Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Mid-afternoon, November light

Sit on the stone as the light flows down the slope.
Remember how the air becomes your breath.
Forget where the light ends and the branch begins.
Forget where the crow ends and you begin.
Forget where you end and the tree begins.

Friday, November 15, 2019

"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake."

--Kurt Vonnegut

Saturday, October 26, 2019

"Who are my mother and my brothers?"

The Scriptures are in fact full of diverse forms of family and familial relations. Why? What does this say about the majority who do not practice sexuality according to this dictum? Our formulas for sexual ethics are theoretical and do not match the realities of human lives where sex really matters. Instead, our questions ought to be probing and profoundly reflective of sex where it is found and not how we think it is. How do we treat one another when it comes to sexual expression and commitment? How do we treat our primary intimate relationship—with or without a sense of the Sacred and the potential for good?
                –Olive Elaine Hinnant, God Comes Out: A Queer Homiletic, Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2007, pp. 4-5.             

Sunday, October 6, 2019

An Aphorism for Yom Kippur

"Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past."

                           --Anne Lamott

One of the most poignant moments in all of Jewish worship is the thrice-repeated disavowal Kol Nidrei, sung at the beginning of the service that bears its name on the eve of the Day of Atonement. It's a truly counterintuitive thing for the congregation to declare: "All our vows...we repudiate them all. They are undone, abandoned, cancelled, null and void, not in force, and not in effect. Our vows are no longer vows, our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths." 

The chant's origins and earliest contexts are in doubt, and the text has changed over time, attesting to the fact that generations have struggled with the oddness of beginning a day of self-examination by disavowing obligations.

But think of the ways you may have boxed your life up tight by seizing on a fixed idea of who you should be, who those around you should be, what you have to do to fulfill a narrow and unhelpful understanding of who you are in the world. Think of the ways whole societies go down disastrous paths by acting as though something they've freely and unwisely chosen is a course from which they can't turn back.

What the Kol Nidrei offers is a return to what Zen practitioners would call "Beginner's Mind"--a state before I made bad decisions about who I am and have to be. A state where I can hear the call of a Voice that says, "Honey, just let that shit go."

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Magic Unfolding: Barrie's Altar

A personal altar is a living process, an external expression of what's moving within you. Barrie Petterson, who wrote last week about embarking on the creation of his shrine, shares this fresh glimpse of his sacred work.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Ritual and Self-Discovery: A Guest Post by Barrie Petterson

I'm so very grateful to my newfound friend and brother Barrie, for this beautiful description of his explorations over the weeks since we shared in the retreat Frank Dunn and I co-facilitated at StoneSong in western Maryland. I read with joy and admiration his account of playful, uninhibited, and ongoing self-discovery.

I have never felt drawn to ritual. As an ex-Baptist minister I’ve never been “high enough up the candle” to dabble in smells and bells. (This leaves aside the biggest Baptist ritual of all – adult baptism in a tank!) During my July retreat at StoneSong just six weeks ago, I foundered over the instruction to construct a personal ritual, and really just wanted to opt out. Then, to my surprise, apparently unconnected strands of thought and feeling came together that allowed me to participate with feeling. 

At the retreat, David also offered detailed suggestions on how we might construct personal altars. I found myself drawn to the idea on returning home. I realised I already had a temporary altar of sorts, a space I'd dedicated to mindful masturbation: browsing a catalogue, I'd come across a bedside lamp in the shape of an erect cock.  Inspired to fashion something more to my own taste, I went into my workshop and a few days later had created a black phallus fitted out with LED lighting. I placed it on a low bedding chest and propped a large mirror against the base to give me a view of myself as I handled my cock. 

In the past weeks, I've cleared an alcove in my studio. Under  a slightly raised platform I'll add LED lighting. I’ve painted an altar piece with random penises mingling (an image adapted to my own needs from another source). I found an attractive altar fabric with a subtle penis motif. On the  platform, I'll set a large carved phallus with two feet to stop it toppling over. I'll add a couple of smaller representations of the penis. I have yet to decide what other objects will sit on the altar; I imagine my selection will change with time. 

