Homoerotic Spirituality

Jesus Christ, in His recorded words, said nothing at all about sex.  Indeed, He spoke against adultery – which in Jewish eyes was a sin against a man’s ‘property’ (as women were viewed), not against sex.  He spoke against lust – at least, against lusting after another man’s wife; and He spoke against divorce.  But as far as we know, He never spoke a word against sex itself:  not inside marriage, not before marriage, not between unmarried partners, not between men, not between women. Nothing.  Zilch.

How is it then, that the Christian Church, and  Catholicism, in particular, have become so firmly linked in the public mind with the idea of sex as sin? For Catholics, all sex outside marriage is officially taboo.  Even inside marriage, sex is viewed with suspicion unless it is open to the possibility of procreation.  It is only recently that grudging recognition was given to the unitive value of sex – even inside marriage.  Yet it is clear to all that few Catholics pay any more than lip service to the official catechism on sin.  Whether as jerking – off schoolboys (or girls, or adults), as horny teenagers, engaged couples, cheating spouses, as faithful loving couples choosing to limit their families, as lonely divorcees, as gay men and lesbians, or as priests and other religious ignoring their vows of celibacy, the overwhelming majority of us are, in one form or another sexual transgressors in the eyes of the Church.

Is it any wonder that in the public mind, the equation “sex=sin” goes hand in hand with another:   “Catholicism = Guilt”?

The Confessional

 

But I do not want to dig deeper into the unpleasantness today.  (There is time for that later.  I will return to it soon, as part of my continuing series on clerical abuse.)

Other faiths do not make the same connection between sex and sin.  Judaism, for all that it has extensive purity laws and complex moral and legal codes, unequivocally supports and praises the unitive value of  sex, at least within marriage.  Part of the obligation of the spouses is said to include offering each other sexual satisfaction.   Muslims take a similar view:  part of the supposed motivation for suicide bombers in our day is the prospect of a martyr’s reward in heaven:  1000 virgins to satisfy their male needs.   Hindus celebrate sex as part of spiritual practice, with the promotion of tantric sex, the Kama Sutra, and famed erotic images on temple walls.  Many pagan religions employed temple prostitutes (of either gender) to heighten the spiritual experience of worshippers.

Hindu Temple art

It is useful, then to recognise the increasing signs that more and more people are recognising that sexual expression is not only not necessarily sinful, but can be a positive expression of the sacred, and has a close association with spirituality. With great synchronicity, this message was brought home to me from four different sources over the past week.

At the Wild Reed, Michael Bayley has a great piece on this theme.

Shocked? Well, get over it.

Anyway, it’s really not such an outlandish idea – even for Catholics (actually, especially for Catholics!). I mean, if you’re going to dismiss what I’m suggesting, then you’d better be willing to also dismiss any number of saints and their highly erotic experiences of the sacred.

Erotic experiences of God?! (Okay, if you’re still shocked maybe this blog isn’t for you.) But seriously, I appreciate the perspective of Jean Houston, who points out that: “Eros has a mission with the soul. Without Eros, the soul cannot grow; the psyche remains infantile. Eros gives psyche its yearning, its impetus, its desire for the fullness of life.”

Much of the great tradition of mystical writing in the Catholic Church is expressed in clearly sensuous, even erotic language (see, for instance, St Theresa of Avila). Michael  quotes in particular St John of the Cross, whose wonderful mystical poetry is also frankly and explicitly homoerotic:

 

Nude couple profile

“Of course as a gay man, (Michael writes) the thing that appeals to me most about John’s poem is that it depicts his lover as another man:

(from ) On a Dark Night

……..

……..


“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

Go ahead, cross to The Wild Reed and read the full poem, with Michael’s commentary.

 

Gay Spirituality

Gay Spirituality

At Nihil Obstat, Censor Librorum has posted without comment two versions of the ad campaign for “Catholics Support Condoms”.  Leaving aside (for now) the issue of the condoms, what caught my attention was the first two lines in the copy:

“We believe in God.
We believe that sex is sacred.”

