Friday, June 04, 2010

How to unite sexuality and spirituality?

“Casey and John” by Trudie Barreras,, c. 1983.
Oil, 18” x 24.”

Many people ask me how to integrate sexuality and spirituality. I am opening up the dialogue by posting an email exchange on the subject between myself and gay artist John Bittinger Klomp of Florida.

John generously granted permission to share his emails, so I’m posting our correspondence here to kick off LGBT Pride Month. Please add your insights by leaving a comment.
Subj: Current reading of "Jesus in Love" and questions about Western schizophrenic experience of the spiritual

Hi Kitt,

As you know I have been reading your Website "Jesus in Love" for quite some time now. However, today, I am writing to you because I have questions concerning my need to separate the sexual from religious experience. I know that need is taught by our Western culture. I also know that all religions of the world do not make these two areas of experience mutually exclusive. So, I have symptoms of the Western schizophrenia. I am specifically seeking your advice.

My schizophrenic response is of course accentuated when I read Christian literature or see Christian visual art of a specifically sexual nature, I find myself absolutely put off. That is not to say that I haven’t had sexual experience that has been spiritual. The problem is the integration of the spiritual and sexual without being so explicit in the fictionalized visualization of that experience. The removal of the Christian religious experience to the fictitious level is a step I have difficulty taking, and if I were a truly Postmodern spirit I would not have such difficulty. It is especially alarming that this should be so as I understand that most of our experience of Jesus’ truth is a paternalistic desexualized fictionalization created by the institutionalized Christian Churches over the past two thousand years.

I suspect that I am not unique in this desexualized experience of the spiritual, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be wise for us all to hold an ongoing conversation about the topic. At the same time, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind my including this E-mail and any reply you might have as one of my postings to my Web Journal, “The Art of John Bittinger Klomp.”



Subj: finding Sacred Unity of body and spirit

Hi John,

Thank you for writing to me to start a conversation about the challenges of integrating sexuality and spirituality. You obviously understand that the separation of sexual and religious experience is taught by our Western culture. I appreciate how you see the broader cultural context while also sharing your own personal experience.

It sounds like you have a strong intellectual understanding of the body-spirit separation, and a desire to heal it. For example, you state, "I understand that most of our experience of Jesus' truth is a paternalistic desexualized fictionalization created by the institutionalized Christian Churches over the past two thousand years." Perhaps you can move forward by finding new ways to "experience Jesus' truth," as you put it.

In my own spiritual life, it used to be impossible for me to separate Jesus (that is, God) from the institutional church. It was a great liberation when I discovered that I could connect directly with Jesus and God, without depending on the church to mediate and interpret. Basically I recommend that you try to get in touch with the original Jesus Christ. Here are some methods that inspired me. Maybe they can help you, too.

* I highly recommend the book "The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus" by Neil Douglas-Klotz. He translates and explains Jesus' words directly from Aramaic, the language that Jesus himself spoke, and the results are illuminating. The body and soul are seen as one whole, and unity is the ultimate good. For example, he translates "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" as this: "Ripe are the consistent in heart; they shall see Sacred Unity everywhere." This is not a book about sexuality, but rather introduces a new way of seeing wholeness everywhere, as Christ did.

* I also recommend reading the medieval mystics who wrote about their ecstatic-erotic spiritual experiences. They are shining examples of how Christians within the church have found ways to unite spirituality and sexuality. Don't worry, these writers aren't too explicit. Julian of Norwich writes about Jesus as her husband and lover in "Revelations of Divine Love." Here's a quote: "I saw that God was rejoicing to be our Father; rejoicing too to be our Mother; and rejoicing yet again to be our true Husband, with our soul his beloved wife." Other medieval mystics of special interest are Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

*Read the Gospels over and over, concentrating on the words and actions of Jesus. Notice his compassionate attitude toward the body and sexuality.

*Go directly to Jesus in prayer. Share all your questions and concerns with Christ, and ask him to answer you. Then stay alert for revelations that may come in unexpected ways. I am also inviting Jesus to be part of my conversation with you.

