Collect


Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

O almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Dazzling Web of Homoerotic Desire

Trusting someone is maybe the scariest thing in the world. Getting to know somebody isn't scary, at least not usually, and once we know somebody it's a lot easier to trust them; but that's because trust means, precisely, relying on them for something (whatever it may be) that we don't know about and can't control.


Seems reliable.

Once we know a person, we feel able to predict their behavior, and that makes the step across a dark chasm that trust consists in much easier to take -- it shrinks the chasm, so to speak. But there's always an element of uncertainty and powerlessness involved; you're always vulnerable. It's tempting, on that basis, to trust nobody at all; until you meet someone who's made a serious attempt at living like that. Trusting other people is something we flat out need to do as human beings, or we become psychically sick.

The same, on Christian premises, is true of God, and indeed infinitely truer of Him than of any other being. To trust Him, whom we cannot hear or see or touch save by miraculous intervention (and, as the word miracle implies, such events are rare), is a more threatening and blacker jump than any other; and what's worse, making a decision about Him isn't optional. In deciding not to trust this or that fellow human, you can make an unfair or unwise decision, of course, but refusing to trust one person doesn't necessarily mean you're trusting nobody -- there are always other people you can rely on. But there's only the one reality-as-a-whole, and only one God that keeps it all going. The only alternative to being is nothingness. The only alternative to trusting God is to have nowhere, in all of existence, to flee to.

That's what Catholicism has confronted me with as a gay man, trying to come to terms with what I believe about sex. Because I believe that a God is the best explanation of the universe, that Jesus is the best explanation of God, and that Catholicism is the best explanation of Jesus, I accordingly believe that what the Church teaches about sex -- specifically, that it must never be closed to the possibility of bringing new life into the world, and that acts which can't do that are therefore a wrong use of our sexuality. So my brain, and (to a much lesser extent) my will.

But my heart just isn't there, as I've often written of here before; and I'm left with one foot on either side of an impossibly wide, terribly deep crevasse, with no ground in sight, being pulled into pieces by the tension. I could never deliberately contradict what I'm convinced is true (although I'm quite capable of ignoring it), and so I can't draw the one foot backward over the crevasse; and yet it seems utterly impossible to pick up the other and pull it to the far side -- that if I do, I'll slip and fall and go spinning down into the void, helpless. That God won't catch me.


There are so many things that make this a challenge: it's difficult enough in itself, for fallen creatures like ourselves, to believe that God knows and loves us (sometimes it's far easier to believe one of the two than both together ...), and our lived experience of hurt and confusion only makes it tougher. Dealing with clinical depression, severe loneliness, cutting, and eventually rape, all before I turned fourteen, made it the next thing to impossible to credit the doctrine that God wanted what's best for me and was willing to sacrifice Himself to give it.

I do believe -- partly because my intellect is satisfied, and for somebody like me there's quite simply no way around that; partly because, even on a heart level, I'd sooner believe (as Christianity and especially Catholicism teaches) that my sufferings have a meaning that I don't understand, than that they mean simply nothing.

But on the other hand, emotionally, I can't make sense of Catholic teaching here. I mean, it's not as though it was my idea to be gay, or to make homosexual sex intrinsically infertile, or to link sex with fertility, or ... and at once, my brain retorts, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And then, more dimly, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? I can't see much of a future in arguing with God about His unfairness in structuring reality as He did, since I can hardly calculate the consequences even of my own actions within that framework -- let alone what would happen if it were altered.


Don't say I didn't warn you.

But it isn't only a question of a rebelling heart -- that, certainly, but there's far more at stake. Seeing a beautiful man doesn't just get me going sexually; it's awe-inspiring, even humbling -- it evokes joy and glory and gratitude, not just arousal, still less objectification. Homosexuality is no more reducible to lust than heterosexuality is reducible to lust. Much of the Western literary tradition, particularly Dante, has been about that moment of love in which a man perceives a woman like a flash of magic; there are, equally, moments in which a man can perceive another man like a flash of magic.

This seems to me to be, for most people, causally connected with sexual desire, though it is certainly not the same thing as sexual desire; it's more like veneration. (This is part of why I'm content to refer to eroticism, and homoeroticism in particular, as capable of sanctification -- I don't think eros is simply about sex, and definitely not simply about sin.) I tend to think of it as seeing, with the eyes of the heart, the archetypal nature that every created, imperfect thing is striving to be; its ideal identity in the mind of God, which it partly reveals and partly falls short of in the reality that we're most familiar with. The erotic vision is a vision of another plane of reality: no more real than the actual beloved, but also no less. Love is blind because it is dazzled by this archetypal light. Love is always Platonic.

