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Wide-Eyed Seeing

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Gender and Sexuality

Wide-Eyed Seeing
Sunday, October 20, 2019

I know that many Daily Meditations readers are my age—or almost (I’m 76 now)—and come from traditional religious backgrounds, so I want to recognize that this week on Gender and Sexuality may challenge what we were taught about what it means to be human, made in the image and likeness of God. While younger generations are more comfortable talking about a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations, most of us born before 1960 were taught that there were only two genders, male and female, and only one acceptable sexual orientation: “straight.” So, I want to start by inviting you to receive these reflections through the lens of contemplation. This week is a good test case for one’s ability to think in a nondual way.

Contemplation is a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciating. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see but teaches us how to see what we behold.

Contemplation allows us to see the truth of things in their wholeness. It is a mental discipline and gift that detaches us, even neurologically, from our addiction to our habitual ways of thinking and from our left brain, which likes to think it is in control. We stop believing our little binary mind—which strips things down to two choices and then usually identifies with one of them—and begin to recognize the inadequacy of that limited way of knowing reality. Relying solely on the binary mind is a recipe for superficiality. Only the contemplative, or the deeply intuitive, can start venturing out into much broader and more open-ended horizons.

But how do we learn this contemplative mind, this deep, mysterious, and life-giving way of perceiving, of being with, reality? Why does it not come naturally to us? Actually, it does come momentarily, in states of great love and great suffering, but such wide-eyed seeing normally does not last. We return quickly to dualistic analysis and use our judgments to retake control. A prayer practice—contemplation—is simply a way of maintaining the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul and in different situations. And that takes a lot of practice—in fact, our whole life becomes one continual practice. I am no exception. I began to practice contemplation in the 1970s and I have never stopped, but more than forty years later, I find my binary mind is usually still the first to the table, ready to deliver a quick judgment and decision!

To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe—and usually be humiliated by—the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well-practiced in just a few predictable responses. Few of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us.

The most common human responses to a new moment, or something that does not fit neatly into one of our dualistic categories such as male or female, gay or straight, are mistrust, cynicism, fear, knee-jerk reactions, a spirit of dismissal, and overriding judgmentalism. It is so dis-couraging when we have the courage to finally see that these habits are the common ways that the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!

The Reverend Elizabeth Edman, an openly queer [1] priest in the Episcopal Church, focuses in her book Queer Virtue on “‘authentic Christianity’ as a spiritual journey that prioritizes the ancient Christian impulse to rupture simplistic binaries, especially those pertaining to the relationship between Self and Other.” [2] Edman’s book doesn’t focus on issues of sexual morality but on all the cultural and religious boundaries Jesus transgressed.

With all the changing ways of understanding gender and sexuality, most of us truly need contemplative eyes and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to “rupture simplistic binaries” and be compassionate and respectful of difference and diversity. It clearly seems that God is quite comfortable with immense diversity.  We have a much harder time with it, preferring uniformity and conformity instead.

[1] “Queer” is an adjective used by some people whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual. Once considered a pejorative, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBTQIA people to describe themselves. The word may also be used by individuals who identify as non-binary. In academia, queer theory is a growing field of study in many departments. See the following site for a glossary of LGBTQIA terms:

[2] Elizabeth M. Edman, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity (Beacon Press: 2016), xiii.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 7-9.

Image credit: Gene Davis Paintings 1960-1972 Exhibition Poster (detail), Gene Davis, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Florence Coulson Davis.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It clearly seems that God is quite comfortable with immense diversity.  We have a much harder time with it, preferring uniformity and conformity instead. —Richard Rohr
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