By Sister Betsy Linehan
Our 2023 Chapter Commitment, “Exploring Mercy Anew,” includes the charge to “work to ensure our lives and our ministries reflect inclusive love and abundant justice for LGBTQ+ people.” I suggest we explore what this might mean by reflecting on a famous poem, by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Read this poem carefully. It is not about the God-given unchangeable nature of trout, the wings of finches, landscapes. Instead it praises God for giving life to particular, unique, unrepeatable moments – and existing created beings.
In another poem, Duns Scotus’s Oxford, Hopkins praises medieval theologian John Duns Scotus, “who of all men most swamp my spirits to peace … of reality the rarest- veinèd unraveler.”
We have been exposed in recent years to ecclesiastical rhetoric based on understandings of human nature derived from Aquinas and Aristotle, including the conviction that one’s sex at birth and gender identity based on that are God-mandated and unchangeable. From this it seems to follow that the sense some have that the assigned sex and gender identity are not who they truly are, is a delusion. To claim otherwise is to express “gender ideology.” The gentle version of this claim is that these people suffer from “gender dysphoria” and need treatment. (I leave the more cruel version to the reader’s imagination.)
But what if there is another framework, also rooted in the Christian theological tradition? Daniel Horan, OFM, argues as much in his 2019 book Emerging Personhood: Contemporary Theological Anthropology. Horan shines a bright light on the perspective of Duns Scotus: God created individual beings, no two alike: that meadowlark, Happy the elephant in the Bronx Zoo, this Japanese maple tree, blazing with fall colors, my brother Tom. Categories, such as birds, mammals, plants, men, women, are established based on observed similarities that seem important or at least useful. But these classifications are not ultimate reality, and they change and evolve in time.
God fundamentally created, treasures and loves, each unique individual. Be they “fickle, freckled, [gender fluid, queer], who knows how,” each in their own special place, they reveal the Creator God to us all. As they are, we love them, serve with them in our ministries, and struggle with them for abundant justice.