In Exaltation of Queer Bodies, Hybrid Bodies, Borderland Bodies: A sermon-essay for Transfiguration Sunday

Note: This piece is the extended version of a sermon I’m giving today at The Abbey church. After some gentle nudging from my partner Benjamin (shout out to him and all those who wade patiently through the convulsions of writerly ego), I realized its original form was too unwieldy and theoretically dense for a sermon, so I pared it down. I’m posting it here in its extended (original) version, since it translates better in written form. The video version is the simplified, sermonified version which works better for listening.

Watch the full Abbey service on the church livestream.

Hello beloved community. If you aren’t yet familiar with this face, my name is Celine and I’ve been selecting or writing poems each week as the Abbey’s poet in residence. I’m honoured to share some thoughts with you today, on Transfiguration Sunday, from where I am on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territories.

Shortly after Rob asked me to preach, I was talking to my neighbour, who as far as I know is not a religious person. She asked me what I would be preaching on, and I was faced with the daunting task of explaining the transfiguration story to someone whose familiarity with the Bible or with Christianity for that matter was completely unknown. Well, not completely: we had shared some neighbourly talks in the summer by the firepit, where her partner spoke candidly about his trans daughter, and pain surrounding the lack of queer acceptance in the church—which I deeply empathized with, more than I could say at the time. So there was that memory still reverberating in my body.

I fumbled my way through a synopsis of the Scripture passage: something about Christ on the mountain, and Moses and Elijah, and a moment of Divine revelation. “I think I’ll preach about bodies, and embodiment,” I told her. “There’s been a lot of denigration of bodies in the dominant Christian tradition, and I want to talk about how bodies are important, bodies are sacred, and this is embodied, quite literally, in Jesus—and especially in this story.” 

Perhaps I could have added: Bless the trembling bodies and the traumatized bodies. Bless all the bodies still ringing with the bell of grief. 

I’ve always found the transfiguration a strange and compelling story: Jesus takes three disciples up to a high mountain, which marks a liminal place, an in-between place between heaven and earth. The text tells us that he is transfigured before them: his clothes become luminous, and Moses and Elijah appear to speak with him. God’s voice comes from behind a cloud, naming Jesus as God’s son. The transformation is, however, transient: Moses and Elijah disappear, along with the holy glow, and on the descent, Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone what happened until after he is resurrected. It is a story of contradictions, a moment of sublime mystery and intimate secrecy, of partial revelation, of now-and-not-yet. Since the transfiguration prefigures the full disclosure of Jesus’ divinity through the resurrection and ascension, it is, in James Miller’s words, “a key moment of transition: a transformative moment in which a fragment of divine truth is disclosed.” With all its distilled drama, the transfiguration is a synecdoche, a microcosm for the life of Jesus as a whole: the mystery and magic of divine embodiment, of the Creator dwelling with creation. Or, as in the book of John, which eschews the transfiguration story for poetic pronouncements, “the Word becoming flesh.” 

In the transfiguration, we see the exaltation of Jesus in his fleshly, body, his earthy and earthly body: his body that touched those deemed untouchable, fed the hungry, restored the reviled, and rebuked the rich, his human body that felt hungry, tender, and weary, his political body, a brown-skinned ethnic minority living under militarized imperial occupation. Before the Cartesian mind-body split, before Constantine and Christian supremacy, before colonial racial hierarchies and scientific rationalism, Jesus shows us what Mihee Kim-Kort calls the sacrament of bodies: that “our bodies are sites for healing, for meaning making, for transformation—in other words, for salvation.” God does not meet us in some otherworldly plane, but in our bodies. God meets us in our sore backs and our bandaging of bruised knees and our roughened hands from doing the dishes. God meets us in the transitioning and transforming of our bodies through age, gender, birth, and illness. Knowing and attending to our bodies, and the bodies of others: this is holy work.

Bless the tender bodies, the transitioning bodies, the intersex bodies, the non-binary bodies. Bless the bodies longing for touch. Bless the bodies lonely and alone. Bless the bodies that live between worlds.

Brian G. Murphy and Shannon Kearns see the transfiguration as “the moment when Jesus shares what he truly is with the people that are closest to him,” a kind of coming-out moment, and this coming-out contains worlds, multitudes, paradoxes: it is as much secretive, scary, and partial as it is liberating. The disciples are terrified, transported, trembling. They are unprepared for this Divine drag show, this binary-bridging, boundary-bending body that disorients and dazzles. If the moment had a soundtrack, it might look like the music video for “It’s Okay to Cry”, a song by recently passed trans pop artist SOPHIE, in which they appeared publicly for the first time, singing emotively in red lipstick in front of a background of shifting cloudscapes. 

