Saturday, September 24, 2022

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Manifesto


If you’ve never read the work of Fenton Johnson, start now.

Geography of the Heart, Johnson’s chronicle of his three-year relationship with a beloved who succumbed during the Plague Years, is one of the finest AIDS memoirs ever written: passionate, wise, enraged but shot through with  a faith that love is stronger than death, and grief ultimately more fundamental to our lives, and to our getting of wisdom, than anger.

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey is part reminiscence of growing up Catholic in eastern Kentucky--quite literally over the back fence from Thomas Merton’s Gethsemane Abbey--and part comparative exploration of the Christian and Buddhist monastic traditions.

But while you’re waiting for copies of these to arrive--if you don’t simply download the e-books--you can read “The Future of Queer: A Manifesto” in the January 2018 issue of Harper's

It’s a cri de coeur for what we lost (and what we desperately need to find again) when we as queer men settled for a place at the table of Business as Usual, in a materialistic society obsessed with advancing the small, isolated selves that we misrecognize as the essence of our life. It’s a call to value friendship over the conventions of marriage. It’s a call to say no to late capitalism’s rape of the planet and cooption of our souls.  It’s an uncompromising assertion that the one best hope for the earth, and for a society that doesn’t consume itself in untrammeled greed and mutual suspicion, is for us to reject  the comfort of the mainstream and to become more truly queer. 

Queer in the sense that the Buddha was queer, leaving his family behind in his search for the Noble Truths of our existence. Queer in the sense that Jesus was queer, setting aside the ties of blood relations to embrace the poor and the marginalized as his true family.

It’s an exhortation to dream, believe in, and desire a world that’s not yet made. And you need to read it.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Ave verum Corpus

  



To parody the divine Bette Midler, this shadowbox includes two of my favourite subjects: incarnational theology, and cock.

Friday, September 9, 2022

The Real Truth of the Matter

 “Do not praise your own faith so exclusively that you disbelieve all the rest. If you do this, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, cannot be confined to any one creed, for he says, ‘Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah.’ (Quran 2:115). Everybody praises what he believes; his god is his own creature and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently, he blames the beliefs of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance.”

Ibn al-Arabi (1165-1240), as quoted by Karen Armstrong

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

As a God Might Be

Wallace Stevens' long poem of 1915, "Sunday Morning," is about the reenchantment of a world where worn-out belief systems have broken down. It opens with the image of an affluent woman enjoying Sunday morning at home--which is to say, not heading for church. Each section of the poem meditates on the collapse of orthodox religious faith from a different angle.

Section VII of the poem hit me like a thunderbolt when I read it at the age of 20:


Supple and turbulent, a ring of men

Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn

Their boisterous devotion to the sun,

Not as a god, but as a god might be,

Naked among them, like a savage source....


I recognized what I'd wanted long before I read those lines, and what I've wanted ever since: a community of embodied, erotically alive spiritual seekers. A band of ritually-minded queer men who don't wait for the Sacred to drop from the sky to find them, but who build it one intentional act at a time, from the ground up.


Stuart Wilde gets it: "How do you make something sacred?  You say 'This is sacred' and you treat it that way."  Radical faeries have understood it for decades. So does Brent Plate, who wrote

A History of Religion in 5 1/2 Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to its Senses.


Declaring what's sacred and then making it so isn't the same as New Age woo-woo dogmatically claiming eternal authenticity for a tradition that has been around since Time Immemorial (or sometime in the twentieth century, whichever came first). It's about birthing the soul through the actions of the body and the body's relation to material objects. It's about what I sometimes like to call "ritual literacy." It's often about starting simple and small: setting up a sacred image and bowing to it every morning. Lighting incense under the glow of the rising moon. Writing a prayer on a strip of paper and tying it to a branch. Work with what's around you: a few bricks laid side by side can become an altar. A shell from the beach can become an incense burner.



You don't have to have an explanation why you're doing any of these things. You don't have to know what a prayer is. You trust the god who leads you blindfolded deeper into the Mystery of existence. More to the point, in Wallace Stevens' words, you treat the object of your devotion "not as a god, but as a god might be." You figure it out later, and perhaps only partially. 


