We Are Not in the Tomb But in the Womb

Elaina Jo Polovick

For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California,  who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry. Today’s post is from Elaina Jo Polovick, a second year Masters of Divinity student at the Jesuit School of Theology. Elaina is currently working on her field education at the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center in San Francisco.

Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent can be found by clicking here.

“Master, the one you love is ill.” Mary says this to Jesus point blank in today’s Gospel. Mary, who has already anointed the feet of Jesus, is clearly close to Jesus. She knows that Jesus loves Lazarus, her brother, and she knows that Jesus will visit.

When I hear Mary boldly say “the one you love is ill” I feel the call to make it my own prayer. But who is the one who is ill? Right now, I think it is not just one person. It is a Church and a country who continuously rejects their LGQBT brothers and sisters that are ill. In fact, an illness plagues our communities.

Jesus says of Lazarus’ illness: “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” In the hope that the weaknesses of our Church communities do not end in death, last semester I wrote a liturgy with another student in which we hoped to name the reality that the Church we love is ill. We wrote the liturgy as a final project for a Queer Theology class we took at the Pacific School of Religion. (Queer Theology is the academic study of theology through the perspectives of LGQBT people). The goal of our liturgy was to ask what does it mean to love one another, to see each person as God’s Beloved? And how do we attempt to find justice, harmony, and reconciliation in our Church with all its complexities, full of beautiful, broken people and their identities? Our hope was to move toward a more loving, vulnerable, and authentic community to care for each and every part of the Body of Christ.

Last week we had the blessed opportunity of celebrating part of the liturgy we had written. The core of the liturgy was a ritual where those present were invited to write on a piece of paper an identity that they struggle with and/or embrace in relation to the. I and the other presider told the community that each of these identities, each of these pieces of who we are, would be read aloud anonymously by myself and the other presider. We gave about five minutes for people to write something and add it to a basket in front of the altar. Since each identity written was held by at least one member of the community present, a member of the Body of Christ, we knew they must be held and honored by the whole community. So, each identity that was read aloud was echoed by the community. When we read things like, “I am a woman, I am bisexual, I am a teacher, I am sexy, I am transgender, I am a priest” the community echoed, “We are women, we are bisexual, we are teachers, we are sexy, we are transgender, we are priests.”

The experience of that ritual proved to be more moving than I could have expected. There was laughter and tears, pain and hope. Hope is something we need in our Church. We need to know that although sometimes naming or accepting our identities may seem like a death, we are really only facing a temporary darkness as Lazarus did. A good friend who has been walking with me through my coming out recently told me that sometimes we are not in the tomb but in the womb. For me, starting to tell people that I am queer has felt like walking into a dark cold uncertain tomb, but those who know me well have seen a transformation. Being who I am has brought me greater life and light. And praying the identity ritual last week made me feel known more fully as who I am by my community and by God.

Jesus not only awakens Lazarus in today’s gospel, he also awakens the disciples to a greater understanding of who Jesus is: a revolutionary, a miracle worker, and a beloved friend. We must awaken our Church to be revolutionary in its fight for the dignity of every person regardless of the diverse identities they hold. We must awaken our Church to be miraculous in its openness to loving all the members of the Body of Christ. We must awaken the Church to be a beloved friend that loves so deeply it is willing to weep at the deaths people face every day, just as Jesus wept to show how deep his love for Lazarus was.

Sometimes we are afraid to open the tomb or to be born anew. We are afraid of how heavy the stone is, we are afraid of the smell– we are afraid of having to deal with what is inside our Church. But we must be willing to leave the tomb, or perhaps to reorient ourselves so we realize we are in fact in the womb getting ready for the light.

Instead of doing general intercessions in last week’s liturgy, we petitioned the One Who Loves Us by saying: We dream of a church where…

. . . No one is considered intrinsically disordered;
. . . Everyone regardless of their gender or sexual orientation can be fully welcomed;
. . . Marital status cannot keep people away from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist;
. . . Where everyone matters and all are welcome;
. . . Where there is justice;
. . . Where there is love.

We prayed for the one Jesus loves: each and every one of us, exactly as we are.

I hope that as we continue our Lenten journey, we can continue these prayers.

–Elaina Jo Polovick, April 2, 2017

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2 thoughts on “We Are Not in the Tomb But in the Womb

  1. pearcecat April 2, 2017 / 6:05 pm

    Such a beautiful reflection and hope for the church!!

  2. Friends April 2, 2017 / 8:38 pm

    Thanks so much for this! I forwarded the link to the pastor of our Cardinal Newman Catholic Center at our state university. He’s a good man with good intentions, but a bit on the cautious and conventional side of theological opinion. Since he’s dealing with university students who are anything but conventional in their religious attitudes and opinions, I’m hoping this essay will open him up to some other pastoral approaches, especially when dealing with university students. Either we start to speak their cultural language, or else we’re going to lose them entirely as committed and professing Catholics.

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