Indeed.  So it is, so it is.

 

Essential Gay Mystics

While doing some bibliographical research yesterday for my expanding book pages, I was struck by the number of worthwhile books I came across on the topic, from Catholic perspectives and other traditions, from gay, lesbian, transgfendered and other perspectives .  Thes will soon be added to the Book Club (a small selection are highlighted alongside this post).

Last Sunday afternoon, I was privileged to join a dozen other people from our Soho Masses group to hear Michael B. Kelly, writer ofSeduced by Grace“, discussing his paper Unlikely Prophets of an Erotic God.” Michael has forged a career as a spiritual director and academic specialising in the erotic, and specifically gay men’s erotic experience, as a valuable pathway to the spiritual. He is currently in the United states for an extended visit.  If any of my US readers have a chance to meet or hear him – grab the opportunity.)

 

Seduced by Grace

Seduced by Grace: Michael B Kelly

He too pointed to the rich vein of the erotic in traditional mystical writing, referring also to St Theresa and St John of the Cross in particular , using as illustration the same poem as that posted on the Wild Reed.   He also discussed the obvious fact that far too much of the Church’s writing and teaching on sex has been done by “celibate men in frocks”, who self-evidently either had no practical experience, or were unable to disclose any that they had. To counter this, it is important that we as laity need to speak much more frankly about sex. There was much more, but I will not go into the rest in this post:  he deserves a full analysis later, which I am working on. I do, though, want to point out his central point: while it is clear to many that erotic experience (including gay men’s experience) is valuable in spirituality, this has received limited recognition or scholarly attention.  He is currently engaged in doctoral research, using personal stories as raw material.  He urges us all to speak out openly and frankly of our own experiences, to bring the truth to wider attention.  This is a sentiment I heartily endorse.  I have promised to send to Michael my own stories, and urge my readers to do the same.  (If you want to take me up on this offer, just post a brief comment, and I will send you an email address, if you do not have an alternate access)

 

In the same spirit of openness, I have posted on my personal page on this site, a deeply personal story of my own homoerotic retreat experience. (Health warning:  if you are squeamish or sceptical of claims about ‘mystical’ experiences, by all means stay away.  I would once have reacted in the same way.  But if you are more open – minded, take a look and make up your own mind.  I simply tell it as it happened.)  Read the story at  “6 days that changed my life” .

More  books on lesbian & gay spirituality:

Boisvert, Donald L: Out on Holy Ground: Meditations on Gay Men’s Spirituality

Glaser, Chris: Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends

Glaser, Chris: Coming out As Sacrament

Harvey, Andrew:  Essential Gay Mystics

Helminiak, Daniel: Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

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4 Responses to “Homoerotic Spirituality”

  1. Linda Says:

    I’m always astounded at the histrionic hatred leveled at the Catholic Church by homosexuals. Jesus never said a word about embezzlement either, but does that mean it’s OK to embezzle? When homosexuals contract AIDS due to anal/rectal penetration by a foreign body, what institution might you go to for compassionate, loving and FREE treatment? Probably the institution that runs most of the AIDS hospices and treatment centers on the face of the earth: the Catholic Church! The Catholic Church tells it like it is. The Church is in the business of saving souls. If someone is running headlong into Hell (yes, Hell exists), it’s the Church’s obligation to admonish that person in order to avert eternal disaster. The Church admonishes, just like Jesus did, but also teaches forgiveness and love and redemption. It’s incomprehensible to me how you homosexuals vilify the Catholic Church as hateful and discriminatory against homosexuals (you simply refuse to believe in “hate the sin, love the sinner’), when the exact opposite is the reality, and when you compare the Church to Islam, where the punishment for homosexuality is beheading, scourging, torture, and being thrown off cliffs. Why do I never see “gays” abusing Muslims coming out of their mosques like I’ve seen them abusing Catholics coming out of Churches? Get a life, folks. Stop blaming the Catholic Church for fidelity to her teachings. If you don’t like what the Catholic Church teaches, why don’t you just join another church that fits into your ideology and lifestyle? There are plenty of them.

