Sunday, April 16, 2017

He's Not Here

It’s a day, and a season, when some of us think about death and resurrection.

The deeper we dig into that mystery, the more we’re likely to conclude that resurrection doesn’t simply undo death. It doesn’t just restore what was there before. The one who’s resurrected isn’t even immediately recognizable by those left behind. They mistake him for the gardener (John 20:15), or for a random stranger on the road (Luke 24:16), or for someone who suggests casting the net on the other side of the boat (John 21:4). He passes through locked doors and suddenly just appears (John 20:19). Yet he’s flesh and blood, with recognizable wounds.
Maybe the stories we tell about Jesus of Nazareth also offer lessons about our relation to spiritual traditions: about clinging to them, about letting go of them, about finding ourselves opened to look in unexpected places for the presence of Life, about walking away from empty tombs.
Sometimes, to see Life when it’s in front of us, new and yet strangely familiar, the religious certainties we were handed as kids are themselves the veil over our eyes that we’ve needed to remove. Some of us have found that Christianity itself, with all its homophobic baggage, has become the empty tomb we’ve needed to walk away from, when we’ve heard the angel say, “He’s not here.”
Some of us have experienced the presence of risen Life in places the Sunday School lessons of our childhood could never have allowed us to predict: in a gay men’s Buddhist sangha; at a faerie Beltane gathering; on a massage table; paradoxically, at the bedside of a dying friend; on a dance floor; at a march on Washington; in the arms of a man who's become a lover before he’s shared his name; at the table of someone you’ve known most of your life; alone on a mountainside at sunset.
Sometimes we have to stop focusing so relentlessly on where we expected to see Life. There it is, in the background behind what we’ve been staring at. Or just a few degrees off to the side. Or in a tradition that isn’t our own, that can speak to us not because it’s more authentic than our own spiritual roots, but because it surprises us, or because we come to it without the stumbling blocks of long and sometimes painful acquaintance. The trick then is to see that what at first glance looks so different from what we’ve lost turns out to be the gracious return of what gave us life from the very beginning. To say, in response to hearts that burn within us, “Oh--it’s You again.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Night of the Arrest

“A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”--Mark 14:51

You’ve seen him here late at night all week. He’s come up the rambles between the trees to this knoll at the top of the garden. You thought he was looking for sex when he first showed up on Sunday night, but he didn’t prowl like most of the men who linger until they’re sure it’s safe and then offer to buy you for the night, or for an hour, or for just a quick fuck behind the biggest, oldest olive tree. Or else keep on looking for another man as hungry for sex as they are.
He just leaned against what’s left of the stone hut that belonged to the gardener in the old days. Aware of what was going on around him. Not horny and panicked at his own desire and the danger of the place, like most newcomers. At peace, saying yes to it all, but wanting none of it for himself.
You wear just a linen sheet when you’re up here working the hill.
Tonight he’s back with two friends, who for hours started at the sound of every pebble that shifted underfoot as men cruised the paths. His own face showed more sadness than fright, until he finally went off alone to the side of the garden, kneeling as he wept. You waved a john away, wondering if you should go to him. Now his friends have drifted off to sleep.
Another john comes up, and you’ve got to make enough to eat tomorrow. But then the man turns, and your eyes lock. The john glares, shrugs, and walks off.
Without thinking, you get up and walk over to him. He’s still weeping as he reaches out to you, but by the time his arms are around you, you realize the comfort he’s offering is beyond anything you can give back. For the next five minutes, you exchange no words, only sobs, until the two of you fall into a slow, steady rhythm, rocking back and forth, your breath matched to one another. His hand burrows under your dreadlocks to stroke the back of your neck.
Down the hill you hear the scuffle of men scattering as they do when the police barrel through. You pull back in alarm. He smiles and says, “It’s O.K. Go, get out of here.”
As you pitch down the hill, a cop grabs for you, but you leave the sheet behind, clutched in his hand, as you run on to safety.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ecosexuality: Men in Nature

Feminist cultural theorists have long pointed out the enduring and widespread tendency to associate women with nature and men with human culture--an association that reenforces patriarchal thought patterns, stereotypes, and power structures. Removing ourselves as men from the realm of nature, imagining that we’re in a position of dominance over nature instead of being part of it, has encouraged us as to wreak ecological havoc in the name of the economy and “progress.” Environmental rape and pillage aren’t just a metaphor--they’re perpetrated overwhelmingly by men who assume that they can and should control everything--both women’s bodies and the body of the Earth.

