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 Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author.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?

Categories
Holy Days My poetry

poem for Ash Wednesday: dust to dust

there is something liberating
about being dust.

i ease my clenched fists open
release control over my own life
and let the breath of God
blow me where it will.

if i am stepped on,
it is no humiliation
and maybe the foot that smashes
will carry me down paths

unknown, to worlds
surprising.

dust has no need for food or drink
or all that ties down weary bones.

dust is not concerned with things
too big for it –
it simply is.

God if i must be dust
let me be
your dust.

let me be
packed into a brick on a lonely woman’s cottage
or built into the child’s mud pie
or let me lie
at the base of a weed
and nourish it with all that i am.

even as dust i am
your beloved;
i am beloved and safeguarded by you.

God i am dust
and i am yours:
shape me as you will.


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!

I ruminate further on the themes in this poem in this YouTube video.

Categories
LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: valley of dry bones

men who claimed to know the Word of God
and where it lay took me to stand above
a valley of dry bones.

they taunted me: here is no life
for you! you may as well
curl yourself among them, and return
to dust.

and so i did. 

the bones murmured beneath me, shifted
to make room – they did not pierce
my skin as i’d presumed.

i took one fragment, then another that
seemed not-to-sharp,
and held them close to my heart,

and listened to their clinking lullaby
waiting to die.
but i did not. 

instead a Breath whirled round
me and trans-
formed

those dead dry bones into
full flesh and blood – muscle and sinew
and skin, and chests that moved
atop their resurrected hearts and lungs!

i thrilled to see
these dead dry bones become
a throng of those they claimed
did not belong…

the Breath that animated
all those forms
did not pass over me –

my flesh grew warm
as eerie but invigorating song
stripped me down to my bones
and built me up again –
renewed, trans-
formed. 

i strode up to those men
who could not see
the breath of God in me
and said:

you worship
piles of dry bones

i worship the God
of ever-reinvented life! 

you shoved your book at me
and claimed the word it held for me
was Condemnation – well,
i took that book and read it
through and through

with God’s breath warming the ink
and i found

Life 
for me.

and – if you could just
embrace it too –

for you.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. This is an updated version of a poem that appears in their published 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:

Ezekiel 37’s valley of dry bones has long been near and dear to my queer heart. It was the lectionary reading a couple weeks ago, and Austen Hartke did a live study of it on his YouTube channel, which brought the passage back into the forefront of my mind.

Scripture is presented to many of us as dead dry bones, lifeless pages set in stone — but that belies the Breath of God rifling through those pages, and expanding our own lungs… 

In this time of epidemic, when we face a virus that can steal our very breath, i cherish more than ever that unquellable Breath of God.

The poem in these images first appeared in my collection of poetry, The Kin-dom in the Rubble. But i’ve revised it here — and added a few extra lines at the end, to remind me that while God’s Breath IS for me and NO ONE can steal it from my lungs — it’s for those who hurt me, too.

Categories
Holy Days lent LGBT/queer My poetry

poem for Holy Thursday: Jesus, you knew isolation too

Jesus
you knew
isolation too.

not of closing walls and stale air
but of a horizon unreachable
beyond stretching dunes.

you who were so sensitive to touch
you’d notice a woman’s fingers barely brush
the hem of your cloak

went untouched
for forty days
forty nights.

after that
did cradling the feet of your closest friends
washing clean the sweat and sand
etched into the sole’s every callus
feel almost too intimate to bear?

gazing up into their questioning eyes
after no one but devils and dust to talk to for so long
did you have to stop and catch your breath?

Jesus,
did your beloved’s fingers brushing your palm
as you passed him broken bread
set your skin on fire
with an anguished sort of pleasure?

was his head resting warm in your lap
after the meal, the wine, the storytelling
heavier than the whole world
leaning on your back?

and after the wine-warm room
after isolation revisited
in a tear-soaked garden
where best friends slept oblivious
i wonder

were even the press of trembling lips
the hands that bound your wrists
the shoves of soldiers eager to get home for the night –
even these, were even these cherished
after weeks without the warmth of others’ skin?

…….

Jesus
you knew
isolation too –

know better than any
the devils that come to keep one company
when wandering alone from room to room
or over wasteland sands…

so come. teach us
to make an upper room
of any room we’re trapped in.

cook us a meal out of our distress
and break it like bread with us.
nourish our bone-deep loneliness
into a yearning deep enough to drink

so that when this is over, we never again
shirk the feet that await our washing
shun the hands outstretched for bread to share
shake off the cross a stranger needs help bearing –

and Jesus, as we wait out isolation
in temporary helplessness and fear
remind us there are some who dwell
always, always here.


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:

My prayer for Maundy Thursday, 2020, in the midst of pandemic: come, Jesus, teach us to make an upper room of any room we’re trapped in.

Categories
Holy Days My poetry

poem for Good Friday: Jesus, let me pray for you

my God,
would it be odd
if i prayed for you?

Jesus, heart of my heart,
heart of all the cosmos – your heart
struggled –
             stammered –
                                      stopped.

thank you.

