Queer flame of love: re-imagining the Christian mystical tradition in light of the experience of contemporary gay men
thesisposted on 18.05.2017, 02:13 by Kelly, Michael Bernard
Can the Christian mystical tradition inform the spiritual lives of contemporary people, and be enriched by their experience? Is it a relic of another time, shaped by celibates for celibates, unable to engage meaningfully with people of our time who embrace their corporeality and sexuality as crucial aspects of their journey towards union with God? I address these questions through a sustained conversation between two unlikely partners: the classical mystical tradition and the lives of contemporary gay, Christian men. Firstly, I examine the themes and stages of the mystical tradition as outlined by Evelyn Underhill, but also including more recent work by Ruth Burrows, Thomas Merton and Constance Fitzgerald. Using methods of qualitative research, I then consider the texts of interviews I conducted with eight gay men, who spoke in depth about their spirituality and sexuality. Finally, drawing on Ricoeur’s hermeneutical theory, I engage in a creative theological conversation between the traditional mystical stages and themes and these men’s lives. Through this, I seek to recover and reframe the mystical path as emerging from and speaking to lives that are whole, erotic and queer. I therefore re-imagine each stage of the mystical journey, grounding it in life and in the body. I elucidate the depth, wisdom and holiness that can and do emerge from the hopes, joys and struggles of these gay men of faith, and I explore how the language of mysticism can inform, and be transformed by, their incarnate spiritual journeys. Through this theological conversation I show that the Christian mystical tradition has the capacity for profound renewal, and that its wisdom can inspire and guide, while also being critiqued and enriched by, contemporary queer people. Such renewal, wisdom and inspiration are sorely needed in a world, and a church, in which body and soul, sex and spirit, earth and heaven have been so tragically split apart.