Categories
advent Holy Days Liturgy Reflections for worship services

God’s vastness, fearsome and comforting

When I sit with God in quiet moments, I feel
so small. Sometimes, this is a beautiful thing:
I become a little child in the lap of their mother,
I become a baby chick under the soft, warm wings of their mother hen;
I feel safe, and comforted, and loved.

But other times God’s vastness in the face of my own littleness
becomes overwhelming: then I am an ant
under God’s magnifying glass, I am one atom in the face
of the ever-expanding universe that is God

and I become discouraged. Surely no gift I could bring to the table
is big enough for this God to even notice, is big enough to make any impact
on God’s vision for the health and wholeness of this world!…

so why bother? Why even try? Who am I
to talk to God or about God,
to lead church events, to participate in worship services,
to go to a rally for immigrant rights? What change can I or any of us make?

…Then I remember
that God became little Themself,
as little
as any of us ever was.

The impossible hugeness of God
folded itself down into a microscopic embryo,
was nourished by an umbilical cord, was born as a fragile infant,
dependent
on the love and protection of impoverished human parents.

In this season of Advent looking forward to Christmas, let us pray together
to the almighty God who became small, vulnerable, one of us:

Jesus of the manger,

When we grow discouraged at our own littleness
in the face of the work that needs to be done,
in the face of God’s greatness,
Remind us that you know our smallness, and delight in it! —
that each and every one of us does have gifts to offer to you
and to our fellow living beings, gifts that matter,
gifts that make a difference.

Remind us of your parents,
a poor young couple shut out from the inn,
who made use of what they had to care for you,
for God in their midst.

Remind us of how you adored
the little ones among us:
the children who were meant to be seen and not heard
but to whom you said, “Come to me!”

And in the remembering of your love for the littlest ones,
the poorest ones, the scorned ones,
may we be inspired to use our gifts
for the betterment of your world, to do
small things with great love, to keep hope burning bright
for the coming of your Kin(g)dom, where the small are lifted up.

Amen.


If you want to make this a call to the passing of the peace,
you can add:

Friends, now that we have recognized that our littleness
is not something to be lamented
but embraced, we can share the peace of the One who became small to live and love among us.
The peace of the infant Jesus be with you.

And also with you.


About this piece:
I wrote this for a Advent worship service some years ago; it was our pageant day, when the children enact the nativity and we sing songs of how the divine Word became human flesh, how the great became small so that the small might become great, how each of us has a gift to offer God.

I was also channeling something I’d learned from classmates in a seminary class where we’d been discussing Psalm 139, that Psalm where the speaker wonders at how there is no place they can go that God is not there, knowing their every move:

To me, this has always been a very comforting and indeed awe-some thing to marvel at! But for one classmate, it was a thing of terror – she said it made her feel trapped in past times when she’d been desperate to escape the image of God that had been forced on her, a God who is judgmental and cruel, ready to pounce on her and damn her for any little slip-up.

She reminded me that God’s bigness can be a terrifying thing, even while it is a comfort when we meet God as a child meets a loving parent. I wanted to hold up her fears as legitimate in this piece, while hopefully softening and soothing them.

Categories
advent Catholic vibes Reflections for worship services

Advent: a time to embrace the Divine in us

“Dust, remember, thou art Splendor!”
– Sister Macrina Wiederkehr in A Tree Full of Angels

If Lent is a time to admit to our Dust –
the death that awaits us, the sin that permeates our cells,
our littleness and our frailness and our need –

perhaps Advent can be a time to embrace our Splendor:
our intimate connection to Divinity
who gave birth to us,
who calls us Good and calls us to be better,
who is the breath within our lungs and the warmth in dancing bodies.

Divinity embraces mortality;
God entered our world and fused the physical with the Divine
so inextricably that we can declare
that every cell of us pulses with Splendor, despite the infection of sin.

Now is the time to be a womb for Splendor,
nourishing it within ourselves.

