Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Erotic Encounter With the Divine

“Let Me In: Young Gay Kiss” by James Wielson, Wikimedia Commons

By Eric L. Hays-Strom

I never thought about the relationship between sexuality and spirituality until several years ago. If the two words came up in conjunction with each other at all, my first thought, indeed my only thought, was that they were totally unrelated.

That all began to change in January 2000 when three of us set off on a road trip to southern California. Scott and I and our dearest friend, Karla, were on our way to a meeting in Palm Springs. While there, we took the opportunity to visit the headquarters of our denomination, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

While perusing the resources available there, we discovered a tape series about spirituality and sexuality, “The Erotic Contemplative” by Michael Bernard Kelly. I was immediately intrigued. On our two-ay drive home from Los Angeles to Omaha, we started listening to the tapes and discussing the questions that came in a guide with the tapes. It was probably amongst the most intimate conversations of sex, sexuality and spirituality I have ever had. At one point I recall going into extreme detail in answer to a question from Karla, “Just what is it two gay men do when they have sex?” Oral sex was obvious to her, but what else if anything? And so I told her!

The tapes, and that discussion, were for me the beginning of a quest to incorporate my sexuality and my spirituality. Though in truth, I now know they’ve always been intertwined. My quest became to understand that relationship. I’m still a long way from finishing that quest.

The quest opened me to new experiences of the sacred, both in regards to spirituality and exploration of my sexuality and sexual expression. My first realization was that within the bounds of love, nothing sexual could be taboo as long as both parties consent to the experience, and no other parties are hurt. If I want to explore something untried, if Scott is okay with it, we do it. Some things we decide just are not for us. Others are. This freedom of sexual experience is only to be found within the confines of our relationship. We remain faithful to each other. Though, we have from time to time discussed the option of including another in our lovemaking.

Through the years our lovemaking has risen to an entirely new level when we intentionally invite God to be present to and with us. That is, when we prayerfully invite God’s Divine Presence to bless our lovemaking and to join with us in our lovemaking.

In my blog (http://scottneric.com/ontheroad) I have written about several experiences in my life in which I have known God’s presence, either as God or in the person of Jesus or of the Holy Spirit. So, in my own heart, and in my own soul, I know what the ecstatic experience of the Divine is like.

However, there is one experience I have not written about elsewhere. It involves the intersection of the ecstatic with the erotic, an experience of Divine Presence unlike any other I’ve encountered.

Soon after I began silently inviting the Divine Presence to be with us during lovemaking, I noticed that both Scott and I became more aware of each other’s bodies and more focused on finding those areas that the other enjoyed having stimulated. One day, Scott and I took a lazy spring afternoon off from housework to, as we euphemistically phrase it, Play. With a capital P.

After some time in intimate exploration, I invited Scott to enter me. There are several possible positions for this form of lovemaking, but one or two are especially conducive to a more loving intimacy. Scott chose one of these. Scott wrapped me in his arms and I surrendered to the intimacy of the moment. I prayed, thanking God for God’s Presence, and for having brought Scott into my life.

As I prayed, an awareness of God’s Divine Presence flooded over me. I knew Jesus to be with us, joining with us in our lovemaking. Every one of my senses was heightened. I felt exquisitely the caress of hands, smelled a scent that was heady beyond belief. I heard the beating of Scott’s heart, my heart... another heart. And though my eyes were closed, it seemed that a soft diffuse light glowed just in front of me.

At the very moment that climax arrived, all else washed away except for an overpowering feeling of love unlike anything I have ever experienced. I felt wrapped in arms from both sides, my breath stopped for what seemed an eternity. Both Scott and I commented afterwards that our lovemaking had never before lasted such a long time.

Ever since that day, I’ve longed for more of those experiences. While I have felt God’s Divine Presence on numerous occasions during Scott’s and my lovemaking, none have ever equaled that one very special event in which time stood still.
_________
Eric L. Hays-Strom has led a colorful life that includes living in Kenya as an exchange student and serving in the U.S. Army. He earned a Masters Degree in Catholic Life and Worship from St. Meinrad School of Theology in southern Indiana. He and his husband, Scott, live in Iowa.