If you can’t already tell, I love how unavoidably queer the transfiguration story is. Judith Butler writes about how drag is a subversive act in how it troubles the gender binary. Put another way, the disruption of normative gender can be seen as an act of prophetic imagination. Let me give you an example of this. During Epiphanytide, I watched Against the Grain Theatre’s version of Handel’s Messiah, and in one solo, tenor Spencer Britten struts in heels down the rainbow crosswalks of Davie Street as he sings “the crooked paths made straight.” It is a take irresistably cheeky and gloriously gay, a transgressive re-interpretation of canon, a playful questioning that articulates the boundless fluidity of queer possibility. In Jesus’ case, he embodies what Kwok Pui-lan terms the “‘hybrid concept,’ the ‘contact zone’ or ‘borderland’ between the human and the divine, the historical and the cosmological, the Jewish and the Hellenistic, the prophetic and the sacramental.” Despite Western Christianity’s heavy-handed dogma of disembodiment for purposes of colonial and capitalist domination, hand-in-hand with other powers and principalities like heterocispatriarchy and white supremacy, the embodiment of Jesus still reverberates with radical potential. The body of Jesus is one that, in Edward Said’s words, houses the unhoused, decentred, exilic, and migrant. Said is describing the energy that animates liberation; we might call it the Holy Spirit. This body is between homes and between languages: counter, spare, strange, sacrament. Jewish theologian Susannah Heschel depicts Jesus as a theological cross-dresser, unsettling the boundary between Judaism and Christianity. In the transfiguration story, we see the exaltation of Jesus’ hybrid body, his transgressive body, his borderland body. It shows us that queer folks now have essential wisdom to share about God and embodiment. God reveals Godself in bodies that disrupt the norms and transgress the lines. Paying attention to the prophetic gift of queerness: this is holy work.

Bless the queer bodies that transgress imagination and transmute new futures into being just by breathing. Bless the trans femme bodies and the blistered-heel-but-head-held-high bodies, bless the sex worker bodies and the night shift nurse bodies and the drug using bodies and the sober bodies. Bless the disabled bodies, the aging bodies, the menstruating bodies, the chronically pained bodies. Bless these bodies changed and changing, familiar and strange, ours.

Let us return to the embodiment of Jesus as a subversive and political act. The glorious glimpse of Jesus’ full self we see in the transfiguration echoes his birth. One of the most powerful examples of embodied theology is the Magnificat, one of my favourite Scripture passages, when Mary praises God and declares God’s character through what is occuring in her body. We can see Jesus following Mary’s example throughout his life and ministry, making meaning and relating to God in his body as she did. I wonder if he learned this from her: did he hear her speak while swimming in the womb? Did she raise him in this wisdom? So while on the surface the transfiguration story may seem to be all about the patriarchs, this moment recalls matriarchal memory and the power of birth: behold, Jesus is birthing something new, ushering in a new kin-dom of the lowly and the least. Dorothy Lee interprets the transfiguration as apocalyptic drama in that it reveals Jesus as bearing forth God’s glorious future—the transformation of all creation. So Jesus’ body is also a birthing body, a life-giving body that lives, dies, lives again, and in the mystery of communion, a body that feeds and sustains us. 

I think about Jesus’ body being, like ours, more than two thirds water, like the earth itself, and how this transfiguration moment is also ecological, a carnivalesque unmasking of anthrocentrism and individualism, an “absorbing of self into our network of relations” (Robinson). Secwepemc land defender Kanahus Manuel, a leader in rigourous grassroots resistance to the Trans Mountain Pipeline, recently shared one of the main reasons for her lifelong dedication to the land, and why she puts her body continually on the frontlines in. She wrote about the devastation of a sacred lake in Secwepemc territory following a mining disaster in 2014. 25 billion litres of toxins spilled into a lake that had brought forth drinking water and salmon spawning, a lake named for the waters breaking during birth. As Indigenous water protectors have known since time immemorial, we are all connected. We are in our own moment of apocalyptic revelation: the Eurocene, an era of unignorable extinction and climate collapse. An embodied and transfigured theology turns us towards this truth, towards the deep waters of love and grief in ourselves. And who better to teach us about transformation than plants, trees, birds, bees, and seeds? Learning from our non-human relations — who are also made in the image of God — and from Indigenous leaders, Elders, and matriarchs: this is holy work.

Bless the bodies of water, the water that brings life. Bless the birthing bodies, the worn-out parenting collapsed-in-bed bodies, the bodies that have miscarried, the bodies misinterpreted and maligned. Bless the dissociated and dysphoric bodies, the diasporic and displaced bodies. Bless the scarred bodies, the plants, roots, and tree bodies, the sea bodies. Bless the Earth body changed and changing, familiar and strange, ours.