Underneath this altar, the large mirror will still allow me to view my cock and balls as I devise some form of phallic worship. I will remain totally naked, though as I write this I can imagine using some kind of “prayer shawl”. (My ritual buddies at Stonesong included a devout Jew, who had bought a new prayer shawl for the occasion.) My ritual will not involve ejaculation, as this is difficult for me . But in the first stage of preparing the altar, I've dropped some of my semen to soak into the wooden platform. I see this as a form of dedication and anointing, and I may later invite friends to add their ejaculate in the same way. I am overwhelmed by the thought that the semen is sacred, and part of a holy ritual which I feel compelled to create I imagine oil and water will also become become part of the ritual I devise. I am fortunate to have a copy of Frank Dunn’s prayers for phallic devotion. I know I will use them, as well as my own. 

I don't intend to conceal the altar, now that I have recently come out to my family as gay – but I will have a painted canvas to hang in front of the alcove, so that it is protected from the distractions of ordinary daily routine.

As I continue to design and build my altar, I cannot yet predict the role it will play in my life how its presence will affect me as I go forward. But given my previous skepticism about such aids to ritual, I marvel that I’ve had a complete turn-around into this newfound enthusiasm. I acknowledge that something in me has stirred to draw me into this exploration: something emotional that  has me wishing to adore the phallus – not as a personal item to which I am attached, though that too – but as a way of reaching out to the Universe and its ongoing creative energy, and welcoming it as  it reaches out to me. To know that when in masturbating I reach for a higher state over and beyond orgasm (though that too!), I am not alone in so doing. As I jack off (I like these various phrases for the activity!) I know that I am joining in with mankind as they too seek a bliss which is beyond words and which others may not be able to frame or express. Regardless of belief or philosophy, this urge to handle the penis is common to all men. I believe this Oneness is central to the meaning of life and can be approached in ritual – and certainly in company with other men. Regardless of any impulse to denigrate, coarsen or soil this act, all men are pulled to the same central point: devotion. 

We're told that male babies in the womb have erections and play with themselves. Now, there is another phrase I love: “Play with yourself,” in spite of its use to shame boys and men. The devotion I aspire to isn't serious and long-faced. It is in essence playful, and as innocent as a curious child who has not learned to be inhibited. We do it because it’s nice. We find pleasure and at the same time feel grasped by a higher order. In such moments, we can hear laughter as we fall into welcoming arms. We are embraced in tactile bliss. This is who we are – naked and at home. Regardless of my years – I remain a tender loving child.

Barrie Petterson --15
th August 2019

Friday, August 16, 2019

Unlocking Your Inner Temple: A Workshop in November

Within your own body, you have the capacity for enormous pleasure and fulfillment. This two-day adventure of self-discovery and open-hearted, supportive fellowship, November 16-17 in Nashville, Tennessee, will guide you deeper into the erotic treasures you already possess. 

Let go of inhibition in a safe and welcoming space. Trust-building exericses will establish a strong, secure container for our experience. Sharing circles, solo and paired exercises, guided meditations, and instruction in technique will open doors into a deeper realm where body and soul are one--where desire can blossom into wisdom and compassion.

In addition to leading the workshop, I'll be available for individual sessions on November 15 and 18. You can use an individual session to:

  • increase your comfort with group experience
  • explore what you hope to take away from the workshop
  • address issues of body image, shame, and inhibition
  • process what you've experienced after the workshop
  • integrate your erotic and spiritual energies
  • practice techniques for whole-body pleasure

If you're interested in an individual session, you can read the sidebar text "Sacred Intimacy" just to the right of this post.

The US $150 registration fee includes Saturday and Sunday morning coffee, lunch, and snacks. An early-bird registration rate of $125 applies till October 15. The workshop is limited to twelve participants. 

The group workshop and individual sessions will take place at a private residence in East Nashville. Location will be provided on receipt of the registration fee. Contact me by e-mail for further details.

Photos by Andrew Graham

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Longings of Our Hearts, Made Visible

On the altar, a token of what each one of us brought into five sweet days of community. 

Sacred because together we chose to make it so.

Photos by David Mayes
Dedicated to the brothers of StoneSong 2019

Monday, July 22, 2019

At Play in the Temple

Photos by Hoppergrass and David Mayes

Friday, July 19, 2019

Reverence at Midsummer

Photo by Hoppergrass
Dedicated to the beautiful souls gathered at StoneSong, July 2019

Friday, July 5, 2019

Rootedness, Grace, and the Taproot Between Your Legs

When you look at a tree at the edge of the forest, you're only seeing half of it. 

