This blog reflection is part of an ongoing series, Pride with Mercy, that began during Pride Month 2019. These reflections grew out of the Sisters of Mercy’s Chapter 2017 Declaration challenging each of us to respond to those who suffer from oppressive systems and to “become better educated and to participate in engaged dialogue on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.” We encourage you to forward these posts to someone who might need to read them. Together, may we grow in our tolerance, acceptance and understanding, and extend a hand of welcome to the LGBTQ+ community.
I’d like to share with you some thoughts on the spirituality of gay and lesbian persons, based on my own experience and reading on this topic. I suspect that what I say would apply also to persons who identify as bisexual or transgender.
A healthy spirituality begins with two questions that must be resolved. First, as a lesbian or gay person, am I good and loved by God? This question involves the resolution of a crisis of trust and the person’s most basic relationship with God. Can I trust the words of Scripture?
“Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence; for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it!” (Wis. 11:24)
“You are my beloved child; my favor rests on you.” (Mark 1:11)
Second, can I transform the “curse” of being lesbian or gay into a blessing for myself and for others? Or, put another way, can I find any value in my experience of marginalization or exile from family, community, church or society?
For me, and for many gay and lesbian persons, the answers to these questions come gradually through experience, trial and error, prayer, reflection and sharing with others. Our struggle with these questions can lead us clearly in Jesus’ footsteps as a person who hung around with the wrong kinds of people, who was a friend of outcasts and sinners, and who himself gradually became an outcast, feared and suspected by those in power. It also situates us at the heart of the Paschal mystery. We are led on that mysterious journey through the fear and suffering of being misunderstood or exiled, to a resurrection of acceptance and integration of who we are that can blossom into joyful peace and sometimes surprising new life.
What are some characteristics of this spirituality? I think it is holistic; it pays attention to our whole self—body and its feelings, as well as mind and spirit. It rejects the idea that our orientation is abnormal, sick, sinful or only a great burden. It sees it instead as a gift, something of value to be celebrated. It invites us to share this gift with others by telling our stories and what we have learned from both our joys and our struggles. In that sharing, we are often challenged to be a prophetic voice in our Church, community or society when LGBTQ+ people are not treated with justice, respect and love. Finally, our spirituality reminds us that God alone is absolute. The lives and stories of gay and lesbian people remind us of the limitations of human language and categories. We cannot claim to have the last word on how we are made, on God or God’s intentions, or on the definitive nature of all God’s creatures. We need to be humble in the face of mystery and always learners.
I’d like to conclude with part of a prayer written by Sister Joan Chittister OSB in 1999:
[God,] Give us all the grace to own our sexual identity,
whatever its orientation, as another manifestation of your goodness.
Give us the vision to recognize and reject the homophobia around us and in our own hearts as well.
May we and the Church of Jesus open our hearts and homes and sanctuaries to the gay and lesbian community, to the glory of God they bring in new voice, with different face.
Let us bless the God of differences.
Nugent, Robert, and Gramick, Jeannine, “Lesbian/Gay Theology and Spirituality,” in Building Bridges: Gay & Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church, 1992, Twenty-Third Publications.
McNeill, Ph.D., John J., “Tapping Deeper Roots: Integrating the Spiritual Dimension into Professional Practice with Lesbian and Gay Clients,” in The Journal of Pastoral Care, Winter 1994, Vol. 48, No. 4