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”?
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.
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:
“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.”
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
- Johnon, Toby: Gay Perspective: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God & the Universe (Revised)
- Johnon, 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