The truth of its life lies in its rootedness. The unseen, sustaining depth of its life is out of sight--in the tangle beneath the surface, where it's intertwined with everything that grows around it. It lives in a web of connection that you probably won't notice if you don't imagine your way, like a burrowing animal, down into the soil.

As with trees, so with us. We focus on what's happening above ground level. We fall easily into believing that we're separate from each other, that each of us sustains his own life, more or less in isolation. Although we go on drawing our sustenance from the common ground where our lives intertwine, we don't pay much attention, or any at all, to the mystery of our interconnectedness.

Our natural state is gratitude, because gratitude is an awareness that our life comes to us from outside. Our life flows into our root systems from the soil that sustains us, and from the roots of those around us. Without our rootedness in common ground, we have no life. When we forget this, we misrecognize our life and cut our awareness off from our true Source. We're alive not because of what we take for ourselves, but because of what comes to us as Gift.

True gratitude goes hand in hand with generosity, because if our life flows into us from outside, it flows through us, and out of us again into those around us.

If we choose, we can cultivate our erotic energy to live more deeply into our interconnectedness--as a way to drop down into the realm where our lives depend mutually on each other, and on the wider life of all Nature. We can join not only with each other, but with the web of Creation around us. We can choose to practice erotic gratitude, and erotic generosity.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Heart Leaps Up

Draw me after You, let us make haste...

The voice of my Beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping over the hills.
My Beloved is like a gazelle 
or a young stag.

(Song of Songs 1:4, 2:8)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

BarTimaeus Acted Up

"They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way."

--Mark 10:46-52

His very name tells us he hasn't fit in from birth: Bar-Timaeus. The Greek text adds "Son of Timaeus" as a gloss, but that's what the name means in the first place. His father is Greek, but he lives in an Aramaic-speaking community. So when he calls out, "Son of David"--and geez, how Cecil B. DeMille can you get?--by implication he's really saying, "You're the ultimate insider, I'm half on the outside. Can you please look over here and see me, because I sure as fuck can't see you?"

Jericho wasn't a hotbed of Second Temple orthodoxy. It was a miscegenated city full of half-breeds and eclectic beliefs. And the ancient Near East was no place for anybody disabled. "Blind" and "beggar" were pretty much redundant, unless Timaeus was still around, had money, and was well-disposed toward his son. Presumably, he wasn't. 

I heard that passage afresh in the year 2000, shortly after a fifteen-year stint when I refused, for very good reasons, to darken the door of a Christian church. (Medieval cathedrals didn't count.) Several years after both the other out gay men in my family had succumbed to AIDS, and the second one's death had been whitewashed by a convenient secondary cancer diagnosis. I saw BarTimaeus as if for the first time. He broke open the Word for me.

BarTimaeus acted up. He was blind from cytomegalovirus. He was covered in KS lesions. Everyone pushed him to the back of the crowd when the hot, controversial young rabbi was passing through. But he was a screamer, determined to be heard from the back and despite the attempts to shut him up. He threw condoms in the middle of Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. He threw pig's blood on the doors of pharmaceutical company headquarters.

BarTimaeus was David Wojnarowicz. BarTimaeus was Sylvia Rivera. BarTimaeus was every trans person who fought back at the Stonewall Inn fifty years ago. BarTimaeus was James Baldwin. BarTimaeus was that holy slut, Blessed Keith Häring of New York.

And for everyone around him who tried to silence him and keep him invisible, there was someone in the crowd to say, "Take heart, he's calling you."

There is always someone to say, "Take heart, he's calling you."

Monday, May 27, 2019

An Inconvenient Truth

"What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the cancer cell."

That's Annie Dillard's memorable aphorism in her short, wonderful book, Holy the Firm. It's a meditation on what it means to hold to a faith that the Divine is wholly present in the material world, and in our bodies. 

It ain't all sweetness and light. If God sings in our bodies when they're strong, able, and energetic, God is also in our bodies when we're weak, disabled, wounded, exhausted. God is there in the emergency room, the cancer ward, the nursing home, the occupational therapist's office.