Now is the time to prepare for the labor:
the teenage girl birthing God into the world.
God birthing a new world around us,
inviting us to serve as Her midwives.


About this piece: I first wrote this in Advent 2019 for Instagram.

If you’re interested in more on Sister Macrina’s concept of “splendor,” here’s the longer passage from which the pull quote was taken:

This brings me to the heart of this book, which is trusting the God who speaks to us in our experiences at every moment. No one ever gave me permission to trust my own experiences as prayerful and holy. It was something I stumbled upon, like a treasure hidden in a field. …In recent years, I seem to hear God say, ‘Put your books away. Be with me. Trust your experience. There are no experts in prayer, only people who have been faithful to the ache.’

…Why shouldn’t our experiences be filled with God? Who do we think it is who is breathing in us? Where do we think this ache has come from? And has it ever crossed our minds that God, too, has a deep yearning for us? …You are the dwelling place for the Source of All Life. You are an offspring of the One who said, ‘I Am who Am.’ If the One who gave you birth lives within you, surely you can find some resources there in your sacred Center. An expert lives within you. An expert breathes out you. Your life is entwined with the God who gave you birth. Frail dust, remember, you are splendor!”

Categories
advent Catholic vibes Reflections for worship services

Reflection: Advent is the Time of Mary

Advent is the Time of Mary:
The time for us to take notice
of one whom this world deliberately ignores –
a woman of color, a poor woman, a teen mom, a refugee.

Was Mary meek and mild?
Not if those words are about
unquestioning submission, fearful passivity.

Only if those words are about inner power,
restrained for the sake of the vulnerable –
not the power of violence
but the power of compassion.

Not the trust of one foolish and without questions
but of one thoughtful and bold
and unafraid to ask an angel, “What does this mean?”

Mary the Mighty, Mother of the Meek,
you who guided the first clumsy steps
of the God of the Universe,

You said yes
to social ostracization, yes
to the heavy metamorphosis of pregnancy,

yes to God’s inrushing revolution
in which the lowly are pulled up from their ashes
and tyrants pulled down from their thrones.

And so all generations call you blessed –
you whom the world would see stoned.

All-powerful God,
You who let go of your omnipotence
in favor of interdependence,

it is a wonder to behold
a woman’s body shelter you, feed you,
knit your cells together –
just as You once knit her.

You depend on her, and she will not fail You.
May I be able say the same.



I first shared this reflection on my Instagram during Advent 2019, and included the following text as a caption:

Mary’s yes to God (see Luke 1:26-55), freely and triumphantly given, was no passive yes: she said yes to interdependence with her God. 

God’s request was not to overpower her or control her, but to enter into a relationship of mutual need:

Just as God kept every cell in her body spinning, so she would nurture God’s new physicality within herself – and then, after birth, feed God and keep God safe, teach God to walk and talk and read. 

God desires a relationship of mutual yes, mutual care and need – a relationship of interdependence with each of us. 

How do you say yes to this simultaneous empowerment and vulnerability, yes to living into a fullness of yourself that simultaneously serves others?

Categories
advent Catholic vibes Holy Days My poetry Reflections for worship services

Advent reflection: “Virgin” Mary, Teen Mom

Mary, teen mom,
in those uncertain days

between your jubilant “Yes!” to God seeking shelter in you
and Joseph’s “yes” to marrying you
despite your indiscretion (daring to get knocked up out of wedlock! Did childhood friends desert you? Did your father weep in shame?)

would you have laughed, disbelieving, if informed
that the primary epithet bestowed on you
by those future generations who call you blessed…
is Virgin?

Mary, teen mom, against whom every packed inn turned its back, about whom, maybe, neighbors laughed
and mothers told their daughters, “Don’t be like her
(spitting your name like a nasty thing)…

You relate to the round-bellied girl
eating alone in a cafeteria crowded with harsh stares;

You relate to the girl singled out at church
for wearing a “too-short” skirt,
blamed for the lust of grown men
who ought to pluck out their eyes for looking at her at all!

