Heroic Heretical Heterosexuality

By Kripal, Jeffrey J. | Cross Currents, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Heroic Heretical Heterosexuality


Kripal, Jeffrey J., Cross Currents


[Christian churches] seem cunningly designed to condemn same-sex desire and to elicit it, to persecute it and to instruct it. I sometimes call this the paradox of the "Beloved Disciple": "Come recline beside me and put your head on my chest, but do not dare conceive of what we do as erotic." Perhaps it is more clearly seen as the paradox of the Catholic Jesus, the paradox created by an officially homophobic religion in which an allmale clergy sacrifices male flesh before images of God as an almost naked man.

Mark Jordan, The Silence of Sodom

               Love's a guillotine
               where a man
                 Must lose his head
               or else
               he is not shriven
                 in the Church of Love.
               "Well," you say,
               "I'd like to love--but
                  can't I keep my head?"
               Keep it then--
               But I fear you're not
               destined for much success.

Ahwad al-Din, poet and friend of Ibn 'Arabi, quoted by Jim Wafer in
"Passion and Vision:
              The Symbolism of Male Love in Islamic Mystical Literature"

Opposition is true friendship.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

There was something I just didn't understand. I had been led to believe by the celibate structure and transcendent monotheism of my own religious tradition that profound and transforming religious experiences come primarily to those who renounce the active expression of sexuality. Jesus had spoken primarily of those who willingly become "eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven," that is, (symbolically?) castrated males. Paul was even more clear that the state of virginity was the most appropriate mode of being for this, our eschatological age. The influence of Neoplatonism on early Christian thought only served to emphasize this Jewish ascetic-eschatological strand with its dualistic emphasis on the body (soma) as a tomb (sema) to be delivered from. Consequently, much, if by no means all, of the history of Christian spirituality can be read as an amplification of this most basic of mystical teachings, namely, that the kingdom comes when the sexual doesn't. This anyway was clearly the message I received, through any number of explicit and implicit liturgical, scriptural, institutional, and iconographic channels, from the Catholicism of my youth.

Why then, I kept asking myself, did the timing of my preliminary mystical experiences (about which I will have more to say below) and dream-visions coincide precisely with the active expression of a long dormant, long repressed sexuality? My own life experience, it seems, stood in direct contrast to my tradition. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Moreover, I asked again, why couldn't I, as hard as I might try, imagine myself into the male erotic-mystical models of Christianity? Teresa of Avila? I could understand her vision of a flaming angel plunging a fiery arrow "deep within" her until she moaned in an intense pain that was also unspeakably pleasurable. Being a woman, I thought, posed no problems for Teresa's religious imagination; her gender "fit" into the tradition and its image of the female soul as bride being penetrated by a masculine divine. But Bernard of Clairvaux and John of the Cross? What could I make of Bernard's psycho-theological descriptions of being kissed or penetrated by Christ the bridegroom? (1) Or what could I make of John's poetic glossing of the "delightful wound" of his poem, Llama de amor viva? "[W]hen the soul is transpierced with that dart, the flame gushes forth, vehemently and with a sudden ascent, like the fire in a furnace or an oven when someone uses a poker or bellows, to stir and excite it. And being wounded by this fiery dart, the soul feels the wound with unsurpassable delight.... The fire issuing from the substance and power of that living point ... is felt to be subtly diffused through all the spiritual and substantial veins of the soul in the measure of the soul's power and strength. …

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