Rachel Mann‘s book ‘Dazzling Darkness’ (Wild Goose Publications) should be required reading for all trainee pillocks…, sorry, those currently engaged in ordination training,
“One has to be a pillock to want to be a priest” is just one of the statements that encouraged or challenged me from her autobiographical book – but I’ll leave Revd Lesley to unpack that particular statement!
I briefly met, and heard Rachel speak (at the London Centre for Spirituality) before I actually read ‘Dazzling Darkness’. I am glad I did, because her poetic style and poise resonated all the more loudly as I read it, but if you’ve not heard her speak, don’t let that stop you getting the book!
What I went looking for was a little understanding about several things:
- How gender dysphoria might impact on a person’s understanding of and relationship with God;
- How one person has found it possible to develop and keep a functioning Christian spirituality in the face of chronic pain and depression;
- What practical steps are involved in the journey from one gender to another.
‘Dazzling Darkness’ does all of that.
But as I fight with ordination training – and at present it is a fight, academically at least – the grace I received in this book came in other, less expected guises:
- There’s a lot here about salvation; a slightly caricatured ‘evangelical salvation’ that I am very familiar with, critiqued in favour of the transformative power of Christ, the God of love revealed within our brokenness, holding the pain, making us participants in our own salvation;
- The sometimes desperate search for hope, “the dark face of God”, in the kind of physical and emotional darkness that no one wishes to confront.
However, the one thing that my recent reading of Nouwen’s ‘Wounded Healer’ left me expecting to see, but which I don’t find in Rachel’s book, is loneliness. The emotions she conveys are raw, real, painful and deeply distressing, but she doesn’t articulate loneliness among them. Unless I’m missing something, Rachel’s wounds are more about engagement and communication with herself and others; wounds found in the fight to become, and cling on to, the woman she has become, and to fulfil her calling to the priesthood, that I regard as prophetic in an institution yet to come to terms with the sexuality with which she identifies, let alone her trans gender status. As she says, the “grace is in the fighting.”