Thought for the Week – God’s time as queer time

Audrey writes about the queer, expansive possibilities engendered by God’s time.

Background Shape
Church Window Mask

I attended my first Tuesday Eucharist at St. James’ a few months ago. Despite being in the evening, it was in the middle of a busy day. I snuck out of the office, anxious that I’d be stopped and have to explain where I was going. After counting the minutes on a short, crowded journey on the Central line, I power-walked in the glaring sun and arrived at church sweating and slightly manic.

I proceeded to spend the first ten minutes of the service plotting out the evening’s to-do list, using the Taizé chants as an opportunity to zone out and think ahead. I can’t remember exactly what drew me back to the present, but I do recall the reading from Thomas Merton’s diary, in which he described 1948’s Good Friday as “bright with a pure sky”. “The willow [was] full of green. Things [were] all in bud.” It occurred to me that the day of the service was the same. That the glaring sun I’d only acknowledged as inconvenience had brought with it a beautiful day, and that the walk to church had been my first opportunity to experience it.

I felt my shoulders drop, I returned to the breath, and the chants became a grounding force rather than an opportunity to wander about in the future.

It’s not a new revelation that time carved out for prayer and worship has a slowing, disruptive effect in our lives. But thinking about this service after a month of celebrating Pride, I also recognise that time as distinctly queer.

Queer time has been given many definitions. It’s a means of eschewing a specifically heteronormative “temporal and spatial organization of the world”.[1] That timeline that not only dictates what stages of life a person must pass through and when, but is constitutive of humanity itself. As Jack Halberstam wrote, “in almost all our modes of understanding, from the professions of psychoanalysis and medicine, to socioeconomic and demographic studies on which every sort of state policy is based, to our understandings of the affective and aesthetic”,[2] normative conceptions of time outline the shape of a life worth living.

Queer time disrupts this where it entails a failure to conform. Failing to get married or have children at the right time or at all. Living out adolescence well into adulthood in order to make up for a childhood spent in the closet. Wholeheartedly embracing the present when the future is so uncertain, premature death the norm rather than the exception. It is anti-capitalist and inevitably so, given not only how precarious our access to the labour market has been and globally continues to be, but also given the commitment of many queer people and our allies to a future in which no one is thrown away – be it in the name of “family values” or in pursuit of profit above all else. Queer time is shamelessly obstructive. It takes up space that should be occupied by the “right” goals – the “correct” aspirations – and refuses to apologise.

So how might God’s time be queer time? It can cut awkwardly across our day, breaking up our schedule in such a way that we are forced to come to terms with what it is that is structuring our lives and decide whether we’d like it to keep doing so. Taking the time for Sanctuary got me to think about how to live in a way that makes more space for beautiful weather and contemplative prayer.

During Lucy’s sermon last week, I thought about just how much time the Samaritan spent not just bandaging the wounds of the man left on the side of road. Not just pouring on oil and wine. But taking him to an inn and then returning the next day to ensure the innkeeper continued to care for him. I think about how we’re called by God to care for others and how that time and care can be called queer when it exceeds what is needed to reproduce us as workers or recreate the nuclear family. When caring makes us late for work or requires us to think outside the limited boundaries of medical institutions or the state, which often fail those most marginalised and in need of care.

God’s time feels queer to me because it’s disruptive. We as Christians interrupt normative time whenever we accept others and ourselves exactly as we are. We do this always in opposition to coercive images of who one should be at this or that point in their life.

More than this, God’s queer time releases us of any oppressive standard that makes love conditional. It renders all lives worth living regardless of the direction in which they’re moving. It demands that we tear down structures that would deny anyone their God-given humanity on the basis of their inability or unwillingness to conform.

God’s time is queer because it embraces us all.


[1] Jose Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity

[2] Jack Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place