…yet the words fastened to people like these are much less pretty
than what you are called.

Mary, teenage rebel! –
You who embraced impropriety with a song

you, full of grace but called disgraceful
by men who would have you stoned –

what in heaven’s name
does virginity have to do
with you?

…Unless for you, virginity means
not “no” to sex
but “yes” to choosing for yourself,
defining yourself, controlling your own body, your own life.

Hail, you
who looked the status quo
square in the eye – and laughed!

Hail, you
who saw the Grace in being called disgraceful
by a world not ready to be turned on its head.

Hail, you who defy categorization:
virgin or slut,
child of God or God’s own mother,
obedient servant or the one who knew
Jesus would do all you told him to do
(and thus you brought fine wine
into a world that’s parched for it)…

Teach us this defiance, devout rebel!
Teach us your fervor for God’s revolution,
your thirst for liberation from convention.


This reflection was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this piece: This devotional from Advent 2019 was my first attempt at explaining why I love and look up to the Virgin Mary – whether she never had any sex in her lifetime, or had a little bit of sex, or had sex hundreds of times. Regardless of her sex life, she is holy, powerful, and worthy of honor – and she knows what it is to have your sexuality used against you, whether to vilify you or to put you on a dehumanizing pedestal.

I draw from ancient ideas of virginity as being about whether a woman had a man in control of her (be that her father, guardian, husband, or son) rather than about whether one has had sex. See Pallas Athena, Artemis, and the Vestal Virgins of ancient Greece.

I speak more on Mary’s virginity in this YouTube video.

Categories
Catholic vibes Holy Days My poetry Reflections for worship services

poem for the First Sunday of Advent

As a child packs a snowball
tight and firm and
cold seeping even through their mittens
into palms

so You
once packed the Universe
into a ball scarce larger than
the pomegranates that had yet to burst
into being…

But still a greater miracle awaited!
— a denser packing of Infinity
into small single atoms —
You! You

curled Your endless Being up
into an embryo

oh! You who grew
the cosmos on a particle of Breath

You packed Yourself down into
near nothingness —
and waited.

You waited there
in warm dark roundness till
the time had come for Her to birth you,
wet and bloody, into an uncaring world.

Somehow
the Being who could wear the galaxy
like a bangle
nursed and grew and toddled,
walked among
us tiny beings of the frail bones…

i’ll never, ever
ever fathom it.

Divinity! if i could hold You now
as Mary held you, in my quaking arms
i think i might just know why You sustain

each instant — now, and now, and now again —
all of existence.

Seed upon the palm
tucked lovingly into a rich dark soil

infant on the breast
fed lovingly from one’s own aching flesh

— but not yet. Not yet —
already, yes — and still
not yet.

with Earth i wait for You
with bated breath.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem: I’ve been going through a time of spiritual stagnancy as religious trauma caught up to me…so it was a gift to awaken a little after midnight on this first Sunday of Advent with images of Divinity and Roundness glowing in my heart like embers, reminding me of birth and rebirth and the eternal sustaining breath of God.

The Creation and the Incarnation are intertwined for me – when I think of God birthing the universe, my mind eventually wanders to the human who birthed God, and vice-versa.

And through the way our liturgical year returns us over and over to the story of God’s entering into Hir good, good world; and the story of God’s creative act lasting not an instant but over all ages, I think of Meister Eckhart’s declaration:

“What does God do all day long? God gives birth. From the beginning of eternity, God lies on a maternity bed giving birth to all. God is creating this whole universe full and entire in this present moment.”

Here are notes about some of the images in this poem:

On the image of the pomegranate for the Big Bang event – have you ever sliced into a pomegranate and pulled the halves apart with enough force for those rich ruby seeds within to fling themselves upward, sideways, all about? That bright explosion is to me a fitting image for that first flinging of dust into infant stars, scattered across black space.