Affirming our place in nature, rather than pretending we occupy a place above it, is a way of realigning ourselves on the side of the Earth. It’s a way of saying no to patterns of male domination and entitlement. It’s also a way of affirming, as queer men, that we belong here, in the world--that we’re part of it, at home in it, alongside birds and grass, oak trees and dragonflies. It’s a way of dropping down into our bodies, instead of floating above them as disembodied intellects. It’s a way of practicing true humility--a word that in its origin means “close to the ground.” It’s also sexy and fun.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Love after Love (by Derek Walcott, 1930-2017)

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another; who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Part of Your Soul, on a Table

Few things can ground self-awareness of your inner life like setting aside sacred space in your home--or in nature. One of the pages in the “Ritual Resources” sidebar to the right is about creating personal altars.

Personal altars, at their best, are visible maps of the invisible world within us. Sometimes they can express what's happening inside better than any words we can find. Sitting before an altar where you've placed objects that represent key experiences, deep beliefs, people you love, you may find yourself surprised at what it's telling you. Listen to your altar. It knows more than you do.

Here is the first of what I hope will become a series of shared images of some of these shrines, with or without words from the men who’ve created them. If you've made an altar and would like to share a photo and/or words about what it means to you, the objects you keep there, the practice you’ve created around it, please contact me!

Here are two photos of StarDancer’s altar. He is a shaman and sacred intimate who lives and practices in St. Louis.

“My altar is a repurposed piece of furniture that I’ve had since childhood. It used to have legs, doors, and a blonde finish...and likely could have been valuable in a different way had it remained unaltered and not become my altar!

“It lives in my sanctuary room, where I conduct SI sessions. It holds objects of various kinds from my journey into spirituality and Sacred Intimacy. I rearrange the objects occasionally. Sometimes I pass them on to another in ritual or as a gift.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


What if Christians started using their theological resources to celebrate the full range of possible loving relationships, instead of obsessing endlessly over one constricting paradigm of marriage?
The following quotation comes from a meditation by Cynthia Bourgeault for March 15, copyright and distributed by Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation:

“Ternary systems have three independent forces coming together to form something new, a fourth thing. Perhaps the simplest example is a braid. You need at least three sections of hair for a braid to hold; the braid is then a new creation. The interweaving of threeness results in something that didn’t exist before. It is not just a swinging back and forth between two old things that were already there, but a drive into a brand new dimension.
“While a binary system is by nature stable and symmetrical a ternary system is asymmetrical and innovative. Unlike a pendulum, it cannot come to equilibrium within its own orbit; it seeks stability in a new plane, through a resolution that is at the same time a new arising. It corkscrews its way through time, matter, form--whatever plane is at hand--in a riot of uncertainty and new combinations, the whole of which is the fullness of divine reality.”
Photos: from Howard Roffman's Three, and the Rublev Trinity (14th century)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

An Invitation into Community

What happens in sacred erotic space where you’re safe to give voice to the deepest longings of your body, mind, and soul?

What does a community of queer brothers look like who commit to holding that space for one another?
What tangible, embodied practice can you imagine creating for yourself to honor and bear witness to what’s within you?
This coming August 10-13, come spend three days in the natural beauty of Western Maryland at StoneSong Retreat Center. Experience the sweetness of living in intentional community with a band of spiritually and erotically alive men who have faith that what we discover together will be bigger, richer, and way more fun than what we could ever build on our own.