You mentioned your problems with "fictionalized visualization" of sexuality in Christian art. I assume that you are referring to the art at and in my book "Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More." Maybe you are also referring to my novels "Jesus in Love" and "At the Cross." They present the erotic, mystical experiences that propelled the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in first-century Palestine---including his intimate relationships with John the beloved disciple, Mary Magdalene and the omni-gendered Holy Spirit. The books came to me first as a revelation, apart from any intellectual justification. Only later have I come to understand how important it is to tell Christ's story in an embodied, erotic way, as an antidote to the sex-negative culture.

I want to share with you a comment from one of the readers who enjoyed "Jesus in Love." She wrote, "I think artful handling of eroticism is very important in our hypersexual society. My partner and I have spoken many times about how eroticism gets wiped out by our hypersexual culture." So the challenge for our society is not only "desexualized experience of the spiritual" (which you named), but also despiritualized experience of the sexual. This is one place where God calls us to grow and heal.

Your email presented the sex/spirit split in the context of Western culture as a whole. When I reflected on your questions, I found myself wondering how the "Western schizophrenia" affects lesbians and gay men in particular. We seem to raise these issues more frequently and with more urgency than most heterosexuals, probably because the Bible and Christian rhetoric are used to justify hate and discrimination against us. Western culture tends to make everybody feel ashamed of their sexuality, but gay and lesbian people get a double dose of the toxic shame. By God's grace, perhaps we can lead the way to wholeness and "Sacred Unity." I look forward to your reply.


Subj: Spirituality versus Sexuality

Dear Kitt,

Spirituality versus sexuality, just one more opposition of many in Western culture - not that I have experience of any other culture, at least not in this incarnation. Aye, there’s the rub!

So, let me start over with a profound thank you for your lengthy answer to my last communication. I will definitely follow your advice concerning readings beginning with "The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus" by Neil Douglas-Klotz. I am a maniacal workaholic and I do a great deal of community work, so I make no promise about completing the reading any time soon.

As to experiencing the spiritual in the sexual – outside of my Christian experience - no problem. In my life, I have experienced some of the most profound spiritual moments during sexual intercourse. In art, I find the early autoerotic works of Atilla Richard Lucacs to be especially spiritual. I became familiar with Lucacs’ work in the middle 1990’s while working on my doctorate at New York University, and despite his “bad boy” reputation, I find much of his artwork to be a search for spiritual redemption.

I found your quote from the medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich to be extremely comforting precisely because she experienced God as mother, father, and husband. For the longest time, I have not been able to see God as the Western Church sees God, as “HIM.” It is exhilarating to know that centuries ago a Christian mystic saw God in much broader terms. Additionally, I do experience the Self, as female in prayer -that is an empty vessel to be filled with the knowledge of God.

I will continue struggle to integrate the spiritual and sexual in my Christian experience of God. I thank you for your expertise and advice, and I hope you will continue to provide both.

Blessings to you as well,

The illustration for this post is “Casey and John” by Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras. She says that the models were very much in love at the time. Casey and John knew that Trudie enjoyed painting figure studies, so they volunteered to pose for her. The men posed at what was then the home of the Atlanta Gay Center. “This is the first and only dual portrait/figure study I've ever attempted, but I think it is one of the best things I've ever done,” Trudie says.

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This post is part of an occasional series on sexuality and spirituality. Click here for the whole series.


Jendi said...

Great artwork by Barreras and Lukacs. Thanks for introducing me to their work.

Trudie said...

Hopefully this will be the continuation of an even more in depth exchange on spirituality and sexuality. I've waited a long time for such a discussion to occur! So many themes can weave together in a wonderfully intricate way as this dialog continues.

Since becoming involved with the GLBT community in 1978, shortly before I did the Casey and John painting you've so generously featured on the blogspot, I have been aware how vitally important it is to bring human eroticism, recognition of the dignity of the feminine, and the reality of God With Us as presented by Jesus into the harmony that is so vital to human wholeness.

One other comment I believe is very necessary here, though, is to reaffirm that I believe same-sex relationships have actually got a better chance of reclaiming the vital link between spirituality and sexuality than the do opposite-sex relationships simply because they are NOT burdened with the same level of cultural expectation, for instance to be reproductive. I hope some of your other bloggers will investigate this notion as well.

