The following is based on an excerpt from Coming In by Urs Mattmann. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
A number of years ago, I wrote Coming In. It was the first spiritual book written in German which was aimed mainly at gay and lesbian people and their friends. There were theological books on ‘the issue’ but they were not written from a spiritual perspective. The same cannot be said of the English-speaking world, as there have been a number of gay/lesbian spiritual books published in English, whether from a Christian perspective or otherwise. While working on the UK edition I thought a lot about what makes this book unique. It’s not just another spiritual book on ‘homosexuality.’ It is written from a deep mystical perspective – a Christian mystical perspective that has a great openness to other traditions.
In my work as a therapist and as an author, I seek to explore theology yet also practicality, offering prayers, rituals and suggestions for living a spiritual life. I address the potential and the unique gift that gays and lesbians have to offer to the world. I try to present a vision for this movement of liberation, together with a cosmology of faith.
A glance at the titles of the chapters will give the reader a feeling of the holistic approach I attempt to convey.
For many years I have been creatively involved with the monthly worship services of a local gay/lesbian ecumenical worship group, and since 1997 I have been facilitating retreats for lesbians and gays in Europe. At all these events I encounter many lesbians and gays who express a spiritual yearning. They are searching for a relevant form of faith; they desire to discover and travel their own spiritual path. As a result, there are many things to celebrate, but there are also many questions to be asked and issues raised.
With Coming In, I want to demonstrate what a relevant and liberating spirituality can mean for gays and lesbians, and how this spirituality can enrich our lives on a practical level. In these chapters I focus on an open and deep Christian spirituality.
Although I have entered into dialogue with other religious traditions and have therefore acquired knowledge about them and a flavour of some of their gifts, I continue to be firmly rooted in the Christian tradition. Following the footsteps of Jesus has given me the freedom to explore some of the aims of esoteric tradition, deeming some aspects problematic and others helpful.
I am a gay man, a follower of Christ. In my personal opinion it is vitally important to feel at home in one tradition and thus be able to explore its complexities and its depths. I am also convinced that the Christian spiritual tradition has a lot to offer gays and lesbians. It must be said that, in spite of the often antisexual attitudes that have prevailed in the churches throughout the centuries, in no other world religion is there so much questioning, dialogue and breakthrough going on than in the Christian tradition.
The main emphasis in my writing is spiritual rather than theological.
While my work does have theological implications, its central focus is the spiritual path. The great Catholic theologian of the 20th century Karl Rahner once said: ‘The Christian of the 21st century will be a mystic or he (or she) will not exist.’ I want to open the doors so that readers of this book can experience the Christian faith as a spiritual reality, especially gays and lesbians who have been rejected or even condemned by their churches.
This book therefore does not lay out a new dogma for lesbian women and gay men but rather explores a Christian mystic spirituality rooted in one’s own experience. All true mystic spirituality breaks through barriers of dualism and exclusion, so in these pages I have attempted to describe a spirituality that bridges, explores, liberates and reconciles faith and sexuality.
When I wrote the original German version of Coming In, I was living with my partner in a community where we had a small sanctuary in the house. Within it was my favourite icon which pictures Jesus with his arm around one of his disciples. Sitting on my meditation cushion, I always prayed facing this icon. I prayed with all aspects of my being. I was present as a gay man. I was silent. I spoke. I was full of attention and surrender. I started to feel within me this image of Christ holding a man. Christ spoke to me: ‘I, Christ, am fully present in you. Your homosexuality is fully embraced in Me. Your being gay nourishes the Source in the depth of your being. Your sexuality enriches you and is a gift to the world. Your gayness opens up your consciousness.’ This book deals with the mystic journey undertaken by those who are sexually different: gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals.
The point of these chapters is not to justify same-sex sexual orientation but to discover its purpose and to render it fertile by integrating it into spirituality.
