Over 40 years since Stonewall, it has become commonplace to recognise the value of coming out as a growth experience, bringing benefits to mental health, self-esteem and personal integrity. Less widely recognised is the value of coming out as spiritual growth. This idea, which well deserves to be better known, gets extensive treatment in Daniel Helminiak’s book, Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth
(Helminiak is an openly gay Catholic priest with doctorates in both spirituality and psychology, who teaches spirituality in a faculty of psychology – so he is eminently well qualified to write on the subject. For more on Daniel Helminiak, see his own website, “Visions of Daniel“)
In his preface, Helminiak notes that the arguments in the early days of the gay liberation movement were purely reactive & defensive, making the case that homosexuality is NOT a sin, NOT a sickness, and NOT a mental disorder.
Now, he says, we need to move on, and that is what he does. Throughout the book, he affirms that the state of homosexuality in itself inherently puts us on a quest for self-transcendence, which is what he defines as “spirituality”, whether or not that includes a specifically religious or God-oriented element. If we move beyond the simple state of homosexuality to self-acceptance, coming out and authentically living in accordance with that identity, then, he says, we open ourselves to both emotional/human and spiritual development, to a degree that is greater than that of people who have not had to face such a journey. Although he begins his book by looking at “spirituality” from a nontheistic position independently of any religious consideration, he then moves on to elaborate the theme from within the Christian, and then specifically Catholic, traditions.
He does not pussyfoot around the matter of of the physical expression of sex. In Chapter 5 of the book, “Sexual Pathways to Spiritual Growth”, he describes the beneficial aspects of physical, sexual arousal and release on first the individual, then on the couple, on society as a whole, on the potential for “grasping the infinite”, and for the hope of union with God:
On the individual:
“The experience of sexual arousal and orgasm has a physical healing effect. It reduces stress and relaxes and calms the body. During sexual arousal, there occurs in the psyche the concomitant release of emotions, images and experiences…..a flood of powerful psychic material may flow out of psyche’s secret caverns…… It invites the healthy acceptance of your bodiliness.”
And (writing of Oriental practice):
“A natural human activity, sex, frees and opens the mind to experiences similar to those induced through other spiritual practices….. or induced chemically. Sexual arousal becomes a doorway to profound psychic and spiritual experiences”
On the Couple:
“Such sharing, continued authentically with openness, honesty and love, is as much a spiritual discipline as any fasting, prayer, retreat, spiritual counselling, or vigil. “
“All the while thick bonds of sexual desire, physical and emotional, hold them entwined and force them to resolve their differences…..Thus organic and psychic sexual processes serve spiritual ends. Sexual togetherness serves interpersonal sharing and growth”
On society as a whole:
“Beyond the individual and the couple, sexual sharing involves the family and, indeed, the cosmos. Inherent in the experience of sexual love is a movement beyond yourself….. Love opens our eys to a world of beauty beyond ourselves. Loving another person opens you to identify with all people….Since authentic human love is an integrating experience, it leads you to identify with the whole human race.”
“For the theist believer, sex is a gift of God……horniness, romance and caring… are inherent aspects of human life designed so by the creator. Therefore, they must be good and wholesome. Their authentic experience inserts us ever further into the ultimate Mystery of the unfolding universe. God is the source and the sustenance – as well as the goal – of human sexual love.”
It may be wise to insert here a caution. Helminiak clearly values and celebrates the authentic expression of human sexuality, including physical expression. He does repeatedly warn though, of the parallel dangers of inauthentic and inappropriate expression. With the official teaching of the church on all matters so profoundly misguided, it is valuable to have the helpful guidance of a thoughtful and realistic commentary. If I have ignored that part of the book here, it is only because it is quite a separatae theme, which will require quite a different post on another occasion.
Overall, this is a most useful book, worth returning to again and again. I particularly recommended it to those of you who, like myself, have grown weary of endless defences against our critics. Especially at this season of Pride, it is important to proclaim and affirm the positive value of who we are.
Recommended Books (Queer Spirituality):
- Boisvert, Donald: Out on Holy Ground: Meditations on Gay Men’s Spirituality
- Cleaver, Richard: Know My Name: Gay Liberation Theology
- Cotter, Jim: Pleasure, Pain & Passion: Some Perspectives on Sexuality and Spirituality
- Glaser, Chris: Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends
- Glaser, Chris: Coming out As Sacrament
- Glaser, Chris: Come Home!: Reclaiming Spirituality and Community As Gay Men and Lesbians
- Helminiak, Daniel: Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth
- Johnson, Toby: Gay Perspective: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God & the Universe (Revised)
- Johnson, Toby: Gay Spirituality: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
- Kelly, Michael B: Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith
- L’Empereur, James: Spiritual Direction & The Gay Person
- McNeill, John: Sex As God Intended
- P. Sweasey: From Queer to Eternity: Spirituality in the Lives of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People
- Put Christ Back Into Christianity: The Body of Christ
- St John of the Cross
- “The Last Judgement”, and the Homoerotic Spirituality of Michaelangelo.
- The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality
- St Paul’s Celebration of God’s Gift of Sexuality.
- Coming Out as Spiritual Experience
- “Coming Out” as Wrestling with the Divine
- Homoerotic Spirituality
- The Spiritual Gifts of Gay Sexuality
- The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality
- Finding God in Gay Lovemaking
- My Homoerotic Retreat: Six days that changed my life
- Hunter Flournoy’s “Erotic Body of Christ”
- Come Out, Stand Proud. (The Catechism Commands It!)