When I read and re-read the transfiguration story, I see not just the sacrament of bodies, the queer and hybrid and subversive body of Christ, but also, the sacred places bodies move through and inhabit. The transfiguration shows us the exaltation of Jesus’ body, which is a particular body: it is of a brown body, an occupied body, a Jewish body, a body living in first century Palestine under the shadow of empire. Jesus may not be an anti-imperial revolutionary in the sense of armed revolt or guerilla warfare, but he exemplifies to me what Cornel West calls a “jazz freedom fighter.” His embodied theology of expansive community disrupted rigid doctrines and de-stabilized the machinery of oppression. And in the transfiguration, Jesus enacts fugitive ceremony. Jesus’ reclamation of hallowed ground and communion with his ancestors is a similarly destabilizing act, prophetic resistance to the geographic dominion of Rome. In the transfiguration story, the land has power and agency. The land holds ancestral memory deeper than the flags of the conquerors, the domain of the dominators, the border walls and checkpoints of the colonizers. Even Peter, who is not a disciple known for his tact or eloquence, recognizes this, in his own fashion: he offers to build three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, so convinced is he of their physicality. The ancestors are not spectral beings but fully present and material, and their own transformed and transformative histories are revealed as intertwined with Jesus’ own, on this holy mountain. 

Three years ago, on a rain-drenched May afternoon, I ascended Lhuḵw’lhuḵw’áyten, known in English as Burnaby Mountain, which in the Squamish means “the place where the bark gets peeled in spring.” The Squamish name reflects the significance of cedar, the Coast Salish tree of life. I was visiting the Watch House built by Tsleil-Waututh land defenders near the construction route of the Trans Mountain pipeline. One of the Elders welcomed me and told me to introduce my own ancestors to those of the territory, and inside the hushed wooden structure, I closed my eyes and thought of all the unnamed ancestors whose lives gave me life: the migrating Hakka, the river-aged Fujian folk, my own ocean-traversing grandparents. I thought of the Elders I knew in the Downtown Eastside who told me to be brave. I thought of land stolen and treaties broken. It was here, on this holy mountain, where I was arrested blocking the entrance to the pipeline construction site. I was one of more than 200 people arrested that spring, moved by the calls from Indigenous leaders to put our bodies on the line, a tangible act of settler solidarity, love for the land, and decolonization. This is actually how I met Rob – turns out getting arrested together can be a solid basis for friendship. We had been participating in a day of action for people of faith. I still remember the pounding of my heart as the police approached, the absolute stillness in my body, every cell watchful and expectant. I still remember the pounding of my heart as the police approached, the absolute stillness in my body, every cell watchful and expectant. It was one of the most revelatory, transformative, prayerful moments I’ve ever experienced. 

I tell this story because I think it’s important to name that an embodied theology demands active transformation: of ourselves and beyond ourselves. It demands for us to centre those whose embodiment is threatened by the logic of dominance, in Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza’s words. Embodiment work being done by revolutionary Black practitioners like Resmaa Menakem, Sonya Renée, and adrienne maree brown reminds us that oppression lives in the body, and so does healing and resistance. Do we recognize Jesus in the marginal bodies of our time, the racialized and targeted bodies, the policed and incarcerated bodies, the undocumented and immigrant bodies, the queer and trans and disabled bodies? How can we work to create spaciousness, justice, and joy, alternative vision, for all bodies to be celebrated, honoured, and known, as they are: holy places, hallowed ground, sacrament? In the phrasing of this Black Futures Month, free to dream, free to flourish, free to be? What are the sacred sites of queer possibility and ecological encounter, all the liminal and hybrid places where God is breaking through disembodying systems of suppression and supremacy and changing us, making us and all things new?

Today, Transfiguration Sunday, is also February 14th, the day of the Women’s Memorial March in the Downtown Eastside. The Women’s Memorial March has commemorated the lives of the Missing and Murdered women for thirty years, and it was birthed as fugitive ceremony, an act of grief and defiance and healing and love in public. This year will likely be different because of Covid: in usual circumstances, at least in the last few years, thousands walk the streets in remembrance. I think of the march as another kind of hybrid and holy place, like Jesus meeting with his ancestors on the mountain. It is a transfiguring and re-scribing of urban streets by Indigenous matriarchs and memory-keepers, a collective body as powerful and fluid and unstoppable as water itself, life everlasting. May we be so generous and generative as water in embodying God’s justice, and may you, Embodied God, break into the ordinary of our lives, meet us anew in our bodies, and so transform us, as we partake in the transforming of the world.

Amen.