To this interpretation of spirituality I also add some of my experiences of other religions and especially I include the wisdom of transpersonal psychology (mainly in the form of Psychosynthesis) and the gift of meditation (mainly Zen and Christian contemplation).
Even though I studied theology for two years at a biblical college, it was to a much larger extent my meditation experience that strengthened my understanding of God and experience of Christ. Of course this did not happen overnight. I have been following the meditative path more or less intensively since the age of 27. Psychosynthesis, a major school of the transpersonal psychology tradition, was founded by Roberto Assagioli, originally a student of Sigmund Freud. It is a branch of psychology that includes the spiritual aspect of the human being. I was privileged to receive a full five-year training as a Psychosynthesis guide and therapist. God used this training and my meditation exercises to allow me more fully to grasp what St Paul meant when he said: ‘It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ This dimension and experience of the reality of Christ has shone a new light onto my life as a gay man.
Why are we here? Where are we going?
It’s fascinating to see how many people have answered those questions from a spiritual perspective. I was quite surprised and deeply moved to find that as long as fifty or a hundred years ago some gay men wrestled profoundly with and wrote about spiritual issues. Those four questions were raised by individuals like Walt Whitman, Gerald Heard and Harry Hay in North America, and Edward Carpenter in Britain. They developed a vision for homosexual people – Whitman less explicitly, but Heard, Hay and Carpenter gave it a name. Since 1970 the international gay and lesbian Christian movement has been blessed with more and more lesbians and gays who have stood out in their life and faith: gay men like the aforementioned John McNeill and Chris Glaser, and Troy Perry; lesbian women like Carter Hayward, Elisabeth Stuart or Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. I rejoice for the ministry these women and men have provided. Some were true pioneers in a homophobic environment; others are just discovering their calling and contribution. Their vision flows into this book and I have built on some of their ideas.
Something that I deem very important is the potential of homosexuality. This assumes that homosexuality is not an accident, a pointless product of creation, but that it makes sense and has a purpose. This purpose – and one might also add ‘calling’ – includes different and special gifts, qualities, responsibilities. These ‘queer’ gifts of gay and lesbian people are not only for use in their own personal development but also for service in and to the world. A common error made both by enemies of the homosexual movement and at the same time by members of the gay and lesbian scene themselves is to reduce homosexuality to just sex.
Certainly, homosexual intercourse usually goes along with being gay and lesbian and lived genital same-sex sexuality can be an important expression of our being and personality and may be a source of strength for lovers. But there are second and third levels or aspects of homosexuality.
The obvious second level is homosexuality in a relationship. In a life partnership of two people of the same sex, a wonderful, loving union can develop in which sexual communion may constitute only a fraction of the time spent together. There is so much more to a shared life, including conversation, tenderness and common activities. Couples on a spiritual path together will be likely to take part in mutual prayer or worship or sitting in meditation together.
The third level has been given the least attention so far. I would describe this level of homosexuality as a different or altered kind of consciousness. This hidden potential of same-sex love is what I discover and explore in Coming In.
Along with considering the spiritual point of view, we shall also be looking at our gay/lesbian sexuality itself as part of a relevant Christian faith. How can sexuality become a source not only of joy but also of strength, nourishment and even revitalisation?
We will also consider this dimension within the context of the culture of sexual consumerism which plays a significant part in our society. While lesbians might be more cautious about this tendency, many gay men are fully and uncritically involved in this hedonistic approach. Sexuality in our society is more often than not reduced to a product, an act that achieves a few moments of ecstasy. As a result, the choice of partner becomes less important as long as he fulfils my fantasies of sexual attractiveness and promises quick satisfaction.
How can we find new ways of dealing with our sexual drive with respect and integrity? I hope I will be able to provide some insights about a holistic approach to rediscovering our sexual energy as a source of strength. This journey will not exclude critical questions about the cult of youth that dominates sections of the gay scene – just as it also dominates other parts of society.
