Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shopping for Gurus

I’ve embarked on a search for spiritual direction, and it’s freaking me out. The very label makes me twitch, conjuring up scenarios of surrender and domination, and not in a good way: genuinely scary Jesuits, instead of sexy Jesuits with five o’clock shadows in well-tailored black cassocks.

I’ve already had more than enough experience of somebody else trying to coopt my inner life: the tsunami of my family’s over-the-top emotional pieties swamping my own unfolding spiritual discovery as a child. My longing for mentorship as an adolescent ending in seduction by a duplicitous, closeted minister–whose advances might actually have done my sexual awakening some good if they hadn’t been so dishonest or so fraught with the abuse of his authority and the trust I’d placed in him. The abbot of the Benedictine monastery where in my early twenties I almost made a profession, brushing away, as a sign of insufficient humility, my hard-won insight into my own God-given self-worth.

I don’t need a guru to teach me submission. I need a witness. I need someone who will take time to build up a sense of my spiritual history, who hears what I say and takes it seriously, then asks questions that help me see a little further than I’d seen before. I need someone who’ll remind me to stay on my path, but only once he or she has a feel for what’s authentic in my search and can distinguish my path from his or her own.

OK, I’ve got major authority issues. I’m also a confessionally promiscuous slut who’ll pray with anyone, a church-going Christian who also attends shul with his boyfriend, grooves to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and is happy to help pull Lord Krishna’s chariot down the street at Rathayatra. Maybe I’d feel better about someone who called himself a soulwork coach.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sometimes a Phallus is Simply a Phallus

There are fire rituals. And then there are absolutely fabulous fire rituals.

The men of Easton Mountain’s Gay Freedom Camp early in July asked themselves, “What’s holding you back from living the freer life you dream of? What will you cast into the flames so that new possibility can come out of the ashes?”

Then they handed it all over to Shiva. His dreadlocks are flying. A river of sweat spins off his forehead as he whirls. He raises one foot in a gesture of power and freedom, raises a hand to tell you not to fear, raises in another the flame of destruction and purification. He has more hands left over to receive what you need to give up.

You’ve seen him dancing in his ring of fire in a hundred restaurants. If you’ve also seen the ceremonial lingam that embodies his energy, you might never guess that its decorous abstraction represents his phallus; or that the yoni on which it rests is the vagina of his consort, who contains his power and prevents it from utterly destroying the cosmos.

No mistaking Shiva, though, in the spectacular lingam sculpted by the gifted and ingenious Moss and decorated by the endlessly creative Hunter Reynolds.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Getting Inked

I’ve got a relatively fresh scar crying out for transformation.

When I’m standing, it knifes in a gently curved vertical line along my right thigh. If you extrapolate the lines, it forms an ellipse with the curve of my buttock, when I flex my glutes in wistful longing for the bubble butt I never had, even at an age when wanting one would have been a reasonable gay career goal.

Any man who desires me must desire this scar as part of who I am. If he doesn’t, it’s a good indicator there’d be nothing there between us if we tried.

I love this scar. It’s my history made visible, and a daily reminder that my embodied soul, no static entity, is in continuous process. That my arthritic hip tried so hard for years. That I remember it with love and gratitude for all the good work it did. That finally, last October, it was time to let it go. I’m packing titanium and space age polymer now: sometimes I set off airport alarms; sometimes not. Go figure. It’s a little death (though alas without the orgasm).

Now, instead of that beloved hip, I have the scar. It’s wonderful not to live with chronic pain. It’s wonderful and easy to let the memory of pain slip away, as though it no longer had to do with me. Cure verges too quickly toward complacency: the Day of Atonement's gates already closing on the time when this pain was our pain, my share of all flesh. The pain meant I couldn’t forget. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a time and place when you can trade pain for a scar, but now the scar’s job is to bring me back to mindfulness.