And I don't, won't, can't believe that this delight in male beauty is a bad thing. To take joy in something God has made and to say with Him, "Behold, this is very good," is right. It may be entangled with other things that aren't right, as all our love and obedience for God is entangled with self-interest; but this veneration of masculine beauty is a good thing. His glory is not reserved to woman, but seen equally in both sexes.

But it's this disentangling of the bad and good that is so difficult. The web of homoerotic desire doesn't consist in a single thread woven around itself, but in a multitude of threads -- sexual, romantic, affective, maybe even spiritual -- that cross and countercharge one another, morally and mentally. It's like all human sexuality, really: it's complicated.


The Lady of Shalott by William Holman Hunt, 1905.
"And there she weaves by night and day / A magic web, with colors gay ..." -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

That's the chasm. That's where trust comes in. Do I really believe that God, who knows my heart and loves me -- start again. First, do I believe that God knows me and loves me? And second, do I believe that, for every good thing He asks me to renounce, whether it be companionship or sexual fulfillment or children or whatever else, its crucifixion will be followed by a supernatural resurrection?

The simple answer is, no, I don't believe those things. Not with my heart. I acknowledge that they are true, but that isn't really the same thing. I'm just so scared of the loneliness, the uncertainty, and the feeling of purposelessness that go with my shabby attempt at celibacy. I can't really tell whether all this is why I don't trust Him, or comes from not trusting Him.

Nor do I know my way out. I mean, Jesus is the way out, I know that -- but I don't know how to be with Him or in Him in a way that results in me trusting God. (Not that I haven't been told, a hundred times, mostly by people who so far as I know haven't been in the same difficulties themselves.) I can't think of anything to do but watch and pray; I can't open my heart by myself, and I have no idea when He will. That does call for trust. It's scary, and it's tiring. But where would I go? Back is not an answer for me; it's a non-solution, a shrug, a declining of the problem. And I just can't bring myself to do that. Whether it's stubbornness or divine grace or insatiable curiosity, I just can't. It isn't onward, or stop, or backward. It's just onward -- with no knowing what that will consist in.

Time for a nap.

11 comments:

  1. I feel that I am in exactly the same boat as you are, Gabriel. To embark on a voyage which I did not choose to take is all the more difficult for me, yet to see that my pilot is Christ gives me a sense of comfort and trust. Still, it does not mean that I am fully pleased. The seas buckle and turn the vessel, water splashes in and the sun burns my skin. I feel pain and discomfort, yet still this is my only hope, and to abandon ship and climb into a flimsy lifeboat will only take me to my doom. Maybe it is not the best vessel, but it is one nonetheless that shall test me and purge me, as fire does to purify metal.

    Christ knows my pleas and prayers: Why am I given a sexuality that does not fulfil the full expression of sexuality as a whole as heterosexuality? Why do you, O God of Love, ask me to give up what so many desire and seek in this world - what I desire? Earthly love may seem nothing compared to divine love, but it is nonetheless undeniably powerful.

    Loneliness is what I fear most of all. It is the current state that I feel myself in. I have had an interest in some men. The first simply dwindled away as time went by, the second turned into a good friendship, but the third has left me weeping in my pillow in the dead of night. If flowers grew from tears, my pillow would have grown a beautiful flowerbed.

    There's more that I wish to say, but I believe this is enough for one comment. Take care, dear Gabriel. You are in my prayers. I truly am grateful for what you write. You give a lot of my thoughts tangible words which I can see and read coherently, rather than have them muddle my head. I look forward to your posts. God bless you, dearest brother in Christ.

    Peace and prayers,
    An avid reader of your blog from the Isle of Malta

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  2. Thanks for the post, Gabriel! As usual, your writing brims with pathos, logos, and good snark. It is, in a sense, a salve to a heart that feels similarly bewildered -and more than a little besieged. I tend to think too much of my choice -like an Earthling Tinidril, fancying my epicness in this decision; it's terribly self-conscious stuff. And that seems, in a way, self-defeating. Celibacy remains a long road, I suppose. I'm still trying to find a nice way of telling my Id, 'Come, let us die with Him .' in the meantime, however, I am grateful for your work!