Works Quoted & Consulted:
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no unity without justice, or, a hymn for the church of the fireweed

Yesterday, Sunday, January 24, was the Sunday of Church Unity in the liturgical calendar. As one might expect from someone who has a complicated and oft contradictory relationship with church, I have many feelings about this. The call to extend prayer, thought, and blessing to siblings of faith in the Global South, in Palestine, on the margins of empire or under the boot of Western imperialism—that resonates deeply as an invitation to solidarity and to the expansive wisdom of faith-full family. Subaltern Christianity has always been truer to the life and work of Christ than Constantinian Christianity, because Jesus himself lived in resistance to, and under, empire. So it could be a really beautiful and subversive act to centre the voices of our Christian kin from all the places outside the centre of Christian power and Christian supremacy. And yet, speaking of supremacy… it’s only been a few weeks since Trump supporters, white supremacists, fascists, anti-maskers, and Christian nationalists waving “Jesus Saves” signs (none of which are mutually exclusive categories) stormed the Capitol in a violent and unsurprising insurrection. Upsetting, yes, but also what came afterwards: from fellow Christians, instead of righteous outrage and deep grief, calls for “unity” and “peace”, calls that, at their heart, are about smoothing over rather than digging deep to the root of pain, the festering wound of systemic racism. These calls exemplify Martin Luther King Jr’s words to the “white liberal who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice, who prefers tranquility to equality.

The problem with using “unity” and “peace” in this way, or, for another progressive church example, “holding tension” between different viewpoints, is that it positions difference as equally valid. The framing of “unity” and “peace” as a table where two parties can come together assumes equal ground and agency. But power and oppression don’t work that way; that’s why Black Lives Matter protests and Indigenous land defenders on their own territory were met with militarized state crackdowns, and Trump supporters took selfies with police and waltzed through the Capitol with Confederate flags aloft. Words that are weaponized to placate are in fact a continuation of, and corroboration with, violence and injustice. Christians are called to love as the highest commandment, and as Dr. Cornel West says, love in public is justice. There can be no unity without justice: without grieving, acknowledging, and reckoning with the violence of white supremacy, of heterocispatriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, ableism, transphobia, all the principalities and powers that hinder the full flourishing of all people. Prophet James Baldwin said it like this: “We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” Maybe this is what Jesus was getting at when he talked about God trimming the branches of the vine that do not bear fruit—when churches do not bear the fruit of love and of justice, when Christians perpetuate violence and harm in the name of Christ, they are no longer one with the vine: the vine that brings life, renewal, fermentation, wine, celebration, transformation.

So, unity. It’s a fraught word, with all its connotations. I’m currently poet in residence at the Abbey Church, Lekwungen territories (Victoria), and for each Sunday service, I pick or write a poem that aligns with that week’s themes and readings. For this last week, I grappled with this fraughtness and all the feelings that arose in me, and made this poem, “a hymn for the church of the fireweed.” I’m including the text as well, below.

a hymn for the church of the fireweed

today, a poem of vulnerability,
part prophetic prayer, part offering of entreaty,
a hymn from the church of the fireweed.

this flower grows thick after forest fires,
its vibrant pink blossoms spring into life after death,
after railways and bomb craters. fireweed sets the table for bees
and bushes and trees and eventually, again, forests

when i think about unity, i think of the fireweed
its mercenary practice of resurrection
on the underside of empire.

i think of the complicated relationships of family.
what can the fireweed say to the fire, the bombed to the bomber,
the burning to those that tilt the ecosystem,
set the unfettered blaze?

at home we’ve been listening to cockburn,
and bruce sang, for every scar that’s on a wall, there’s a hole in someone’s heart.
i sing of the scars: of broad daylight pavement gouges,
convenience store, public park,
all the places where gentle dark-skinned men and boys
were denied breath and being

i sing, blessed are the hearts with holes,
sieves enough for a sea,
blessed are you, all the least of these
no justice, no peace, no unity without grief
no prisons, no police, can you see christ among us
his hands outstretched to the weak,
marching in the streets,
preaching: the kingdom is near.

and woe to the whitewashing tombs,
death-dealers of dominating supremacy,
enforcers of dystopia, keepers of apartheid,
woe to you who execute christ in the streets and on sundays,
worship his pale imitation with gun and flag in hand,

may you look into the face of those you call enemies
and see truly, this is the face of God.

may the unstoppable sea wrap you in its reckoning,
surround you in liquid lament until you can’t breathe
for the mercy, for the love, until you hear the whisper of revolution,
of follow me, the undeniable song of the many-holed heart,
fished from the depths to a field of vibrant pink fireweed
may you see the face of God
calling you to reparations and community,
calling your name,
come and see.

what can the fireweed say to the fire? only:

creator, save us from false peace
from shallow-throated unity
without justice in full flood.
spirit, let us water the unfettered blaze in tears,
restore ecosystems, grow strong,
set the table for bees and bushes and trees,
and eventually, forests,

until all of us are free.

ashé, amen, may it be.

