I light a memorial candle for lesbian feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, who died March 27, 2012 at age 82.
Rich was one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. Her writing was a guiding light to me and countless others, both people of faith and secular readers. The following lines from her poem “Natural Resources” (from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977) became like a creed for many of us:
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
Rich, who had a Jewish father and Episcopalian mother, wrote about her conflicting religious background in her essay “Split at the Root” (from Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985). That volume also includes the insightful essay whose title alone was enough to dazzle me: “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.”
I had the honor of meeting Rich in person in the 1980s when she spoke to the mostly LGBT congregation at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, where I served on the clergy staff.
Her essay “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (from On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978) played a major role in helping me (and many other lesbians) decide to come out of the closet. I read the essay so many times that I memorized parts of it. I still refer to these words when I need to make difficult decisions:
An honorable human relationship– that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love”– is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.
It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.
It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.
It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.
Thank you, Adrienne. Now your soul is continuing on that hard way. I count you among the LGBT saints for all the wisdom that you have bestowed upon the world.
Cross-posted from Jesus in Love. Rev. Kittredge Cherry, lesbian Christian author and art historian blogs about LGBT spirituality and the arts at the Jesus in Love Blog. Her books include “Equal Rites” and “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More“.