Friday, March 28, 2008

Charis


Charis
By Nicola Slee

You touched my flesh
with infinitely tender embrace:
with touch of charis,
the caress of grace,
the chrism of bliss.

You sought my face
with your lips,
came closer than breathing
to give me the kiss of peace.
No one loved me like this.

You opened my body
like rain parting leaves,
like the blessing of oil
on a dying man’s brow.
You blessed, broke and offered
the bread of your body.
You ate of my flesh,
you drank of my juice.
You forsook every other
and cleaved unto me.
We are flesh of one flesh.
We are forged of one will.
We are still,
in the heart,
in the bone,
in the dark,
in the tongueless,
wondering place
where two are made one.

We are gift,
we are grace,
we are the face of love.
We are one, we are one.


- Taken from Courage to Love: Liturgies for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community, edited by Geoffrey Duncan (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2002).

Note: In Greek mythology, a Charis is one of several Charites (Greek: “Graces”), goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity and fertility. They ordinarily numbered three, from youngest to oldest: Aglaea (“Beauty”), Euphrosyne (“Mirth”), and Thalia (“Good Cheer”). In Roman mythology they were known as the Gratiae, the “Three Graces.”


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
And Love is Lord of All
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Love is Love
Dew[y] Kissed
The Road to Love
Alexander’s Great Love
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Mmm, that Sweet Surrender


Recommended Off-site Link:
The Androphile Project: The World History of Male Love


9 comments:

kevin57 said...

Beautiful picture.

Beautiful poem.

Beautiful for Eastertime.

Christian said...

Well, I see that is from a book on Liturgy, and I have read the poem numerous times trying to tease further meaning from it. Admittedly, I'm probably not the targeted audience for that book. Whatever I might think of the merits of the poem, I just for the life of me can't see why this would be fitting during Mass -- whether a LGBT friendly Mass, a genericly celebrated Mass, a Mass according to the GIRM, or a Mass according the the 1962 Missal. Am I reading too much into this and the poem is not actually meant for a (Catholic) liturgy?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Christian,

A liturgy doesn't have to be a Mass, it can be a prayer service, a table prayer, any manner of blessing ceremony, etc. In its broadest sense, a liturgy is any form of public worship/ritual.

Theologian Thomas Berry, a pioneer in the field of spirituality and ecology, even encourages us to understand our experience of the universe as a cosmic liturgy.

I can envision Nicola Slee's poem being used, for instance, as the contemporary reading for a commitment ceremony which, again, can be expressed and experienced as a liturgy.

Peace,

Michael

Mark said...

Isn't the Church's point that, as beautiful as sexual intimacy is, there is always more to it than "we are one?"

The Song of Songs is more my cup of tea as a poetic celebration of eros. But its eros located in a larger, Scriptural theme of nuptial love. That nuptial theme is also not only a simile or metaphor, its actual. As in actual, men, with actual women, actually in a complimentary relationship. That relationship may begin with "we are one" but it has an end, a telos, in "more than one" - children.

There is something in the telos of sex and sexuality that can't be ignored and that's the bonum prolis - the good of offspring. No matter how much great, wonderful, life-giving, unitive sexual lovemaking a couple engage in, it doesn't reach its fruition until its fruitful. Why are any of us even capable of existing and participating in this conversation? Thanks, Mom, and thanks, Dad.

This raises a number of questions. First, what of alternative methods of reproduction? Yes, its possible for the gang at the lab to help a couple, however one defines a couple, to reproduce. Just because assisted reproduction is possible is it desirable?

A side topic: there is a justice issue in assisted reproduction, in that not everyone can afford it.

Another question is about the telos of sex and sexuality. Our culture is in love with sex, but is not so enthusiastic about reproduction? Why? I think non-reproductive sex makes all sex male and male sex - the uniting aspect of sex without reproduction - normative. Because what is it that men want? Sex without consequences - no commitment and certainly no children. This points to the main problem with contraception: its a way of making women just like men, isn't it?

