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Catholic vibes Holy Days lent My poetry Reflections for worship services

Lent births herself this year – Pandemic 2021

Lent births herself this year, no midwife braving
the cold to come to her and coax her out
with strong sure hands
into a thankless world.

Lent crackles like a sheet of ice this year
creaking underfoot her timeless chant
memento mori
remember the sudden plunge the icy fist that grasps the lungs
to beings sick to death of that same song
and bodies wrung bare
from holding themselves at arm’s length for so long.

Unbidden
Lent comes.

Unwanted
Lent comes.

Yoke gentle
this year
Lent comes.

One fist opens to expose the ash
she’ll paint upon your brow
if you’ll let her.

In a year bereft of touch
you may shiver as her fingertips brush flesh
and startle at their warmth.

And once
you’ve let yourself be marked by dust
Lent’s other fist will open for you
gentle as spring’s first petals.

This palm glows with embers
that flicker out Lent’s second song:
This too remember
o frail Dust — you’re born from Splendor
and Splendor thrums within you even now.

Lent births herself this year
into a world already stripped bare

and beckons to the embers in her palm.
Come. This year
they need only the faintest breath to stir them.
Come.



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 Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author.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 wrote this before the sun rose this Ash Wednesday morning, my sleeping wife’s warm limbs embracing me, her breathing a steady rhythm at my back. Be gentle to yourselves and to others this season, beloved.

Many souls are already weary in this time of pandemic, and Lent is the last thing they feel like embracing. But Lent is not suffering for suffering’s sake, or increasing our burdens as some kind of challenge for ourselves. Lent is for acknowledging what suffering already is present in the world, and bearing it together; Lent is an intentional remembering of what binds us, all of us, and nourishing those ties.

Lent is stepping into solidarity – alongside Jesus on his journey to crucifixion – with the tortured and discarded of the world.

Lent may just be what our tattered spirits and weary bones need right now.

The concept of splendor comes from Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, who writes in A Tree Full of Angels:

“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!”

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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!”

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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?

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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.

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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
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
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?