Thought for the Week – Queer – mystic – resistance

Hear from Deborah Colvin, Church Warden, as she opens the queer umbrella more widely and invites us to interrogate binaries and norms.

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Queer is rightly a much-contested word, it won’t be pinned down. For me there is an onomatopoeic quality – I imagine twisting and stretching, always looking askance and askew, and with great strength in a rooted, growing kind of way. Those who resist heterosexual, cis-gender norms are often queer champions through their very being and identity. This week I would like to open the queer umbrella even more widely and invite interrogation of all sorts of binaries and norms. For example, queer ecologies are a massive thing – and of course there would never be just one of them. And you can Ecosia1 queer fundraising and get actual hits – yes, I have done this, and it was very interesting! In short, everything is queerable. What outside-the-box queer internet search would you do? Answers on a postcard…

Queering is often achieved through subverting norms and binaries in unexpected ways, and by seeking for otherness (a queer inverting of ‘othering’ in itself!). Deconstruction is the name of the game. For me, this means that queering points through layers and layers of identity towards an ever more expansive place. And this is surely the territory of mysticism, which goes beyond-identity, shouting ‘not this! not this!’ to every corner and manifestation of world, because by identifying with one thing, something else is excluded. Ultimately, on this track, we get to Meister Eckhart’s well-known words, ‘I ask God to rid me of God’ – because the known God is too small, there is always more (and paradoxically less). And so, to celebrate this Pride Month, in addition to the mighty, life-long work of affirming each person’s full, individual self, I propose that we add M for Mystic to the alphabet soup: LGBTTTQQIAAM+, signifying the deep dive through identity into beyond-identity. I am not at all being facetious or disrespectful – by virtue of belonging in the soup, I feel empowered to issue invitations to join.

Where might this take this? The luminous teacher Dorothee Soelle2 is an excellent guide here – her work has made several appearances at SJP recently. She reminds us of Rumi’s excoriating question:

‘Why, when the world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?’

and then helps us to understand that the mystical path to waking up and bursting open the prison doors involves two things, often held in tension: First, there is the unmediated experience and sense of oneness reported by so many mystics. This is the contemplative, self-emptying, negative way of consciousness. But equally we hear that the mystic life is deeply contextualised, lived fully and outwardly where it is planted. Reports come back to us again and again that those who live like this very often ‘…live their mysticism in repudiation of the values that rule their worlds’2. These are counter-cultural lives. Resistance – queering – seems to be almost an inevitable outcome of mysticism because things in the world are not right. Resistance to complicity is often a sign of an engaged mystic: Simone Weil refused sugar in solidarity with soldiers on the Western front (aged 6!); the Quaker John Woolman refused sugar because it was produced by slaves; refusing sugar today – which starts with becoming aware of its almost ubiquitous presence in our food – can say ‘I refuse to collude with habitat destruction, negative impacts on human health, and a dysfunctional global food system’. Becoming mystic can give us the firmest of foundations for pursuing justice.

While mysticism is in no way exclusive to Christianity, we certainly do have some outstanding resources for building a collective mystical life together. Sometimes we’re asked what distinguishes a church working for justice from ‘an NGO with a pointy roof’. The mystical traditions of the church and role models like Dorothee Soelle point us to profound answers. And I’m certain that all those for whom Pride of St James’s is a refuge or source of empowerment have much to offer us as a church. As we are each met with love, respect, acceptance, what will we reflect back outwards to the world in the service of un-norming the unjust? Where shall we go next with our queering, in these days when the whole world is literally and rapidly changing out of all recognition? I’m thinking of Mariama’s Pentecost sermon reminding us that the world is waiting for us to inhabit the call to Christianhood (quite different from being a Christian!) and inviting us to pick a cause. I want to add: bring us your cause for contemplation, for collective conversation drawing on the mystical resources of our traditions, and we will actively bear witness with you.

*Other search engines are available, but this one plants trees with every click – give it a go!

** ‘The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance’ Dorothee Soelle

Deborah Colvin, June 2022