Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Eros & Christ: Jesus as lover

[Part of a series on Eros and Christ... Gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer writes about what happened when he prayed for Jesus to come and “hold me like a lover.”]

By Hugo Schwyzer

Far too often in Christian culture, the erotic and the sacred are kept in separate spaces in the consciousness. Despite the fact that even atheists call on God quite sincerely as they orgasm (is there any more common cry for English-speaking folk as they climax?), we’re unwilling to do the work of really integrating our sexuality with our faith. For too many Christians, integrating sexuality and faith means compiling a list of don’ts which they imagine will demonstrate their fidelity to Jesus: don’t masturbate, don’t have sex outside of heterosexual marriage, don’t talk openly and honestly about sexual feelings. But faith is more about what we do do then what we don’t. Our faith must permeate the sex we have as well as the sex we don’t, or our faith is stuck in a compartment and useless to us.

…. As anyone who has been to an American evangelical prayer service in the last twenty years knows, modern praise and worship music is filled with songs about a romance with Jesus. One of the most important and influential Christian rock bands of the past decade, Jars of Clay, had a hit with a song I adored: Love Song For A Savior.* An excerpt:
He’s more than the laughter or the stars in the heavens
As close a heartbeat or a song on our lips
Someday we’ll trust Him and learn how to see Him
Someday He’ll call us and we will come running
and fall in His arms and the tears will fall down and we’ll pray,

“I want to fall in love with You”
It’s easy to mock the idea of “Jesus as Lover” as a marketing tool aimed at young Christians struggling to remain loyal to hastily-made purity vows. But it’s an old idea, older even than its most famous practitioner, Saint Teresa of Avila. Teresa wrote of her ecstatic relationship with Christ:
“It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.”
The idea of Jesus as lover has, perhaps, a more obvious appeal to heterosexual young women, particularly the hormonal and the chaste…. But the idea’s appeal is not limited to women alone. When I first came back to Christ in 1998, I took a vow of temporary celibacy. (I blogged about it here.) During those months where I took a “break,” I worked harder than I ever had before on my relationship with God. And following the suggestion of a woman I knew in my 12-step program who attended the same church I did, I began to pray each night for Jesus to come and “hold me like a lover.”

It was a strange prayer for me to pray. I’ve done a lot of men’s work, and I’ve hugged a lot of guys in my day. I’m clear that my energy is primarily heterosexual; it has been for as long as I remember. But praying this prayer made sense. And at night, often when I was at my exhausted loneliest, falling asleep alone, I would pray: “Jesus, come and hold me now. Let me nestle into you. Pull me against you. I don’t want to be separate from you anymore.” And I would imagine my flesh against his, my heart beating against his heartbeat. It was extraordinarily comforting — and it was charged with a kind of safe sexuality that I had never known in my life, not in my carnal reality or in my active fantasy life.

Sometime into this whole period of celibacy, I remember having a dream where I was caressing Jesus’s broken, post-crucifixion body. I’m not accustomed to homoerotic dreams, but this one was vivid — I could feel the life in Him still, the warmth of His body, I could feel His muscles and His bones and His sweat and His blood. And then, in my dream, Jesus woke up and started touching me. Not genitally (there were no genitals in this dream), but caressing me, the sweat and the heat and the blood still coming off of him. And I started to cry in my dream, crying from relief, and woke up in bed crying. I also woke up aroused. It was a mixture of relief and sexual excitement and almost mystical ecstasy unlike anything I’d ever known. Heck, I read St. Teresa in college. I didn’t get it at 18; at 31 and in the midst of a huge emotional upheaval in my life, a few weeks after I had almost died, I got it. I’ve never had the dream again. I would love to have it again.

I loved that dream, not because I’m sexually drawn to men, but because my love affair with Christ is not merely intellectual or spiritual. Christ came to earth in a body: I am incarnate in a body. My body is good, as is my soul, and the spiritual growth of the latter is not contingent upon the constant mortification of the former. It took me a long time to get that, and it was only once I did get that that I was able to stop living a double life, a life in compartments, a life of public charm and conscientiousness and a private world of shame and deception. Jesus is many things to me: my savior, my homeboy, my best friend, my role model, my God. He is also my lover, in every sense. I don’t cheat on my wife with Jesus. Fidelity to a spouse doesn’t preclude a sense that there is one relationship, just one, that ranks above that one has with a husband or a wife. …I am not bisexual; I am a man who has loved many women, but my truest lover, truer even than my adored wife, is Jesus. I still sometimes call on Him to hold me at night.

