Monday, December 5, 2022

Clarity is Overrated


As we approach the longest night of the year--as more or our life is lived amidst shadows, and out of the clear light of day--maybe it's a good time to focus on the vital, enlivening importance of what we don't know. 

Western rationalism is deeply invested in Figuring It All Out. If we don't know it yet, we will in the future. And if we don't know yet, that's a problem. But onward and upward. 


"I think, therefore I am," proclaimed Descartes. Who also said that since animals aren't rational, they're simply automata. So hey, treat them like objects, and raise them by the billions in hideous conditions. Rational humans are lords of creation. Clear-cut those forests so first-world consumers can wipe our asses in comfort and order merchandise online for packaged home delivery to our hearts' content.


What a sad, impoverished, dystopian universe we've projected onto the Creation that we're all a mere part of. And what a sad, constricted view of the self goes along with it. 


It's the extraordinary and layed depths of our souls, which we'll never ourselves fully know at a conscious level, that impart richness to our glorious, and mortal existence. It's what's half-visible in the shadows, in moonlight, in the shifting light of fire kindled in darkness, that mirrors who we are at the only partially known core of our being. It's what's stored and only half-inventoried in the endless rooms of our memory that allows us a lifelong adventure of the inward journey.





Photos from past years of the Kensington Market Festival of Lights, Toronto



Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Acknowledged Christ


I hope you’ve had the experience, at least once in your life, of being blindsided by Somebody showing up where you’d least expect. 

Mountains in a sudden flash of sunlight across a harbor. 

An impulse at a Hare Krishna parade to join the chanting from the sidelines, good Methodist that you’ve always been.

The eye contact between you and the unknown woman who’s just pulled you back onto the curb out of traffic you didn’t see coming.

The desire to kneel down at the back of a church, when you haven’t darkened the door of such a place since you were sixteen.

The realization, in the middle of a random sexual encounter, that both of you (or all of you) are in the Presence of something vastly bigger and more important than a short spell of uncomplicated pleasure--that your trick is looking back at you with the face of God. 

The sacred, grace-filled letting go in the last days of a lover’s life that Mark Doty describes with such heart-opening clarity and vulnerability in Heaven’s Coast.

The flash of lightning across the night sky of a quiet mind in the meditation hall, nice Jewish boy from LA that you are.

The kind of experience that leaves you stammering something like, “Oh--it’s You again.”

From my own perspective grounded in the Christian tradition, these experiences are already foreshadowed in the vagueness of biblical accounts of the Resurrection. No two Gospel accounts tell the same stories. Mark, the earliest of the four Jesus narratives that eventually got included in the Bible, doesn’t have a resurrection account at all, just an inexplicably empty tomb from which two women flee in terror at dawn. My favorite is the story from Luke of two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who fall in with a stranger to whom they tell the news of Jesus’ death. The stranger starts laying out for them everything in Scripture that predicted the Passion. That evening, they sit down with him to a meal, from which he vanishes, in the same moment that they recognize the risen Lord “in the breaking of the bread.” 

There’s plenty of space in that story, for me: I don’t know what the fuck would show up in the Polaroids that nobody took. I just know that the encounter broke lives open, as it breaks mine open.

This isn’t about a resuscitated corpse. In Christian terms, this is about the Second Person of the Trinity taking flesh at times and in places you never saw coming, setting ablaze the ordinary world of our material existence. After all, it was God’s flesh all along, before we were given a life lease on it. “He comes to us as one unknown,” wrote Albert Schweitzer in The Quest of the Historical Jesus. It’s about “the acknowledged Christ” (the phrase belongs to Indian theologian M.M. Thomas), ever present in the world, shoring it up from below as well as drawing it up from above, known across cultures by a thousand different names, though none can ever comprehend him/her. The One who vanishes from sight most completely in the dogmatism of those who think they have sole possession of the truth. 




Ocean of Wisdom. 

Ghandiji. 

Shiva, Krishna, Ram, Sita, Ma Durga.

George, on the streetcorner.

Cernunnos, horned Lord of the Dance.


The concept of “the acknowledged Christ”--the presence of the Second Person of the Trinity in the cultures and religions of the Subcontinent--is a staple of the ecumenical theology of Indian Christianity. M.M.Thomas (1916-1996), a lay member of the southwest India’s Mar Thoma Church and perhaps the most influential Christian theologian of modern India, brought the term into common usage in his books The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance (London, 1969), Man and the Universe of Faiths (Madras, 1975), and My Ecumenical Journey: 1947-1975 (Trivandrum, 1990).  

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Not One and Not Two


Nathan at work at Pearl Harbor Gift Shop, Kensington Market, Toronto


Back in May, I posted a meditation that ended with the assertion, "There is trinity around us, and trinity within us." I chose this week to inscribe a symbol of that on my body.

Two weeks ago I shared here the image of a Celtic interlace phallus. I first encountered it on the wonderful blog, now long discontinued, of a visionary who went by the name of Corvus some ten or twelve years ago. On that site he offered beautiful, rich directions for men's communal sex magick rituals. (Corvus, wherever you are today, Blessed Be.)


In its very structure, that cock-knot is a meditation on what it means to find trinity within. It's made of two intertwining endless loops, each self-contained and yet wound around and into and out of one another to manifest a third thing. Each complete in itself, and neither complete in itself. What's more, each depending on the Third that is the background on which they're inscribed--whether on stone, or on skin.


The first loop is Phallus, the second loop is Phallus, and the surface on which they rest is Phallus. And yet these three are one Phallus.


When we dive deeply into our innate erotic capacity, we're never truly alone. The relationality that's wired into who we are  at the core of our being is always with us, even in the most private act of self-love and self-pleasure.  I am the perceiver, but I am also the perceived. I am the lover, but I am also the beloved. I am immersed in my own consciousness, but my consciousness is built on all the interactions I've had with the world and others in the world, from the moment I took my first breath. And in the interaction between the one and the other, there is always a Third.


This is why the experience of solosexual bliss can become a meditative gateway into the Mystery of our lives. When men fully embrace this truth, masturbation isn't devalued as a substitute for "real" sexual expression. And sex with our partners is an extension and a sharing of the riches we contain within.




Friday, October 21, 2022

From Our Very First Breath

 "From our very first breath, we are in relationship. With that indrawn draft of air, we become joined to everything that ever was, is and ever will be. When we exhale, we forge that relationship by virtue of the act of living. Our breath commingles with all breath, and we are a part of everything. That's the simple fact of things. We are born into a state of relationship, and our ceremonies and rituals are guides to lead us deeper into that relationship with all things. Big lesson? Relationships never end; they just change. In believing that lies the freedom to carry compassion, empathy, love, kindness, and respect into and through whatever changes. We are made more by that practice."

--Richard Wagamese, from Embers



Sunday, October 2, 2022

Dickhenge Revisited

Twelve years ago, this shrine blossomed at Easton Mountain. It was my joy to tend it and offer its sacred hospitality to the men gathered there.












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.