, I saw One who was relaxed. The goodness of the crucifixion dawned on me. Jesus surrendered his will to God’s. He trusted God.
I thought of my own spiritual need to relax, trust God, to be loving rather than controlling. If God can make sense out of Jesus’ suffering and render him the victor, then gay Christians may take hope that our suffering is not in vain. We can fulfill our prophetic ministry, no matter what others may do to us. Our crucifixion is their last resort, not God’s.
Every closet and every church needs a crucifix. It’s time for lesbian and gay Christians to contemplate Christ’s suffering, for it reminds us that God suffers with us. It’s time for Protestants to get those bodies back on our pretty, empty crosses, for it will link us to the suffering of those who are being crucified today. It’s time for all Christians to take seriously that the church as the Body of Christ must continually risk the brokenness of that body to do what is right.
I believe that Jesus on the cross calls lesbian and gay Christians to risk the brokenness of our bodies, in order to fulfill a prophetic ministry with the church. I believe that Jesus on the cross calls the church to risk the brokenness of its body to fulfill its pastoral ministry with gays and lesbians. Our Christian faith assures us that, no matter how difficult it will be, fulfilling these calls leads to resurrection.
This and last week’s posts are excerpts from the chapter “Risking the Brokenness of the Body” from my 1990 book Come Home! Reclaiming Spirituality and Community as Gay Men and Lesbians, published by Harper & Row, with added chapters in its 1998 Second Edition, published by Chi Rho Press. These excerpts fit well the themes of the present season of Lent. Today, of course, I would add transgender, intersex, and bisexual people.
West Hollywood Presbyterian Church on retreat at Mount Calvary Retreat House
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