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How to live with desire!! Sacre bleu!! A Queer mixture of very potent sacred sources....

Picking up the thread from my last posting, I want to finish the conversation on how we maintain our spiritual safety while moving through the world in a state of erotic awareness. How do we acknowledge the inspiration of desire and yet not get lost in the process?


I draw on two somewhat (ahem!) contrasting texts.


First, I find guidance (in a surprisingly literal way) through a verse from Torah (Hebrew scripture) that is part of the customary liturgy. Numbers 15:39.


Do not stray after your heart or your eyes to whore after them.


I love this verse for its astringent clarity and the palpable physicality of the text. It's all about the life of the spirit, expressed in terms of the body.


Regarding that powerful verb “whore,” I don't read this text as sex-negative. Rather, I see it as sex-respecting and heart-protective. The text teaches us about the limits of our heart and eyes, what we can expect of them or ask of them, and why we need to be careful. In my reading, the text doesn't upbraid sex workers (because I emphatically do not), but it does critique the abusive ways in which they often are treated.


Our hearts and eyes have the power to lead us forward, they are organs of desire. They have a taste for delight that does not conveniently diminish at the right moment. They don't always know when to say enough and leave the table or quit the chase. Which means they can treat the rest of the self roughly, abusively – to use the Biblical word – like a whore, like a body we've hired but don't necessarily respect. 


Consistent with my general pattern of thinking anyway, AND because I need to step back at least momentarily from that challenging verb, “whore,” I turn now to a second source of eternal wisdom, Warner Bros. cartoons.


Yup, this is how a contemporary spiritual life works. At least mine. Embrace the truth wherever we find it, Torah or television.


Maybe you have to be at TV-watcher of a certain age, but remember Pépé LePew, the perpetually romantic French skunk? In the Warner Bros. cartoons, Pépé never falls for another skunk; it's always some unfortunate feline whom he mistakes for his skunkly soulmate. (Usually she accidentally has had a white stripe painted down her back by some careless painter and consequently looks like a skunk. Poor thing.) When suddenly enamored, Pépé's eyes stretch forward out of their sockets, his heart beats visibly out of his chest.


That's us!! That's how our hearts and minds physically behave when they feel attraction or desire. They're vulnerable to what they like, what they appreciate, and even when tired (especially when tired!) they want and they wander. They lead us relentlessly forward but don't notice when the rest of us doesn't follow. Our hearts and eyes do not know when to stop. I find myself physically being dragged by my eyes, unable to locate my heart within my own chest.


It has become a meditative practice for me to bring my heart and eyes back, to reset them in their proper place within me, rather than allowing them to roam unchecked, dragging me behind them.


Try this the next time you have a sudden rush or an exhausting marathon of love, lust, desire, or craving for someone or something. Stop. Physically stop moving, wherever you are. Close your eyes. Breathe. As you breathe gently in and out, pull your eyes back inside your head. Set your heart high but enclosed within your ribcage. I mean those instructions literally. Pull them back inside with the internal musculature of your body in your head and chest. Bring them home. Then place one hand over your heart, another over your eyes. Breathe and feel grounded again.


We can love, look around, desire, and feel it safely. We can use the energy in our day, without being dragged disrespectfully by our hearts or eyes, without having all the self-control of a cartoon skunk (Charming zo he may be, chérie!). We maintain loving awareness of our hearts and eyes; we certainly couldn't go through life without them. But we know their capacity to run us ragged, and we lovingly say no to that. We breathe, and reassemble ourselves.


I don't know if the Biblical author meant the verse as technically as I read it, but I stand by my recommendation, because, mon dieu, it works! It's that simple. (I can't resist this...sorry!) Th-th-that's all, folks.




Our desires can be challenging, but "challenging" is far from "bad."

Of course there are challenges in linking human love to love of God. Human love and desire energize us and inspire us. Conversely, though, they can completely knock us off track and make us do really stupid, if not hurtful, things.


This is a universal concern to which I want to apply some very Jewish wisdom.


The rabbis of the Talmud identified the double-edged blessing of eros as the yetzer hara the evil impulse that causes chaos in our lives, but "without the yetzer hara, a human being would never marry, beget children, build a house, or engage in trade" (Genesis Rabbah 9:7) I think they got it totally right. The same impulse propels us to achieve and to run amok.


How should be proceed in response? Once we acknowledge that danger, how do we protect ourselves as we move forward?


Traditionally, the risks of an erotic life are addressed morally – “How do we do only what is good?” “How do we avoid being bad?”


This, I am certain, is one big mistake, one very big mistake.


Those aren’t irrelevant questions, but asking those questions first sets us up for a lifetime supply of pain and oppression. Especially for Queer folk, members of erotic minorities in a straight-dominated world, venturing out into the world in perpetual fear of being bad (everybody go “Wooooo!”) stunts our spiritual growth and injures us in ways that make right relationship with others and with God even more of a challenge than they would be anyway. None of this part of life is easy; haunting ourselves with a fear of being bad makes everything harder unnecessarily.