It's wired into us to resist our limitations and vulnerabilities, to strive for strength, wholeness, performance, and beauty. It's natural to rejoice in those qualities. But we get hooked, so easily hooked, into believing that losing those things somehow separates us from the Holy. Images of God looking like an Olympic athlete are more seductive than God bent over and leaning on a cane.

But the body is our teacher as profoundly in its weakness and its failures as in its strength and its pleasures. "Everything that arises is subject to dissolution," the Buddha told his disciple. It's scary to embrace that truth. But within it are the jewels of wisdom and compassion. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Crown of Thorns

With uncounted thousands of others online, I watched in horror as the spire crashed into the roof of Notre-Dame-de-Paris on Monday. 

I'm still working out some of what went into my reaction. I'm not French, much less Parisian. I'm not Roman Catholic. But I love Paris. By profession for thirty-eight years, I was a scholar of medieval languages and literature. I love medieval architecture, and I've seen for myself the craftsmanship of ancient wooden roofs something like the one the flames raced through. Just as importantly, I'm a queen who cries most of the way through Les Miz. 

And despite the vastly destructive aberrations of Christianity, I still find accessible within it a precious treasure of spritiual sustenance, like an unsullied diamond in the muck, in a tradition founded on the belief that the Divine inhabits and sanctifies our flesh, and is with us in the darkest moments of our despair and even in our death.

I felt relief and joy when it was clear the church would survive. The heroism of firefighters (hunky French firefighters) had saved the west towers. The three great rose windows were intact. And treasures of the cathedral had been removed by a human chain of rescuers while molten lead rained down around them from the roof.

Among those treasures, the Crown of Thorns.

I was vastly relieved that they'd saved the Crown of Thorns?

Number one: who knows where it first came from? If Jesus of Nazareth ever wore one during his humilation and torture--if it's not an invention of the first Christian communities around the Gospel writers--the chances that anyone took it with them from the site of the Crucifixion are pretty slim. Even if it had been possible to retrieve it, in the moment it would have been like someone saving a splinter from the electric chair their best friend has just been executed in. Number two: if you look at the gold-foil-wrapped wreath that's supposed to be the Real McCoy, it looks more like something Grace Jones would have worn in an '80s music video.

It arrived from Byzantium in Paris in 1241 during the reign of Louis IX, who built the Ste-Chapelle a little further west on the Île de la Cité to house it, along with other relics of the Crucifixion. It survived the French Revolution (during which Notre-Dame itself was first rededicated as a Temple of Reason and then converted to a warehouse).

Ultimately, it's not the historical veracity of its pedigree that matters. It's that veneration has made it holy. 

The working out of Spirit in the history of the Crown of Thorns isn't so different from the working out of Spirit in the deeper truth of Resurrection: that an unorthodox, countercultural rabbi of the first century, horribly murdered by the powers of his day, somehow lives on embodied in the assembly of his present-day followers who gather to eat a symbolic meal in his memory.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Semana Santa

Photos by Hoppergrass

Sunday, April 7, 2019

A Springtime Reunion and Heart Circle in Toronto

For thirty-five years, the Body Electric School has offered a respectful, heart-centered approach to deep erotic exploration. The School's work has helped thousands of people toward a bigger, freer, juicier experience of their lives.

On Sunday, May 5, beginning at 4 p.m., come take part in a Toronto-area heart circle on the theme of erotic/spiritual community. If you've done one of more of the School's workshops, you can reconnect with fellow alumni in the Toronto area and speak from the heart about your experience. 

If you haven't done Body Electric work, but you've heard of the School and want a better idea of what it offers--or if you're just looking for ways to better ingtegrate your emotional, erotic, and spiritual energies--come share your values and aspirations, and bond with new comrades.

After the heart circle, we'll share a potluck supper and the chance for more informal conversation.

There's no charge--just bring something for the potluck supper. The west Toronto location will be sent a week in advance to those who confirm for the event.

You can RSVP by e-mail to anchorholder@gmail.com, or by going to the Queer Men Building Spiritual Practice Together group on Meetup. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Midway Through Lent

When I was twenty-one, with one foot out of the closet, there was one lean, mostly naked man that no one could fault me for gazing on in adoration.

