Tuesday, June 12, 2007

No Toys, Just Sex

Erotic Chinese Prints

The latest issue of Parabola magazine is devoted to sex, or rather, SEX, because everything in Parabola: Tradition, Myth, and the Search for Meaning is Profound, and worthy of bold caps. Even just bumping uglies.

Actually, it's an interesting issue, and worth checking out. There's a nice article by Trebbe Johnson, "Down Came the Door of Dharma" about the mythology of sex between humans and gods. Some nice art with that one (no color, but still nice.) There's a slightly appalling discussion of Christian notions of sex and spirituality by some guy named Eugene Myshkin (who he?), which includes this typical passage:

"One of Cain's descendants was Naamah, the daughter of Lamech. Her name means 'pleasant' and she is considered the first prostitute. Thus, through prostitution men joined pagan cults and became invisible members of the church of sin. For that reason, when Israel stopped worshipping Yahweh and turned to pagan cults with participation in their practice of prostitution, God said: 'you prostituted your beauty; and you spread your legs for every passer-by and you multiplied your whoredom' (EZ 16:25)"

Uh, thanks, Eugene. We couldn't have a profound discourse on SEX without reminding ourselves that girl=bad. Bad, bad, bad. Whores, all of us. Ever since Eve, etc. (For a look at who the real whores are, bop over and read "The Abstinence Gluttons" in the June 18 issue of The Nation.)

But there's not much of that particular theme, Parabola being generally devoted to a kumbaya view of the world. There's an obvious editorial effort to make sure the girls get theirs. In Rick Blum's "The Most Sacred of Places," Yahweh sets Moses straight on the fundamental righteousness of female desire, and a series of excerpts from various holy texts includes this gem from Igrot Moshe: "The duty of a man to engage his wife sexually is not contingent upon whether or not there is the possibility of pregnancy, for it is mandated in the responsibilities of marriage that she should receive pleasure and not suffer..."

Let's hear it for not suffering. Amen.

Sad to say, boy-boy/girl-girl pairings don't get much positive attention, although sacred texts that blather on about "abomination" and the like are carefully overlooked. There's a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" fable from Ireland (Ireland?), and a brief mention of guy love among the whales (whales?), but that's about it. Good ol' Eugene does allow as how deep friendship between men (aka, repressed homoeroticism) may be more pleasing to God than the sexual love of men and women, however spiritual--but I don't think we can count that as gay-friendly.

I thought the most moving contribution was the excerpt from Thomas Merton's journal, about his unconsummated, forbidden love for Margie Smith: "She will always be to me her soft voice speaking out of the depths of my own heart saying that the central reality of all is found in our love that no one can touch and no one can alter." Even though Merton clearly felt physical desire for Smith, and the denial of that desire was a large part of his torment over the affair, the passages from him paint the clearest portrait of the holistic nature of eros. Too often when we try to talk about the spiritual aspects of sex, we tend to get caught up in trying undo the false disconnect between the body and the soul. There's a lot of conceptual flailing around as we work hard at reconciling the down-and-dirty with our higher nature. But that approach only perpetuates the false disconnect, and obscures an important truth--that there is no separation between the down-and-dirty and our higher nature. We don't have to reconcile them, because they are the same thing, revealing itself in different ways.

Michael Sims, a terrific author I am lucky enough to know thanks to a shared association with The Nashville Scene, wrote something that suggested that totality of eros in a recent email to me. We were discussing the astonishing personal charm of a certain Famous Writer with whom we've both had incidental encounters:

"... It always seems to me that part of charm, in the most casual interaction or in dating or whatever, is the attentiveness. What is romance, after all, but being (seemingly) attended to as you secretly think you deserve? Then the attention fades and we say that the romance is gone. He has that romantic, attentive, charming way of peering at the world, in his writing, a somehow affectionate lust for description, for getting it all down. Lust and curiosity, those forbidden sins."

Every moment we are awake to the world and to each other, we are erotic creatures. Eros is the part of us that reaches out to engage another soul, or the face of the earth and all the beauty and horror in it. Sex is an inevitable, inseparable part of that. The moment you place a higher value on, say, the desire to see the Mona Lisa than on your curiosity about a potential lover's body, you lose a chance to understand either sex or spirit.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

P.S. I wonder what that girl's playing on the flute?

BitterGrace said...

