In his essay, God’s Body the queer theologian Mark Jordan reflects on the many rites and artefacts that Roman Catholics use when “meditating on the incarnate God.” There is the belief that the bread and wine at the Eucharist becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus. There are the tabernacles which house unconsumed pieces of Jesus’ flesh (actually we’ve got one of those too); there are the graphic crucifixes and prints of the Sacred Heart. It would seem, at least according to Mark Jordan, that Roman Catholics spend a good amount of time gazing upon God’s body.[i]
Of course, gazing upon God’s body and wondering about it as anything other than a straight male able body with normative features and genitals—not that any of us would ever spend time thinking about God’s genitals—gazing upon God’s body and wondering about it as anything other than the body that dominates the patriarchal rites and artefacts of our Christian traditions, well this isn’t exactly encouraged in church. So, maybe there’s a part of me that’s a little relieved that Anglicans don’t put God’s body on display, because it’s not like we’re allowed to think all that imaginatively about it anyway.
Except that we are allowed—encouraged even—to think about God’s body as everything other than the so-called normative male body. It was Casper Zuzek who first got me thinking about this. The last time the Transfiguration story came around; Casper wrote a blog entitled, Meeting Myself in the Mountains, where he talked about preparing for his gender transition. Casper compared his time in the mountains to Jesus’ time on the mountain at the Transfiguration. He writes, “The story would have been a lot different had [Jesus] chosen to reveal himself to Peter, James, and John in the temple or the city square but it would have lost something very important. When Jesus took them away from the city and into nature, not only did it create intimacy because the four of them journeyed and arrived there alone, it was also a special kind of intimacy because Jesus took them to where he met with the Creator.”[ii]
Casper imagines the kind of intimacy that Jesus experienced when he revealed something of his true identity at the Transfiguration, Casper imagines this as the kind of intimacy he experienced with God as he prepared to reveal his “whole self to people for the first time.” Which is to say, Casper sees himself in Jesus. Casper risks imagining Jesus’ body as his trans body. How radical it is when people imagine God’s body as something other than the “normal” body that lies beneath so many of our toxic understandings of how God reveals God’s self in the world.
The Transfiguration story has come around once again in tonight’s gospel reading. Jesus goes with his disciples to a mountain to pray. And while he is praying, the appearance of his body changes. And not really knowing what to do, Jesus’ disciples offer to pitch a tent next to Moses and Elijah. Maybe Jesus can spend some time in the company of some quality dudes and remember the normal way of being in a body that looks like his body. And doing what God does best, God interrupts the scene and speaking from a cloud she says, “Actually, this is my Beloved, my Chosen—listen to him!”
This is an affirmation of Jesus’ divinity, linking Jesus to the God of the Hebrew Scriptures who’s been known to show up on mountains and reveal her true identity to the likes of Moses and Elijah. You know these stories well. God speaks to Moses on a mountain and reveals the Ten Commandments. God hides Moses in the cleft of a mountain, so that passing by in a cloud she can reveal her glory. God calls Elijah to Mount Horeb and while Elijah is there, a great wind splits the mountain—but God is not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake—but God is not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire—but God is not in the fire. And then the sound of sheer silence—and there, Elijah meets God.
So, when we hear a story about Jesus meeting people on a mountain to reveal something—and that a cloud is involved—there’s a pretty good chance we’re listening to a story about God delighting in the transformation that’s taking place. In the story of the Transfiguration, God delights in revealing the queerness of Jesus’ so-called normative body. God delights in queering how the disciples always imagined God’s body and as Casper’s mountain story tells us, God delights in revealing how we always imagined our own.
Now we know that the disciples went down from that Transfiguration mountain and “…kept silent. And in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” And oh, how queer people know the sound of sheer silence, know what it’s like to tell no one of the transformation we’re experiencing. So on this Pride Day, may those of us who have historically kept silent—told no one any of the things we have imagined for our bodies—may we find ways to observe the erasure we and so many others experience, and may others find ways to observe it with us. And for those of us who used to keep silent and now feel compelled to tell out the transformation we have experienced in our bodies, may we find mountains where we, too, can reveal our whole selves. Finally, on this, the Feast day for the Transfiguration of our Lord, may you set your gaze always on God’s body, and may you find your body there.
[i]Mark D. Jordan. “God’s Body,” in Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body. Edited by Gerard Loughlin. Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
[ii]Casper Zuzek. “Meeting myself in the mountains.” Radical Discipleship. Posted online at https://radicaldiscipleship.net/2018/02/22/wild-lectionary-meeting-myself-in-the-mountains/#more-13985