Manjushri is the wrathful form of Avalokiteshvara, Tibetan Buddhism’s boddhisattva of compassion. His diamond wisdom cuts through illusion. He’ll take his place on my flank. I’m still not sure when. First I have to settle on a tattoo artist whose design sense I trust. I need to confirm what precautions should be taken to guard against infection, an issue for two years after a joint replacement.

To do this right, I would have given my hip sky burial, leaving it ground up on a mountaintop for the benefit of the turkey buzzards. But I suspect that would have freaked out my buttoned-up Canadian surgeon way past the tipping point.

October 6 is my scar’s anniversary.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meditation: A Koan

Gold light slanting
through morning pine boughs. Above,
a rustle: bird hops?
Mind clearing, this moment. On
my thigh the wet sound of shit.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Queer Midrash

For the last thirty-five years, the religious right has been swinging the Bible like a club. But it's a bigger, richer, more liberating, and, yes, sexier book than Pat Robertson would ever want to admit. Reading it together and responding to it as gay men with word, movement, art, and music, we can reclaim it for ourselves as a site of spiritual growth and empowerment, a source of heightened self-awareness, and even a space for the holy, erotic playfulness of our queer imagination.

Perhaps we can't afford to stop arguing over the “proof texts” that for centuries have served to marginalize same-sex love: bigots still have to be resisted, and people of good will with an at least partially open mind need to be convinced. But sooner or later, it's soul-destroying to focus only on the negative work of proving homophobes wrong. For our own spiritual nourishment, we need to sidestep that whole, sorry debate with people we’ll never convince, and instead to take back a sacred text on our own terms. It’s our right to discern how our lives as men who love men are reflected back to us in a book that comprehends so much of Western culture’s search for the Divine.

One tool for that reclamation is midrash, a staple of Jewish biblical interpretation that starts with the questions a biblical story raises but doesn’t answer; a midrashic interpretation fills in the missing details in order to provide answers to those questions. Who is the mysterious young man who flees naked from the scene of Jesus’ arrest in the Gospel of Mark? What was the nature of the bond between David and Jonathan? Between Ruth and Naomi? Between Jesus and the Beloved Disciple?

Abraham Katzman takes up this challenge in his wonderfully homoerotic meditation on the Exodus, “Wicked Child” (in The Badboy Book of Erotic Poetry, ed. David Laurents, 1995). In the Passover Haggadah, the "wicked child" is the one who defiantly refuses to believe that the Exodus has anything to do with his own life. Katzman has the chutzpah to claim the Exodus for two queer men in the midst of their very steamy lovemaking. The poem’s speaker addresses his still bound and just now unblindfolded lover: “I will explain to you this holiday./ I will explain to you Passover./ How our people, our tribe, wandered the desert/ for forty years. How we were slaves in Egypt./ How our gay tribe of jews/ fucked each other’s asses/ even then in the desert./ How we spoke of it as holy./ As a way to understand G-d.”

The photography of Oscar Wolfman (accessible through the link to his website in the sidebar of this blog, and on display this month at Queen Gallery in Toronto) offers an often lush and sometimes deeply unsettling visual trope on portions from the Torah and other scripture.

An extraordinary collection of poems by Brian Day, Conjuring Jesus(Guernica Editions, 2009), re-imagines the life of Jesus with unapologetic desire for his flesh. What’s more, Day breaks open the stories to embrace the spirituality of other world traditions: in his retelling, the raising of Lazarus becomes a lover’s encounter with the sleeping Krishna: “Krishna is wrapped in strips of gravecloth,/ his skin moist with the fragrant oils of death./ Each summons the other from across the rock,/ which is loosed by the falling tears of Jesus,/ by the yearnings of Krishna as he lies like a stone.”

At Easton Mountain’s Gay Spirit Camp from 16-23 August, I’ll lead three workshops on the practice of queer midrash. I can’t imagine a greater privilege than encouraging gay men to take back the Word and being present to witness their integrity and pride in laying claim to the sacred page.