Sherman Buck said...

This is conversation triggered an important realization for me. I recalled my own mystical unions with the divine, as a genderless being, an in pouring of a divine essence, divine energy. I'd eaten a pot brownie and was laying down tuning into my body and inner dimensions, when I began to feel a pressure pushing on my perineum from the outside. At first I was a bit concerned, until inner guides said it was just homosexual energy. This was a startling revelation, as it implied there was homosexual and heterosexual energies. After a bit of coaching with my inner resistance, I was able to let go.

This letting go opened to a huge ocean pouring inward with the most incredible bliss and ecstasy light years away from any sexual experience with other humans and to this day. In the first few moments I realized monks weren't celibate because sex was bad, but because they were having their own direct experience of divine sexual/spiritual union with all that is.

My oceanic experience went on for an hour or so, but then another opening occurred into another larger ocean. This second opening left me with the realization that there were more oceans.

Why I share this, is three-fold. Firstly, sexual union does not need a partner. The union is between you and the divine. Secondly, as the first is true, then the idea of heterosexual desire being exclusive is an out right distortion of truth and the original truth of this was suppressed by those in power for their own agendas. And thirdly, it occurs to me that perhaps Mary was energetically inseminated from this divine union in ways that current ideology cannot be open to understanding, let alone accepting.

It should be noted that religion as it has been operating is really about conditional love. A limited love only between an incarnated man and woman, and only with limited contact, in the dark, with shame, guilt, and fear in company. There is no interest by Church leaders to inspire the masses how to have their own inner connection with the divine. The good news is it happens all by itself through divine intervention or entrance, if we can let go enough of the fear, guilt, and shame that the institutions have taught to imprison the many from (continued)(experiencing this living truth; living waters.

Sherman Buck said...

Here are pertinent excerpts by Terry Kellog and Marvel Harrison, from their book "FINDING BALANCE: 12 Priorities For Interdependence And Joyful Living," which aptly discuss this interwoven complex aspect of our Beingness.

From Chapter 7 Spirituality:

"Spirituality is the core of our being. We do not have a shame core, we have a spiritual core. The spiritual core is the very soul of our existence, we share in an energy of life and being. What we are is our spirituality, the birth and song of creation. Our coming to life and living, the becoming of us is the journey of spirituality. The sharing of life and existence is being one with creation and the creator".

From Chapter 8 Sexuality:

"We cannot not be sexual. We are sexual all of the time. Our relationships are sexual because we are sexual beings. Many of us are hurt, confused and afraid of our sexuality, which puts us in stress situations with ourselves and requires a process of recovery. Sexual recovery is difficult in a culture that places so much energy and emphasis on sex, sexual attraction and sexual activity. Sex is trivialized, commercialized, mistaken for intimacy and used as power. At the same time it is repressed, secret and shameful. Unless one has recognized sexual abuse in the past or acknowledged sexual addiction as a problem, there is little support available.

Sexuality is a core of our identity. It is our relationship with ourselves as men and women. How we express our relationship is how we express our sexuality. We are gendered beings. How we relate to the gender we are is sexuality. Sexuality is our immersion in the pool of creation. Through our sexuality - our maleness and femaleness - we experience people, awareness, places, sounds, music. Our enjoyment of ourselves, our pleasure in our surroundings, our relationship with our bodies and our physical reality are all expressions of sexuality.

Sexuality is the physical and emotional response to desires, urges, touch, fantasy, needs, noticing and human survival as well as cultural and family messages. It is our participation in creation and creativity. Creative energy, the poetry of life, is based on our sexuality. Procreation is a function of our sexuality, the need for continuation of ourselves."

Love and light,


Turtle Woman said...

I think Trudie may be on to something about the sexual/spiritual nature of lesbian and gay relationships compared to heterosexual ones.

Heterosexuality is frought with obligation and social rituals. It is also built on the slave labor of women, and the male ownership of women. Vestiges of this involunary servitude throughout history have created patriarchy, the most mindless evil human invention since the birth of human beings.