Further reading

After I wrote this post, I was looking up my brilliant Twitter friend Sarah Ngu’s sermons and stumbled upon her sermon on “Supremacy,” part of Forefront Church’s Powers & Principalities series. In it, she breaks down Christian supremacy, anti-Semitism as the antecedent of modern racism, and how wrestling with unjust structures and systems (or powers and principalities) is a spiritual struggle. It captures a lot of what I was aiming for with this poem and taught me some important lessons, so I’m including it here as a reference.

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A prayerful lament + vigil for Trans Day of Remembrance

This service, co-written with Bunny Wilder, follows a liturgical framework from the Christian tradition and was originally hosted by Streams of Justice on Trans Day of Remembrance 2019. More here about Trans Day of Remembrance, including a link to the List of Names. We share with the hope others can use parts of this service, or the liturgy as a whole, in their own stay-at-home vigils.

In pandemic conditions, holding a vigil will look different, but grieving practices are—as ever—integral to ground us, connect us, and move us towards freer futures. Let us hold rituals with thought and intention, knowing lament leads to transformation.

Lighting of the Christ Candle


We begin by lighting the Christ candle, welcoming the presence of an embodied Creator in our midst. We also shroud the communion elements, recognizing that Christ died at the hands of state-enacted violence, and his body was placed in a tomb. In trans Latinx theologian Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza’s words, to be trans is to live in Holy Saturday, to have yet to see full transformation and liberation. We recognize that trans people are crucified people, that trans grief and rage are prophetic and powerful, that trans lives are sacred.

lighting of the candle and/or incense
welcoming of Christ, Creator God, ancestors

Land Acknowledgement 


As we begin, we acknowledge that we gather on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people. We sit with the knowledge that the same colonial powers that took this land continue to enact violence against Indigenous people, especially those who are trans and Two-Spirit. We enter this service acknowledging our complicity with this violence, and thus, in a posture of contemplation and deep repentance.

Creator God, forgive us for the ways we let colonial violence go unchallenged.

All: Creator God, forgive us.

Orientation to Lament: Opening


Tonight, we mourn the lives lost, and the disproportionate systemic and interpersonal violence against trans people—especially trans women and femmes of colour, especially sex worker women. We lament all violence done to trans people on these territories and all over the world, and the systems and structures that degrade, dehumanize, incarcerate, criminalize, and kill with impunity. 

In this particular place and at this particular time, we grieve the suicide rates of queer and trans youth, the multi-layered colonial violence against Indigenous trans women and Two-Spirit people, the destructive dogma of the West Coast Accord and harm caused by trans exclusionary and anti-SOGI ideologies. We grieve the ways your character has been distorted and your scriptures weaponized against your trans children, who are unconditionally and completely beloved.

Creator God, heal us from indifference and move us to Christ-like solidarity, extending welcome and care to the margins.

All: Creator God, heal us.

Tonight, we also bring our grief for the ways our trans siblings have been excluded and ostracized from the church, from congregations and communities, and disallowed from flourishing as their full selves and sharing their good gifts. We lament the complicity of the church in anti-trans violence and exclusion. We hold the heaviness of grief for spaces which have yet to see full affirmation for queer and trans people. We yearn to see your world restored and all people, all identities, all bodies celebrated as sacred and whole.

Creator God, transform our thinking, our language, our churches, and our communities so we may fully recognize all people as your children.

All: Creator God, transform us.

Prayer for Transgender Day of Remembrance 


by Rev. Malcolm Himschoot, United Church of Christ

How long, O God?
How long will transgender people suffer shame and loss because of who we are?
How long must we bear pain in our souls, and have sorrow in our hearts all day long?
How long shall we have enemies who persecute us, ridicule us, and gloat over us? 
(adapted from Psalm 10)

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, “I have prevailed.” 
(from Ps 13)

Why do you stand far off, hiding yourself in times of trouble?
In fear the violent attack the vulnerable –
Let them be caught in the schemes their hearts have devised.
In confusion and disturbance the oppressors say,
“There is no God who cares for the meek –
No God will find me out.”
Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression
They sit in ambush
In stealth they murder the innocent.
The helpless fall by their might.

They think:  “God has forgotten the transgender women, trans people of colour, non-binary people, trans children and youth, the gender-queer and intersex – God has hidden God’s face.”

Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand
Do not forget the oppressed. 
(from Ps 10)

All:
Why do murderers rage, and fearful people plot in vain?
Those in power, and those who long for power, conspire
Against the precious anointed of the Lord.
In heaven God laughs at their presumption.
I will tell of the decree of the Living, Mighty God
Who said to me, “You are my child. Today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the earth itself your inheritance.” 