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Linda, some gay and lesbian prople do indeed hate the Catholic church. I certainly do not, else I would not spend so much of my time working actively to persuade other gay and lesbian people to remain in it, in spite of its manifest errors on this topic.

      As for AIDS, the argument is entirely irrelevant to sexual orientation. Around the world, more contract HIV from opposite sex than for same sex partners. The major cause behind the spread of Aids lies in promiscuity, not orientation. It is true that in certain circumstances gay men are more promiscuous than other people, but this is not inherent. In classical times, when gay parters were commonplace and accepted, it was believed that male pairs were more enduring and more faithful to each other than opposite gender pairings. Modern research shows that where same sex unions have been legal for a significant time, mutual commitment and fidelity by gay couples has increased. If you want to reduce gay promiscuity, support gay marriage.

      I certainly do not compare the Catholic church to Islam, nor have I ever seen such a claim made by other gay Catholics.

      As for church teaching – that is exactly what I do try to promote – ALL of it, not just the selective bits on homoeroticism, where I am convinced, after many years of prayer, reading , spiritual direction and careful formation of my conscience, that the Church is in error, just as she has previously been on many other topics in the past, and where many theologians today are now saying the same thing. where we disagree in conscience, we have not only a right but an obligation to follow our conscience ahead of the teaching, and to make our views known to the authorities. Who says so? Why, Thomas Aquinas, whose work forms a major part of the foundation of formal theology, Cardinal John Newman, now on the path to sainthood, and Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

      So I do not at all blame the church for “fidelity to its teaching”. Instead, I blame and accuse the institutional church for a compete absence of such fidelity, by selectively quoting some elements against just one group of Catholics, and burying the rest.

      Where

  2. Linda Says:

    Jesus promised that the Catholic Church would NEVER err in teaching doctrines on faith and morals: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.” The Church has been guided by the Holy Spirit for 2,000 years, and has never, and can never change her teaching on faith and morals in any way whatsoever. Since the beginning, the following teaching has endured:

    The Four Sins Crying to Heaven for Vengeance (each one is based on Scripture):

    1) Willful Murder
    2) Sodomy
    3) Oppression of the Poor
    4) Defrauding Laborers of their Just Wages

    You are absolutely mistaken regarding conscience: your conscience MUST be formed according to the teachings of Holy Mother Church, or you have an erroneous conscience. If I am convinced, after many years of prayer, reading, spiritual direction and careful formation of my conscience, that the Church is in error regarding the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and this is my firm belief according to the dictates of my conscience, I may be as sincere as all get-out, but I am DEAD WRONG, and my conscience is erroneously formed!

    The Church is preserved by the Holy Spirit from all error! Who would want to belong to a Church that claims to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, promised by Heaven Itself to perpetually be free from all error, and then believe that that Church is wrong on many of its teachings? That is nothing but ludicrous! If there is more than one truth, then there is NO truth!

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Linda: Can you clarify exactly where Jesus promised that the Catholic Church would NEVER err in teaching doctrines on faith and morals? the verse you quote says nothing that I can see about the Catholic church, nor does it say anything about teaching.

      The Catholic church clearly has erred in very many areas in the past – or do you still believe that we have a duty to respect slavery and the subjugation of women, and to forbid the charging or payment of interest on loans?

      For the rest of your statements of conscience, I am not going to attempt to reply, except to suggest that you read Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman, and others., and simply parrot empty platitudes.

      Let me now state clearly that I will happily print any courteous comments, but I have no intention of necessarily replying to every statement that shows no sign of rational or independent thought.

      Terence


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