This particular interview was conducted with “modern mystic” Chuck Lofy in the summer of 2005, and was featured in the fall 2005 issue of the Rainbow Spirit, the journal publication of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).
On September 12, 2005, Chuck launched CPCSM’s fall education program with an insightful presentation at the Church of the Holy Name in Minneapolis.
Keeping the Spark Alive
A Conversation with Chuck Lofy
By Michael J. Bayly
Described by City Pages as a “modern mystic”, Chuck Lofy has spent a lifetime studying spirituality by means of sacred scripture, depth psychology, mythology, literature, and the arts. A Jesuit for sixteen years, Chuck received rigorous instruction in the spiritual practices of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He earned his doctorate in theology after studying under the German theologian Karl Rahner, who is widely ranked among the twentieth century’s greatest religious thinkers. Chuck recently retired from a career in business comsulting and is now implementing an interactive seminar he has designed entitled, “Fire in the Bones: Igniting Spiritual Vitality”. A presentation by Chuck will open CPCSM’s Fall 2005 Education Program. Recently, CPCSM coordinator Michael Bayly caught up with Chuck at the home he shares with his wife of 37 years, Mary Mead Lofy.
Michael Bayly: Your presentation for CPCSM on September 12 is entitled “Keeping the Spark Alive: Finding Hope for GLBT People in the Wisdom of the Great Spiritual Traditions”. What do you mean by “the spark”?
Chuck Lofy: Jesus said, “I come to cast fire on the earth”. In Christian terms, this “fire” is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, the guiding and illuminating Spirit that according to the great religious traditions, is deep within all of us. The “spark” comes when we recognize and affirm ourselves as one with this Spirit. It has to do with catching fire with the realization that we have our destiny in our own hands, in the sense that we are free to choose how to respond to what comes our way. For instance, we can buy into what the institutional church says about homosexuality, or we can say, “No, you’re wrong. You’re blind. You haven’t evolved far enough yet”.
Michael Bayly: How would you respond to those who say that within the great spiritual traditions of humankind there is nothing that can give hope to GLBT people?
Chuck Lofy: I would say that such people don’t know that heritage very well. In some cases, they perhaps don’t want to be conscious but simply safe. They may not want to go beyond what they’ve been told. And when people just want to be safe, they create monolithic, rigid forms or systems wherein they hide from doing what conscious people do, which is, in the words of Scott Peck, to “march to a different drum”.
Yet in the history of religion there has always been a movement away from the monolithic, hierarchical paradigm. Both Paul Tillich and Carl Jung did histories of Christianity and both discovered that there are two parallel streams. One is characterized by external form while the other is characterized by internal experience. And both streams can be traced back to the Resurrection and the different ways in which it was experienced by Mary Magdalene and Peter.
When Peter saw that Jesus had risen he told the disciples and they said, “Jesus has risen and has appeared to Peter”. They took it on Peter’s word that Jesus had risen, which gave Peter a lot of clout. Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, didn’t need Peter’s because she saw the risen Jesus herself. So you’ve got these two different streams – those who want to remain children, spiritually, and march to the beat of the Church’s drum, no matter what, and those who seek and live from their own direct experience. Such people experience what the Greeks called gnosis – “inner knowledge”. They “know really”.
This knowing, based on direct personal experience of God, is in all of the great religious traditions, as are the parallel streams of orthodoxy and mysticism. All the great religious traditions say that eternal life is to know, and that you are therefore ultimately identified with the Spirit you are seeking. This Spirit is in the very fiber of our being. This teaching of ultimate oneness with God is very threatening to the monolith which discourages such self-awareness.
When we go back to the story of the Garden of Eden, we find that it’s been interpreted so that Adam and Eve sinned against God, and God exiled them. But if you look at it from the point of view of spiritual development, Adam and Even had a fall forward into consciousness. What they were not supposed to eat from was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Well, that’s adult consciousness: to know the difference between good and evil, and to know that difference experientially. And when we go into adult consciousness we often feel naked in the the sense that we don’t always have the forms of our parents or the church or anything else to tell us we’re right. Thus in the transition into adult consciousness it can feel as if we’re sinning. Yet that is when Luther said we must “sin bravely”. That’s a brilliant psychological insight.
Michael Bayly: One of the aims of your spirituality seminar, “Fire in the Bones: Igniting Spiritual Vitality”, is for participants to experience clarity in their lives. Can you talk about clarity and what you mean by the “process of clarification”?
Chuck Lofy: I think clarity is the great gift. It means to be clear, aware of one’s thoughts and actions.
Clarity comes from knowing what the facts are, doing your own inner reflection, and dialoguing with others – including those who can help you get to your unconscious resistance. This is what I call the process of clarification, and it comes with a moral imperative. When I come to clarity, there’s such a realization of the calling of my deepest spiritual stirrings that I would be sinning against myself if I didn’t go with what’s become clear to me.
Now, what motivates this process? It can be called by many names – the Divine, the Spirit Within, the Self, God. I like calling it the Universe.
Michael Bayly: In terms of human sexuality, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church attempts to give the impression that it has all the answers and that these answers are non-negotiable. For the hierarchy, GLBT people, for instance, can never experience God in their loving, sexual relationships but only through a life of celibacy. What insights can be gained from the wisdom of the great spiritual traditions about such rigid institutional declarations of absolute certainty?