Together, we’ll build a sacred community, open up to one another in heart circles, explore the places in our lives where sex and spirit meet, create personal shrines and spiritual practices for ourselves. We’ll honor and celebrate the differences among us and joyfully explore what we share. Together, we’ll develop communal ritual to express the spiritual and erotic joys, sorrows, aspirations, and hopes of all.
Frank Dunn and I will lead “The Stonesong Retreat: Honoring our Bodies, Feeding Our Souls.” We were humbled and overjoyed at the creativity, heart, soul, honesty, and courage of the men who joined us last year. This year’s program will incorporate some of the same elements--who doesn’t want to spend a summer afternoon playing in a mud pit?--and add new surprises.
The cost of the retreat, inclusive of room and board, ranges from US $485 to $695, depending on the choice of accommodation. More information on location and logistics, and the online registration form, are available at

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Story of Resilience

A matador with a perfect bubble butt struts in Louboutin heels, unbound hair streaming over his shoulder. He faces off against a bull loosed by Picasso on the north side of Winnipeg. His cape is a Hudson’s Bay blanket. The last matador down, a more conventional fellow, is attended to by a kneeling First Nations man. Behind the wounded modernist bull, whose testicles are the size of canteloupes, a herd of bison roam the street. Across a vacant lot, a car goes up in flames as a troupe of shamanistic buffalo dancers press toward it. A police helicopter hovers overhead, as does a seventeenth-century Mercury in winged helmet.

This is the vision of Kent Monkman, the queer Cree artist whose current exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, is currently on view at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto. Monkman’s alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, presides over this monumental Trickster indictment of Eurocanadian cultural genocide against the indigenous peoples of Canada. The show is a triumph for Monkman, a coup for the Museum, and as trenchant an antidote to national smugness as we’re likely to see in 2017, the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

Eurocanadians love to congratulate ourselves on, well, how much less self-congratulatory we are than Americans. Ironically, what we so often fail to recognize is the strong current of critique and dissent deeply ingrained in the American political tradition. By contrast, Canadians are more often than not loathe to call ourselves and this country to genuine account for the dark side of its history and present life.  Monkman is calling our bluff.
Nothing’s sacred here. The iconic group portrait of the Fathers of Confederation is reconceived as “The Daddies.” The scandalized architects of national unification gaze with detached distaste, with fascination, with dread, or all of the above at a nude Miss Chief seated in the foreground, back to the viewer of the painting, on a champaign case covered by yet another Hudson’s Bay blanket. In another painting, Sir John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of a united Canada, stands with glass askew and a drained bottle on the floor behind him, at the shoulder of his apprehensive wife.
And everything’s sacred here. Anthropomorphized beavers become the victims of a reimagined Slaughter of the Innocents  in which indigenous and colonial hunters share complicity; a silent Miss Chief looks on from where he shelters survivors behind a tree. Native women fight for their children as nuns, priests, and Mounties struggle to abduct them into the horrors of the residential school system. A vast landscape evoking nineteenth-century Romantic visions of the sublime is populated by bears--some four-footed and fur-covered, some two-footed, leather-clad, and sporting erections. A native woman lies dying in a hospital bed, surrounded by mourners who revision Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin.
The resilience of the show’s title is the resilience it documents. It’s also the resilience it embodies--the resilience of the First Nations, but in the second instance also the resilience of queers, of the natural world, of the survivors of spiritual abuse, of all those who know we have to stand together, at the intersection of our struggles to claim our lives.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Faith of the Caterpillar

It’s Inauguration Day in the District of Columbia. Aside from this morning’s New York Times, I’ve declared myself under news blackout until tomorrow, when I’ll attend a solidarity rally in Toronto and look online for coverage of the Women’s March in Washington.

Both Malachy McCourt and Carrie Fisher are credited with saying that resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. How can we continue to engage without sacrificing our happiness to no good end or giving into despair? By weaving connection. By keeping hope alive, as Shepard Fairey, who designed Obama’s iconic 2008 poster, has done by creating a new series of images for the dark time that began today. By defending one another’s rights and one another’s dignity. By creating local strategies for progressive change, and for resistance.
And by recognizing that when we’ve chewed through everything in sight, till our skins are taut to bursting, we may need to reach a moment of acknowledgement that more of the same will lead to nothing other than exhaustion.  We may need the faith of the caterpillar that inside the cocoon, something will happen beyond anything we can ask or imagine. The cocoon itself is the faith of the caterpillar.
This is not a cute image of easy change. If you get curious from the outside about what’s going on in the cocoon, you can only wreak destruction. Open it up, and you’ll find nothing but an organic soup: the caterpillar doesn’t gradually transform into a butterly. It dissolves in an act of self-digestion.
This is no time to retreat into our own private cocoons. We need now both to go into the cocoon together and to become the cocoon for one another. We need to embrace the notion that for life to go on, we have to surrender our attachment to the strategies that have failed us, or at least run their course, but say yes to one another, from day to day and week to week.  We need the faith that was shown by the Occupy Movement. We need the faith of the Freedom Riders. We need the faith of Martin Luther King. We need the faith of the antinuclear movement of the 1980s and of the Stonewall Rebellion. We need the faith that a day will come when it’s time to emerge.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On the Eve of Incarnation