Most women who are heterosexual have no idea what this is, or the fact that their labor is being stolen from them by men and male means of production.

Lesbian couples, according to pyscholigical studies, are the most egalitarian in the world. Even most gay men have no comprehension of them. We fly under the radar of human development, a creative powerful force emerging worldwide. Unite this with divine feminine, or the Amazon warriors of today, and you create a movement to freedom that would and is changing the world.

I don't think it is possible for heterosexual relationships to have this equality, again, because of the structure of the institution.

It's why heteronormative worldviews are all pervasive, a kind of never ending propaganda, to convince women that men are the only alternative. Eliminate that, and new worlds become possible.

So I look at the divine feminine, and the idea that patriarchy is destroying the earth, as the dynamic challenge that lesbian existence brings to patriarchal domination. Look at the most outrageous abuse in corporate America, it is no accident that these institutions are male dominated-- BP, the catholic church, Wall Street-- leave men isolated and in power, and you create destruction. Look at the faces of this souless executives on CNN, the squinty eyes, the reptilian clueless faces. Compare that with Diana queen of the hunt, or Mary Daly with her labyrus.

Lesbian feminism, the rise of second wave feminism, the movement to end male domination of spiritual truths, all of this comes at a time when patriarchy is in its dying toxic twilight. The BP oil spill, with its male hierarchy, male controlled oil rigs, and contempt of nature represents the final result of what this crazy system has wrought.
One can wonder what the wives of these oil executives must be thinking, the heterosexual denial must be massive.

Kittredge Cherry said...

A special welcome to Sherman, who is commenting here for the first time. You certainly bring a wealth of experience and food for thought.

Jendi, it’s good to hear from you again. I just learned about Lukacs’ homoerotic spiritual art through these emails from John Klomp. I’d like to devote a whole post to it in the future.

Trudie, what an intriguing idea that same-sex couples have a better chance at making a spiritual connection than heteros! I have noticed that same-sex couples have a advantage when it comes to living as equals and dividing up responsibilities according to each individual’s gifts. Male-female couples face a lot of pressure to follow gender roles, while same-sex couples are forced to find their own way.

Sherman, I appreciate your openness about your mystical union with the genderless divine. Have you read my novel “Jesus in Love”? I write about Jesus having similar experiences of union with the Holy Spirit. I felt a flash of connection when I read your statement that monks weren't celibate, but were actually experiencing sexual/spiritual union with the divine.

Your critique of the church is valid. You said, “There is no interest by Church leaders to inspire the masses how to have their own inner connection with the divine.” I think there are exceptions, moments of grace even within the institutional church. But too often religious leaders try to control people’s access to God -- and sex -- as a way of gaining power over the people.

Thank you for the quotes you shared on sexuality and spirituality. You’ve given us much food for thought and meditation.

Turtle Woman, thank you for expanding on the idea of lesbian spiritual and erotic power. I’m glad that you brought up the BP oil spill and how it results from the mindset of men trying to dominate women and nature. I am outraged about the oil disaster. So far I’ve been too grief-stricken to blog about it.

Dr. John Bittinger Klomp said...

Today I experience the absolute knowledge that Jesus Christ lived and still lives in each and every one of us. We simply have to open our consciousness to him. I found specifically, that in order for Jesus to be present to me I had to allow all channels, including the sexual. Interestingly, I also had to follow the example you provided in Julian of Norwich – that is the experience of the divine as mother, father, brother, sister, husband, and wife, interchangeably. At the same time, God /Jesus/Holly Ghost have become more than sexual – that is I know that I am created in his/her/their/familial image and that includes all human sexuality, and beyond. I don’t know what the beyond means as I have not experienced it. Never the less, I know it is as surely as I know my own being includes Jesus at the core of my life, and I am filled with his love.