We can bring this experimental, ad hoc reverence to our erotic life, just as we can to other aspects of our experience. We can place a hand on the heart of a lover at the beginning of an encounter, in recognition of his infinite value. We can pray naked. We can wear a ritual garment. (Call it fetish wear if you want.) We can chant a mantra to consciously focus our erotic energy. We can ejaculate into a bowl with friends and then pour it out, mixed with water, onto the roots of a tree at the edge of the forest, to affirm that our life is one with the Earth. We can say a word of gratitude for the surge of Life through our bodies. Through conscious breath and slow, intentional touch, we can turn arousal into a form of meditation.



In the story of Jacob's ladder in Genesis 28, the angels don't come down from heaven and then go back up. They start by ascending from the earth.





Sunday, August 7, 2022

Problematic

For years, I didn't recognize it as abuse.


Then I did. 


And now I'm no longer so sure. 


Or better: now I'm no longer sure calling it that serves me well.


When I was sixteen, I confessed to the pastor at First English Lutheran Church that I had "homosexual tendencies." It felt less absolute than telling him I was homosexual. Without missing a beat, he responded, "I know, and I can cure you."


And so began eight months of weekly counselling sessions, full of half-digested bits of homophobic 1950s Freudianism. The affectionate physical gestures gradually travelled further up my thigh. April of the next year, he jerked me off in the front seat of his car. He wanted me to reciprocate; I was too frozen to do it. I couldn't even open the tissue he'd handed me. I kind of hope the cum stains on the upholstery were obvious enough to be awkward for him afterwards.


Part of me sat there, ninety percent out of my body and in my head, wondering whether this was somehow part of the treatment. 


I felt virtually no conscious guilt about it--oddly enough, because I was little more than a bundle of guilt about every other expression of my raging sexuality, every mere twinge of desire toward other boys and men. But afterwards, I needed over two years to take another stab at making sense of my existence as a sexual being. Maybe if you wanted, you could label my lack of consciously registered guilt as dissociation. I don't really care.


I was thirty-five when I turned to a friend at dinner at said, "You know, that was abuse." Bemused, she replied, "And you're just figuring that out?"


As of course it was. An abuse of his role. An abuse of the privilege that accrued to it, and of the trust it encouraged.


But the violation wasn't the sex. The violation was the deception and the mixed messages. The confusion about who this was for. The constant self-doubt over whether I should trust him. All of this was contained in germ in his first, unhesitating statement, "I know, and I can cure you," with its enticement into further self-loathing, and its patent falsehood, which on some level I sensed from the beginning. What was he thinking? Did he really believe that was possible? What did he imagine he meant by "cure?" I don't think he was cynically calculating, that he was consciously lying to win me over.


I know I wasn't the only teenage boy he "counseled." And I wonder now whether his own need for same-sex contact may have been linked to the suicides of two prominent members of the congregation, middle-aged men, husbands and fathers, within a year or so of one another during his tenure.


He was a man in his late forties, with a wife and four sons, whose worldview had been shaped by the expectations of the1950's and the smugly oblivious sexual repression of mid-twentieth-century bourgeois American Protestantism. I think he was trapped in his own morass of sexual and intrapsychic confusion--a man whose seminary training had offered him nothing of the vastly more flexible awareness of sexual orientations and preferences available half a century later.


If I was abused, I was abused by the culture we were both trapped in, as much as I was by him.


What's more--and here's where I risk wading into someone's dogmatic outrage: calling what happened with him "abuse" drains my story of real agency on my part, and scapegoats him for his deeply flawed behaviour amidst the intolerable hypocrisy of a world not of his making, nor mine.


The fact is, I was as desperate for sex as I was terrified of finding it. And I'd had the hots for him for two years before my ill-starred confession. I'd puppy-dogged him every Sunday morning, finding excuses to stop by his office between services, borrowing his elementary Greek textbook as much to ingratiate myself as because I actually wanted to learn the language. I'd eyed his tight, compact build every time he was close to me in a clerical shirt.


I'm not sorry he jerked me off. I'm sorry he sent such impossibly mixed and confusing messages about what it meant. I'm sorry I grew up in a culture so desperate to deny the reality of adolescent sexuality, and the possibility of adolescent sexual choice. I'm sorry I grew up in a religious milieu that left him no more appropriate or less self-deceptive a way of coming to terms with his own desires. I'm sorry that the train wreck of his erotic life contributed to a pretty serious derailment of mine, which took decades to fully process.