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in his Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once

He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous?—Then

open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one

who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,

we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,

every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably

damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 15, as translated in The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, ed. Stephen Mitchell (New York: HarperPerennial, 1993), pp. 38-39. Quoted from Poetry Chaikana Blog: Sacred Poetry from around the World.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

One Morning Past Solstice

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not put it out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman: Elijah

At the margin: between land and sea, between fire and water, between flesh and spirit, between resignation and hope. As Oscar lived.
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu
v’al kol-yisrael, v’imru: “amen.”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman: Yehoshua

Oscar's meditation on his mortality as his cancer advanced.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hermitage V: Tonglen

I don’t share a lot of explicit detail here about my sexual practices. Our erotic lives are dense with personal history, with private meanings that we don’t even ourselves consciously understand. I'd rather make room for people to explore their own inner landscapes than clutter the space between us with my own psychodynamic tchachkes. (Then too, maybe sometimes a still-internalized fear of shaming also holds me back.)

But long walks in the woods have a way of clarifying things, like when to put your money where your mouth is. So after two hours out on the trail this afternoon, here we are: sex in the hermitage. Masturbation, prayer, and how one can flow into the other. 
I’ll start by sharing something about me that will speak to some and not to others. As tortured as my relationship to wanking was all through my adolescence (and maybe because my relationship to it was so tortured in those formative years) it remains a staple of my erotic life. In recent years , men like me have increasingly claimed the emerging label of the “solosexual.”  Thank God for a website like Bateworld. Thank God for groups like the New York Jacks and the San Francisco Jacks and the Rain City Jacks, for every small local group some generous man is willing to host, and for periodic events like Healthy Friction. 

It’s not simply that I masturbate, like virtually all human males over the age of  thirteen or so. It’s not simply that my own cock and balls offer me pleasure and satisfaction beyond what most of us are willing to admit, given generations of repression and censure, contempt and derision for the most universal and readily available sexual experience men can have. It’s that I find my own body intensely erotic. Stroking myself to orgasm means as much to me as sex with partners. 

I’d never want to face a choice between sex with myself and sex with others. If I had to, I’d probably pick myself, behind Door Number One. I can and do relate lovingly to all sorts of people I don’t and would never have sex with. On the other hand, when it comes to sex, whenever I’m in the mood, by happy coincidence so am I. 

Solosexuality involves a lot more, though, than just an easy date:  the difference between a quick wank to get off and the deliberate, extended cultivation of pleasure, the practice of “edging,” whether for an hour or two or over whole days or weeks; the conscious, intentional spreading of energy and focus to the erotic capacities of one's whole body. Paradoxically, some solosexual men are as reluctant to reach ejaculatory orgasm as any devout Catholic schoolboy of the 1950’s. Not in fear of mortal sin, but in commitment to the heightened energy and juiciness of staying open to desire for as long as possible. 

Like many men for whom masturbation isn’t second best, or last resort, I do indeed want to share my solosexuality with others. I’d much rather have the opportunity to masturbate with another man, or with a group of men, than always experience the joy of my own body alone. I won’t try to explain this right now for those who don’t already “get it.” The depth of the fraternal bond between comrades that I’m talking about is either comprehensible to you, or it isn’t. You’re fine, either way: if you don’t get it, we’re just different. If you do get it, let me know if you’re free Sunday afternoons.
Even mentioning the potential depth of that bond, though, witnesses to how intensely I want to understand my solosexual side in spiritual terms. It’s as important for me to do so as it is to understand my sexual relationships with others in spiritual terms. 