Of course, it doesn’t make sense to issue harsh, moralistic statements, or to impose simplistic bans that haven’t been thought through. The way forward is an invitation to explore the options for a sexuality that is connected to soul, spirit and mind, as well as body.
As we go along, I will refer to my experiences as a member of an ecumenical order, the Friedensgasse Community, to which my partner and I both belong. This order will be introduced in Chapter 10, which looks at the possibilities for gays and lesbians to find a spiritual home.
I hope it has become obvious that I do not write as a neutral observer or from a detached, theoretical point of view. My Christian spiritual journey as a gay man underpins all that I write. This journey started consciously in 1978 when I was 18. That was when I started to come out and accept and appreciate my same-sex orientation. It was then that I took part for the first time in a gay and lesbian conference in a church seminar centre. In the same year – and this may be no coincidence – I underwent, by God’s grace, a surprising and transformative spiritual experience in which I encountered God’s love in a profound dimension that I hadn’t known before and that showed me new aspects of Christ. It started one night with what I felt as a powerful ‘explosion’ of the divine spirit within myself.
If this sounds intriguing to you, I hope you check out Coming In.
Praise for Coming In
“So very much of what is said about gay people and religion is said by straight people. Straight people sometimes seem to be obsessed by gay people in the church. This is a book that is a little different, in that it is a book about spirituality written by a gay man for gay people.
One of the central themes in this book is the idea that gay people in themselves have a great and distinctive potential for discovering and sharing the spiritual. This is not merely about coping with the church, it is about getting to know God. The author describes a mystical spirituality and provides meditations, exercises, rituals and prayers which gay people might use in order to foster spiritual discovery. This is a practical spirituality which many helpful suggestions.
The author of this book is a member of an ecumenical Christian religious order. He is a social worker and a counsellor and obviously has great experience in meditation. He has written a book which will make many think. This is not a justification for the acceptance of the visible presence of gay and lesbian people in God’s church rather it is a tool for those very people to work with.
Do gay and lesbian people have or need a distinctive spirituality? That is only one of the more interesting questions that is posed by books like this one but which get drowned out by the noise of the current rather narrow debates about human sexuality.
The Anglican churches around the world are supposed to be engaged in a process of listening to lesbian and gay voices. In the curious absence of that process, both internationally and here in Scotland, we might as well do some reading, the better to pass the time. This book should be on the reading list.”
—The Rev. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow
“There are some people who mark the margin of a book to draw attention to a passage to which to return, and I have made more marks against passages in this book than against those of any other for many a long day.
Its title suggests that it may have more to say to gays and lesbians on a path of true spirituality, but, as a heterosexual person, I, too, found this book most illuminating at a number of levels. At one level, because the issue of homosexuality has become one of the most contentious within the Church today, it is very helpful for the rest of us to have the opportunity to read the mature and balanced reflections of someone of that Tribe a description of gay and lesbian people used affirmatively by Urs Mattmann. Meeting with folk of the Tribe and immersing ourselves in their literature is the very best way of deepening our understanding of one another, and this book offers the wise and perceptive reflections of a gay man on issues of embodied spirituality.
At another level, the aim of the book is to help gays and lesbians, and, indeed, all of us, to discover for ourselves a life path of personal growth and spiritual development, and, to aid this, there are offered at the end of each chapter questions to ponder, suggestions for action, meditations and prayers for those who may be seeking to discern their own path. A number of these have been used in workshops, seminars and retreats conducted by Urs Mattmann and provide wise suggestions and practical guides for further reflection and action.
Many will, I believe, find this book both stimulating and liberating and will be encouraged to come in to who we truly are.”
—Graeme Brown, for Coracle magazine
About the Author
Urs Mattmann is a social worker and a Psychosynthesis counsellor who has studied theology and has a background in meditation. A member of an ecumenical Christian order, he has initiated a number of spiritual projects for gay and lesbian people, and also leads retreats, workshops and seminars.
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