In these times of coronavirus induced 'social isolation', it is salutary to reflect on those who have been leaders in practicing what we might call 'sacred isolation'. Indeed, I was happy recently to meet a request to write about St. Cuthbert, whose feast day falls this week. As a child of Northumbria, and the haliwerfolc (people of the saint) of Durham, it was a labour of love (there are certainly reasons his famous cross hangs, as in the photo above, in the window of my living room). My piece for Anglican Focus is entitled 'St Cuthbert - opening the door to the heart of heaven' (with homage to Malcolm Guite's fine sonnet), and can be found here. Sadly, in the Australian Anglican Lectionary, Cuthbert is remembered primarily as 'bishop and missionary'. His true significance however is much more than that: above all, as monk and hermit, in exploring life and God in silence, solitude, and intimate relationship with the 'word' of God in people, places, scripture and the 'book' of all Creation. Perhaps his commitment to 'sacred isolation' at the heart of his being is a particular gift to us today - not cutting us off from others, but enabling us to find deeper meaning, healing and solidarity in the midst of whatever life's circumstances throw our way?
Taken seriously, Christian spirituality really is extraordinarily queer. This is hidden by widespread modernist narratives and assumptions, both secularist and Christian 'mainstream', and also, still more, biblicist and fundamentalist, Sadly, such restrictive approaches try to squeeze the tremendous historical diversity of scripture, tradition and religious experience into various Procrustean beds of ordered, ideological, understanding. Yet the control of spiritual bodies, like queer bodies, always proves elusive, even to the most subtle and determined of subduers and butchers. History is indeed full of horrendous tortures and amputations inflicted upon such bodies. Ultimately however they can not be wholly suppressed. They break through in ways which are life-giving and surprising, if sometimes highly ambiguous and constrained. Certainly this is true of medieval bodies, not least those of female mystics: perhaps above all represented in Julian, or Juliana, of Norwich. For it is not an accident that the 14th century Julian has been 'rediscovered' in recent decades by those seeking fresh perspectives on spirituality, gender, God, and the renewal of being. In her we are drawn from our tombs of suffering and despair into subversive possibilities of new creation.. Not for nothing is she thus perhaps the greatest of all English spiritual teachers...
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.