I believe the challenge of the yetzer hara -- the challenge of using the power of desire productively and constructively -- should be met technically, not morally. Don’t start by asking Is this impulse good or bad? Start by responding to the impulse technically.


And that technique, please stay tuned, will be the focus of the next blog posting.


What love DOES have to do with it

We need to love humanly in order to love and to feel loved by God. Jewish tradition, even with a God we can't see or touch, instructs us to use all the aspects of our physical loving selves as points of reference for loving God. Christian tradition teaches us about an incarnate God who understands first-hand the workings of our human hearts and bodies. Many other spiritual traditions give their God(s) human shape and personality, telling stories of their erotic interest and interaction with human beings.

The truth we should distill from this is that our Queer, corporeal, and carnal identities are the keys to our knowledge of the Divine Eternal. By second guessing our impulse to love and our human capacity for desire we disempower ourselves as worshipers of God.

I don't believe God wants us to check our flesh and blood at the door when we enter God's presence. Our bodies reap wisdom through all our senses, and that wisdom makes us better worshipers, better lovers of God. There may exist a realm in which engagement with God is best achieved through disembodied spirituality, but this isn't it.

Share a moment of blessing with God. Bless God for making you the loving and yearning person you are.



Spiritual Doubt and Spiritual Worth


I used to believe in a myth of "Getting Life Right the First Time." I believed somehow that every kind of success and health ought to be achievable without trial and error, without back-tracking and redoing, and that life, in fact, ought to be problem-free. That was my default perspective (emphasis on the fault) on life for a long time, that I ought to be in perfect shape -- bodily, emotionally, amorously, financially, spiritually -- all the time.

Some of this is culturally rooted: I grew up white, male, safe, protected, indulged, and well provided for in the full bloom of the American dream: As a nation we have plenty, and everything is possible for everyone.

The shadow side of that magical thinking was my belief that if life didn't unfold like that, if something was out of place, then I must have misplayed the game, done life "wrong." Screwed up. Operator error.

Of late I have been using osteopath as my primary health provider. At age 51, my body responds differently than it used to. Over the course of a half-century, I've accumulated my share of scars and aches. My osteopath helps me through them (often to my amazement) and reminds me I am actually healthy.


But if I'm healthy, why does my damn shoulder hurt?

Health doesn't mean mythical, magical perfection. Health doesn't mean immortality either. Health is a present quality, a component to life. It's possible for me to have that scar on my ankle and that ache in my shoulder and still have health, be healthy. In fact, that's normal. I will still have health in the split-second before I eventually die.

Recently, someone quoted to me the words of a Queer teenager, struggling with addiction, who wondered, "How can I focus on my sobriety, when I have no spiritual worth?”

Culturally, Queer people are 'set up' to feel as if we have taken a wrong turn somewhere, that we are guilty of operator error in our lives. We don't fit the [mythical!!!!] norm, and even in the progressive wonderland of 2011 America (where, despite the powerful Queer-hatred and ignorance that are still out there, I believe Queer folks have never had it so good), we encounter unsettling teachings about our spiritual waywardness. You can't leave your house without bumping into it somewhere (and I live in San Francisco, for crying out loud). The world remains structured to instill in us a disproportionate amount of spiritual doubt, to cause us inappropriately to question our spiritual worth.

Spiritual doubt is a fact of life. There is no logical reason to think that we'll live perpetually in easy certainty of our place in the universe, our connection with God. But we have spiritual health, and we have a relationship with God, even if we don't feel it in the moment.

I am grateful to those teachings that remind me of my spiritual health, the same way I'm really grateful of my osteopath for reminding me of my physical health and teaching me to see beyond the pain.

I have health and I have pain. The two are not mutually exclusive. Most importantly, my pain does not nullify my health.

We all have doubt and we all have God. Maintaining spiritual focus is a challenge, but our spiritual doubt in no way imperils our spiritual health or denotes some lack of spiritual worth.

Go ahead, acknowledge and celebrate your persistent spiritual health and spiritual worth.



Is the LGBTQ God any different from the Straight God?

God changes with every encounter. God is as flexible as our own imaginations and evolves and reshapes Godself as our spiritual needs evolve. God is always changing. Which means that God never changes: God is always fully available and fully God.

Queer God is different from Straight God not as a different entitity, but because we approach these God-images very differently. Queer God is not approached with apologies for our not being Straight. Beyond that, our particular insights into life and the world allow us to ask different things of God, confide different secrets to God's ear, create a relationship with God that conforms to the image of God in which we were created.

When all is said and done (but is "all" ever said and done?), connection to Queer God gives us the ability to converse and be in community with all people. It does not ghettoize us; it frees us to move through the world confident in our blessedness.

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