    Josh K

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  3. Thank you Gabe for sharing these thoughts. You have summed up, quite succinctly, many of my thoughts and struggles. Though you are further along in your journey than I, it is my belief that I will be where you are someday soon. The loneliness that you speak of is my greatest fear and while I've been unattached, so to speak, for most of my life, that doesn't mean that I want it forced upon me. I don't want to deny the feelings and desires that God gave me (and you).

    I pray for you, for me, and for all others who are in this situation that we will find peace.

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  4. Hi! I've been dipping in and out of your blog for a while now, and have really enjoyed your insights as I work out my own feelings on Church teaching and sexuality (for what it's worth, I'm straight and a cradle Catholic). I read your post on Julie Rodgers just not too long ago and later watched the clips I linked of Andrew Sullivan discussing the same issues (they really should be required viewing for Christians concerned about "persecution" from gay activists). Together they've raised a point in my mind which I'm sure you get asked about constantly, so please bear with me. It strikes me that, no matter how genuinely kind, sensitive and loving someone might be when expounding a traditional view of sexuality, it still has the power to hurt and alienate.

    Basically, whilst the efforts of some on both sides of the debate to behave more charitably are commendable, there is nonetheless an impasse which can perhaps only really be overcome in close personal relationships where people love one another unconditionally and can thus agree to differ (and even then, I know of a friendship which broke down in part due to one party - acting, I'm sure, from the best of motives - encouraging the other to attend Courage meetings, which unfortunately only resulted in their feeling judged and attacked - I imagine stories like this are sadly not uncommon). Your post on Julie Rodgers suggested that gay Christians often reject Church teaching primarily due to the bullying and marginalisation they've experienced. I don't doubt that, but I imagine it's also linked to their natural and understandable wish for love and companionship. As I'm sure you appreciate far better than I ever could, ultimately if traditional teaching was presented in a more attractive way all round, and gay people were consistently treated with genuine love and respect, they would nonetheless still be told - albeit more politely - that to act on their desires would be sinful and they could thus never hope to enjoy an intimate sexual relationship. Any thoughts on how to get past this difficulty? (Sorry for the essay! Plus I realise this is already considered somwhat in this latest blogpost...) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTfcxoif7RU&feature=youtu.be
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZ-FPDMaMCA

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  5. Hi. I've been dipping in and out of your blog for a while now, and have really enjoyed your insights as I work out my own feelings on Church teaching and sexuality (for what it's worth, I'm straight and a cradle Catholic). I read your (excellent) post on Julie Rodgers just not too long ago and later watched these clips of Andrew Sullivan discussing the same issues (they really should be required viewing for Christians concerned about "persecution" from gay activists). Together they've raised a point in my mind which I'm sure you get asked about constantly, so please bear with me. It strikes me that, no matter how genuinely kind, sensitive and loving someone might be when expounding a traditional view of sexuality, it still has the power to hurt and alienate.

    Basically, whilst the efforts of some on both sides of the debate to behave more charitably are commendable, there is nonetheless an impasse which can perhaps only really be overcome in close personal relationships where people love one another unconditionally and can thus agree to differ (and even then, I know of a friendship which broke down in part due to one party - acting, I'm sure, from the best possible motives - encouraging the other to attend Courage meetings, which unfortunately only resulted in their feeling judged and attacked - I imagine stories like this are not uncommon). Your post on Julie Rodgers suggested that gay Christians often reject Church teaching primarily due to the bullying and marginalisation they've experienced. I don't doubt that, but I imagine it's also linked to their natural and understandable wish for love and companionship. As I'm sure you appreciate far better than I ever could, ultimately if traditional teaching was presented in a more attractive way all round, and gay people were consistently treated with genuine love and respect, they would nonetheless still be told - albeit more politely - that to act on their desires would be sinful and they could thus never hope to enjoy an intimate sexual relationship. Any thoughts on how to get past this difficulty? (Sorry for the essay! And I realise this is kind of considered in this blogpost anyway...)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTfcxoif7RU&feature=youtu.be
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZ-FPDMaMCA

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  6. It is the greatest act of spiritual abuse on the part of conservative Catholic pastors and apologists to promote in any way the "later, rinse, repeat" cycle of sinning on Friday, confessing on Saturday, and going to Mass on Sunday.

    To think that a "shabby attempt at celibacy" (as Yoda says, "There is no Try") is somehow better than a committed relationship is just spiritually schizophrenic.

