Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eros & Christ: Mary’s ecstasy in fiction

[Part of a series on Eros and Christ] Mary’s ecstasy at the moment of Jesus’ conception is explored in creative works by two women of faith, Trudie Barreras and myself. The split between sexuality and spirituality in Christian tradition may be healed by considering our reflections on Mary’s experience. Two previous posts covered Barreras’ painting “Annunciation” and her meditation “Miriam’s Journey.” Here a scene from my novel “Jesus in Love” is presented. In the following excerpt, Jesus talks to his mother about the erotic side of spirituality. When I wrote the novel, the words seemed to come “through” me as I opened my heart to Christ. I wanted the scene to express the holy interplay of sex and spirit. Jesus, the narrator, has worked up the courage to ask his mother about it as the scene begins: _____ “Maybe you could tell me what it was like when God ‘overshadowed’ you and you conceived me. I know it’s personal, but it would help me.” “I never even discussed that with Papa-Joe,” she replied rather primly. The first glimmer of dawn must have highlighted the inner turmoil on my face, because she relented. “Well, Papa-Joe didn’t need to know, but you do. I want you to be ready when the Holy Spirit makes love to you.” A wave of sensual longing passed through me. It was like a hot wind that left my heart racing and my whole body tingling with anticipation. We were crossing into a level of intimacy that was unknown in my culture. “When your Father overshadowed me, it felt good in every way—spiritual, mental, emotional…physical, too,” Mom explained. “You said the Holy Spirit felt ‘sexy.’ Yes. I was a virgin, so I didn’t know how it would feel to make love, but sex is no secret to a farm girl like me, who grew up in a one-room house full of people. I did know that it was possible to form a sacred sexual bond with God because I had learned about such mysteries from the elderly matriarchs.” I looked at the ground, feeling bashful. Normally if I felt unsteady in some way, I reached right out in spirit and braced myself against my Father’s being. But what if God decided to appear to me as the Holy Spirit? I wasn’t ready to have this conversation with Her present. Mom continued. “It didn’t happen suddenly or all at once. Your Father paused at every stage as He made love to me to make sure that I wasn’t just saying yes out of duty or fear. He whispered marvelous promises to me over and over. Most concerned His relationship with me, but some were about you.” She smiled at me with a mother’s pride in her offspring, then resumed her story. “They were the same promises from the scriptures that they recite in the synagogue, but while He was making love to me, they seemed incredibly intimate, as if they were just for me. I was very eager. Jesus, it was so real! I had faith before, but this was nothing like that. This was feeling God caress my heart, my breasts, my private parts....” Mom gazed into the sunrise, letting the bliss on her face tell me the rest of the story. Wind ruffled through the wildflowers growing outside the grotto. Mom looked in my eyes and patted my hand. “You will be bonded with God permanently.” _____ I hope that readers are enlivened and enlightened by this creative celebration of Mary’s ecstasy, a part of the Christian story that is often overlooked. Too much of Christian tradition has been sex-negative, but a fresh look at the Virgin Birth may help bridge the gap between sexuality and spirituality. Coming soon: Our summer series on Eros and Christ will continue with “Sunday Confessions,” a poem by New York poet Maruja.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Eros & Christ: Mary’s ecstasy in drama

[Part of a series on Eros and Christ]

Mary’s ecstasy at the time of Christ’s conception is a recurring theme in the spirituality and work of Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras. Her ecstatic “Annunciation” painting was introduced in the previous post and is the logo for this series on Eros and Christ.

Long after doing the painting, Barreras was inspired to explore the theme of Mary’s ecstasy again. At a Mexican flea market in 2001, she discovered a statuette of Mary breastfeeding the baby Jesus while on donkey-back. The figurine inspired her to write a meditation titled “Miriam’s Journey.”

Designed as a first-person monologue, it runs from Mary’s betrothal as a teenager through her son’s death on the cross. “Miriam’s Journey” is written in free verse form and reads like poetry, although it is intended for production as part of a mini-play. An especially eloquent section describes how Mary felt when Jesus was conceived:

Suddenly, the light became, if possible,
Even more pure and liquid-brilliant.
It almost seemed to coalesce into a pillar of fire
Like the one that led our people out of bondage.
Somehow I found myself kneeling
And it seemed that I could see a form within the flame.

“Gabriel!” my heart acknowledged, “Messenger of God!”

Then I heard within my mind, or from outside,
I really could not say, a message clear and simple:

“Greetings, Miriam, for you are loved by Yahweh.
God needs a willing mother to bear Messiah for the world.
You are that Woman.”

My heart sang “Yes!”
Prayer hardly spoken, answered in a breath!
And yet, I knew that I must pause, and listen closely.

I heard myself responding, “How is this to be?
For though I am betrothed, I have not yet come together
With my husband.”

Even as this thought was framed, the answer echoed
Clearly in my soul: “Messiah is God’s son,
And needs no earthly father. As you accept this Gift,
God’s Spirit overshadows you!”