I can also tell you of one very personal recent experience. I woke from a deep sleep one night about two weeks ago with the certain knowledge that Jesus walked this earth. I felt as though he was with me in that moment and all moments, at the center of my being. I cried, and I wondered why I should cry. I asked myself why I cried at the certain knowledge of Christ’s life on earth. Shouldn’t I be happy? Finally, after going to the bathroom sink and washing the tears from my eyes, I had my answer. I cried because the absolute knowledge I was experiencing was total relief from the decades of doubt I had experienced at the hands of the various institutionalized churches that claimed LGBT people to be outside Christ’s and God’s light. Jesus lived in order to show us that everyone is part of God’s pale. There are no exceptions. Even the evil accomplished in his name does not destroy the possibility of redemption for those who make the specious claim that only they may enter God’s light.

Kittredge Cherry said...

John, what a powerful statement!

You have made an incredible leap of faith since we first began this dialogue. For those who are reading our email exchange all at once now, it’s important to point out that these transformations didn’t happen quickly. It’s been almost a year since John first wrote to me about how to integrate sexuality and spirituality.

Thank you again for engaging in this dialogue and opening it up so that others can benefit.

Kittredge Cherry said...

My heart is full and time is short, so I will respond more fully later to what John just wrote.

pennyjane said...

john....what a wonderful thing...absolute knowledge....absolute awarness of God's presence in the Person of Jesus Christ.

i have such knowledge, so i think i can empathize with you. mine just came overnight. i was a happy go lucky atheist, minding my own business, not looking, not searching....getting along and getting by.

then, Jesus...for His own reasons, revealed Himself to me...and in such a way that i had perfect knowledge of Him. the idea of His non-existence became laughable.

i had perfect knowledge of Him, but i found i didn't know myself at all. i had no idea what to do now....just walking around with a "cat that ate the canary" grin on my face felt good, but it seemed there should be i asked the only christian i knew...a hospice chaplain named wendy vanderzee.

"wendy" i said, "i just became a christian, what do i do now?"

i always have been pretty simple.

"don't recommend books, or theologies or anything like that to me....just tell me in plain, simple language, what christians do."

wendy, being wendy...gave me a book. it was the good news version of the bible.

"it's all in here."

so, without much faith...i took it home and started thumbing through...and WOW! i went crazy. that's some book. that's been about ten years and i've read very little else since. it's all in there.

there's a not so well known book packed away in the old testement called "the song of solomon".

in there i found answers to questions i'd never even considered. being a person so afraid of sexualality that i couldn't even talk about it with my wife.....i learned how beautiful it can be...the merging of agape and physcial love.

now, with my wonderful, complete... knowledge of God....i know that sex expressed as love cannot possibly offend God....and i don't see how anyone who has read that can.

on another note...about this total awareness....everyone keeps warning me....this knowledge will one day be tested....find a way to build your faith.

paraphrasing Jesus, 'it's one thing to believe because you have seen....but another entirely to believe even if you haven't seen."

i keep that idea towards the front. though my perfect knowlege has yet to be tested...i know it can be and i want to have a full resevoir of faith when that time comes.

God bless you with much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

This dialogue is so rich that it really speaks for itself. I’ll just add a few reflections.

John and PJ, both of your experiences are powerful and intimate, and I feel honored that you chose to share them here on my blog. You both experienced absolute knowledge of Christ. It reminds me of Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Your experiences came as a gift from God… although in John’s case you prepared the way in advance by asking the questions that began this dialogue. PJ, it seems to me that you DO have faith.

And thank you for suggesting “Song of Solomon” in the Bible. I wish I had thought of that!

John, I also find it interesting that somehow the process of uniting sexuality and spirituality also involves envisioning God as interchangeably male and female, Mother and Father, etc. I’ve found that in doing this blog, too. The stated focus is LGBT spirituality, but somehow my readers and I keep feeling the need to include female Christ figures to balance the male ones. It all goes hand in hand.

John, your last sentence is profound: “Even the evil accomplished in his name does not destroy the possibility of redemption for those who make the specious claim that only they may enter God’s light.” This statement is a ray of light that surely comes from the heart of Christ.

some said...

The Divine Presence is everywhere so let us awaken to the realization of this Presence. It is love a union and unity that can't be denied

Kittredge Cherry said...

I enjoyed a visit to your Think Unity website, Some. The Divine Presence is indeed everywhere.