It Biblical times, men and women tried to control the gods by using sex as a form of sympathetic magic. This magic was believed to nudge or coerce the gods into making the land fertile. Without agricultural fertility people starved, so of course this was a big deal. So big a deal in fact that human sacrifice was practiced. The rejection of human sacrifice was one of the things that set ancient Israel apart from its neighbors - rejection not only of human sacrifice, but of the lines of reasoning and belief that led to that practice. I'll call the religion practiced by Israel's neighbors a "cult of fertility" - how to acquire it, how to control it.

We moderns have a cult, too - a "cult of infertility." We've made sex a god, but its no fun to worship with all those inconvenient kids running around. Hence our great interest in non-reproductive sex and the justification of the same.

"We are one" - yes, and "one," as Three Dog Night sang, is "the loneliest number." What we have here is two (at least two) views of the telos of sex. The telos of gay sexuality shows an insufficient appreciation of the bonum prolis, without which there would of course be no people - gay, straight, what have you - at all.

When the pastors of the Church use the phrase "objectively evil" WRT homosexuality, I think this is what they are referring to - that it is "objectively evil" to ignore the telos of sex, or restrict or redefine that telos. Its NOT to apply the phrase "objectively evil" to a person, or a group or class of people. I know this has been done and its wrong.

The Gay Species said...

Now your talking my language! Charisma, charism, and charity are elements of gracefulness, exquisiteness, and beauty. Those are values I hope and trust we all espouse, along with truthfulness, justice, liberty, and eroticism.

But, Michael, your claim that one need not believe in the "actual" or "physical" aspects of the virgin birth, resurrection, etc., while smartly honest as untenable leaves what in the vacuum? Values? Which values? Certainly not charity, beauty, gracefulness, truthfulness, or justice. The Sermon on the Mount is the greatest inversion of classical values, extolling injustice, poverty, humility, abnegation, powerlessness, wishful thinking, with an interpolation of the Golden Rule, which clearly is not a charism one finds among many Christians.

Perhaps forgiveness is the operative theme of virtue to be found, but seventy-times seventy is not the practice, and I doubt many of us would tolerate forgiving the same mistake 490 times. Patience, sure, but any infidelity over three dozen times suggests a problem, an impenitent, a rascal, but not a virtue.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Mark,

I think before you start attempting to convince gay people that the "telos" of human sexuality is biological procreation, you better first convince straight people. And may I suggest you start with the 96% of Catholic couples who practice birth control.

Look, biological procreation is a good and beautiful thing - no one disputes that. But I believe we do a great disservice to the gift of human sexuality when we declare that it is only this type of procreation that justifies sex. What about the creation and deepening of relationship? Of love and commitment? Of experiences of renewed life that couples experience through sex. Are not these forms of procreation?

You say: The relationship between a man and woman "may begin with 'we are one' but it has an end, a telos, in 'more than one' - children."

Actually, not every heterosexual relationship produces children - and not always because of the use of contraception. Why doesn't the Church forbid straight couples past the age of biological procreation, for instance, from marrying? Isn't their sex deficient because of the inability to beget offspring?

Also, why not broaden our understanding of "more than one"? Why limit it to the gift of children? What about when a community, for instance, welcomes and accepts a couple - gay or straight - isn't that a life-giving sign that the relationship of the couple is "more than one"? What about when a couple adopts children?

You say that: "No matter how much great, wonderful, life-giving, unitive sexual lovemaking a couple engage in, it doesn't reach its fruition until its fruitful."

I'd argue that most people in any type of loving and committed relationship - gay or straight - wouldn't accept this statement because it's clear you're defining "fruitful" solely in terms of biological procreation.

Also, no matter how "fruitful" a couple may be in terms of children, this couple's sexual life together still fundamentally embodies love's invitational call: "We are one." Children, while obviously part of the family, are (hopefully) not part of the couple's marriage bed!

And finally, in response to your understanding of the Song of Songs, may I suggest you read and reflect upon Jim Kepner's review of Dr. Paul R. Johnson’s book, The Song of Songs, A Gay Love Poem.

Peace,

Michael

Mark Andrews said...