…I’m talking about seeing our sexual lives as married people as including Jesus. If Jesus is supposed to be our co-pilot when we drive (as those ridiculous bumperstickers remind us), why is He left out in the hallway when we go into the bedroom to make love with our spouses? In marriage, we are called to fidelity. But while monogamy means no sex with other people, it doesn’t mean a bar on embracing an intense and rich sexuality that includes Christ.

Every marriage is a triangle, with Jesus at the top as head and the two spouses below as equal points on the bottom of that triangle. Each partner in the marriage is equal to the other; each has a separate and unique relationship with Christ. In a sense, I have two lovers: my wife and Christ. And that relationship with Christ involves inviting Him into every single aspect of our lives. And if we take Him seriously as “closer than a brother,” then we need to see Him in our sexuality as well. For some of us, that will simply mean learning to face Jesus without shame. For others of us, it will be inviting Him to hold us close. And for some of us, gay and straight, men and women alike, it means a willingness to embrace Him as the truest and best of lovers. For me, at least in one dream I have never forgotten, that meant being enfolded in His arms, His skin on me, both of us bathed in His blood, His sweat, and my tears.

I have no shame in saying that I often long for that magical dream to return.

Hugo Schwyzer is a community college history and gender studies professor, animal rights activist and Episcopal youth minister in California. A longer version of this post first appeared in his blog at Click here for the original version. This edited version is reprinted with permission Hugo Schwyzer.

Image credit: Baptism of Christ from Wikimedia Commons
*A concert video of “Love Song for a Savior” by the Christian rock band Jars of Clay will be posted here soon as the Eros and Christ series continues.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful article! This is a beautiful reflection on the confluence of sex & spirituality. It really resonates with my own journey, and at the same time, it reminds me of the real need to remember that the Divine, in the person of Jesus, plays a pivotal role in my marriage.

That sense of having a love affair with Christ that both transcends and magnifies my relationship with my spouse is truly one of the most inspiring messages I could read today.

Trudie said...

I have been looking forward to this post, and I am absolutely delighted by it. Thanks again, Kitt, for running this series and letting me be a part of it!

Anonymous said...

I find this article of what Eric says, and more. It is deeply moving. It is also very supportive - as I move into a new phase of my life, this entire 'wonder' of Jesus as lover - of us all - proves to be the food we all need. And, it has given me an even greater understanding of the Eucharist and Holy Communion - how much love is contained in that 'small white thing' - the wafer.
I wonder of there has ever been a serious study relating the love of Jesus, Eros AND Ego? I am interested to discover that ego is a emotion most Christian traditions have desired to censure over the centuries, but which Judaism seriously negotiates.

Anonymous said...

This piece is downright amazing. It's so beautiful and filled with emotion. The colors and the glow really sets the mood. I love the article as well. Thanks for posting.

pennyjane said...

what a beautifully written, courageous and provocative piece.

it's something of a revelation to me...that i have kept my sexual impulses apart from my love of Christ. i never really thought about it. now i think i'm just one more of the unwashed masses who have had negative images of sex drilled in me so long and so hard that i've come to believe them myself.

"carry everything to God," we're told, "well, except your sexuality, that's beneath Him and He would surely frown." who wants to make Jesus frown?

suddenly i'm not so sure of that. i see something i need to explore. so thank you for the piece and thank you kitt for sharing it.

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

I thank all of you for your thoughtful comments. I agree that this is one of the most moving, supportive and yet challenging pieces ever posted at the Jesus in Love Blog. I shared it here because it has had an impact on me and others. I'm glad that it is bringing light and life to others.

Pastrix Rachel Teresa said...

You can have the "dream" anytime you want. Jesus is my Romantic Lover, Savior, Healer and Husband and He wants to be the same for everyone. See my blog on the how:


Kittredge Cherry said...

Raven, I enjoyed visiting your Jesus as Lover blog. I welcome your vision of Jesus as lover… a relationship he has had with mystics since the beginning.