    What? Because Evelyn Waugh wrote that awful (and awfully naive) thing about "putting sin to sleep at night"? I'm sorry, but the theologically incoherent model of winking at sin but being very stern about "living in sin" (such a wrong concept) is a pastoral disaster, and it's shameful that you promote it as in any way admirable or implied by Catholic teaching.

    There is NOTHING better about that cycle than about a committed relationship. The sex is just as sinful either way, and probably just as frequent (indeed, paradoxically, you might find it actually decreases over time in the committed relationship. I don't mean in months, I mean in decades, which is the scale on which spiritual growth happens).

    The lack of commitment (ie, the ability to bear this very spiritually harmful cognitive dissonance by "disavowing" the sin "in between," more or less delusionally or with more or less self-deception) makes it WORSE, not better.

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    1. I'm not really clear what in this post prompted these remarks, but regardless, I'd like to clear up a couple misunderstandings, or miscommunications on my part, that seem to be involved.

      To begin with, I don't in any way intend to *promote* the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of which you speak. (I am, thank God, not a pastor, so -- though I'm certainly responsible for what I write -- I am at least free of that awful responsibility.) I agree with you in considering a committed relationship preferable to binging and purging, even if I don't consider either one a moral ideal. I think it's morally better to stick to one person, and it's certainly a lot safer.

      Now, I frankly admit that I *do* binge and purge, partly because I haven't found such a relationship; but saying so is me being honest, not me advocating the way I live to anybody else. I couldn't, in conscience, advocate my own lifestyle to others even as a compromise.

      I would also allow that there may be people who, for one reason or another, cannot countenance a relationship, but are still imperfect in their practice of celibacy. For them, and (presumably) for a season, lathering, rinsing, and repeating may be the only way they can live. And this isn't unique to sexual sin or imperfection; it is the way of all human life. This, incidentally, is one reason that -- ever since I first heard it -- I've rejected Yoda's dictum completely. Do or do not, certainly; but you do by trying. There is literally no other possible way of doing anything than by making an attempt. And sometimes, in trying, you find out that your first (or your fiftieth) attempt isn't adequate to achieve the intended result. That too is human life. And, insofar as that person's determination to go back and try again is prompted by courage and hope (as opposed to being an expression of mere pigheaded self-righteousness or abject terror), I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were far holier than I. That doesn't mean I recommend their course, but I don't wish to judge their consciences.

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  7. Wow Gabriel, this is a poignant and beautiful post. You are in my prayers and all others who struggle with their own issues. I've had issues with the Church on sexuality too and I'm a straight married woman. I really don't have anything else to say other than this is a very good post :)

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  8. Before I proceed, please permit me to admit that I'm a Catholic girl--well, woman technically--who happens to be straight and most definitely not a theologian. I am deeply ignorant, and for this I apologize. This line, however, Seeing a beautiful man doesn't just get me going sexually; it's awe-inspiring, even humbling -- it evokes joy and glory and gratitude, not just arousal, still less objectification. is something that I think I've experienced with some women. Your likening it to veneration I think is especially apt.

    Now, since I am straight, I have different questions to ask myself: is this because my own features are significantly less than ideal? Is this (if only in part) comming from some deep kind of insecurity? I simply do not think that I am not straight or in denial. Yet in reading your post, I think perhaps there is some commonalities between your experiences and mine. There may be something which, perhaps, might shed some light on both our struggles, and I'm wondering.

    I hope this is not presumptuous. I beg your forgiveness if it has appeared as such. Please know that I find your witness deeply humbling, I wish you the utmost best, and you are in my prayers.

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    1. Thank you for your prayers and kind words (and please accept my assurance that you've said nothing presumptuous). There may well be common threads in our experience -- I can hardly imagine what it's like to be a heterosexual woman, so I hesitate to say how much, but still. I can say that I've sometimes had those venerative feelings about women myself; which is one reason I think there's more to eros than sexual attraction, requited or not.

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  9. Thank you in turn for your kindness!

    I'll have to re-read C.S. Lewis' writings on this, but unless I'm mistaken he mentioned something along those lines. I'm not sure though is what we've experienced is eros though. It's transporting, but do such instances necessarily (or even generally) fall into that category? I'm not even certain if I can describe them as Romantic (and no, not just 'romantic'). Of course, I most likely am mistaken. Perhaps my experience of eros/the Romantic has a lesser degree (or differs in aspects) of passion than is commonly described. As such I greatly appreciate being able to discuss this with you.

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