Sunday, June 03, 2018

Meeting (and Embodying) the Lover God

In Adam's Return, Richard Rohr writes about the Lover archetype/God-figure found within all the mystical traditions yet missing from mainstream Christianity.

It was a rainy Saturday yesterday here in Minneapolis. A good day to potter around indoors, catch up on household chores . . . and do a spot of blogging!

Pottering around the kitchen I saw on our all-purpose kitchen table a book that my housemate Tim is currently reading. It was Adam's Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation by Richard Rohr, and I soon discovered that it's all about how men can journey toward both authentic masculinity (as opposed to toxic masculinity) and an ever-deepening experience of God; the two goals being intertwined.

Leafing through Adam's Return I found myself reading the chapter that explores what Rohr identifies as "the four parts of a man's soul." These parts can also be understood as archetypes or God figures that men are invited to enter into and, in accordance with their individual inclinations and gifts, embody. These archetypes are the king (or wise man), the warrior, the magician, and the lover. Of the four, the lover has been the most neglected, indeed frequently maligned and discredited, in the Christian West. Rohr contends that this is because many "official" expressions and structures of Christianity (for example, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church) do not integrate and validate the sensual, pleasure-loving, erotic part of a man. Instead, this part is distorted in its suppression, taking on "devious and destructive directions."

Now, I should say that I'm wary of books about masculinity as, in general, I've found that they focus solely on the experiences and examples of heterosexual masculinity. It's as if queer men don't exist, or cannot be considered masculine. My interest in the Pagan spiritual path and, in particular, the ancient archetype (or God figure) of Cernunnos (left), has introduced me to a much broader and inclusive understanding of the "sacred masculine," one that welcomes and celebrates queer incarnations of both masculinity and union with the Sacred.

Although Rohr's Adam's Return does not name or discuss homosexuality in its exploration of masculinity and male initiation, it does at least offer an understanding of masculinity that neither maligns nor explicitly excludes the experiences and relationships of queer men. It feels like an uneasy compromise, though, doesn't it? And perhaps it is. After all, Rohr is a priest within a Roman Catholic religious order, and Roman Catholicism is far from integrated when it comes to the diversity of human sexuality. Could this account, perhaps even in an unconsciously way, for Adam's Return being similarly unintegrated with regards to queer men and their experiences? Regardless, the book is what it is, and for some it will be enough; for others, not so. The fact that I don't feel compelled to read it in its entirety, probably indicates where I stand on its lack of inclusion and integration regarding queer men.

That all being said, there are many important insights to be gained. For example, in another part of the chapter that caught my attention, Rohr offers an insightful and helpful historical and cross-cultural view of male initiation in relation to the four archetypes. He notes, for instance, that "classic male initiation tried to be a most daring, holy, and holistic thing. It blessed the penis and the naked body, honored holiness, the teacher, and the elder, turned military discipline against the ego instead of others, and held the whole thing together inside a sacred wholeness, the natural world, the big picture, or what Jesus would call the Kingdom of God."

Rohr also observes that, "Most culture initiated just one or another part of a man, which is why we cannot totally idealize them. With a broad brushstroke, I would say that Asia and aboriginal Australia tended to initiate the magician, Africa and most primal cultures idealized the warrior, the Latin and Mediterranean worlds honored the lover, while Europe and North America have always sought to develop the king (which is probably why the 'Western' culture dominates the earth!)."

Interesting stuff, wouldn't you say?

Anyway, here's that part of Richard Rohr's Adam's Return that discusses and explores the archetype of the Lover and its significance for men in their quest for psychological/sexual health and maturity, and for connection with the Divine both within and beyond. This excerpt has some added links and is accompanied by images depicting what I perceive to be men together experiencing the transforming and life-giving connection with one another and thus the Divine. Enjoy!

Do you think St. Francis really stopped being the king of parties? Do you think David of the dance, the psalms, the harp, and many lovers ever stopped being erotic? Could Rumi, Kabir, Tagore, or Hafiz have possibly written their sacred poetry if they were not sensuous and sensual men? Did St. Philip Neri really stop telling jokes and drinking wine? Did Mozart ever stop having fun? Did the cloistered contemplatives not know joy? I don't think so. They just moved joy and pleasure to the highest level which is the very definition of a mystic. The contemplative, or saint, is the most refined and highest level of the lover archetype.

It is strange that the West has largely created cultures of conspicuous consumerism, when it took as its ultimate hero and God figure a poor and simple man. You would think our God figure would be Dionysius or Pan. Why do most Eastern and Native peoples of the world consider the West to be greedy and materialistic? Why do we produce such a high rate of physically addicted people? Why is the search for affluence and pleasure our main concern? Could it be because we have not blessed the good side of joy and pleasure? Now it comes back and bites us from behind. When we consciously seek a certain amount of creature comfort in my life, I find that it satisfies me, and also will never satisfy me. That is a very life-giving and creative tension to live in.

