I'm not alone talking with my blogging obsession about sex and God. But not everyone is as nice as I am. Nerve.com, the hipster singles joint for light porn and witty political commentary, recently released its "Moral Values Issue."
So it should come as no surprise that the above-linked article on nun masturbation has scraped together an altogether eclectic sampler of Christian contemplative writing over ten centuries to paint a picture of the horny nun dreaming of sucking down the Savior. The readers of Nerve are well-educated enough to be suspicious of the establishment, but adolescent enough to find this amusing. Since reading I have been daily plagued by recollecting and snarfing at the phrase "divine foreskin.'
But it still worries me. So why don't I find it amusing, you ask. Saint Theresa of Avila dreaming about sticking her fingers in the Redeemer's wounds is as erotic and cross-gender an image as they come. But look: I remember vividly when I was fifteen and a gentle old professor of theology smilingly told me that I might like Theresa, whose ecstasies everywhere mingle devotion for God with the ravings of an obsessed lover. There's a thick and strong tradition of romantic and even sexual love mirroring the relationship between God and the soul. Best known among twenty-somethings in America is the Sufi tradition embodied by Hafiz and Rumi. But in the West we have Theresa, let alone Abelard suckling on the teats of many-breasted Sapientia. And the tradition goes back far. In the Song of Songs, God says to the soul, How beautiful you are, my beloved.
It still all might be repressive and nasty, as the Nerve readers expect. It might b nuns masturbating in their cells and damning the civilians dancing on the rain-slippery pavement beyond the convent walls. Maybe in its most primeval, pagan roots there's an ackowledgement of the divine in every physical incarnation, yeah down to the prostitute, leper, and drug-dealer, all pathetic and glorious embodiments of human weakness. Judgment of the fallen comes later. Judgment comes only when good Christians try to figure out how they should act towards the girl in the bed with them (do you have to marry her if she's pregnant and broke?). Or when they have to legislate against drugs, prostitution, and disease -- cases where the legislation, historians tell us, often drives the problem underground and makes the condition worse. But primarily the Christian is not a judge, not a Caesar, not in an earthly army; the Christian slips away and back into the realm of fantasy, of open wounds and delicious sores, where all kinds of compassion are infinitely possible.
Maybe we disown the image altogether. The image of a divine lover comes with too much repression, as Nerve intuits, and perhaps with too much heated beating of the soul into a wanton fury. My colleague theologian says he dislikes the Christ-as-lover image strictly because he can't imagine God as somehow separate from the human condition.
But the wooing of God, absent presence resaught and revisited; this is true to the experience of most people I know, with their lapses of faith and grace -- coming into happiness and flow and then falling altogether out of it again. It is also typical of the lapses of presence we have with the rest of the world, both with the individuals around us and with larger social involvement. Evn as a class, progressives fall out of engagement with the nation while working at the grassroots, then similarly the latter. The neediness and lapsing and crazed seeking of the lover in heat are part of the human condition; maybe its nastiest, most debased, most passionate, least controlled, and possibly most beautiful. Even Casanovas try to quarantine it, lest one amour devour them entirely. So the idea that God is with us in bed: that most human, most fragile condition, most tempted, at once, the most potentially greedy and generous condition imagineable: that, I think, must be true of a Comforter and Redeemer who has given everything to save us from the sin of selfishness. The salvation that reaches us down there, when we're most likely totake advantage of another person, and most struck by the other's beauty, that's a salvation indeed.