Gay Pride is the only annual celebration, civic or religious, of anykind of sexuality in our society. This reflection and prayer address sexuality in a broad sense.
700 people took part in the first Gay Pride march in this country on 1 July 1972. Similar events have taken place in London annually since (in 1999 briefly renamed Mardi Gras). Gay Pride events take place in many places in July or August. An estimated 60,000 people attended in Hyde Park in London on 26 July 2003.
It would be hard to pick two more explosive words for Christians than ‘gay’ (meaning homosexual) and ‘pride’, let alone putting the two together. But as Christians with whatever perspective on homosexuality, we can use this distinctive event to ask a broader question. Why do we not more passionately celebrate sexuality as a gift from God?
One response would be that we live in an alreadily heavily sexualised society. Since our society does sex so heavily there is no need for churches to do more. This point of view explains neither the absence of any civic celebration of sexuality more broadly than homosexuality, nor why other subjects on which society already makes a big fuss – for example motherhood, the Royal Family or the nation - often feature in church liturgy.
Another response might be that Christianity only celebrates sexuality within marriage, and churches do indeed make a big fuss about marriage. So far, so good. That so few Sunday pew sheets announce the formation of church groups of married people to study the Song of Solomon (the most sexual book in the Bible) is, on this view, accidental. It just happens that church fêtes need all that space and more to solicit the making of jam.
A third suggestion would be that whatever the minds and hearts of individual Christians, the public agenda of Christianity is dominated by institutions and, in some of those institutions, priesthoods. On this view these structures, still largely dominated by men who have defined their identities and vocations as religious, remain collectively scared rigid of sexuality for reasons which have as much to do with institutional tensions (not to mention newspaper investigations and law suits) as with theology. Now, Mrs Robinson, enough of sexuality: how about a nice harvest festival instead?
Each of us receives and unwraps our own sexuality as a gift from God of fundamental significance. After all Christianity is an incarnational religion, and giving thanks for sexuality is simply part of treating the physical creation and life lived within it as of sacred importance.
The Song of Solomon (1: 2 – ‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!’) is an easy Biblical resource on sexuality, but Ecclesiastes may have more staying power. Solomon’s lovers are relentlessly young (‘be like a gazelle or a young stag’ is the final verse) in a way which is almost cousin to the commercialised sexuality which surrounds us.
The sexuality which is of God enjoys youth, but it ages. It touches all, tastes all, breathes all and sees all. It comes to understand and to make luminous with love the creatureliness of all ages. Ecclesiastes expresses this quality. This allegorical description of old age, with eyes that shut, teeth that grind no more, hair that whitens and legs that stumble, describe an old age which has not forgotten death or youth, nor has it become embittered about either. The passage breathes freedom; but it is a real freedom, and therefore a freedom with consequences.
Ecclesiastes 11: 7 – 12: 7
Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. Even those who live for many years should rejoice in them all; yet let them remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.
Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgement. Banish anxiety from your mind, and put away pain from your body; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.
Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with rain; on the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, when the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly;
when the doors on the street are shut, when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets;
before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.
Creator God and lover of humankind
Thank you for your gift to me of my sexuality.
When sexuality is troubling
Just as when it flows confidently and unchecked
Hold me and keep me.
Keep strong my concern for others
Make me an instrument of life to them
And from emptiness deliver me.
In Jesus’ name I ask.