For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ Catholics writing on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality in biblical contexts.
Today’s reflection is from Sister Jeanne Christensen, RSM, who serves as the Justice Advocate against Human Trafficking for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. She is a member of the Board of Director and one of the founding members of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking . She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the College of St. Mary in Omaha, Nebraska. Jeanne is also one of the 23 sisters whose story is in the anthology Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious.
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In the Advent story, the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to be the mother of Jesus. We are familiar with this story and so often identify with Mary’s Fiat – “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
There are hundreds of images of this scene. Searching through those images, I stopped at one I had never seen before: The Annunciation (1) a tender and moving painting by American artist, James Christensen (no relation to me), captures the moment after the angel Gabriel has announced to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the Christ Child. She appears stricken, troubled. She may have responded with humility, trust and grace, but she was being asked to do something totally unknown to her. Who would believe her? Help her? How would she tell her parents? Or Joseph to whom she was promised? She was taking a frightening step into an unknown future. Beginning a journey for which she had no map.
Many in the LGBTQ+ community identify with feeling stricken — living in silence and fear because of their sexuality but wanting desperately to courageously claim their sexual/gender identity. Feeling troubled when they consider taking the frightening step to come out rather than to remain hidden, living a heart-rending secret. How many have begun their journey for which they had no map? Without an angel’s appearance to announce it was time to say “yes” to come out and live with integrity? How did each come to their decision to come out or to remain hidden? This is a unique journey for each person.
Like Mary, we each have the power within to choose, but do we have enough trust to choose something we would rather not or are afraid to do? Twenty-three lesbian/queer women religious recently did. They shared their stories in Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious. The book is dedicated “to all the lesbian and queer women religious over the centuries who lived in silence and fear about their sexuality and to all those who now courageously claim their sexual identity. In deep gratitude for the lives of all these women who have loved tenderly and ministered selflessly in the service of God’s people.”
Each story is unique and reflects honestly each woman’s experience on her/their journey to wholeness and living in integrity. Each one, like our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ+ community, needed the support and acceptance of her/their family, friends and communities just as Mary did to fulfill her choice to do what God asked of her.
To close, I offer this reflection/prayer on “choosing” from a chapter entitled “The Virgin: to Mary” in the book Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas, by Jan Richardson (2).
In the center of ourselves you placed the power of choosing.
Forgive us the times we have given that power away, when we have sold our birthright for that which does not satisfy our souls.
And so in your wisdom may our yes be truly yes and our no be truly no, that we may touch with dignity, and love with integrity, and know the freedom of our own choosing all our days.
– Sister Jeanne Christensen, RSM, December 19, 2021
(1) Symbolism enriches the image. The post in the background resembles a pillar, which in Renaissance art symbolized a separation between heaven and earth. Mary is dressed in white, the color of purity. And according to early Christian literature, the small white feather on the right-hand side of the work symbolizes faith and contemplation…or perhaps the plume drifted from Gabriel’s wings.
(2) Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas by Jan Richardson © 1998, Wanton Gospeller Press, Orlando, FL