(i am
so sorry.)

thank you.

when you walked the earth you lived to liberate,
to serve, to ease, to lead towards flourishing:

you broke down and sobbed
when those you loved were crying,
extended your hands to those
desperate for human touch,
invited the high-up
to come down and dine
with the ones you’d raised from the dirt –

and still, today, right now,
your very Breath rushes down
to comfort, to stir up, to galvanize:

unfurls Herself in hospital rooms
where breaths come labored – slow – and
stop;

gusts through grocery stores, buoys up
the worker with the fearful mind
and aching feet;

sweeps through power’s halls
upturning spreadsheets,
tugging at shirtsleeves.

but
just for today
the day you died

please

let me
pray for you

let me cry out with you
the cry ripped from your chest
as the cross claimed your breath,
dripped out your lifeblood,
throttled your lungs’ rising

My God! My God!…

Jesus, heart of my heart,
heart of all the cosmos!

will you take a little rest
in these hours your heart was stopped?

let us attend to the aching world
for just this little while.

how urgently i wish
i could stop your pain

pull out the nails my kin drove in-
to your skin and sinew

staunch the whole world’s bleeding
while you sleep the deep,
dreamless sleep of the tomb…

if i cannot do any of that,
then let me do this:

you who ache
with every broken heart,
who bruise alongside
every trampled body,

today
let me ache with you.


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 was my prayer for Good Friday, 2020: Jesus, every day of the year, every instant of eternity, you care for the oppressed, the sick, the despairing. You suffer alongside us. For just this day, let us suffer with you.

Categories
Holy Days lent My poetry

poem for Holy Saturday: this moment matters

they wanted – no, they needed
to touch you one last time.

so they trudged the tombward path
with their perfumes and their spices
their strips of cloth to cocoon your body in
for its final transformation back to dust

their shoulders almost broken with grief,
heavy as the cross
that crushed the life from your flesh.

let me fall in step behind them.
let me take my place in that line
of broken hearts bearing a cross of grief together.
let me shoulder my share of the burden

and let me not rush
to the first fingers of dawn, frail and trembling,
reaching past a rolled-back stone
to empty space where your corpse should be –

no. let me linger in the moment when
your corpse still lies there
and anguish fractures the air
into splinters that cut the lungs.

this moment matters:
your brown body
with the breath pressed out
by the inexorable boot of Empire
matters.

and the moment that comes after
cannot ease this one.

it never has, and it never will, for

there are still bodies broken,
breathless, beaten down
by Empire’s brutality or else its apathy.

and you, with us to the last,
still lie among them – you hold them close
and share their final exhalation
be it in a hospital bed, the street, a cell.

so let me not sprint to sunrise
when your body can still be found
nestled with cold bodies in their graves.

blessed be the hands
that carry the spices and perfumes, water and cloth!
blessed, blessed be the throats
worn rough with sobs
yet refusing to be silenced,
broadcasting the crime lest some claim ignorance.

i’ll not dishonor them by racing past
to the future reunion of
form to dust, breath to body, lover to loved
before they’re ready.

keep watch! soak in! be present with them!
this moment is holy.


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 was my prayer for Holy Saturday, 2020 – 
in the shadow of pandemic
and from under the enduring boot of state violence and negligence: 
Spirit, help us learn to linger in the shadow of the tomb,
so as not to abandon those who are not ready to look beyond it yet. 

In this poem I lean on the promise of the Brief Statement of Faith:
“in life and in death, we belong to God.” And I draw from Black theologians like James Cone who argue that God is Black, that Jesus Christ is executed again wherever human beings are lynched or tortured. This poem is written in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith LGBT/queer Liturgy

Affirmation of faith in a Queer God

[One:]

To try to define the Divine
in human words is a fool’s errand –
but luckily for us, God delights in making the foolish wise.

Emboldened thus, let us unite our many voices
to confess what little we know of this queer God:

[All:]

We believe in the Triune God, incomprehensible
and yet invested in revealing Themself to us,
in helping us understand and truly know Them
in every place and time, among all peoples –
but especially those the world dismisses
as broken, worthless, foolish. 

We believe that the God who conceived of the cosmos,
brooded over its rolling waters like a mother hen
and then exclaimed over Her newly-birthed worlds,
“Good! very Good!”

is the same God who came to a small and subjugated people
and made them Her own.
We marvel that this God to whom belongs all power and glory
has a soft spot for the world’s outsiders and outcasts –
for She Herself is the ultimate stranger.

We believe that in the Person of Jesus Christ,
that same God – despite being beyond human constructs
like class and ethnicity and gender –
entered an impoverished household, entered a Jewish Palestinian body,
became one with that same oppressed and colonized people
with whom Xe had for so long persevered in relationship,
and was assigned male at birth.

But Jesus of Nazareth defied the gender roles assigned to him:
instead of settling down with a wife,
Jesus consorted with strange women, exalted eunuchs,
reached out to Samaritans and Syrophoenicians,
and traipsed across the region with a motley crew
of the very kinds of folk no respectable man would even greet.

