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Other Articles By Ko Imani:
Fire in the Lake
It is easy to reject when rejected, since so many of us are rejected by our faith communities. So easy to run too far the other way in our thinking, as if the error of authority figures invalidates our own spiritual existence. Running the other way, many of us fell, not really into pleasure, but joy.
Reach Me a Gentian
The mistaken notion that same-gender-loving orientation and gender diversity are inherently immoral and unholy, not to mention the popular idea that queers go to hell, is usually at the root of a Demeter Complex. From these parents' point of view, forces of darkness and light are waging war for their child's immortal soul, and their son or daughter's homosexual orientation or expanding gender identity is proof that the forces of darkness are winning.
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"Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion you are sheep. You are souls immortal, spirits free, blessed and eternal."
day, the devil and his friend were walking down the street. Ahead of them,
they saw a man bend down, pick something up off the ground and stuff it
eagerly into his pocket. "What was that?" asked the devil's friend. "Oh,
that was a piece of the Truth," said the devil. "Well, that's bad news
for you, isn't it?" said the friend. "Not at all," the devil said with
a smirk. "I'm going to let him organize it."
On our spiritual journeys as lesbian, gay, bi-affectionate and transgender
people, some of the most insidious illusions that arrest our progress
are the trappings of organized religion. For many of us that were expelled
from the garden of our faith tradition because of our gender identity
or sexual orientation, the struggle to return takes over our thinking
about religion and spirituality. But return to what? Too often we are
content to return to the rituals, the community or the drag of our faith
tradition -- overcoming those who thought they could hold us back or keep
us out -- but fail to engage our lives and souls in a transformational relationship
with the Divine. We claim the words, but not the power; we celebrate the
customs, but avoid the practice; we bind ourselves to institutions, but
drown out the Spirit; we sketch vast architectures, but remain blind to
It's not that religious traditions are bad, quite the contrary. Beautiful
buildings, colorful fabrics, smoke, crackers, cadences and harmonies are
all nice things to have, but if they do not facilitate the deepening of
an individual's consciousness, if they do not simplify instead of complicate,
transform instead of translate, if they do not, like language, point beyond
themselves, if they do not lay bare our true selves, then they are all
of them empty, valueless barriers to the evolutionary maturation of the
human spirit toward God.
The simple truth is -- and you can stop reading after this is you want
since the rest will just say this with more words - the simple truth is
that salvation, enlightenment and inner peace can only be found by going
inward, and never by rummaging through whatís outside.
"If your leaders tell you, 'the kingdom of God is in the sky,' then
the birds will get there before you. If they say that it is under the
sea, the fish will enter and will precede you. I say unto you that the
kingdom of God is inside you and outside you and all around you. Whosoever
knows oneself will find the kingdom. And when you know yourselves, you
will know that you are the children of the living God," says Jesus in
The Gospel of Thomas. How do we come to know our true selves? We
become still, quiet and fully present. We close our mouths, block off
our senses, blunt our sharpness, untie our knots, soften our glares, and
settle our dust. Only then can we know our primal identity. Only then
can we hear the still, small voice of Spirit. Only then are we open to
the action of Spirit. Only then are we available for the great
work of transformation.
There are many techniques that can support this transformation, from
centering and contemplative prayer to yoga, Zen meditation and Vedanta.
The goals of a transformative spiritual practice are self-realization
and partnership with the Divine. Of course, self-realization and partnering
with the Divine mean exploring parts of ourselves and parts of God that
we wish weren't there. Only when we become fully conscious of the web
of assumptions and beliefs that we have constructed about the world and
about ourselvesóa web in which we now are caught - are we forced to dismantle
our illusions. Then we learn to see what lies within us and what lies
outside us as they really are; only then are we able to interact with
the world as it is and not as we imagine it to be. "Not-knowing is true
knowledge. Presuming to know is a disease," cautions Lao-tzu in Tao
Te Ching. "Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true
wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power."
Unfortunately, queer people are as skilled at avoiding this kind of
conflict with our own mindsí constructions as we are adept at confronting
the discriminatory traditions and values of our society and many religions.