(from Ps 2)

Reading of Names


lighting of candles and/or 
placing of flowers as names are read

Time of Silence


Communion


Adapted from “Advent 1: What We’re Waiting For,” a sermon by Mary Ann Saunders for St. Brigid‘s

We come now to the communion table, remembering that God came to us in a human body: messy, fragile, unpredictable, infinite God embodied in finite flesh. We are reminded, in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s words, that “God slipped into human skin because God saves us in our bodies, not from our bodies.”

Here, we hold all bodies as sacred: queer and trans bodies, old or young bodies; tattooed, pierced, and scarred bodies; currently abled bodies or bodies living with disability; menstruating or pregnant or chestfeeding bodies; large bodies or small bodies; growing or aging bodies. We all live in transformed and transforming bodies, bodies which may sometimes feel like they’re ours and at other times feel strange and unfamiliar. And where these bodies are, there God is. “We are the clay, and you, O God, are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

On the night Jesus was betrayed, he was with his friends sharing a meal. He took bread and broke it, saying, this is my body, broken for your body. Then He took the cup and after giving thanks, he blessed it, saying, this is my blood, shed for your blood.

serving of the elements to one another

A Prayer Towards Trans Cosmology


Adapted from “And God Hovered Over the Face of the Deep: Transgressing Gender”, a sermon by Dr. Robyn Espinoza 

God, before gender and before language,
You created us, in neplanta, made of dust:
hovering over the surface of the deep, 
being and becoming.

From dust, like the deep, primordial:
You shaped earth-creatures with divine hands,
Animated us with holy breath.

Create in us a posture of deep welcome,
an imagination beyond colonial and binary logic.
Unbind us from systems and theologies that harm.

May we commit to turning inward as much as turning outward.
Let our inner lives align with just social practices,
and the spaces we inhabit be welcome to all.

Help us embrace the both/and of your creation,
and to remember who you have made us to be: 
especially those of us whose embodiment is threatened.

Energize us with the prophetic edge of your Spirit.
Our work remains unfinished until all of us are free.

Ashé, Amen, Blessed be.

Benediction


An Imprecatory Prayer to the Transestors by Sophia Zarders

To The Trans Ancestors & Elders who have guided us here:
We honor your legacy with new celebrations.

May our bodies persist, let them shine whole & well.
May our minds calibrate to the call of the universe.

Let our protest songs transfigure to peace hymns.
Let our cultural knowledge produce nourishment.

May our homes bustle warm with abundant love.
May our communities flourish despite borders.

Let our love quake open any lingering shackle.
Let our joy obliterate any festering contempt. 

As we bind each other closer,
we manifest futures more possible.

Amen.

Sacred songs for Trans Day of Remembrance


Further Reading


Transgender Day of Remembrance: Spiritual resources

Donate


  • National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition: advocates for Black trans people in the areas of housing, healthcare, employment, and education. Currently collecting donations for the Community Response Fund which provides rapid response funds for emergency food, shelter, utilities, transportation and health care, life saving PPE and referral to resources for Black trans people at their point of need during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative: building Black trans futurist frameworks for abolition and supporting Black trans lives in Atlanta, Georgia, especially in the criminal justice system, and working to eradicate criminalization and gender-based violence.
  • Coalition Against Trans Antagonism: local organization organizing against anti-trans violence and supporting trans folks. The Trans Resiliency Fund is a collective fund which supports low-income trans people of colour in what is colonially known as Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

About the artwork


The image for this post is a collage I made of Marsha P. Johnson, one of the trans women of colour who instigated the Stonewall Uprising, an early touchpoint in the LGBTQ+ movement. Marsha was an outspoken activist for gay liberation, drag queen, sex worker, and co-founder, along with Sylvia Rivera, of STAR, a radical political collective that provided housing and support to homeless LGBTQ youth.

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martinstag: a day for peace

This post was written with the help of Benjamin Hertwig, partner, co-conspirer, veteran, and PhD student focusing on contemporary war narratives in Canada.

November 11 is Martinstag, or St. Martin’s Day, a liturgical day commemorating the death of Saint Martin. In Germany (where Benjamin’s family is from) Martinstag is celebrated with paper lantern processions, feasting, and bonfires. Today, we’re making pretzels to celebrate the occasion.

Saint Martin was a Roman soldier who left the military after converting to Christianity, founding Ligugé Abbey, one of the oldest Benedictine monasteries in France. He was jailed for cowardice after refusing to continue in Caesar’s conquest, saying “I am the soldier of Christ: it is unlawful for me to fight.” His most well known saintly act was cutting a cloak in two with his sword to give half to a beggar. As such, he is the patron saint of beggars, wool-weavers and tailors, and geese (their migration coincides with his feast), as well as—reflective of the paradoxes of sainthood when tangled in empire and nation—the US Army Quartermaster Corps and of the French Third Republic. What might this feast day, named for a military deserter turned contemplative, teach us?