Michael,

Three brief comments before I get to work.

First, as 1/2 of an involuntarily infertile couple, and a foster and adoptive parent, I have first hand experience with the heartache and joy that these circumstances bring.

Second, with respect to non-reproduce sex, let me suggest there is a difference (teleologically speaking) between a) using, say, tools in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions, and having that tool fail to work because of some intrinsic defect and b) choosing to use a tool (with or without any intrinsic defects) incorrectly.

Third, WRT to the latest scholarship on the SoS, Christians have been reading that poem for 2,000 years, and Jews for 5,000, and only NOW we discover that its a gay love poem rather than a straight one? Sorry, I'd like to hear what the rabbis say first. How does this latest paper hold up under the withering eye of Jewish scholarship (and the full range of it, too - orthodox, conservative, reform, and transformational).

Best,

Mark

Mark Andrews said...

Michael,

Okay, point-by-point:

1. "...may I suggest you start with the 96% of Catholic couples who practice birth control."

Appeals to statistics must be done very carefully. A statistic is just a kind of fact. Taken out of context any fact is almost meaningless.

Just because most Catholics ignore a particular Church teaching does not make that teaching wrong. I'll make up two statistics for
conversation's sake:

* 96% of Catholics don't support the Church financially.

* 96% of Catholics are ignorant of the Church's teachings about social justice.

Statistics can imperfectly describe an acting population at a given instant. Understanding why a population acts that way, what that action or lack of action means, and whether the words "right," "wrong," "a mixture right & wrong" can be applied to an action, or inferred from a statistic, is notoriously difficult.

Consider this: a bare majority of Americans supported the war in Iraq. Now a noticeable majority want that war to end. Did the
right or wrong of the Iraq War change based on the shifting opinions of a majority, or is right-or-wrong related, un-related or partially-related to majority opinion in a democracy?

I think what the statistics about birth control indicate is the deplorable state of adult catechesis in the Catholic Church in America.

I don't know what to do about this problem, but talking about it is some small recognition that it exists.

2. "But I believe we do a great disservice to the gift of human sexuality when we declare that it is only this type of procreation that justifies sex. What about the creation and deepening of relationship? Of love and commitment? Of experiences of renewed life that couples
experience through sex. Are not these forms of procreation?"

In a word - no. Thinking about food is not the same as having and eating it. Thinking about money is not the same as having and
spending it. Lets look deeper into the subjective experience of:

* creation and deepening of relationship

* love and commitment

* experiences of renewed life

Yes, we experience these things in intimate relationships. All are good in themselves, and good in strengthening and maintaining an
intimate relationship. But there has to be a balance between relational "self-adsorbtion" and relational "self-donation." In other words, "What is the purpose of 'unity'?" In the context of Catholic marital theology, unity supports procreativity. You can't have one without the other and you can't privilege one over the other.

3. "Why doesn't the Church forbid straight couples past the age of biological procreation, for instance, from marrying? Isn't their sex deficient because of the inability to beget offspring?"

In a word - no, its not deficient at all. The marriage of an involuntarily infertile couple - one man and one woman - simultaneously embodies, incarnates and iconically represents:

* Jesus reference to the creation narrative in Genesis: "male and female He created them."

* The nuptial imagery in Hebrew Scriptures about the relationship between Yaweh and Israel, which is adopted by Paul in describing

* That unity between Jesus and the Church.

I view these marriages through the lens of corporate personality, where one marriage according to the mind of the Church represents and
reifies all marriages according to the mind of the Church.

4. [W]hy not broaden our understanding of "more than one"? Why limit it to the gift of children? What about when a community, for instance,
welcomes and accepts a couple - gay or straight - isn't that a life-giving sign that the relationship of the couple is "more than one"?

The welcome of a community for a couple is only a "life-giving sign" in so far as that relationship is actualized and maintained. This
is a side topic, but too often people and couples are self- adsorbed, self-contained, self- justified and insular to the point there is no relationship with a larger community. The nuclear family - mother, father and their children - are the primordial community and the social foundation of all larger communities.

