WC76 – Praxis by Andrew Ramer

76_praxis18_2 ANCESTORS ’R US
PRAXIS from Andrew Ramer

This fall I made my way to the ruddy mountains of North Carolina to hobnob with my fellow wizards at the Gay Spirit Visions Conference, as I’ve done for 18 years. This gathering is my spiritual home. I’ve met some of my closest friends there, and it’s been a testing and refining ground for my work as a writer and teacher. This year three of us were invited to share our personal stories of turning 18 with the gathering, as entryways into the conference itself turning 18. Eighteen is the age of majority in the US and most other countries in the world. Eighteen is also a significant number in the Jewish tradition. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet also represents a number, and the word for life – chai – has the numerical value of 18. It may not be an accident that the central prayer of Jewish liturgy, written more than 2,000 years ago, is called “Shemonah Esreh,” or The Eighteen Benedictions. I used this prayer as a stepping stone into my conference talk, focusing on the first benediction, which begins:

Blessed are you, Eternal our God, and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob.

The rabbis of old tell us that The Eighteen Benedictions, a collective prayer, address not “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob,” to remind us that although God is One, It connects with each of us in a unique way.

I tend to use the pronoun IT when referring to God. You may prefer She or He. You may not relate to the word or concept of God at all. Goddess, Tao, Brahman, Great Mystery, or The Universe may be more comfortable for you. Many years ago, in a conversation with my Communist Great Aunt Mina, I discovered that what she called The Life Force was exactly what I called God. If you were to write a blessing for yourself, what would you call It? Whatever words you use, however you experience It, the lack of It, or the occasional whisper of something you think might be a hint of Its presence, I believe it’s useful to have a unifying metaphor, and for the sake of simplicity I shall continue to call It by that particular three-letter word.

The Eighteen Benedictions ground our understanding of God in Its relationship to our ancestors. Can we relate to this as men who love men, who rarely come of age with a clear knowledge of our Gay forbears? As I was preparing for my talk at the conference I thought about my own Queer ancestors, none of them biological. In high school I had an art teacher, Bill, who went out of his way to support me, without doing anything that anyone would have found inappropriate. Years after I came out, I ran into him and his partner at a play and had the chance to thank him. As a teen I knew that there were men who had sex with other men, but I was quite certain that I was the only Jew in the world with those unnatural desires. Discovering that Allen Ginsberg was Gay came as such a gift, so I’m adding him to my list of ancestors. Watching the film Women in Love (screenplay by Gay Jewish Larry Kramer, as I discovered years later) was what empowered me to come out. I also remember a book about Gay liberation, with a rainbow on the cover, that was so scary that I couldn’t even touch it till it moved from the New Books rack in Moe’s Book Store in Berkeley to a corner shelf upstairs, which is also on my list. Who and what are on your list of Gay ancestors? Your Lesbian great aunt, the first boy who flirted with you, a love song you listened to over and over again, a sexy character on your favorite TV show? Please jot them down.

Thinking of my Gay ancestors, I played with the Eighteen Benedictions and crafted a queerish blessing for myself that begins:

Blessed are you, Eternal our God and God of our ancestors, God of Bill, God of Allen, God of Women in Love, and God of the Gay lib book.

Using whatever word or words you’ve comfortable with to describe the Absolute, please craft for yourself the beginning of a blessing that incorporates your own list of ancestors.

In this magazine we’ve talked about elders and mentors and how important they are for Gay men. Few of us had Gay ancestors, and in spite of all that has changed, there are still Gay men all over the planet who are coming of age in pain, shame, guilt, hiding and frightened, in need of guidance and support. One way to heal this rift in our tribe is to see ourselves as the ancestors of the Gay men of the future. It’s in this light that I continued to work on my blessing. These are the words I came up with:

Blessed are you, Eternal our God and God of our ancestors, God of Bill, God of Allen, God of Women in Love, and God of the Gay lib book.
Bless me, body, soul, mind, and spirit, and support me in passing on this legacy to other Gay men, as part of my work in helping to heal the world.

This isn’t a very elegant blessing, but it does express what I wanted to say, to myself, to that which I call God, and to those who will come after us. Please continue to work on your own blessing, until it says what you want to say. When you’ve finished it, please write out or print out a copy and keep it in your wallet – because there’s a second part to this exercise of praxis. One day, perhaps weeks or years from now, you are going to cross paths with a young man, sitting on a bus, at the next table in a café, at the office holiday party, in a class that you’re taking or teaching, and there will be something in him of the young man you were at eighteen. You will recognize that he could use a blessing and needs a Gay ancestor. Then you will pull out your wallet, take out your blessing, tell him about its history, and pass it on to him, because this is a part of our sacred work, to be Gay elders and ancestors for the men who follow us. Become as present for him in his life as he is comfortable with. Invite him to take your blessing, live with it, and incorporate it into one he writes for himself, so that one day he too can pass it on, like an Olympic torch, from hand to hand, from heart to heart.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic  Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.

Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.

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