My first column, “Soulfully Gay: Spirituality from a Gay Man’s Perspective” was syndicated in some LGBT newspapers for a while, and it lives on to this day in the form of the book “Soulfully Gay”, published by Integral Books/Shambhala in 2007. It’s my understanding that this is one of the very few books by Shambhala to feature a gay or queer spirituality, so it has been a tremendous honor.
Let me start by telling you what this column is going to be about: “Unitive Spirituality for LGBT Persons.”
By this, I mean that I will be introducing you to a specific approach to spiritual living which can speak to you regardless of your sexual or gender identification, your religious or skeptical perspective, and your degree of spiritual knowledge and attainment along the path of waking up into your Supreme Identity.
The approach that I want to talk about has a name. I’ll get to that in a minute, because it will mean too little to too many of you and too much to enough of you so that I would like to postpone giving it a label until the column’s end.
So let’s talk a little bit about rainbows, because if you’re queer, you’ve gotta love the rainbow or your license gets suspended. A rainbow is a spectrum of light, a multicolored arc, an observer-dependent phenomenon linked to the refraction of light through water droplets in the air.
Since the creation of the Rainbow Flag by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, the gay liberation movement has associated the rainbow with our quest for freedom and liberation from oppressive structures. They are taken as symbols of identity and solidarity, pride and freedom.
Since 2004, with the introduction of the queer winter holiday Bridge of Light by this author (Joe Perez), there is a companion to the flag, the Rainbow Candles. These six candles (plus, optionally, a seventh or eighth) mirror the colors of the Rainbow Flag, and are lit on the New Year’s holiday to symbolize the unique spiritual gifts and perspectives of the entire community and its allies.
The Bridge of Light is the rainbow itself, seen in both its unity and diversity; and allowing both the unity and diversity to reflect the nature of human existence and spirituality. In one formulation of the Bridge of Light, the candles have these six meanings:
- The Purple Candle stands for our creative impulses and magical spirituality;
- The Red Candle stands for our drive for empowerment and self-esteem;
- The Blue Candle stands for self-sacrifice and altruism;
- The Orange Candle stands for self-reliance and rationality;
- The Green Candle stands for diversity and ecological ethics;
- The Yellow Candle stands for integration, unity-amid-diversity, and spirituality deeply embedded in nature and ordinary life.
- The White Candle and Black Candle may be used, along with other colors, to represent deep unity and harmony of all-that-is within Light, and the illusory nature of the distinction between light and darkness.
These aren’t the only interpretations of the colors of the Rainbow Candles, but they’re the principles that will be most relevant for the conversation inaugurated by this column. Kittredge Cherry has offered an alternative interpretation of the candle colors based on the colors of the chakras; I have endorsed her vision as a valuable contribution to the evolution of the Bridge of Light holiday.
You see, people need symbols in order to help coax the chaos of the primordial void and the cacophony of our information-overload culture into a semblance of order. The colors of the rainbow we value for being different from one another, and adding enormous beauty to our world. And yet they are all various wavelengths along a spectrum of light, aspects of unity along a continuum of vibrational energy that makes up everything in the cosmos.
Unitive spirituality invites us to a threefold or three-step path, regardless of our religion or lack thereof:
- First, to embrace our finite, partial, nature as individuals within a diverse, separate, and pluralistic universe;
- Second, to recognize that our partial identifications are the cause of suffering which can only find healing by ceasing to identify with our partial self and beginning to identify with the True Self, which is indistinct from that which arises in all times and places, from all perspectives, the fullest and most expansive possible nature, sometimes called God, Godhead, or Spirit;
- And third, living from our deepest place of resonance with the divine or spiritual, to bring our unique nature and special gifts into the world where they are most needed, in ways that only we can know truly are our own best and highest and deepest nature.
These three steps are the essence of unitive spirituality for everyone. Taking these three steps is like identifying with a color of the rainbow, then the light which makes up all the colors, and then identifying with both the light and darkness as a whole. They have a particular flavor and importance for LGBTQ people owing to the special circumstances in which we come to spirituality carrying wounds from cultures and religions which have been hostile to us, and which have shaped our spiritual journeys in important ways.
Along the path of my own journey, I have found a path that is called “Integral”, a sort of interspiritual and interfaith path that brings together exoteric and esoteric dimensions of faith. Your own path may vary from mine, and that’s okay. I hope you’ll join me for future editions of this column and write to me with your feedback, so that we may undertake these explorations together.