A parable in himself, he shared queer stories
of a world turned on its head, where the last are first
and the powerful must relinquish their power –

And, in the ultimate display of solidarity
with all those whom the powerful persecute across the ages, 
Jesus was executed by Empire on a cross, dying between
two other “common criminals.”

But this was not the end of his story, nor ours:
this ultimate breaker of human binaries –
between Creator and creature, man and woman, have and have-not –
demolished the divide between death and life for good.
Jesus rose, lifting all of us with him, from death and into heaven –

but even so, Divinity dwells among us still,
for we believe in the Holy Spirit, the very Breath in our lungs,
the Breeze that comforts us, the Wind that stirs us to action
and sweeps us up into the revolution that is
God’s impossible incoming Kin(g)dom.


I wrote this affirmation for a More Light Sunday service, which is celebrated by the PC(USA) every October on the Sunday nearest to National Coming Out Day.

For more on God as the ultimate stranger, check out Joy Ladin’s book The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective.

The image of God as a bird brooding over the waters of Creation comes straight from Genesis 1:2. See footnote 11 of Genesis 1 on this website for details about the Hebrew verb used to describe “the Spirit of God ‘moving’ over the waters” in this verse.

For more on Jesus as the divine assigned male at birth and living a gender nonconforming life, check out the section “Assigned Male at Incarnation: An Intersex and Transgender Jesus” on my webpage here.

Categories
Holy Days LGBT/queer Liturgy My poetry Reflections for worship services

A queer reflection on the Agony in the Garden – Holy Thursday / Maundy Thursday

Tonight we follow Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. 

As we kneel with him in the dark, see his hands clenched in prayer,
the blood on his brow, in his tears,
as we hear the cry wrench out of him, “Take this cup away from me!” 

…we hear also the cry of so many of our siblings.

“I cannot bear this part of myself, O God. Why are you calling me to this? Why did you make me to be this way, when all it has done for me is cause loved ones to abandon me? Take this cup away. Please take this cup away.”

Let us not be like the disciples who slept,
ignorant of Jesus’s agony.

Let us not be like them when they fled the scene
leaving him to the ones who chained him and dragged him away.

O God, set our hearts on fire with a fierce compassion for your oppressed children, so that we cannot sleep when they cry out. 

We go to them. We stay awake with them. We. stay.

We remember the one who broke bread and called it his body,
who knelt to wash our feet.
We remember the one who commanded us to love in such a way –
to serve and be served.

Let us go now into a world full of cries,
all anxiously awaiting a day that seems far off, a dawn past all suffering
when we will rise transformed,
when relationships will be reconciled
and all will know God’s love. 

In the meantime – this time of anxious waiting – we leave no one alone in their agony. We cry out with them.
We stay awake with them.
We stay.

Categories
Holy Days LGBT/queer Liturgy My poetry Reflections for worship services

A queer prayer for foot washing – Maundy Thursday / Holy Thursday

Jesus,

I do not know if I could let you, my God,
my Savior, to whom I owe all things
kneel below me
and take into your warm brown hands
my feet, dirty and cold.

I also do not know if I could take
the feet of my betrayers, my deniers –

those who declare my identity a falsehood or a phase,
those who sentence me to suffering by their hate,
those who wield you against me,
those who do not yet know all that I am, but when they do
might cease to associate themselves with me –

I don’t know if I could take their feet
in my hands, 
kneel before them in a pose of the same lowliness
they often make me feel

and wash their feet
just as you did for your friends, who would very soon abandon you.

Must I let you serve me?

And must I serve them?


…And if I do these things, will I really grow closer
to you?

to them?

Oh! You who stripped off Divinity
and took on the frail finitude of flesh…for me!
teach me this humility.

Give me the courage to ask them
if they will even let me wash their feet
and whether, maybe, they might wash mine too.

Intimacy like this is a fearful thing.

But if it truly leads to fuller life
and if you are with me,

I will take the bowl of water,
the washing rag,
and I will sit with bare feet
and I will kneel with warm hands.

Categories
Call to worship Charge and Benediction Holy Days Liturgy

Easter Sunday: call to worship and benediction

CALL TO WORSHIP

Today celebrate the joy that vanquishes grief,
the life that outlasts death.
Today we celebrate an empty tomb and full hearts.
Glory Hallelujah!

In rising, Jesus lifted us all up with him.
No longer is suffering, or oppression, or death the end of any story.

Let us worship the Living God, who lived and died and rose again for us, and who dwells among us this very day. 

Amen.


BENEDICTION

Through the Person of Jesus, God has redeemed the world –
yet we still have work to do.

Revitalized by our worship,
let us take the new life that Jesus gives us freely
out into the world – a world that is still hurting,
a world where pain and grief and death still pervade Creation.

There is so much work to do, but we rejoice to know that the God
who Creates, Redeems, and Sustains us
works alongside us, empowering us
to roll back the stones on every tomb.

Thanks be to God!