I know of no more nuanced or compassionate memoir of non-coercive adolescent abuse than Martin Moran's remarkable book The Tricky Part, and the one-man stage performance he created out of the book's material. Moran faced something of a push-back for displaying what some readers and viewers saw as his insufficient anger and condemnation of his perpetrator. What Moran experienced as a boy was far more invasive and prolonged than anything in my story. But his deeply exploratory narrative of compassion and self-forgiveness was about transcending rage and condemation as well. It was about reclaiming his own boyhood longings and the role they played in what transpired--not in order to excuse the man who took advantage of him, but in order to take his own story back.


Moran has no problem with the word abuse, nor do I. But I'm increasingly aware, not only from my own story, but from the stories of other men's early sexual experiences, that for some of us, shame and guilt stem at least as much (if not sometimes far more) from the damage the taboo itself does as from the early experiences that the taboo condemns.


So what I'd now prefer to say is that I had a problematic early sexual experience. I want to sidestep forty years of the recovery movement's standard, too-broadly-applied pronouncements, which haven't served me any better than the trust I placed in the first man who brought me to orgasm. I wasn't a victim. I'm not a "survivor." I was an agonizingly confused kid who couldn't name what he wanted, who found himself with a man  in a clerical collar three times his age who couldn't name what he wanted, either. 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Listening for What's Below

No matter how often you've sat in a Heart Circle, the facilitator will always remind us why we're here: to speak from the heart, not from the analytic mind. To speak from personal experience, not from grand theories; from our feelings, not from abstract ideas or elaborate stories. To speak only when we're holding the talking stick. We don't respond directly to one another--though what someone else has shared may call forth what we need to share in turn. 

Those guidelines sounds simple, but practicing them isn't. The separation of heart from head--like toxic masculinity's separation of heart from cock--is a false dichotomy, useful till it's not. How we feel about what's out there in the world is still what we feel. Stories about what's happened to us in the past can be the vehicles we need for our feelings in the here and now.


Speaking in the Heart Circle is a skill, an art of mindful living and relating that comes more easily with practice. What doesn't get articulated as explicitly at the beginning of most Heart Circles is how to listen. The mindful silence we practice when we're not holding the talking stick is at least as essential to what happens in the Circle as right speech. But it's even more subtle.  (Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr has been talking all this week in his daily meditations about deep listening as a spiritual practice.)


First of all, we practice holding space for the emotions of others while keeping the reactive impulses of our own egos in check. We resist the impulse to jump in with active comfort in the moment.  We're not there to fix anything, but just to allow someone to be heard. We're not there to assuage grief or mitigate anger, nor to put words to our pleasure in witnessing someone else's happiness or love. We're there to deliver a silent message: you're safe. You're seen. You matter. You matter to us. 


We learn patience listening to shares that may be loose, circumstantial, rambling. 


We need to practice patience, because no matter how often the guidelines for the Circle are rehearsed, we don't always stay within them. We can't, because our inner lives are shot through with the times that our heart and the subtle, manifold layers of our minds work together, and indeed, need to work together. Experience and stories about the world are all mixed up. Feelings and ideas flow into each other. So sometimes we sit listening to shares that are loose, rambling, full of detail that distracts as much as it illuminates.


And then maybe we start to realize that all that detail with which we've started to lose patience is there because the speaker is doing the best they can in the moment. We're never wholly present to ourselves, and sometimes all that rambling is the path someone has available to get to what's below. They may not be conscious that they're rambling. They're doing the best they can. And our patience becomes more than mere tolerance for someone's not-always-skilled practice. We recognize that the extraneous details aren't the true content of the share, but simply the vehicle, the only vehicle available right now, for what's travelling with all that seemingly unrelated or unnecessary free assoication.


We learn to treasure what's below, what's out of sight, or out of sight for now to the person who's speaking. We treasure it for them as they become more aware of it themselves. By sitting silently, we become more aware in the process of ourselves, and of what another's words are eliciting in us.


We allow it all to take its own good time to emerge, in a circle of queer men who sit together as midwives to one another's inner treasures.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Sheela-na-gig



She squats facing you on the walls of medieval churches and castles in Western Europe, not only in the areas of Celtic predominance that New Age fantasies have come to associate with pre-Christian matriarchal spirituality and power. In the village of Kilpeck in Herefordshire, she's a goofy little cartoon of a crone reaching forward from behind her legs to spread her labia wide.

What the hell? 


A warning against lust? 


A talisman to ward off evil? 


The Church as Mother of the Faithful? (OK, that's a stretch, if you'll pardon the pun.)


She's a riddle, that girl. She's keeping it to herself. Whatever her secret is, it's important. 