The next moment, it seemed,
I was completely consumed by that ecstatic light,
And yet I was not harmed!
Often before I had felt dim stirrings of the ecstasy
Of God’s Indwelling Spirit.
Now, suddenly, the Spirit was all of me,
And I was all of it!
Please forgive me if, even now, I have no words
To truly tell you how it was!

If in that single eternal moment time ceased to exist,
Immediately after, I reentered the stream of days.
And days grew into weeks, and weeks to months.
I soon discovered that my pregnancy was just like any other.

In addition to “Miriam’s Journey,” Barreras has written a variety of other dramatic monologues with Biblical figures telling their stories. Her interpretations of the Samaritan woman at the well and Peter’s mother-in-law have been produced at various church gatherings, where Barreras reports that they “have tremendous meaning for many people, both male and female.”

Like Barreras, I wanted to make a real connection with the Christian story through my writing. The result was my 2006 novel “Jesus in Love.” The first chapter includes a scene about Mary’s ecstasy. It will be posted here next week as the series on Eros and Christ continues.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Eros & Christ: Mary’s ecstasy in art

Annunciation by Trudie Barreras, 1970
Oil on canvas, 11” x 14”
(Collection of Rev. Emily Bel, Columbus, GA)

[First in a summer series on Eros and Christ]

Artistic and literary visions of Mary’s ecstasy at the moment of Jesus’ conception offer a new way to heal the split between sexuality and spirituality in Christian tradition.

Mary’s physical/mystical experience of God within her own sexual organs is the subject of artistic creations by two women of faith. Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras addressed it in art and a dramatic monologue, and I wrote about it in my novel “Jesus in Love.”

Working separately without knowing each other at the time, each of us dared to envision a new, sex-positive take on the Annunciation, one of the most common subjects in Christianity. The Annunciation has been painted by most of history’s great artists, including Leonardo Da Vinci. But the traditional version stops with the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she will give birth to the son of God.

When Mary asks how this is possible since she is a virgin, the angel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35).

But what happened next? Did Mary go into erotic ecstasy when Jesus was conceived?
How did it feel to be touched by the Holy Spirit?

In her “Annunciation,” Barreras goes well beyond the standard announcement scene to paint a vibrant swirl of spiritual and erotic energy. She reveals the thrilling moment when Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit to conceive Jesus Christ. Mary reaches ecstasy as the Holy Spirit embraces her in a heart of flames that merges with Mary’s own golden halo.

“Only a few people got my point that being ‘overshadowed by the Holy Spirit’ had to be the best orgasm going,” Barreras explains.

Barreras painted her “Annunciation” in 1970 after getting involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which emphasizes the Holy Spirit.

“It was painted before my husband came out to me as a gay man, since that occurred in 1973. Hence it was painted before I'd become anything other than a conscientiously Catholic woman,” Barreras says.

“However, since I was not a ‘cradle Catholic’ but rather a convert, I'd been having a great deal of difficulty ‘relating’ to the traditional devotion to (and perspective on) ‘the BVM.’* I was trying, even then, to relate to the mother of Jesus in a way that felt ‘real’ to me.”

Barreras, now a member of Metropolitan Community Church, went on to write a poetic meditation celebrating Mary’s ecstasy. It will be posted here next week as the Eros and Christ series continues.

Related post:
Mary’s ecstasy in drama
*BVM stands for the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Eros and Christ series starts soon

A summer series on Eros and Christ starts this week at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series will explore the interplay of sexuality and spirituality through art, poetry, literature and book reviews. It features the work of gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer, New York poet Maruja, Atlanta artist/writer Trudie Barreras and Los Angeles author Kittredge Cherry. Visit the Jesus in Love Blog from July through September for the Eros and Christ series.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

British comic jests about gay Jesus

A comedian created “Was Jesus Gay?” as a comedy video, but most of it makes good sense to me as a lesbian Christian. The popular video was made by Pat Condell, an English comedian and outspoken atheist. His online video monologues of what he calls “godless comedy” have gotten more than 15 million hits. “Was Jesus Gay?” has nearly half a million views. I started watching Condell’s gay Jesus video without knowing that it was intended as comedy. I thought he was a serious church leader, and kept wondering, “Why haven’t I heard of this theologian before?!” The video begins with some well-deserved barbs against the Church for mistreating gays. Then Condell states, “I’ve heard it suggested from some people that Christians are so irrationally obsessed with this subject because deep down they’re terrified that Jesus himself might have been gay.” He talks about how Jesus spent the night with a naked youth in the Secret Gospel of Mark. He speculates about what John meant when he called himself “the one who Jesus especially loved.” He also discusses Jesus’ heterosexual marriage in some of the other Gnostic gospels. All these theories about Jesus’ relationships are common topics of serious study by queer scholars. My favorite part of the video is when Condell asks, “If somebody could prove historically beyond all doubt that Jesus was in fact homosexual, would Christians then reject Jesus or would they reject the evidence -- as usual?” Good question.