“…the Being who could wear the galaxy / like a bangle…” – this line is inspired by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s depiction of the Lord of the Dance, Shiva, with celestial bodies whirling round his dancing ankles. You can read more of it at this link, but here are the most relevant lines:

Rebellious atoms are subdued into forms at thy dance-time,
the suns and planets, anklets of light, twirl round thy moving feet, and,
age after age, things struggle to wake from dark slumber,
through pain of life, into consciousness,
and the ocean of thy bliss breaks out in tumults of suffering and joy.

- Rabindranath Tagore 

Shiva’s dance is the source of all movement in the universe; it also frees humanity from ignorance and illusion. This conception of Divinity as Dancer resonates deeply with me, and links well in my mind to the Big Bang event – a dance begun so long ago continues into the present and for all time, ever sustaining and constantly transforming the cosmos that Divinity so loves.

“…seed upon the palm…” – we return to the image of a seed, but this time it’s the hazelnut of Julian of Norwich’s visions. In her vision, Christ hands Julian a ball no larger than a hazelnut and tells her that all of Creation is contained within that small globe:

“I was amazed that it could last,” Julian says, “for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen to nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: ‘It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.’” 

There is not a speck of matter in this universe that is not loved by God, that is not nurtured and watched over by its Creator, who revels in the stars and celebrates the blood pulsing through your fingertips. It is the creative energy and life-bearing power of this Love that forms and sustains each and every one of us. And it is that Love that moved God to slip off Infinity and step into flesh. Already this impossible event has taken place – and yet…we return to it yearly. Await it yearly. Yearn for it yearly.

The already and not yet of God’s Kin(g)dom is a Mystery that I almost think I begin to grasp when I think on the wonder and waiting to which we return as one, every Advent.

Categories
Autistic pride My poetry

poem: stimming worship

David,

you did not let their mockery or judgment
shame you into freezing up your limbs
when your whole body – overcome with awe
and bursting at the seams with joy in God –
could not bear to keep still…

he danced
before the Ark
with all his might:

worship 
embodied,
God's delight

David, i too know
the sting of loved ones grabbing at your hands
demanding that you quiet them –
the pain of their shame
at the way your body moves –

and i too, i too know
the courage it takes
to move anyway

you despise me but
the slave girls love me – 
for i gladly sink 
in the world's eyes
till i stand 
eye level with their giggling –
propriety be damned!"

i will stim
as this body my God made for me desires:

i will strum my hand in time
to the guitar’s praise-song
i will flap my hands like the trees of the field
when the preacher’s words ignite my heart –

i will hum when things become
too loud and bright for me
if humming is the life preserver that can carry me
back into God’s open arms –

and if they treat me like a child
because of how i move or talk
or because i use stim tools that look like toys to them, well

God gives wisdom to the little ones
to make the wise into fools

so call me child!
i will flap and tap and rock God’s wisdom
into the pews where you stand
so stiff and decorous.

David, you are not alone
before the Ark! i stand with you:
together we throw back our heads
and laugh at their shocked faces

as the Spirit spins around
above beside beneath within
our stomping feet, our dancing hands

Amen, Amen, Amen…

This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

To see Avery read an older version of this poem (and talk more about being autistic in church) watch this YouTube video.


About this poem: Stimming is defined as “a repetitive body movement that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner” (http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Stimming). Autistic people stim in order to have some agency over their bodies’ sensory input and output; doing so helps prevent under- or overstimulation.

I wrote the first draft of this poem when I realized how the embarrassed or jeering reactions to David’s embodied worship in 2 Samuel 6 reminded me of my own loved ones’ reactions to my stimming in public – they too were embarrassed, because didn’t I know what strangers were thinking of me? of them by association?

But autistic bodies are good bodies; our movements are good movements; and worship that employs and celebrates the kinds of bodies that God has given us is good worship.