At our retreat last week, she sat on the altar at the other end of the Temple from the Lingam. We needed her there, as a talisman against toxic masculinity, and to remind us that we're only part of the Mystery. That without her, we wouldn't be here. And that, indeed, she's within us too. When we're permeable, when we're open. When we're treasuring what isn't ready to emerge into plain sight, within ourselves, and within each other.  When we're bringing forth what's within us, and (as Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas) what we bring forth will save us.





Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Five Sweet Days in July





Fifteen open-hearted explorers. 
The rolling hills of the Maryland Panhandle.
The sound of birdsong.
Rain on the roof of the barn that became our Temple.
Imagination, playfulness, and generosity.
Vulnerability and courage.
Wisdom and compassion.
Surprise and wonder.




(Banners by Barrie Petterson)

Thursday, June 30, 2022

 "Explanation separates us from astonishment."

--Eugène Ionesco

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

In the Forest, at Solstice


 And turning aside to see this wonder...



Photo by Andrew Graham

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Grandfather's Day

 I adored him. 

When I was four, I could sit cross-legged on the right arm of his overstuffed chair while he watched the Cincinnati Reds on television. There was a faded anchor tattoo on his forearm. I would run around the living room sucking up the smoke trails from his unfiltered Camels--this was 1959. Out at his woodworking bench in the garage, he would enjoin me not to tell my grandmother he was chewing tobacco. I would then of course report to her. 


When I was five, he had the stroke. I remember him smiling at me while he squeezed the exercise ball in his right fist to regain his strength. He'd flex his biceps and let me feel it.


When I think of how sexy I find men's forearms, it clearly goes back to him--the tattoo, the cigarette between the fingers of his right hand, even the exercise ball as he worked at rehab. He got a little cranky after the stroke, and would shout "Get out of the road!" if I came between him and the batter on the TV. But I was still utterly in love.


He was born in 1886, the eldest son of German immigrants. He was a shoe repair man, then later a cabinetmaker at the local piano factory. He voted for the Socialists in the 1930's, but listened to the quasi-fascist Father Coughlin on the radio, along with thirty million other Americans. It was another era in which the populist frustration of the disenfranchised could bend class consciousness full circle to right-wing demagoguery.


I lost him to a second stroke when I was seven. I can access my love for him in a way I've never been in touch with the memory of my own father.


I think with longing about how my adolescence might have been different if he'd been there to guide me through it. Though it's pure wish-fulfillment to imagine he would have been OK with his youngest grandson turning out queer.


Six decades later, though, I imagine showing him the life I have now, and want to believe he'd be glad to know the man I've become, proud that he made my life possible through the miracle of his orgasm and sustained it through his love.


What I feel for him is unquestionably erotic, reaching back over the years. I fantasize about an alternative universe where he's still alive and healthy when I'm on the cusp of puberty. Where he still forages for wild mushrooms in early May, and takes me along with him. Where he sits me down on a log in the woods for "the talk" with a smile on his face. Where maybe in due time he invites me into the bathroom for a demonstration of how things work, and encourages me to discover for myself how good it feels.


I'm flesh of his flesh. I adore him still.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

On the Internal Relationality of Being Not One and Not Two



Photo by Howard Roffman from his book Three


(Trigger warning: abstract and speculative)


At the core of who we are is relationship. To what is outside us, to who is outside us. Our autonomy is an illusion. We are each of us a node in a network of interconnection. We are Not One and Not Two. What gives our life depth and richness is not the isolated self, but what flows to us, through us, and out from us.  It isn't what we possess, what we achieve, or what we strive for through our own effort that blesses us, but what comes to us as a gift that we never bargained on. The awareness of that flow elicits gratitude. And we're hard-wired to be happiest when we're authentically grateful.


And yet: we're never in perfect attunement with one another, however much we long to be. At the heart of the most satisfying relationship, the most intimate relationship, the most loving relationship, is an irreduceable core of aloneness, and the realization that we are never having, we can never have, the same experience as someone else. We don't understand one another perfectly, and never can.


We long for connection, and yet ultimately connection will never be perfect. It's always subject to disillusionment, to disappointment. Our desire for it is never wholly realized. We're thrown back on the need to be sufficent within ourselves, even as we recognize ever more deeply that we're not. 