When solosexual men find spaces to share about our experience, it emerges pretty quickly how profoundly centered we feel, sinking into the pleasure we give ourselves. When we go deeper, without distraction, everything else can drop away, just as it does in the most intense interpersonal lovemaking. We can find ourselves as blissfully absorbed in the present moment as we might be in deep meditation. Arguably, such an experience is deep meditation, as masturbation gurus like Bruce Grether, and more recently Jason Armstrong, have argued.  

So, finally--back to my week of hermitage, in the woods of southern Indiana... 

Two weeks before I made this pilgrimage, I formed an intention  to spend my time here cultivating and raising my erotic energy without release until the final night of my retreat. I don’t know why. Tantric practitioners talk a lot about the benefits of semen retention. I’ve never been drawn to the prescriptions of Indian ayurveda, at least not as passed on in the West. But I understand from direct experience how  emotionally open I’ve become on retreats where I’ve been encouraged to refrain from ejaculation, how intensely aware I’ve become of a Divine Presence enlivening me and deepening my connections with others. Something (where did this come from?) led me to choose this path for myself during this present week of prayer and simplified living. I asked a far-away friend (yes, another solosexual, and a tantrika into the bargain) to support my resolve, checking in daily by phone to anchor my intention.  

And then, it just started getting weirder, if you’re already wondering what planet I’m writing from. The night I arrived,  I set up my altar, burned incense, hung fabric and prayer flags around the room. The next day, six men were due to arrive for the weekend in response to my invitation to share two days of intentional community. As I prepared and consecrated the cabin,  a conviction enveloped me that I was laying my erotic energy at their feet. I’d use the emotional openness I hoped would result in order to hold space for them more lovingly throughout their two days as my guests. Upon their departure, I’d lay my erotic energy at the foot of my altar, in service to myself, and in communion with the Holy One who is, in the end, the best lover of all--as John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila knew so well. 

As the week has gone on, in these later days of solitude, breath and genital stimulation have complemented and balanced each other in my erotic practice: genital touch energizing breath, and breath enabling a heightened control of the urge to ejaculate. Seated before my altar, I imagine myself engaged in a version of the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen: taking in the difficulties experienced by others, transforming them, and then breathing out healing and peace for their benefit and the benefit of all sentient beings. I’ve found myself praying through masturbation, found myself transmuting masturbation into prayer. Most vividly of all this morning when my friend checking in on the phone was as caught up in his erotic trance as I was in mine. 

I won’t describe more specifically how I’ve pursued all this,  visualized it, verbalized it, nor about how I intend to ritualize the release of energy that will close my weeklong practice. Partly because the details  are as likely to shut some readers out as to invite them in. But partly because (and maybe this is just a different way of saying the same thing), like many initiations into esoteric ritual practice, the transmission has to occur face to face and in living speech, when the time is right.

Even if you’ve drawn a blank on a lot of what I’ve described, you’ve still persevered to these last lines. If so, I hope that you feel invited into a calling we do indeed share as queer spiritual seekers living our lives in male bodies: to unite flesh with spirit; to forge links between earth and heaven; to become ourselves the ladder on which angels ascend and descend. If, on the other hand, you’re a brother solosexual--may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart bless you on your way.


In Memory of Oscar Wolfman

Monday, December 12, 2016

Hermitage IV: Reaching Back

On the altar of my hermitage sits a faded color snapshot of me at the age of six.  It took a long time for that little boy to make it out of a shoebox on the top shelf of a closet.  

He’s putting on a brave face for the camera, but he’s not happy about being on display. He’s already self-conscious about being chubby.  He’s already felt the shame of being always the one picked last for teams on the playground. Still in the future lies his humiliation at the effeminacy he’ll hear  and hate in his own voice on a tape recorder; and later his self-recrimination for the homophobic taunts directed at him by other boys in gym class. Over the decades, his shame will turn into a young man’s self-loathing for the child he’d been.  

My task now, and increasingly my joy, is to father that boy. To reach back across half a century, to bring him to this cabin. To make a home for him here. To tell him that he’s just fine, he’s beautiful, he’s worthy of love. In showing compassion towards him, I find my compassion for others.

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman: Daleth