In Canada, November 11 is also Remembrance Day: a public holiday observed in Commonwealth settler-colonies since WWI in memorial of members of the armed forces, those who, we are often told “fought and died for our freedom.” Many are familiar with the fraught nature of this day: the sanctified pageantry of bagpipe processions, “In Flanders Fields,” and red poppies contrasted with the homelessness rates among veterans and lack of mental health support for returning soldiers, particularly so in America but also in Canada. Dominant narratives valourize “noble” soldier deaths over countless unacknowledged civilian deaths, which is why some choose to wear white poppies instead. Contemporary Remembrance Day celebrations often devolve into drunken forms of patriotic revelry, in Benjamin’s experience—perhaps a symptom of the desire to forget rather than truly remember the horrors of war, what Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan called “a last ditch moral nightmare… hand in hand with death.”

The problem with Remembrance Day is not only how it mythologizes war, but how it reveals what the state remembers and what it forgets, and who we as citizens choose to mourn. Feminist theorist Judith Butler addresses this form of national amnesia in Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? when she asks her readers to consider “whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned, and whose lives are considered ungrievable.” State ceremonies for Remembrance Day, in all their pomp and solemnity, function more as propaganda for patriotism than memorial, especially considering the historic violent erasure and criminalization of Indigenous ceremonies for the purposes of colonial consolidation of land and eradication of Indigenous people. These days, as Mi’kmaq lawyer Dr. Pamela Palmater puts it, the strategy has shifted from the overt elimination of scalp bounties and forced sterilization to institutionalization through prisons, policing, social work, and the foster care system. “White supremacy,” she reminds us, “will kill to keep itself alive.” Cree poet Billy-Ray Belcourt writes in his poem “god’s river:”

remind them
that canada is
four hundred
afghanistans
—call it colonialism

to live in
trenches like these
is to be
civilian casualty
and soldier all at once

Lest we forget, God has strong words for the hypocrisy of people who cling to performative ritual without doing the work of justice and care for the poor and marginalized: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies… Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5: 21-24)

On Saint Martin’s Day, will we refuse state mythologies of war in the spiritual lineage of the Quakers, Catholic Workers, dissenters, and war resisters, choosing instead the way of the cross—embodied solidarity with the incarcerated, occupied, and oppressed? Will we hear Jesus’s calls in the Garden of Gethsemane to put our swords away? Will we choose to remember those killed not only in war but by the violence of the state, those victim to the ongoing violence enacted by colonial powers at home and imperial military forces abroad: the Missing and Murdered, the Black and Indigenous people terrorized by police brutality, the migrants displaced by Canadian corporations and extractive development in Central America? Let us choose to be peace workers, not for the false peace of the status-quo or empty calls for “unity” without justice, but for the peace of Christ: dismantling all forms of violence in favour of radical, border-crossing, empire-resisting inclusion and love, love in the bell hooksian sense, a political ethic and act of will.

Good Gardener God,
Awaken us to a world beyond war:
beyond its mechanisms of violence,
its systematic desecration of your children,
your poor and racialized, your living creation.
You call us into abundant life for all,
into a future free of colonial and capitalist domination.
You seat us at your banqueting table warmed by
a bonfire of burning flags and melted down weapons,
where the only banner is love.

Grant us courage as we strive for peace,
fortitude as we practice resurrection and resistance.
May we march, garden, feast, work, and play in assurance
and hope that you will, in the fullness of time,
restore all things and, in joy and co-liberation,
lead us into your peaceable kin-dom.

Amen.

Prayers & liturgies for St. Martin’s Day


Christian Peacemaker Teams: Litany of Resistance | Written by Jim Loney in 1991 during the first Gulf War, this litany serves as both prayer and collective commitment to resisting war and violence as a spiritual imperative.

For an End to Violence at the Hands of the State
by Kenji Kuramitsu, from A Booklet of Uncommon Prayer: Collects for the Black Lives Matter Movement & Beyond

Mother God,
who has longed to gather all her children
under her mighty wings,
you are our good Parent and Caregiver.

Rupture, O Giver of Truth,
the status quo of racialized violence that infects your land,
and teach us through your divine Word
to reject the false promises of state peace
in favour of the presence of the dangerous justice of Christ.

Amen.

Art for St. Martin’s Day


Songs for St. Martin’s Day


Further Reading & Resources


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when the spirit comes: a poem for pentecost

I originally wrote this poem for Pentecost in 2017 and updated it for Pentecost 2020, and performed it at Grandview Church in East Vancouver and (virtually) at Inhabit Conference. It is inspired by South Korean and ecofeminist theologian Chung Hyun-Kyung’s address to the World Council of Churches Assembly in Canberra, Australia in February 1991, entitled “Welcome the Spirit; hear her cries.” For the written version below, I’ve included footnotes to contextualize the poem for non-local readers.

