Isn't it amazing how, even though we may not knowingly prepared for it, we can often enter a space set aside for intentional spiritual growth and be caught up, affirmed and transformed by it? This was again my experience this week as I put the finishing touches to a new website I am creating - which will share something of the growing spiritual resources and reflections being produced by transgender Christians across the world, together with others of my own. Focused on thoughts of this, I made my way to the beautiful Chapel of the Holy Spirit here on our college site. What I encountered brought fresh joy to my soul, placing in greater profile and context the purpose of that work. For it was a powerful reminder to me, as a transgender person, not only that, in the words of Psalm 139, I am 'fearfully and wonderfully made', but that all of us, whoever and whatever we are, exist in a mystery which is both far beyond our understanding (certainly more than straightforward binary ideas of good and evil, male and female) and yet also closer to us than the identities we have or for which we struggle. Such is the gift of loving spiritual intention, in people, place and prayer...
For one of the many delights of St Francis College Brisbane where I work, is that, among many other creative ministries, it hosts a flourishing Spiritual Direction Formation Program. This nurtures the precious gift of sacred listening and accompaniment of others on the journey into spiritual depth and greater life. St Francis College is certainly an appropriate setting for this, as an oasis of peace and environmental beauty in the midst of the busy inner-city. It was therefore lovely this week to share in morning prayer with participants. Most beautiful of all was the reflective prayer this Tuesday morning, focusing on the sacred dreaming of God in which our own most loving dreams and identities are born, nurtured and come to fruition.
The service was led by some of the spiritual direction formation students and contained some wonderful elements, including acknowledgement of sacred earth and Aboriginal stewardship, music, silence, and well chosen passages from scripture and others' spiritual reflections upon it. Each of these no doubt spoke in different ways to each of those who gathered. Most vital for me however were the words from Psalm 139 on the opening page of the prayer sheet. For transgender people live in a world where powerful forces - including, sadly, Pope Francis - not only continue to doubt our sacred created identities, but even suggest we are threats to healthy spirituality, family, society, and even the continuation of life itself. We, together with mainstream science and medicine, and growing numbers in society at large, know this is to be damaging foolish nonsense. Yet at the deepest centre of ourselves - where we know this to be true most of all - many of us still long for a joyful spiritual affirmation from those who lead and claim to carry the torch of Judaeo-Christian wisdom.
Like drops of water on a parched soil, burned too long by the sun of deep misunderstanding and, sometimes (it seems) almost wilful aggression, the words of Psalm 139 speak again. Others may still despise or hurt us, but God - the source of love which creates each of us in our amazing uniqueness and diversity - never does. For God is unimaginable love and knows us better than we can ever even know ourselves: 'even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely... Where can I go from your spirit?... If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the furthermost limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me.' This is the indestructible Spirit which we can rely on even when our own spirits feel crushed: for 'if I say "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night." even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day,' For says the Psalmist, in words which both touch the mystery of all being and shatter all binary divisions into divine harmony once more, 'even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.' This indescribable love does not judge, or box us, but simply seeks our creative unfolding. For we - transgender people - are not God's mistakes We are God's purpose and joy. As the psalmist puts it: 'for it was you (divine love) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.' Surprising creations perhaps but 'fearfully and wonderfully made.'
Pope Francis and his ilk will no doubt cavil and continue to contend. Yet it is from such depths that our transgender strength and spirituality emerges. For we are not captives of tricks of the mind, but unique creations for each of whom God intends full body-mind-soul-relational integrity. As the psalmist says, 'wonderful are your works, that I know very well. My frame (my true and full spiritual-physical gender identity) was not hidden from you.' Others may not have seen it, may still not see, it, and some of us tried to avoid seeing it (sometimes for far too long) but God always saw it - who we are and what we might become: for 'when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth, Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them yet existed.'
Our task, my spiritual direction formation friends enabled me to see again, is always to return and enter more fully into God's dream of who we are and what we are to be. For to do so is not only to fulfil the divine promise we are given in Psalm 139. It is also, in doing so, to help set others free to be the people they are called to be. As Macrina Wiederkehr put it, in words also used in that blessed time on Tuesday morning (in The call to embrace God's dreaming in us', from 'Seasons of the Heart':
I am told that there are folks who refuse to dream
because their dreams have been so seemingly shattered
like dreams that die at birth.
And so they hide their dreams in small corners of their hearts
and pretend they aren't there.
But as for me I am almost sure
that in the Body of Christ that we call the Church
we have the power
to help each other's dreams come true.
For in dark moments
when light has hidden its face for a while
we are the stars meant to shine for each other
And we do!
More than anything else I would like to remind you
that the dreams hidden within you
have the power to become a gospel.
And it is as important for us to know that
as it is for the sun to shine
or the rain to fall
or a heart to beat,
because only if we believe in the gospel
that lives inside
those hidden dreams in us
can the strangers we walk with
afford to dream.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.