Why on earth should the spiritual autobiography of a lesbian-identified, transsexual, disabled priest be of interest to the readers of Political Theology? From the provincial backwaters of the UK such a narrative sounds sufficiently baroque that it might better suit an episode of Jerry Springer rather than a serious book. And even if – as political theologian – one does try to take ‘spiritual autobiography’ seriously one might have substantial concerns about the extent to which such a project buys into individualistic, atomized spiritualities rather than the substantive, communitarian demands of life in the Polis.
As the author of Dazzling Darkness I am clearly not in a position to see the book especially clearly. I am inclined to be either too harsh or too kind on it. However, while it may be grounded very much in a specific and reasonably unusual story, my sense is that Dazzling Darkness is ultimately an attempt to articulate what living in the ‘public square’ might look like for someone like me. And this should not be of interest merely to members of LGBTQ communities; by working with a particular narrative it seeks to speak into common experiences of struggling with sexual and gender stereotyping, of negotiating ‘identity’ in community and dealing with the public as well as personal implications of severe ill-health. It is an attempt to demonstrate not only how the personal remains the political, but to articulate a religious spirituality grounded in commitment: commitment ultimately to a queering of personal and shared worlds.
The key motif of the book is darkness – and specifically the ‘darkness’ of God – as a positive concept. Even as this notion is worked out through the prism of my ‘spiritual’ adventuring – that is, the attempt to discover the God who refuses to be used for human purposes and is most alive in those things many will associate with stereotyped negatives – it is grounded in what that might mean in community. Thus there are chapters on the ethics of changing gender, understood through the prism of Greek Tragedy and philosophy, as well as an attempt to deploy queer and liberationist theologies to undermine lazy, imperialistic and monarchical conceptions of God and church. Equally there are examinations of the place of voice as a metaphor for identity and whether Christian vocation is actually a form of violence. Indeed one of the abiding themes of the book is the place of violence in the redemptive narrative of Christianity. Clearly I am very far from being the first to walk these paths, but the book seeks to bring a nuanced personal slant to the tricky interface between spirituality and theological commitment. It does so using my experience of teaching university level philosophy, of being a priest and of being a poet.
Dazzling Darkness by Rachel Mann is available:
Direct from publisher (Wild Goose): http://www.ionabooks.com/2427-9781849522410-Dazzling-Darkness.html
(Wild Goose also offers an e-book version, inc Kindle compatible): http://www.ionabooks.com/2429-9781849522434-Dazzling-Darkness-Downloadable-book.html
Book Depository (free worldwide P & P): http://www.bookdepository.com/Dazzling-Darkness-Rachel-Mann/9781849522410