5. What about when a couple adopts children?

Go talk to foster and adoptive social workers and you'll quickly learn that, most appropriately, they don't give a damn about the prospective foster or adoptive parent(s) or their motivation(s) to adopt. The sole concern of the foster & adoptive care 'system' (and I use the word 'system' very loosely - it can imply a kind of rational organization that doesn't exist) is a safe, permanent home for children who desperately need one. There are 500,000 children in foster care in the U.S. in need of a permanent placement - 100,000 in California alone. The majority of these children come from families where one or both parents have an active addiction.

There's room here for a necessary discussion of what constitutes 'family,' and how family is recognized and supported by Church and State.

6. "[M]ost people in any type of loving and committed relationship - gay or straight - wouldn't accept this statement because it's clear
you're defining "fruitful" solely in terms of biological procreation. Also, no matter how "fruitful" a couple may be in terms of children,
this couple's sexual life together still fundamentally embodies love's invitational call: "We are one."

Sorry to be dour, but "we, we, we" sounds a lot like "me, me, me."

Lots of food for thought here. Permit me to speculate. Biological pro-creation is terribly devalued in American culture. This devaluing has existential, personal, social, social justice, economic and immigrational effects. A few examples:

* existential - people can act as if they are self-existent beings that simply popped into this life, without reference to how they came to life and where they are going. Sorry, but no amount of non -reproductive sexual lovemaking, of itself, ever brought a single baby into existence.

* personal - without reference to the primordial society that produced me - my parents - life is sometimes experienced as "me and my stuff in a consumerist culture."

* social - relationship with others is minimal, transactional and consummerist. Lovemaking becomes hookups. Marriage becomes a temporary community based on joint gratification until the inevitable divorce. Sometimes children are a by-product.

* social justice - would that every child on Earth were treated as if they were my own child with all that implies. This requires a radical re-ordering of one's economic and relational priorities. The pro-life movement has not begun to take the full range of ecological thinking into its theologizing and ministry.

* economic - ironically, European economies that are the basis of national "nanny states" have knee-capped themselves. These economies are in countries experiecning negative, net population growth. They stopped having their own kids. Without bodies, economies stop growing -
there is no new intellectual and physical labor to drive the economy. So bodies have to be imported.

* immigration - can viewed as a consequence of devaluing biological pro-creation, among many, many other things.

7. "Children, while obviously part of the family, are (hopefully) not part of the couple's marriage bed!"

No, of course not.

8. And finally, in response to your understanding of the Song of Songs, may I suggest you read and reflect upon Jim Kepner's review of Dr. Paul R. Johnson’s book, The Song of Songs, A Gay Love Poem.

I find it hard to believe the Rabbis have been reading this poem wrong for the last 5,000 years. The book is listed out of print on Amazon.com, but may be available via inter-library loan.

I am more curious about the critical reception of Johnson's book by Rabbinical scholarship than
anything else.

Peace to you also,

Mark

Michael J. Bayly said...

Mark,

Thanks for your detailed response.

Just a couple of things:

I disagree with you that the statistics about birth control “indicate [a] deplorable state of adult catechesis in the Catholic Church in America.” Rather I believe it mean this teaching is in error and that the “sense of the faithful” recognize this.

The institutional Church needs to be a listening Church, not just a teaching one. Indeed, any good teacher knows that it’s crucial to listen to those you’re attempting to instruct. The hierarchy’s consistent failure to listen and learn from the Spirit present in the lives and relationships of loving couples - straight and gay - is what is “deplorable.”

You also state that: “In the context of Catholic marital theology, unity supports procreativity. You can’t have one without the other and you can’t privilege one over the other.”

Well, theology is one thing, reality is another. The vast majority of straight married Catholic couples respectfully dissent from the above understanding of “Catholic marital theology.”

I believe that this theology, like all theology, should be open to being informed by human experience (that important “listening” piece again!). Sadly, when it comes to any form of sexual theology, the Roman Catholic hierarchy is hopelessly out-of-touch, mired, as it is, in its own “unhealed wound.” It’s sad but true.

Peace,

Michael