Chuck Lofy: A problem with the Catholic Church is that the power is in the hands of celibates. As a result, human experience of God within the full range of human sexuality has not been recognized or valued. What’s valued is a system of logic. So for the pope it is logical that when you think of the penis and the vagina, the point of sexuality is to procreate within the framework of heterosexual marriage. It’s a logical, intellectually-based paradigm. But it doesn’t align with human experience in the real world.
The place where the church impinges itself on the conscience of the Catholic is almost invariably in the area of sexuality – whether that’s masturbation, divorce, birth control, homosexuality, premarital sex, or married priests. These realities don’t fit into the limited logical paradigm of someone like the current pope. Yet at the same time there are all kinds of inconsistencies within this particular paradigm; for example, allowing sex when one or both partners are past the age of procreation. Or the fact that priests in the Greek Orthodox Church, which is aligned with Rome, can and do, in fact, marry. Gary Will in his book Papal Sin, accurately identifies such inconsistencies as examples of “intellectual dishonesty”.
The institutional church is a power structure that in some areas of life is intellectually dishonest or spiritually blind – something that Jesus consistently warned against. For me, one of the most important things Jesus said was when he said to the religious leaders of his time, “If you knew you were blind, you would have no sin. It’s because you say, ‘We see’, that your sin remains”.
What happens in religion is that people have experiences of God that are ineffable. And they’ll lay down their lives for what they’ve experienced. When people start taking the names that the mystics have given to these experiences and pass them on, then for the next generation or two there’s not necessarily the experience underneath the names. And so we end up with language that, as Joseph Campbell says, is “not transparent of the transcendent”. It’s become opaque. It’s become like a rock. It’s monolithic.
The temptation for any form, image, or organized structure is to become monolithic; to become crystallized and to become an end unto itself. In some ways that is what’s going on with the church right now. The function of any monolith can become primarily to continue itself in its current crystallized, opaque form. Yet Jesus said the form profits nothing. It’s the spirit that gives life.
All of this can, of course, be overstated. The church is, of course, a beacon of light to the world in many ways. But like all of us, it has a shadow side and, in my view at least, that shadow side lies in the area of sexuality.
So if I had to say what people – GLBT or straight – can do to go beyond monolithic structures and language, it would be to become conscious, to embark on the Hero’s Journey of consciousness.
Becoming conscious means that you really understand what’s going on within you as you encounter the forces of the monolith, and that you develop an almost detached – or perhaps better stated – more mature, adult-relationship with the institution you’re trying to change.
It’s a paradox, I know, and it can cause a lot of grief. Internally what people need to do is affirm themselves, while externally they need to be doing just what CPCSM is doing – fostering dialogue, building networks of support, and building community. It’s spiritual work and it’s prophetic work.
In light of such work, the question becomes: How can we create forms in the church and in our lives that nurture and express our spirit, that enable us to be vital? The church always has to be in reform. There always has to be a reforming according to new insights, according to the ever-changing historical realities. We no longer think slavery is right. Some day the church won’t teach that homosexuality is wrong.
I agree with the definition of religion of Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Yiddish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. He wrote that, “Religion is a mysticism that has been transformed into a discipline, a mass experience, and thus grown partially diluted and often worldly. The more successful a religion is, the stronger its influence, the further it recedes from its mystical origin”. That is why all religions need to renew themselves by returning to, and revitalizing, the original experiences that gave rise to the religion in the first place.
Michael Bayly: Many GLBT people think they’re alienated from God because of their alienation from the institutional church. What words of advice and encouragement can you give to such people?
Chuck Lofy: I had an experience when I was trying to decide whether or not to leave the priesthood and get married. The church was not responding to my request and basically told me, “Leave and we’ll approve of your marriage afterwards; we’ll excommunicate you and then we’ll remove the excommunication”. And that’s basically what happened.
At one point as I was facing the prospect of excommunication, at about three o’clock in the afternoon when I was taking a nap, I suddenly woke up with the realization that God couldn’t excommunicate me. I mean, if God said, “Chuck, I want you to leave”, where would I go where God wouldn’t be? And that’s when I had this great revelation that God can’t be the church. And that therefore, the church is not God.
I also think it’s important to remember that in the Catholic tradition it has always been the case that the ultimate norm of morality is one’s conscience. And if you put this in ethical terms, it simply becomes a matter of prudence. Prudence is the virtue by which we decide, in a particular situation, where only I know all the details, what it is I’m going to choose to do. And then to take and live the consequences for that choice. This is what is meant by mature spirituality.
We all come to a point when we have to chose whether or not to affirm ourselves and make the choices and take the actions that flow from this self-affirmation. Paul Tillich said, “The greatest human act is to affirm who you are”. And he wrote the book, The Courage To Be - and what he meant was the courage to be yourself. And then the secondary courage is to live your affirmation of yourself. “To be or not to be?” really is the question.
Chuck Lofy (above left) pictured with CPCSM executive coordinator Michael Bayly and pastor of Holy Name Catholic Church, Leo Schneider - September 12, 2005.
For the first Rainbow Spirit interview, see The Voice of a Good Heart: An Interview with Kathy Itzin.