___
P.S. A lively discussion of this post is also underway at:
http://queeringthechurch.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/finding-god-in-gay-lovemaking

Michael Bernard Kelly is also the author of Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith.


Bookmark and Share

14 comments:

Trudie said...

I commented on this last night, but for some reason my remarks didn't get posted. Chalk it up to the great cyber vacuum, I guess. Anyway, I am absolutely delighted to see Eric's wonderful sharing posted on the Jesus in Love blog. I hope many others will respond in this wonderfully positive way.

T said...

This is an important experience, and not uncommon. Thanks for sharing it, Eric. It gives the lie to official teaching, as do all other such experiences. If we are able to find God in our lovemaking, how can it possibly be wrong?

Michael B Kelly is currently engaged on doctoral research on the idea that gay men's erotic experiences have something to teach the whole church about new paths to spirituality. (He was recently invited to give a paper on this theme to a Catholic spirituality conference in London,which was well received). As part of this research, he is anxious to hear of the experiences people like Eric have had. If anybody else has had such experiences, please write to him. It will help his research, which in turn will lead to be better understanding of the reality of gay sexuality as a part of the sacred.

Many others have also written on the same theme - John McNeill, Daniel Helminiak and Chris Glaser, just for starters.

I have discussed these ideas often at "Queering the Church" (http://queeringthechurch.wordpress.com). See for example, the posts on Homoerotic Spirituality, and the Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality.

eric said...

Thank you for your comments, T. I'm currently reading Helminiak's 'Sex and the Sacred'. I'm finding it a challenging read. And if I'm not mistaken, I have one of McNeil's books waiting in the wings. Thanks for pointing me towards Chris Glaser.

Having found your blog (thank you for that) I'll be checking it out over the next few days.

As you say, our shared experiences as LGBT people collectively gives lie to the official teachings of much of Christianity. I am constantly finding myself amazed at the fear of sexuality in all it's manifestations of the church.

I hope more people will share the truth, from their own experiences, that God celebrates with us when we celebrate our sexuality in loving ways.

Terence said...

Sharing is important Eric - so thank you for doing it.

(And my name is Terence - the abbreviation previously was not intentional)

KittKatt said...

I’m glad that others share my enthusiasm for Eric’s piece on sexuality and spirituality! Terence, I appreciate the way you quoted from this post on your wonderful Queering the Church blog.

You found an excellent photo to illustrate it on your blog. It inspired me to search for and add the photo above, “Let Me In: Young Gay Kiss.” I hope you agree that it enhances Eric’s message that sexuality and spirituality can be one.

You’re right that such experiences are not uncommon… and yet each one is unique and worthy of celebration. Thank you again, Eric, for opening your heart and mind to us.

Trudie said...

I'm glad Terrance decided to jump in with his excellent comments, and citations of others' work. Yes, Eric, you have McNeill's "Sex as God Intended" -- I know 'cause I sent it to you, and I was originally tipped off to it by the Jesus in Love Blog. Thanks again, Kitt, for being such a wonderful reference source! I'm using it as a primary source for a six-week session we're going to be doing at FMCC beginning in November.

Graham said...

The key is clearly in Eric's paragraph where he says, " ... I began silently inviting the Divine Presence to be with us during lovemaking, I noticed that both Scott and I became more aware of each others bodies and more focused on finding those areas that the other enjoyed having stimulated."

The invitation to God to share in the most humanly intimate moments between two people cannot be anything other than true love. Making love to another and inviting God to share in that blessed moment (where, if it is true love, then He surely already is ) can only but make it the deepest most meaningful relationship at its most deep and meaningful moment.