Ultimately, what grounds us in relationship is not what is purely external to us, but that we are also in relationship with ourselves. Within ourselves as well, we are Not One and Not Two. We are both perceiver and perceived. Both conscious awareness and the sea of the unconscious mind on which conscious awareness floats. Both Lover and Beloved. Both the one who knows and the one who is known, or the one of whom knowledge is sought. We are both the one and the other--and at the same time we are the dance between them, the endless circulation of one pouring into the other.


This dance of internal relationality sustains us through the longings and imperfect fulfillments and disappointments of our connections to the world outside us, to those outside us. Without this relationality within us, at some point the web of the connections outside us would fail. Without the web of connections outside us, this internal relationality would shrink to a vanishing point. 


There is trinity around us, and trinity within us.



Photo by Andrew Graham


Saturday, April 23, 2022

A Calling


It's my delight to be at least a little acquainted with Allen Silver, a Sacred Intimate based in the Bay Area with a long, deep practice of erotic service. (You may also know him as one of the hottest daddies ever in gay erotic film.) A few weeks ago, I heard Allen give a wonderfully smart, grounded, articulate interview about his new memoir and manifesto, Man of Use.

I wish there were more books like this out in the world, by men who understand erotic service as a calling, in the most authentic sense of that word. As Allen makes clear, that calling is the realization of something intrinsic and essential to his deepest nature, a fulfillment of the core of his being. "There was a calmness that came over me when I discovered that this is what I was put here on this earth to do," he writes. The story of his journey into this work--of how he discovered his gift for it, how he trained, and how his practice has evolved as social expectations have shifted over two decades--is a moving narrative of one man's journey into greater wholeness, the transformation of his wounds into gifts. It's a story of the soul's healing being inseparable from repair of the world.


I found his understanding of authentic service--as possible only when grounded in self-awareness and self-respect--to be one of the wisest aspects of his short, personally revealing account. It's an insight he expresses further in the interview. It's when we've brought enough wisdom and compassion to bear on our own life to see it clearly that we can dedicate our own presence, within a clearly and intentionally built container, to the good of another. It's not about setting ourselves entirely aside, but about making of ourselves an instrument of peace, of healing, of joy during an encounter in which we are as wholly present as we are capable of being. 


My own prayer of preparation for sessions has long been, "God be in my ears and in my listening. God be in my heart and in my loving. God be in my cock and in my desiring. God be in my mind and in my understanding. God be in my lips and in my speaking." It's not only each of those elements that's important for me, but the sequence of my attention to them.


For Allen, playfulness, vulnerability, and trust in the moment are the touchstones of practice. And his own mantra is, "I am Allen Silver. I am a man of use. I have something to learn from the world. I have something to teach others in the world because I might know things that they don't know. We are on a journey of discovery."


Like Moses' burning bush in the wilderness, the calling is to be aflame, and yet not consumed.


Friday, April 15, 2022

Jesus and the Beloved

In homage to Terence McNally and Theodore Jennings 

Asleep on his chest after the dinner they’ve shared with the others, the boy doesn’t really understand what’s about to happen, any more than the rest of them. They all imagine that somehow he’ll wave his hand and the fundamentalist thugs who are coming for him will drop to the ground. Or all but one of them: the one who’s betrayed him to the authorities knows well enough that they won’t. 

His heart aches for this innocent, who’s too young to lose his first love–much less to the brutal death that's to come. His desire to spare him such anguish almost swamps the fear he feels for himself. But it’s all in motion now, and the shit’s about to hit the fan. Even if he wanted to flee, there's no chance left of escaping the net they’ve cast around him for days. He’s staked everything on blind faith that somewhere--beyond the cold, calculated brutality of those who hate him, beyond the limits of imagination--some good can come of surrender to suffering at the hands of Power for the sake of Love. 

He loves them all; has loved them to the end. This boy who slipped into his bed the first night he stayed in the house of the lad’s older sisters. The hairy, thick-chested fishermen he picked up on the shore of the lake. The one everybody still labels as a sellout to the Occupation. Even the politically correct zealot who's already revealed his whereabouts to the Temple mafia. 

In the flush of the wine, he’s behaved tonight like an outrageous, theatrical queen: passing bread and wine around the table and telling them all that he’d feed them his body and blood if he could; halfway through the meal, stripping off his robe and washing their feet like a half-naked slave in a bathhouse, his erection tenting the towel around his waist while he cradled his beloved's ankle in his hand. But he still means all of it. 