The German crucifix I wanted as a birthday present--yes, I was that fucked up--offered me a very male, and very dead, Jesus. I can only imagine what friends thought of it, hanging on the wall of my first apartment.

Fifteen years later, I wanted nothing more to do with Christianity.

Twenty-five years later, I was ready to return, but on my own terms. I hung this artifact of who I'd once been over the Korean rice chest that I'd bought as my altar.

Thirty years later, it freaked my Jewish boyfriend right out, and I tried to give it away. In any case, the glorification of suffering it represented had become completely foreign to me. 

Forty years later, it lies inside the rice chest, a relic I still respect of who I once was, and what I once needed. 

Gracias a la Vida.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

At Equinox

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun's life-giving ray, 
the brightness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free, 
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks, 
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
about the old eternal rocks.

(From The Breastplate of St. Patrick)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

At the Corner of Fourth and Walnut

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Sense of an Ending

I spent just over half an hour yesterday watching a stunningly sexy video on XTube: a beautiful man tied to a door frame, and later to a bed, edged by a friendly, playful expert, babbling all the while, eventually exploding into a prolonged, shattering orgasm, then emerging back into the world of ordinary time and space in the last two minutes of the clip. 

I'm all for voyeurism and exhibitionism. I'm unhappy about the bad rap they often get. Witnessing the helpless, undefended pleasure of another, allowing oneself to be witnessed: if the heart is opened, these are potentially acts of erotic generosity and transpersonal love. As such, they're sacred, not profane. Miraculously, a streaming service for homemade erotica can become a vehicle to invite the viewer into those luminous depths. 

In the clip, we don't see the beginning of this ritual--for in my book, it's clearly a ritual. We do see the ending. Both men move from total immersion in the erotic energy flowing between them, gradually detaching from the experience. They exchange comments that begin to distance them from the experience even as they rehearse it:

"I've never seen you orgasm like that on film," the dom says playfully.  

"Yeah, that was intense." 

"I love what I do." They both laugh.

The dom wipes his hands on a towel, attentively wipes his boy's belly, undoes the restraints on his wrists. Boy lays his freed hands on Dom's forearms. There's more laughter, a little more banter. It's over. Boy rises off the mattress onto his elbows, looks briefly toward the camera, says again, "That was intense," and then, "Good stuff." End of clip.

Why was I so drawn in (aside, duh, from my own arousal)? I loved watching the two of them interact. The video stood out from a gazillion other bondage/masturbation scenes because of what passed between them emotionally. Fetishized body parts and money shots, on their own, don't measure up. (In fact, given the lighting, you only know for sure after the fact that Boy has ejaculated, when Dom holds his semen-slicked hand up to the camera.) I felt invited in as a witness, not only to the man in restraints, but to their shared experience--both the rapport between them throughout the scene, and the beginning of their transition back into Life As We Know It. 

And yet, I found myself in the last seconds longing for something subtly different. I wanted  them to emerge from sacred time and space back into the ordinary while still acknowledging the profundity of what had just happened between them. I wanted them to affirm together that what they'd created was way beyond "good stuff." It was pure sexual alchemy. I wanted an erotic equivalent of "The Mass has ended. Go in peace." 

In a sense, that's exactly what they were doing. But I've experienced my share of powerful sexual encounters that end with one or both (or all) of us feeling nervous that maybe we've been changed a little too much for comfort, so we'd better stuff the magic back in the bottle, label it mere fun, and put it back on the shelf. "Wow, that was hot" can be a way of reassuring ourselves, and stressing to each other, that it was No Big Deal.

How might we transform our erotic experience of ourselves, others, and the world, if our encounters could end with a shared recognition of the depths we've just plumbed? How much of what gets dismissed as "just sex" could we recognize as something deeper, more integrated into the wholeness of our lives, by mindful shared attention to the way we end the encounter?

Judith Butler says in the opening pages of Undoing Gender, "Face it, we're undone by each other. And if we're not, what's the point?" Transformative erotic experiences, like any sacred acts, have to be fenced off from the ordinary, or we might run the danger of never going back to our daily lives. We have to give them the sense of an ending. But an ending, ideally, that still gives us access to their power.