by the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan
Proclaim member and
Program Director of ELM
In this time of Lent as we follow the call to journey into the wilderness, we also remember our ancestors in faith who went before us. To help us in doing that, several Proclaim members will be reflecting upon the mystics in their blog posts here during the coming month.
There’s something inherently queer about the mystics. Take some of the first Christian mystics, for example, called the Desert Mothers and Desert Fathers. They had a distinctive “lifestyle”. They defiantly rejected their society’s standards of respectability – trouncing gender norms, refusing to get married, and sometimes redefining family as they lived together in communities of solitude. Their unconventional sense of style included garments made of goat’s hair, and in the case of some of the Desert Mothers, shaved heads and men’s clothing.
According to Merriam-Webster, mysticism can be defined as, “the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience…” While our embodiement of mysticism usually doesn’t exaclty match that of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, we as queer people have become mystics in the way we value subjective experience.
We have had to learn to embrace our own experiences of how God is moving in our lives. We have listened to our lives and learned from the desires of our hearts, trusting that God dwells there. In order to survive, much more to thrive, we have had to learn to measure any interpretation, any doctrine, any teaching against our own experiences and the experiences of people who are on the margins. When church tradition has attempted to separate out our soul from our bodies and God’s will from our experiences, our response has been a mystical one. We have boldly embraced the mystical union of God’s will for us and the deepest desire of our hearts – fullness of life embodied in the flesh and blood of our love.
And as we’ve wandered through this spiritual wilderness, we have never been alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, preparing the way. Whether in the saints of our movement in the Lutheran church, or in the witnesses salted throughout our Scripture who dared to express a mystical intimate relationship with God. From Joel R. Workin, to Blanche Grube. From Elijah to John the Baptist. From Hannah to the prophet Anna.
During my own times in the wilderness, I’ve found great comfort in the Psalms. In particular Psalm 139 has always been a favorite. In a mystical reflection one afternoon as I was in the process of coming to embrace my transgender identity, I wrote the following adaptation of Psalm 139. I wrote it as a prayer and blessing for the journey of life ahead of me. I offer it here as blessing for your own journey—you beautiful mystic you!—whatever season of life you may find yourself in:
Learn to live and love
accordingly attuned to
the compass with which
your Maker has endowed you—
Imago Dei irreplacably displayed
within your own heart.
May you courageously trust
that sacred thread
by which you are tenderly
knit together with infinite
wisdom, intention, and affection
carefully hemmed in each and every stitch—
back inside your mother’s womb
and every single moment
The Rev. Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) serves as Program Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. He works from his apartment in Denver, Colorado. These are a few of his favorite things: his cat Jack, his neices and nephews, poetry slams, brewery tours, and writing bios in the third person.
Photo at top: Public commons
Bio Photo: Emily Ann Garcia