Nudging the boy awake, rousing the others from where they sit, some of them slumped and dozing, some of them gripped by silent, half-comprehending dread, he tells them, time to move on. Time to meet what’s coming next.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Authentic Ritual



William Hurt, as interviewed by Don Shewey, with thanks for permission to reblog. Photos by Susan Shachter.

I started out as a religion major. I wanted personally to be saved, and I wanted other people to be saved. I had lived in many countries with my father and seen tremendous agony inflicted on supposedly innocent beings. I couldn't comprehend how a God I loved could allow these things to happen. I began to ask the question when I was eight and worked on it 'til I was nineteen or twenty. In the center of my thoughts, I didn't really work on anything else. I became furious. I was also probably furious at myself for lots of reasons.

I was raised as a Presbyterian. I had myself confirmed as an Episcopalian. I learned about ritual and how important it is.If possible, I wanted to belong to a ritual that leaves people their independence but at the same time allows each participant to learn more about him or herself and the mysteries of this existence. A lot of religious rituals are too dogmatic. I guess I wanted to belong to a ritual in which one is encouraged to ask questions. In drama, the order of the day is curiosity about the human condition, not judging it. Your effort is to become more compassionate and to seek compassion.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Coming to Mindfulness


Photo by Andrew Graham


How did some proponents of mindful self-pleasure end up sidelining a natural, indeed essential, part of the rhythm of male sexual experience? How did New Age thinking ever line up so compatibly with repressive Roman Catholic moral teaching from the middle of the last century?


Just to be clear, I'm talking about masturbating--or having partnered sex--until you cum.


So runs an orthodoxy variously expounded by adherents of multiple schools and traditions: the energy you raise through sexual arousal gets expelled when you ejaculate. Squirt it and lose it. Hold it in, and you hang onto it. The Life Force it takes to produce semen is quantifiable, and finite. Spooging is a drain on the body, and on the spirit. Men crash when they cum. Athletes know not to have sex before they compete. When you retain semen, you recycle that energy within yourself and can use it to cultivate mind-blowing, multiple full-body non-ejaculatory orgasms. You can achieve a sense of timeless presence and a state of bliss in which you can remain suspended for as long as you choose. You can also channel the energy into other aspects of your life. (See Competing Athletes, above, as well as soldiers in combat, and presumably otherwise occupied alpha males as well.)


But, um, guys--at least some of this does not correspond to reality. 


First of all, the counterargument from, like, science. Studies are increasingly lined up on the benefits of frequent ejaculation for prostate health.


Second, not all men crash after ejaculation to the same extent. We don't necessarily crash as much each and every time. Some of us barely crash at all. Some of us feel euphoric. Some of us maintain a baseline of erotic charge that's higher with frequent ejaculation than without it.


Third, I'm not sure that getting ready for the Big Game, or even more for the Big Battle, is a great argument for why men are better off not cumming. Given the current state of the world, soldiers dropping their guns in favour of jerking off instead just might be the plus that saves us all. (If more spooge could result in less toxic masculinity, bring it on.)


Mindful sexuality, whether alone or with partner(s), is about balancing raw desire with conscious awareness. Some men love to edge--for hours, or whole days or weeks. Undeniably, chosen periods of non-ejaculation can induce altered states that open us to seeing ourselves and the world in a new and sometimes glorious light. Some solosexual men say they never want to cum and instead aspire to ride waves of pleasure and stay continually horny. I have no desire here to denigrate the validity of any man's experience, chosen for himself. 


But the questions that get close to the heart of the matter for me are these: why do dogmatic proponents of semen retention tout its benefits in metaphysical and experiential terms, while they talk about ejaculation as an occasional physiological necessity, at best? Why the universalizing pronouncements? Why are the positive emotional meanings many men attach to ejaculation so sidelined by this rhetoric? Why so little attention to ejaculation as a conscious choice that can offer spiritual lessons of its own? 


There are alternatives to this orthodoxy, for those who find it oppressive, or reductive of their own experience. For some men, ejaculation figures in the spirituality of solosexual pleasure. Some men experience cum as a sacrament: as evidence of the divinely given joy our bodies are capable of offering us, to be treasured, honoured, shared. 


What's more: the drop in energy after ejaculation can itself serve as a teaching we learn from our bodies: to mindfully choose a moment of swiftly transitory bliss can be a profound way to embrace change--a supreme acknowledgement that we are mortal creatures living our lives within time. We were born, we came to sexual maturity, and we will die, just as our forefathers have before us, and our sons will after us. It's not so farfetched that the French sometimes call orgasm "la petite mort"--"the little death." The conscious decision to cum can be a way of celebrating our lives in humility, a means to affirm that we're part of nature rather than Masters of the Universe who transcend nature. 


