Friday, January 30, 2015

No Altar More Sacred

I once took a Mexican roofer to my bed. Well, twice to my bed, actually. I have to say that together, these encounters comprised one of the most satisfying sexual experiences of my life.

We met quite by chance at the Gay 90s in downtown Minneapolis. This was in October of 2008. A friend and I had just attended a concert at a nearby theater and had decided to go to the 90s for an after show drink. My friend, who I later realized was hoping we'd go home together, did not appreciate it when I struck up a conversation with another guy.

"Well, if you're going to entertain the immigrant community," he declared, "I'm leaving."

And he did. It was all rather embarrassing.

The young man I was talking to said his name was Juan. He was from Mexico and was working as a roofer in the Twin Cities. He was young, handsome, and very interested in me . . . and, yes, I found it to be a wonderful and surprisingly unexpected encounter. We exchanged phone numbers and I headed home – by bus, as at that time I didn't have a car.

I suppose some might wonder why I didn't just go home with Juan. Well, truth be told, I'm really not into one night stands and/or sleeping with someone I've only just met. Instead, I called Juan the next day and we arranged to go out to dinner the following week. And that's what we did, and afterwards we went back to my place and watched a movie. Throughout the evening we talked, laughed, shared, risked being vulnerable. He was incredibly good looking and exhibited some delightful contradictions. His big butch pick-up truck, for instance, sported a glittery little dolphin sticker on its back window. Under his buff and seemingly tough exterior, he was a gentle soul.

It seemed a very natural thing to snuggle on the sofa together as we watched our movie, and to then go upstairs to my big sleigh bed in my candlelit attic room. That night and the evening we shared again in my bed two days later were very special ones, and bring to mind Henri Nouwen's beautiful insight:

Your body needs to be held and to hold, to be touched and to touch. None of these needs is to be despised, denied, or repressed.

The encounter I'm recollecting didn't end badly as much as it did poorly. Juan was all set to join me for dinner at my house, and we had plans to enjoy breakfast the next morning at a nearby restaurant; but then he simply didn't show up. I've never heard from him since. Had he been in the country illegally, been found out, and deported? Was he just a player? I simply don't know and probably never will. One thing I do know is that he vanished so completely that I can't help but think of him whenever I hear Bobbie Gentry hauntingly sing . . .

You came into my life,
it was sunshine everywhere;
you were out of sight,
just standing shining there.

All my days were bright,
you took me to the sky;
You showed me the light,
you taught me how to fly to the clouds,
straight up to heaven.

Was it just a dream?
I couldn't tell if you were really real.
Was it just a dream,
a dream that I could see and touch and feel?

As disappointing as this experience ultimately was, it's difficult to say that I regret it completely. (And if I wanted to be rueful about it, I could use the title of Gentry's very last recording to sum things up: "He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right," a song that contains the line If you're gonna have a man who'll desert you / at least get what you've been dreaming of.)

Yes, and as brief as my encounter was with Juan, I have to say I discovered so much about myself and the pleasures and pitfalls of gay male sex and dating. Perhaps not surprisingly, the experience served as the basis for "Carlos," one of the installments in my semi-autobiographical series The Journal of James Curtis.

I'm well aware that some would denounce my sexual sharing with Juan as sinful, as something that separated both of us from God. I'm so far beyond such ways of thinking, as are many other Catholics.

Theologian Daniel Helminiak, for example, reminds us that "genuine care and loving are the non-negotiables of human sex," not biological procreation, as the Roman Catholic hierarchy insists. Helminiak also points out that given what we know today about the complexity and diversity of human sexuality, "sexual sins" have nothing to do with non-procreative sex, the "waste" of semen, or the "violation" of a bodily orifice, as in the morality of ancient times. Rather, immoral sex is sexual sharing that is not helpful, not enhancing, and not affirming for all concerned and on all levels – physically, psychologically and spiritually.

More helpful insights can be found in Richard Rohr reflection on male spirituality and sexuality in his book From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality. Writes Rohr:

The male penis is not a weapon or a mere tool, but it is a means of making contact, literally "reaching out" for the other, not to hurt or invade, but to pleasure and delight – mutually! . . . Not just me, and not just the other, but both simultaneously. Is that not an ideal metaphor for what all human relationships should be? And maybe even what morality should be.

All of which brings me to something I read recently and which not only brought to mind my experiences with Juan but the perspective on sex and the sacred that I've come to understand and accept. It's a reflection by Thomas Moore from his book Original Soul: Living with Paradox and Originality, and it very much inspired me to share all that I have in this post.

Every desire is worth paying attention to, even though we know if we track it far enough, we will discover that this longing will never cease. But that is the definition of divinity from the viewpoint of sexuality. That full, bittersweet, empty feeling is like incense in a church – it announces the presence of God.

If we believe the poet who wrote the Song of Songs, the divine is to be sought in our bed, at night. Sexuality certainly brings people together and makes life feel full and vital. But it is also the path toward that extreme of desire, that ultimate love that usually feels unrequited, which is the eternal and the infinite. The opening made by desire, that hole in our satisfaction, is the opening to divinity, and only there is our desire brought into the realm of the possible.

Sex is never a purely physical act. It is always numinous, even when it is not perfect or is full of shadow. In rape, the soul is savaged, not just the body. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse are sacrileges because the body is truly a manifestation of the soul and is in a real sense a temple of liminality where the divine and the human engage in many forms of intercourse. Sex abuse is a signal that we are trying hard to keep the divine out of our desire.

The bed, then, is a ritual object, worthy of our tenderest care. It has often been said that one of the most intimate sights is a bed recently left, its coverings scattered and laid about. In bed, we leave the plane of practicality and enter the deep world of dreams, and here we make love, and in so doing we seek him whom we love but can never find. The bed is a prie-dieu on which we lie instead of kneel, a place of physical prayer, inspired by desire and sustained by pleasure. No altar is more sacred.

"Alfredo" (8" x 10", pen on paper, 01/2015) by John MacConnell.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
The Gravity of Love
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men: A Discussion Guide
"Make Us Lovers, God of Love"
Sometimes I Wonder . . .
The Art of Surrender
The Longing for Love: God's Primal Beatitude
Marriage: "Part of What is Best in Human Nature"
In the Garden of Spirituality – Diarmuid Ó Murchú
In the Garden of Spirituality – Toby Johnson
Carlos: Part 4 of The Journal of James Curtis

Related Off-site Links:
Five Studies That Offer Fascinating Conclusions About Human Sexuality – Jessica Gross (TED Blog, February 20, 2014).
A Review of Michael Bernard Kelly's Seduced by Grace: Contemporary Spirituality, Gay Experience and Christian Faith – Victor Marsh (White Crane, April 2008).
The Gay Male Quest for Democratic, Mutual, Reciprocal Sex (Part 1)The Leveret (August 7, 2008).
The Gay Male Quest for Democratic, Mutual, Reciprocal Sex (Part 2)The Leveret (August 17, 2008).
Sharing the Good of Sex – Westernstock (Enhanced Masculinity – Christian Man to Man, January 18, 2015).

Opening image: Michael J. Bayly.


Westernstock said...

Thank you for sharing in such depth your sexual encounter with your Mexican friend. I find particularly enlightening your revised definition of sexual sin.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Westernstock!

I've added a link to one of your blog posts as its content complements what I've shared here.



Joe said...

A beautiful reflection, Michael. Thanks.