When I turned this poem in as part of a project in seminary, here’s the explanation I wrote for it:

I wrote the first draft of this poem some time ago. However, after I used the lectio divina exercise to read 2 Samuel 6’s account of David dancing before the Ark, I was inspired to revise and extend the poem. Just as Robert Orsi describes how praying the rosary invites persons to “imagine themselves in Mary’s shoes, to feel her pain with her and to invite her into their own pain” (p. 63 of Between Heaven and Earth), so my reading of 2 Samuel 6 using the method of lectio divina led me to imagine myself in David’s shoes (or rather, his naked feet). I felt what David felt — the ecstasy of his dance as his bare skin shimmered in the sun; the intensity of his love for God; the self-consciousness he put to the side in order to worship God with his body.

I took special notice of a verse I had overlooked in previous readings — it is David’s response to his wife Michal’s disgust over him uncovering himself “before the eyes of his servants’ maids”: he tells her, “I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor” (2 Samuel 6:22). This statement reminds me of liberation theology’s preferential option for the poor:

David does not care what higher-ups think of him, but rather how he can put himself and the “lowest” of his people on the same level.

He will disregard everything else, even his own reputation, in order to reach out to these persons. After all, David may have kingly status now, but he once was an obscure shepherd boy, the youngest of eight; of course he has empathy and love for the lowliest maids!

As I revised my poem, I pondered how my own behaviors impact marginalized members of my society, and how I like David can choose to level the field between myself and them instead of worrying about the judgment of the privileged. In stimming freely and proudly from places of “authority” as a minister, for example, I don’t just liberate myself — I also liberate those who see me who were too weighed down by self-loathing or fear of what others might think to stim before. Seeing that they are not alone in how their body moves, they might gain the courage to stim freely too.

Categories
Catholic vibes My poetry

poem: Mary, Mother of us, your transgender children

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son. …
Then Mary said,
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”

– Luke 1:28-38

This is a story of Mary consenting to enter into a disreputable condition, trusting that despite all appearances she is entering into holiness.

– Out in Scripture

______

you said Yes
to stoning.

you said Yes
to your mother seizing you by the wrists, yelling into your face
demanding to know who did this to you — to your father
weeping as you had never seen him weep, asking what he had done
that you would turn out like this, that you would do this to him.

Mary, teenage girl with the unplumbed brown eyes
Mary, hailed full of grace by a heavenly being
you said Yes to disgrace, to excommunication,
to childhood friends abandoning you, to the isolation
of no “decent person” daring to associate with you.

and as your body transformed in wondrous ways —
God’s feet forming, kicking, making
a rich round hill of your stomach,
God dependent, sustained by naught but a flimsy cord
connecting Them to you,
God! growing, becoming in the darkness of your womb!

— most did not celebrate with you.
your joy grew as your body changed,
and their snide comments, harsh stares
could not pierce your euphoria

— except for sometimes, when they did.
and for those sometimes,
when the rejection was too much, when
you crumpled at your bedside
weeping, shouting to God and whispering to Them
begging to know why your neighbors’ hearts are so hard,
why your father cannot be moved to share your joy,

my heart aches with its fullness of empathy for you
and you for me – empathy sharp as a sword
or maybe a needle: pricking, piercing,
and stitching back into wholeness –

so that when i came to you on my knees that night
sorrowful and scared and begging you to be
my Mother still, begging you not to disown
your queer little not-girl,

you bent down and picked me up, your soft strong arms
shielding me from the world’s stares, your soft calloused hands
loosening the rope around my neck, and you whispered
soft and fierce, am your Mother, I am
Mother to all like you, and I will not let any
who run to me be destroyed.

Queer Mother! – a motherhood thicker than
blood, deeper than the waters of the womb,
a relationship fashioned by a shared Yes
to disgrace, a fervent Yes
to the hard but healing path to holiness –

Mama, my Mama, i run always to you
and you give me the strength to shout with all my might
God! let it be done to me according to your word!
transform me.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem: This is one of my favorite poems from my collection The Kin(g)dom in the Rubblewhich you can purchase here.