In the parlance of Jesuit spiritual direction, "ejaculation" refers to a short, spontaneously uttered prayer. A very different meaning, yes. Or perhaps, exactly the same.


When we ejaculate and honour our semen--however we may feel moved to honour it: when we anoint ourselves and our brothers with our seed, when we taste it and share it with others, when we use it in ritual or in art, when we offer it to the soil at our feet--we make an offering of our lives to the Mystery from which we emerge and to which we'll return. 


Blessed Be.










Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Breaking the Idols

 "We have to break through our ideas about God to find out who God really is...

"We truly have nothing to be afraid of. The Trinitarian flow of God's love is like the rise and fall of tides on a shore. In a Trinitarian Universe, reality can be pictured as an Infinite, Loving Outpouring that empowers and generates an Eternal, Loving Infolding. This eternal flow outward is echoed in history by every animal, fish, flower, bird, and planet you have ever seen. it is the universe: the first incarnation of God.

"All we have to lose are the false images of God that do not serve us and are too small."

Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: Exploring the Mystery of Trinity (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2004).







Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Love and Death (In Commemoration of Thich Nhat Hanh)

Tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, Christian churches will be full of people waiting in line to hear the words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."


A downer, yes. 


But a gift as well. Just as the Buddha's admonition to his disciple is a gift to those who thirst for deliverance: "Everything that arises is subject to dissolution."


Not because it's helpful to wallow in anxiety and denial of life. But because the only way to embrace life fully is to recognize that it's fleeting.


"Is there no change of death in Paradise?/  Does ripe fruit never fall?" Wallace Stevens asks, at the beginning of Section 6 of one of my favourite poems ever, "Sunday Morning." His rhetorical questions point to the impossibility of life without change. And a few lines later, he reaches his unavoidable conclusion, "Death is the mother of beauty." For change is nothing other than our dying to one moment so that the next moment of our lives may come into being. As we walk, as we breathe, as we eat, as we make love.


We are finite creatures in time, and as much as we'd like to conquer death by denying that, we only succeed in refusing the life we have. (Christians call that denial sin. Buddhists call it illusion.) To deny it is to undermine the very conditions of our life. It's only by embracing our mortality that we can fully embrace what Mary Oliver gloriously named our "one wild and precious life."


In the next section of "Sunday Morning," Stevens gives us a spectacular, celebratory image for the joy of our embodied life: "Supple and turbulent, a ring of men/ Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn..." But here too, we're brought back to the fundamental conditions of our existence: "And whence they came and whither they shall go/ The dew upon their feet shall manifest."


No mud, no lotus.


Everything that arises is subject to dissolution.


Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 




Saturday, February 26, 2022

What the World Needs Now

In the midst of the heartless brutality of Putin's assault on Ukraine, here we are again at a root cause of aggression and violence. Toxic masculinity, chest-beating and obsessed with the ego, is responsible for the likes of Putin, the likes of Trump, the likes of vigilantes in Georgia and Wall Street warriors and industrial eco-rapists in every corner of the world. And the only solution for toxic masculinity is a softening of what it means to be male. A softening into love, a softening into permeability, a recovery of vulnerability, a dissolution of the rage that's born of shame, and the constriction of the heart that comes of rage.

So, at the risk of saying something that could sound trivializing, but isn't: what the world needs now--at least part of what the world needs now--is more men with their cocks in their hands and fewer with guns. 


More men dropping into their bodies' capacity for pleasure that's not at the expense of anyone. More men creating zones of erotic and emotional safety for one another, and in doing so creating zones of safety for themselves. More men experiencing what it's like to be told, "You're safe. You're seen. You're sacred." It's the work men need to do for themselves and one another, instead of relying on the emotional attunement of women to do it for them, and then reacting with misogynistic anger when their needs and desires aren't perfectly met.


OK, it's a utopian dream. In the meantime, pray for Ukraine. Pray that Russian soldiers, and Russian police on the streets of Moscow and Petersburg, will just tell their commanders, enough, and walk away. The fall of the Berlin Wall was also a utopian dream, until the night it happened, and Rostropovich hoisted his cello up to the top of it to give a concert. The fall of Tsarist Russia was a utopian dream until the retreating soliders of World War I said, enough.