• Stephen Oliver B-M

The queer grace of ‘Absolute succour and demand’

Madonna with Rainbow Flag by Richard Stott, 2014

What is the core experience of the Holy, the fundamental content of religious language that is spoken of when we speak of God?

Monotheism assumes ‘One’ God, but this three letter word has so many meanings, refers to such diverse experiences that it hides a polytheism of worship. For Queer Christianity, the meaning that the word ‘God’ conveys is of uncertain gender and if we use British culture as a guide, definitely more feminine than masculine.

A leading English theologian of the mid-twentieth century, H.H. Farmer coined the phrase , ‘Absolute succour and demand’ to describe what it means to stumble upon holy ground. It is the divine experience of finding oneself unconditionally loved in our bodies, ‘succoured’ as a mother suckles her child with tenderness, deepest love, treasuring and embracing and venerating the irresistible loveliness of human flesh, utterly biological yet utterly transcendent. In the paintings of the Madonna and Child, we theologically express it as the ‘Epiphany of Love in Flesh’.

On the positive side, the root religious experience of love is bliss but within the ‘beyond words convey’ of ecstatic love there is inseparably an equally deep experience of ‘Absolute Demand’, what might be called the justice of love. It is the demand to protect this child and do everything that love demands of us to support the child realise its full potential - all the terrors of commitment that is unconditional love. It is the outpouring of visions of grace, of supportive caring love. We bind ourselves to this grace, the incarnate love in the day to day messiness of life. It is worship and veneration come by finding oneself in the presence of vulnerable precious flesh, the demand of gentleness, not just as we find it with the new born child, but also in the marriage bed of sexual love.

Divine worship occurs in church, but it equally occurs in the day to day relationships. The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, ‘Make me an instrument of your peace’ captures the content of what possessing the spirit of listening receptive grace involves, not seeking to be loved but to love. It is the grace of hearing the pain of hurts and depression, putting aside our self-preoccupation to be open to the others need. Queer Christianity understands it as the fruit of the Spirit of gentleness and understanding, the spirit that we bring to every person we meet to their particular needs. What we do not bring is a spirit of the hypocrite, the moralisms, manipulating morality of our prejudices.

Queer Christianity seeks the fullness of ‘eternal life’, the ecstatic awareness of transcendent grace that turns every moment into divine worship:

’Silent, Emptied, Gentle,

Open to Receive,

Treasuring and Venerating,

Love in Flesh Alone,

Powerfully Loving,

In Trusting Solidarity,

Given in Peace for

Love’s Epiphany.’

Love responds to each human body in its uniqueness as well as in its general needs. Part of the adventure of love is discovering that distinction. Some of us are inter-sexed, some bisexual, lesbian or homosexual, others transgendered or asexual. The Queer in LGBTQIA+ puzzles and questions gendered labels and sexual expectations, preconceived ideas of the love that is ‘Absolute Succour and Demand’, the divine grace that unites worship at the altar of the Church and the altar that is the marriage bed. What we have in common is the certainty of eternal life that is eternal love, that which goes beyond all human attempts at bottled or canned love that conventional and fundamentalist Christianity has mistaken as signs of the Spirit.

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