Categories
Holy Days LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: HRT on Good Friday

as the fluid fills the syringe
and i hover the needle over the tender skin
of my thigh

i think of you. and your thorny crown.
and the nails drilled into your feet, into
the bowed space between radius and ulna

   and i drive
   the needle
   in.

would that your skin
were my skin! that i could take
your
 pain into my bones, could somehow make
it mine, or at least share it!
– but you know

better than i could ever hope to know
that some things must be suffered all alone.

your Beloved could hold your hand until the men
shoved him away to lift you into the sky;

your mother could sob, and Magdalene shake her fist
at the pitiless soldier who stabbed your whip-riddled side 

but only you, only you
would die.

only you would scream Eli! Eli
lama sabachthani?


and all alone you would slip
into the cradle-void, the muffled womb
of Death –

to prove its grasp was weaker than your love;
to change the course of humankind for good.

the gasp i make when i push the plunger down
is pain with victory commingling
as i feel the fluid p u s h  
                                       i t s    w a y    i n t o
tissue and muscle –
flow in, and nestle, and

wait for the cells that somehow know
to carry it where it is meant to go.

deep in those cells, a sea-salt wind is blowing:
a sea-change rolls across those helix shores
uncoiling them and weaving them back together
a little different than they were before.

deep in the tomb, your body sprawls unmoving
and lovers keen outside it, unaware
of changes being made at levels deeper
than cells or DNA or the secrets there.

for often it is pain,
   be it bitter, be it sweet,
that brings about sea-change:
   pierced thigh, pierced side, pierced feet.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem: I believe this one mostly speaks for itself – I happened to have my every-other-weekly testosterone (self-)injection scheduled for Good Friday a couple years back, and wrote this poem after. I see so much similarity in the transitions (physical, spiritual, emotional, all) that trans and/or nonbinary people journey along and the kinds of transitions that God-becoming-human and God-dying-and-rising-again underwent. Here is to all my trans people of faith: we are beloved by God and experience special insight into divinity.

Categories
LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: my god they have cornered me

my god they have cornered me
like an animal
and like an animal i want to lash out
i want to sink my teeth into their flesh until they shout and
let. me. go.

but god

when my fist flies forward
to sink into their face
it hits yours instead.

they cornered me, made me a beast
who cannot tell friend from foe
and in my frenzy i struck you
just as you were reaching
for my hand to pull me up

oh, god

sit with me
in this fear, in this fury, in this pain
sit with me until it melts into tears
and i am ready to stand up
to walk out past their leers
their spit their stones

god
help me pull the nails
from my feet and wrists
and i shall use them
to build
a house for all of us
who are trampled into dust

with tender touch we pluck
the nails from each other’s flesh,
the knives from one another’s hearts

and we
will not
hurl them into the ones
who drove them into our skin

no. they will never
be weapons again.

do you see the flowers
blooming around the doorway?
do you hear the laughter
resounding in the halls?

i have repurposed the rope
they tried to hang me with
into a swing that children
take turns swinging on.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. This is a revised version of a poem included in their volume The Kin(g)dom in the Rubble. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem: This piece contemplates how the horrors done to us might be transformed into something life-giving — and in the meantime, God is with us. How do we fight back against our oppressors’ dehumanizing violence? How do we bear good fruit and thrive in a world that would see us quashed?

This poem was inspired by Psalm 73, where the psalmist begs to know why unjust oppressors thrive while the oppressed suffer. So overcome with pain and fear is this psalmist that they risk becoming the animal their oppressors try to dehumanize them into — but God raises them up from that fate. Here are verses 21-23, my translation:

Yes, my heart was warping into a bitter husk,
   my insides were all cut up.
I became brutish, I knew nothing anymore —
   I lashed out, a wild animal, against You.
Yet even so, I am unceasingly with You!
   You hold fast to my right hand!

Categories
Catholic vibes LGBT/queer My poetry

poem to Our Lady of the Wayside: the queer little not-girl revisits their childhood church.

these pews were once my home
but their backs are to me now.