I do not find the same kind of approach and avoidance attitudes towards pleasure in Hindu countries, among most Jews, and surely not among Native peoples. The lover part of a man was never paid his dues or given legitimate permission in Western Christianity. As many say, sexuality and sensuality is our ever recurring and "unhealed wound." Like petulant schoolboys, we Christians sneak all the fun that we can at the expense of underdeveloped countries, our neighbors, and the health of our own bodies and souls. We feel duly guilty about it all, but we don't usually stop. We priest deny ourselves sex, but then we insist on four-star hotels and restaurants. Carnival Catholics countries became a necessary decadence to justify receiving the ashes the next morning. Something has not come to balance inside us, and we remain schizoid. We go to the outer world for our daily pleasures, but we seldom allow them to bring us to God, or even to ourselves. We remain split. Flesh is bad and Spirit is good in our terrible dualism. Yet the Christian religion is supposed to be incarnational – a love affair between flesh and spirit. It is really quite strange.

Ours is the only religion in the world that dares to believe that God became flesh. The religion that chews on the flesh of God has a very sensuous, sexual symbol for the transformation of the lover; we call it the Eucharist. Christianity says that God is Love but does not appear to really enjoy the lover. Despite all the Bach Masses, Baroque churches, incense, vestments, and luxuriant art, we still made our religion into a moralistic matter instead of a mystical joy. Our operative God image was much more a banker, a judge, a timekeeper, or an accountant, but seldom a real lover – in any sense that the normal man understands. Like Michal, the daughter of Saul, we despise David for dancing half naked in church (1 Samuel 6:16); we look away from Shakers, Pentecostals, and holy rollers. Religion should be a proper and dignified thing, we think. The hot sins for the Baptists and Catholics are always associated with the body. This is no religion of incarnation.

Frankly, it is the Hindu sacred poets, Sufi mystics like Rabi'a and Rumi, the Christian saints like John XXIII, Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, and Therese of Lisieux, or Jewish masters, like the Baal Shem Tov, Abraham Heschel, and Martin Buber, who seem to have met the lover God. The mystics of all religions know this lover God, but they are never allowed to set the tone for the ordinary Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim on the street. We were all lost in law, customs, and holy wars, which largely nullified any chance of a truly love-based ethic for any of the three monotheistic religions. As Paul said so strongly, reliance upon moralisms makes grace impossible (Galatians 3), and it even leads to the death of the soul (Romans 7). Moralisms keep us making lists for God instead of making love to God.

In short, if religion does not integrate and validate the sensual, pleasure-loving, erotic part of a man, it takes devious and destructive directions. If you do not bless it and bow to it, it turns on you and controls you, as we have seen in the recent pedophile scandal. If you bless it, it also shows its limited value and longs for something higher. The most loving men I have met, the most generous to society and to life, are usually men who also have a lusty sense of life, beauty, pleasure, and sex – but they have very realistic expectations of them. The smaller pleasures have become a stairway and an invitation to higher [I'd say deeper] ones, almost by revealing simultaneously their wonderful and yet limited character.

The true lover wastes no time in guilt and no time in gluttony either. As Dom Bede Griffiths said, "Sex is far too important to eliminate entirely, and it is far too important to do lightly. The only alternative is to somehow 'consecrate' it." I am personally convinced this is true.

– Richard Rohr
Excerpted from Adam's Return:
The Five Promises of Male Initiation

pp. 128-131

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Manly Love
Reclaiming the Power of Male Touch
Beloved and Antlered
Integrating Cernunnos, "Archetype of Sensuality and the Instinctual World"
Edward Sellner on the Archetype of the Double and Male Eros, Friendships, and Mentoring
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Rockin' with Maxwell
Vessels of the Holy
The Body: As Sacred and Knowing as a Temple Oracle
No Altar More Sacred
To Be Held and to Hold
An Erotic Encounter with the Divine
Spirituality and the Gay Experience
The Holy Pleasure of Intimacy
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace

Image 1: Genia Minache
Image 2: The "Cernunnos" type antlered figure or "horned god," on the Gundestrup Cauldron (National Museum of Denmark).
Image 3: Elmer Bäck and Luis Alberti in Peter Greenaway's 2015 film Eisenstein in Guanajuato.
Image 4: Adam's Return cover art: "Mystic Christ" by John Guiliani.
Image 5: Subjects and photographer unknown.
Image 6: Jerome and Lorenzo. (Photographer unknown)
Image 7: Shutterstock. (Source)
Image 8: Ben Baur and Marc Sinoway in the 2012 TV series Hunting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful article.