"P.S. I wonder what that girl's playing on the flute?"

I dunno--Hoochie Coochie Man, maybe?

Mary said...

Great post, Gracie. I've read it twice!

BitterGrace said...

Thanks, ladies! Glad you enjoyed it. I hope you looked at the pics, Mary ;-)

Juvy Santos said...


Another great post! I meant to tell you that last night...I'm always like 'wow, that was deep!' cuz you always write in such a sophisticated manner. :)

chayaruchama said...

I'm on board...

Funny, when I try to relate an 'erotic dream' to my friends, they often don't quite know how to react.

It's likely that they're uncomfortable with the cosmic earthy-spiritual nature of them.

The best dreams, I find, are composed of the most primal desires [ the dreamer is the soil being plowed, yielding to the desire to propagate] and the highest spiritual yearnings [a sense of oneness, complete union, earth-shaking communion with a higher power]...

Love the pictorials.

BitterGrace said...

Thanks, Juvy!

I know what you mean, Chaya. Sex just scares people. Because it's so powerful, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

"We couldn't have a profound discourse on SEX without reminding ourselves that girl=bad. " - I have read that article and to be fair this is a total misunderstanding of what was written there. The main idea was to show two views of women - one of lust that most guys have and the other - spiritual - leading to God. Then there was an idea about prostitution through which Jews got into pagan cults. Nothing was said about "Whores, all of us. Ever since Eve". You jumped to the wrong conclusion that's it.

BitterGrace said...

Well, Anon., the whole point of my post was that the dichotomy between "the lust most guys have" and some higher, spiritual form of sexuality is false. That article seems to me to be built entirely around that false dichotomy, which is the wellspring of misogyny--base lust is inspired by women, ergo women are themselves base, dirty, bad, etc.

Mr. Myshkin is riffing on a very old, very nasty idea, albeit in a fairly highbrow fashion. I wasn't unfair to him at all.

Anonymous said...

well lust can be of one man to another which is becoming popular nowdays :), so not necessarily it is inspired by women.
Regarding dichotomy, in fact the way i understand the Christian point of view, there is just ONE facility of desire in human soul, that can be directed to God or misdirected to the flesh (as a result of Adam's Fall), which is the point of the article. Women or men are neither bad nor good for that matter, neutral, it's all about how that facility of desire is directed, unfortunately for women most guys have the latter, but the point was to show that there is an alternative. Hell or paradise start in the heart of the person, and he is the one to choose how to be, women as such have nothing to do with that.

BitterGrace said...

You give the game away with your reference to Adam's Fall. Temptation, and thus the path to sin, is offered by a woman.

See, Anon, I reject the idea that the flesh cannot be a path to god. I think the "traditional Christian view" as regards sex is fundamentally hateful and damaging to the human spirit, because it distrusts the flesh.

Mr. Myshkin is entitled to his point of view. I just disagree with it.

Anonymous said...

Fall did not start with the women it started with the APPLE:)

Since that article was on Christianity, i just stick to that point of view for the sake of discussion. Regarding body - it actually is involved in path to God as well, i never said it was not. In fact in Eastern Christianity it is considered that God's Grace can penetrate the body which becomes incorruptible after death, that was also mentioned in the article by the way if i remember correctly. So the body itself is also a neutral things, but how you use it comes again from the heart. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows ..." :)

BitterGrace said...

An apple offered by a woman, Anon. Do you think the story of the Fall is haphazard in its elements? Myshkin's inclusion of the passage about prostitution is no accident either.

You keep making my point for me in your comments, and yet you don't seem to grasp it. The idea that the body needs to be made incorruptible is an idea that I reject and despise. Myshkin embraces that idea, and it seems you do, too. Fine by me--but your preaching isn't going to make me see the light. I've seen it, it's ugly to me, and I choose to turn away.

Anonymous said...

"your preaching isn't going to make me see the light. I've seen it, it's ugly to me, and I choose to turn away" - well, then in your heart you chose to side with the forces that offered an apple to the women, the forces that actually make women prostitutes, and then you blame the men :)

BitterGrace said...

Finally, Anon, you're beginning to catch on. But there's no blaming from me--I'm a very happy whore. The disapproval comes from Myshkin's quarter.

(BTW, you are welcome to repond and have the last word, but only if you have the courtesy to give yourself a screen name. Masked criticism is not really in the spirit of this blog.)