Sorry if that sounds a tad vague - it isn't easy to put into words, and I think Eric handles the words very well - but one cannot say much more than here is a moment of sublime bliss - the deepest love one human being can have for another, the truthful eroticism of not love making but love being.
Pardon the metaphor, but there is nothing more God wants that to invite us in.

I have read Eric’s piece over again ( and again ) and find it very beautiful - very touching. It says to me that within the Queer Community there is great hope for the love of the world.

KittKatt said...

A lively discussion of this post is also underway at:

http://queeringthechurch.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/finding-god-in-gay-lovemaking

I'm especially pleased that another blog picked up this post with extensive quotes and a link back. That's a high compliment in the blogosphere. It’s definitely worth a visit to read the comments on what one visitor there calls “the whole phenomenon of sexual spirituality.”

eric said...

I truly have been enjoying the discussion here about my article... here and over on "queeringthechurch" blog.

I'm especially happy to know that I am not alone in this experience. I know it probably sounds funny, at the least, and arrogant, at the worst, for me to say I really did think that my experience was, if not exclusive, at least rare.

What a true joy for me to find it's actually not all that uncommon. It's joyful for me because it proves to me the validity of my experience, and at the same time, as Kittredge says, puts the lie to traditional church teaching on sexuality.

Graham, your words are beautiful. I especially love the quote: "the deepest love one human being can have for another, the truthful eroticism of not love making but love being... there is nothing more God wants than to invite us in." I plan to remind myself of that reality on a daily basis, applying it to everything I do, not just my love-making... or better, love-being.

Another quote that I am coming away from this discussion with is from a comment on "queeringthechurch": "material reality exists so God can experience his being through touch. To invite God into sexual encounters is to invite God to experience the reason He created this whole matter thing to begin with... love is about Divine interaction... sexuality expressed with the Divine is always a threesome–a trinity if you will."

I've cut and pasted various parts of that quote... there's more to it.

I really hope this discussion continues. But if not, I thank all of you for reading and am blessed by the hope that my article is as meaningful to you as your comments are to me.

Terence said...

Eric, you have cut and pasted your comment across two threads, so allow me to do the same. This is the response I posted at QTC (with some amendments for the different context):

"Discussion is what it is all about, Eric. There are three strands to theology, and the understanding of the continuing unfolding of revelation for the modern age. These are Scripture, tradition (or what has gone before), and prayerful reflection on experience.

We are so used to seeing sex through the blinkers of its assumed shamefulness, that we seldom speak about it frankly and honestly.

When we do, we have to face the simple fact that at its best it is clearly a great gift, a path to joy and completeness. Joy is the unfailing sign of the Holy Spirit, and we are taught to use our gifts and talents to the full. Sexuality is one of these great gifts from God. This should be obviouss – but is not until we are willing and able to speak openly. "

KittKatt, thank you for the kind words about Queering the Church. The fact that this vigorous discussion has occurred across two sites is a great example of what the blogosphere can do. It's also an example of why I dedicated my post yesterday to recommending some sites which are specifically not Catholic (which is my own tradition). Several of these I found from your own blogroll.

Working together is important - long may it continue.

eric said...

I hope neither of you minded my cross posting my comment. I did so because I thought it possible that some readers may not follow the links between the posts.

Thank you for your response, Terry. I utterly agree with the 3 tiers of revelation... what's NOT to agree with?

KittKatt said...

For the record, I support cross-posting and cross-fertilization. I'm cross-posting this comment, too.

Terence, thank you for the links! I’m happy to see that your blogroll now includes some other sites from my own list of favorites. It’s fascinating and encouraging to see how connections grow and blossom over the Internet. I read on your Facebook page that blogging is a pilgrimage. I’ve been reflecting on that for a couple of days. It rings true to me. I’m glad that to be companions on the journey.

Victory of Faith said...

Interesting post!

Edmund said...

I think one's spirituality and sexuality are related because man is body and soul, and the two are essentially indistinguishable - up until death, that is, when they are finally parted and the person qua human being ceases to exist. The quest to incorporate one's sexuality and spirituality is really important.