When the Spirit comes,
She comes swift and surprising,
She comes jubilant brass band at a potluck joyful,
She comes laughing loudly in public and unashamed.
She walks the Drive1 like a busker queen,
Like an overflowing garden, like the sun itself
throwing shade to the rain,
for pain will not have the last word in the hip hop
holy freestyle fire poured out
When the Spirit comes.

1 | Commercial Drive, or “The Drive,” is a street in East Vancouver, historic Little Italy, where peoplewatching yields an eclectic mix of buskers, drum-circling hippies, and bocce-playing seniors, home base of the annual Dyke March. | Photo: Michelle Bruton on Flickr

When the Spirit comes,
She comes in power. At her heels,
SROs2 made safe, the Balmoral2 reborn,
The houseless made next door neighbours.
At her heels, sidewalks flower and parking lots blossom,
The sirens stilled on Main and Hastings3,
The storm of honking hushed on First Ave.
As she dances, a crowd of rainbows,
A party of pride, queer joy without shame.
As she sings, women no longer missing3 found,
The Highway of Tears4 turned tent of feasting –
For all will eat together in right relations,
Whole and well and welcome
When the Spirit comes.

2 | The Balmoral is one of the Downtown Eastside’s notorious SROs, or Single Resident Occupancy hotels, known for their inhumane conditions (lack of running water, broken locks, corrupt slumlords), and yet one of the only housing options available next to street homelessness. The City ordered the evacuation of the Balmoral in 2017.

3 | Main and Hastings are the primary cross streets of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), Canada’s poorest urban postal code and epicentre of the opioid crisis, a neighbourhood characterized by its fierce community advocacy and endless creativity, and birthplace of the Women’s Memorial March which honours the lives of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Photo: Jen Castro on Flickr

4 | The Highway of Tears is a stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert where many Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing. Since 2008, families of the missing have marched the Highway in the Walk4Justice.

When the Spirit comes,
She tumbles from each tongue like water,
Cantonese in Chinatown5 herbal shops,
Punjabi in South Hill6,
Anishinaabemowin7 and Cree and
Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓7 flourishing and free.
Little libraries of lost and found languages
On every corner she breathes.
At her heels, Hogan’s Alley8 restored.
At her heels, Japantown9 breathed whole.
For the Lord says I will show my wonders
Of a city for all people
For the elders and disabled
Blessed and safe,
For the drum beats strong and
thick smudge of sage
Till our home on native #LANDBACK10
She’s counting the days
For all will have their right to place
In the days when the Spirit comes.

5 | Chinatown in Vancouver (photo: CCAP) overlapping with the DTES and home to low-income seniors (Cantonese, Mandarin and Taishanese speaking), is rapidly gentrifying, endangering essential needs access, housing, and livelihood of residents.

6 | South Hill (mistakenly mentioned in the original video as South Fraser Street) is also known as Punjabi Market or Little India, where South Asian immigrants settled near 49th and Main Street in Vancouver.

7 | Anishinaabemowin refers to an Ojbwe language in the Algonkian family. Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ is a Musqueam language; Vancouver is located on the traditional and unceded (untreatied) territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh.

8 | Hogan’s Alley (photo: Vancouver Archives) was the home of Vancouver’s Black community before it was displaced by the construction of the Georgia Viaduct; currently, Hogan’s Alley Society is negotiating the future of the block redevelopment with the City.

9 | Japantown (Paueru Gai) was the cultural centre of Japanese Canadian immigrants in Vancouver until internment during WWII, afterwards which the community never recovered. Community efforts such as the Powell Street Festival continue to celebrate Japanese arts and culture, intergenerational programming, and connection with the DTES on the site of historic Japantown.

10| #LANDBACK is a rallying call and movement for land reclamation and defence of Indigenous sovereignty, especially in the face of continued colonial policies and extractive industry.

When the Spirit comes,
She comes unstoppable. She comes
Dirt under her fingernails and unbrushed hair
She comes with the scent of earth on her skin.
At her heels, backyard gardens leap into life
At her hands, honeybees once dead take flight.
For the earth and all that is in it singing the blues
the Spirit brings gospel choir good news
The hope of a groaning world renewed,
For the mountains will have peace
And the ocean reefs abound,
The purple starfish return to Howe Sound11
The forests dance for their Creator crowned
In the days when the Spirit comes.

11 | Howe Sound (Atl’ka7tsem in Squamish) has experienced a mass mortality of sea stars, symptomatic of sea star wasting disease which has been connected to ocean warming and climate change. In recent years, observers have documented high densities of baby sea stars re-settling in the area. Photo: Donna Gibbs/Oceanwise

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