“you changed. too much you changed” they accuse
without speaking to me
and they gawk
without meeting my eyes.

in the windows your robes
and your son’s
are far too gilt
to be yours,

your skin too white,
too smooth. hairless.
callous-less. Mary, where
are the dirt and sweat
of the rugged roads
your blistered feet trudged out?

what are these false eyes
pale as standing water
where brown eyes deep as rich earth
dark as the secret grove
should be?

those glass eyes stare off
into something too distant to be
the Kin(g)dom of
a skin-swaddled God
a beggar’s flaking palms
a cast-off seed.

but
Maria della Strada,

in your corner you see —
you se
e — me!

their backs are to you, too.

Mary, Mother
of the long and potholed road
no one bothers to patch

Mary, Mother
of refugees and castoffs

of crumbling wayside shrines
that only bruised knees discover

let me sit with you as you nurse
God’s hungry, toothless mouth

and i will gather wildflowers
to crown your unwashed hair.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem:

“Maria Della Strada” is the Italian form of Our Lady of the Wayside, and a statue of her can be found in my childhood church. Maria Della Strada is a patron of the Ignatians, and Our Lady of the Wayside is a patron of travelers, but I also imagine her as a patron of those left behind on the wayside by churches tied to power.
She is Mary who knew what it was to be an outcast and to embrace impropriety in order to follow after God’s call for her; she is Mary who protects those shoved to the margins and who inspires us to build our sanctuaries there.

I wrote the following about this poem on my instagram back in September 2019:

I wrote this poem a couple Sundays ago after going to Mass for the first time in a long time. I started out in a pew but felt like everyone was staring at me to the point that I could feel panic beginning to clutch at my lungs, restricting my breath — so i awkwardly went and sat in a back corner with a statue of Mary for the entirety of the service.

Ever since my first inkling I might be queer quite some years ago, Mother Mary has felt like a comforting protector — whenever I talk to her about it, I feel nothing but love and acceptance from her, and her desire for me to embrace how God had made me and use my queerness to honor her Son. I was grateful to have her in my corner (literally, ha) that Sunday when I felt too anxious to be seen.

Even so, when I went to Mass again this past Sunday and managed to, ya know, sit in a pew like a normal person, I realized my feeling of being gawked at and cold-shouldered was probably more my anxious imagination than reality. Trauma at being rejected by some Christian groups has led to my brain, body, and spirit developing a cynical shield — better not to trust anyone so I can’t be hurt again. Better to hide myself and shield myself, to assume the worst from the start, than risk opening myself up to community only to receive hatred instead.

The cynicism that had me thinking “no one’s going to join me in this pew, to dirty themselves by sitting by this queer who dares enter the house of God,” was quickly exposed as false by a family with young children sliding into my pew. “Oh…they’re not scared I’ll be a Bad Influence on their kids? Huh. …And… no one is staring?? Sure people are glancing at me but that’s normal; the hostile glares I could have sworn I saw last week just aren’t there.” I was able to relax, just a little bit, to calm my fight-or-flight adrenaline-rush enough to feel like I was truly worshiping God with my fellows in the pews, instead of worshiping God in spite of them like the week before.

…The thing I need cishet Christians to understand is this:

It is so. hard. to enter a non-affirming church (or honestly even an affirming one) as a queer person — especially as a visibly queer and trans person. There is so much trauma and fear built up in my psyche that I can’t help but assume the worst of everyone there. I’m glad I went back to Mass a second week to continue to work through that anxiety — because while it’s certainly not unfounded, I know that God calls me to a sort of vulnerability and trust and openness that is so difficult to achieve when you’re dealing with trauma and marginalization!!

When you have been wounded before by fellow members of the Body of Christ, by people who claim “all are welcome” but then turn on you when you show them who you really are….how do you heal enough to be vulnerable again? How do you know which ones you can trust and which ones will attack?

LGBT/queer Christians: How do we be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” balancing trust with rationality, vulnerability with self-protection? What do you do to prepare yourself to enter a Christian space?

Cishet Christians: what work can you do to help make LGBTQA folks feel truly safe and welcome in your faith spaces?