This conflict is so primal, so radical - to change not only the public
translation of spiritual values but to transform our very understanding
of realityóthat part of us wants to escape it. The loud, pushy voice of
ego keeps our focus outside of ourselves - driving us to change things on
the surface of the phenomenal world. Any kind of fundamental questioning,
any opportunity for deep, inner quiet, threatens to shatter the concepts
of what the self is and how the universe operates upon which we base every
thought and decision! Many of us think, subconsciously or not, that we
just don't want to know that much.
Iíve certainly seen this hesitance in myself; it took me years to pick
up a Ken Wilber book because I knew I just couldn't handle having my worldview
challenged that much. The last time I confronted my Dad about the religious
reasons for his disapproval of my marriage, he emotionally responded to
my informed exegesis of scripture with, "I donít want to hear it. I need
to believe what I believe." Itís true of most of us. Our entire lives
are constructed around certain assumptions about how things work and why.
We want our understanding of Spirit and our experience of the world to
be static things -- after you get them once, they never change. Unfortunately,
as time goes on and human beings learn more and more about the universe
and human nature and how they operate, our personal understanding has
to change or we become fossils of an outmoded worldview. Our development
becomes arrested: full stop. Just because a way of being has become comfortable
doesnít mean itís correct.
In fact, we usually become more and more uncomfortable as we become
closer and closer to Spirit through meditation and prayer. First, "We
see that God is not a drug or an instantaneous bliss maker," explains
Julia Mossbridge, gifted author of Unfolding: The Perpetual Science
of Your Soulís Work. "We discover that our lives are not the sole
item on Godís agenda. Partnering with God is not about developing an ethereal,
airy-fairy relationship with some force of Love. It is about developing
an intimate, everyday, every-moment-of-every-day friendship in which you
are with God all the time: while doing volunteer work, making a speech,
singing in a choir, dancing at your wedding, getting in a fist-fight,
eating the third plate of nachos, cursing at pedestrians. All the time."
"It is a call to follow Jesus out of all the structures, security blankets,
and even spiritual practices that serve as props. They are all left behind
insofar as they are part of the false self systemÖThe false self is an
illusion," says prominent Christian contemplative, Father Thomas Keating
in Open Mind, Open Heart. In short, when we become fully, deeply
presentóas we begin to recognize our true selves and look God in the eyeówe
get the rug pulled out from under us.
It's not a bad thing, although we have a low tolerance for discomfort.
Getting shaken up is just evidence of our rising up. If our feet
stayed firmly planted on the rug of our conventional understanding, our
feet would never leave the ground. Groundlessness is inherent in the process.
Just as there must be silence for Spirit to be audible, there has to be
space in our thoughts and beliefs for Truth to manifest. Groundlessness
wipes away our preconceptions. Pema Chodron explains in The Places
That Scare You that as we become used to this insecurity, "To the
extent that we stop struggling against uncertainty and ambiguity, to that
extent we dissolve our fear."
There is no fear in love. When groundlessness cultivates our fearlessness,
we encounter our own genuinely loving nature, and we become available
for open-minded, whole-hearted interaction with the universe. As gay Christian
mystic Jim Marion puts it in Putting on the Mind of Christ, "All
we need to do to be 'saved' is to consciously realize who we have been
all along. We need to realize our own divinity, own it, take up the responsibility
of it, and live it."
If transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay women, men and young people
do not awaken to our full responsibility, to our fulfillment, our empowerment,
then our natural function as human beings in society will continue to
be frustrated, obstructed and disjoint. The possibility for our final
emancipation, legitimization and liberation will wither if LGBT people
do not unmask and become more present to others, in service to others,
and bring the gentle qualities of Spirit to the details of living.
These universal qualities of Spiritólove, compassion, patience, tolerance,
forgiveness, humility, contentment, responsibility and harmonyówill help
us transform straight communities into just and sustainable environments
that nurture whole, mindful and evolving individuals. Our awakening of
spiritual and emotional intelligence will be the thunder that cracks their
slumber. Our care and service will rain down and wash away the dark stains
of hate and prejudice. Our radical realization will be the shirt of flame
that burns bushels and allows our inner lights to shine.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us 'til we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity's sake?
~Christopher Fry, A Sleep of Prisoners
Pre-order Ko Imani's book, Shirt
of Flame: The Secret Gay Art of War, today! Ko's monthly column, FIRE
IN THE LAKE, reaches almost 1,000,000 LGBT and allies around the world.
Ko, his husband and their puppy live near Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Copyright © 2003 by the author
All Rights Reserved
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