Welcome to a space for the spirituality of gay and bisexual men. We have within ourselves the resources for our healing, liberation, and growth. Connecting with each other, we encounter the grace to lay hold of a richer, juicier life. Losing ourselves in deep play, we rediscover the bigger, freer, more joyous selves we're capable of becoming. Here I share my interest in personal and communal ritual, making art that expresses my inner life, and an intentional practice of erotic spirituality.
Two days ago, I made my way home from the
Breitenbush Winter Faerie Gathering. I'm grateful that the long trek from the
West Coast back to still-frozen Toronto gave me a whole day to decompress. I
needed eleven hours and a bus, a tram, two flights, and a cab to transition back
into a world where queer men don't sit together for two and a half hours every
morning to speak their truth to one another without fear of judgment.
I'm mostly content with sweet, rich memories of what
I experienced in the company of 150 loving, miraculously openhearted fae spirits
three hours southeast of Portland: the languorous hot-spring soaks under stars
I haven't seen blaze so brightly in years; the river's endless rush below the
camp; a steady stream of affectionate touch in passing from men most of whom
I'd only just met, in the dining hall, on paths, in crowded hallways; delicious
surges of infatuation, half a dozen times a day; the mindbending fabulosity of
the Saturday night talent show; dozens of brothers gathered around a bonfire breaking
spontaneously into a chant invoking the Goddess.
But as for the Heart Circle, memory doesn't feel
like enough this morning. I find myself longing to sit daily among companions
who weave a safe, sacred container for one another, to go on living among those
unafraid to access the soft, tender vulnerability that is the working of an enlightened
heart, as Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön reminds us. I want this as an ongoing practice in my life.
When you sit to listen deeply--without
cross-talk, without comment--to the grief, the longings, the pain, and the
aspirations your companions share, your own heart opens in response. You find
yourself awakened from your superficial projections when the man you've spent
two days fantasizing about across a crowded room voices the loss he's suffered;
you rejoice to witness the passion for justice that animates the next man who
speaks. You speak in turn in safety. Your soul begins to mend. In some small
but infinitely precious way, the world begins to mend. And you become part of
Just a few hours after I landed back in a world
where such things don't happen every morning, I went yesterday noon to an Ash Wednesday
Eucharist. There was much talk of turning again toward the Source of our being,
of reconnecting with the goodness of who we were created to be. But Lent, for
me, remains the most toxic and problematic season of the Christian liturgical
year. I still hear too much self-loathing in the ancient formulas of penitence,
too much individualistic obsession with getting it right and with how we've
gotten it wrong. Some years I say, only half as a joke, that I plan to give up
church for Lent. What I want instead as a Lenten practice this year is forty
days of heart circles.
It's beyond me to comprehend fully what was happening while I lay on a futon for
two blissed-out hours Sunday afternoon. If you're lucky enough--actually, make
that blessed enough--to know a really gifted masseur, you'll have some idea of
what I'm going to try to express.
I could try to tell you about the unholy mass of tension in
my neck and back that I brought with me to the session, or to describe how
it gradually melted away during the generous hour I spent face down, before
George invited me to roll over.I could
try to assemble some kind of connected narrative description out of the raw material
of my experience. Butthe words would
just disappear into the gulf between language and the body's deep wisdom.
Have you ever received touch that itself awakens you to how
deeply you needed it? Has gratitude ever welled up directly out of the knot in
your shoulder, bypassing your head more or less entirely? Have you ever lost
track of how the arm that's being gently extended is connected to the hip that is also somehow, in the same moment, being
encouraged into repose by firm contact with another body?
Have you ever found yourself wondering, how can he possibly
be doing this, and that, at the same time? Is he kneeling at my head right now?
Or at my left side? Or standing over me with his legs astride my
hips? Is that his hand on my sacrum, or his foot? His thumb applying pressure,
or his elbow? And have you finally said, to hell with trying to figure it out:
it just is?
Breathing deeply, eyes closed, the body isn't so much a unified
whole as it is a field of possibilities. The body of your masseur isn't so much
an object of attention as a mystery that inspires wonder and thankfulness.
Especially if you both turn off the flow of words more or less completely.
How much is that briefly non-verbal state like a return to
what we knew as infants--or for most all of us, more accurately, to an
idealized version of what we wish it had been like for us as infants? Those hours on the table or the mat are still
informed by all that we didn't get in those first months of life, as by all that we've become in the long years since we first looked in a
mirror as young children and misrecognized our unified, all-in-one-piece reflections
as ourselves. What we experience isn't so much a return, then, as a reparation.
At the end of two hours, I found a hand laid to my chest ,
an arm slid gently, easily, surely around my shoulders--no state-accredited,
licensed and certified experience, this--and a voice repeating softly in my
ear, "I've got you. I've got you."
What if we took such experiences as a parable in the quest
to understand our encounters with God--not as the object of our thought, but as
the One whose touch mysteriously loosens what's blocked within us and in the
world, unpredictably delights what hungers for loving attention, and
unwaveringly cradles what thirsts for reassurance?
I didn't make it to Midnight Mass this Christmas Eve, nor to
a service on Christmas morning. The weather, my energy level, the crush of
social obligations all factored in.
But the day after Christmas, I accompanied a friend to the
chapel at the long-term care facility where she lives. She's a remarkable
woman--a member of a well-known and very wealthy English family who as a young
woman immigrated to Canada to work as a nurse,founded a non-profit organization in support of children living with
HIV/AIDS and their families, and came out as a lesbian in her late fifties
after the collapse of her marriage. Two and a half years ago, a brain bleed
left her incapable of walking or stringing together more than a sentence or
two, on a good day.
At the service, I was the only congregant out of fifteen who
didn't arrive in a wheelchair. It wasn't the Christmas Mass I might have
bargained on. But it was a remarkable lesson in what it really means to believe
that we find God in our flesh. The celebrant kept an eye on people who were
drifting off, gently encouraging them to focus on the service, helping them to
find their place in the hymn book.
In Genesis 28, when Jacob has his vision of God's angels on
a ladder, they ascend and descend, not the other way around. They go from earth
up to heaven before they descend from heaven to earth.
It's the ground-level, utterly physical conditions of our
lives that enable and nurture our spiritual awareness. Angels don't start by
coming down the ladder from heaven to meet us. They begin by ascending the
ladder from earth to heaven.We meet the
Divine in and through our bodies. Our bodies aren't a distraction from the
search for God, or God's search for us. They're the ladder without which angels go nowhere.
We experience the Sacred in the only bodies we have. We
often need a reminder, like the one I received last Friday, that this is true
amidst weakness, infirmity, sickness. But I'm not so sure we don't need to hear
that message amidst strength, vigor, and health, as well. Legs that run, arms
that lift, eyes with clear vision, rib cages that expand and contract with our
breath, hearts that pump reliably: it's easy not to notice them, easy not to
practice mindfulness. It's gratitude that reveals them as ongoing miracles.
If that's true of limbs and lungs and hearts, it's true as
well of the possibilities of pleasure: as men, experiencing our life in and
through male bodies--the only bodies we have--our erotic desire is a powerful bridge
between flesh and spirit, a uniquely intense locus of our embodiment, the place
where we experience that, as Tony Kushner put it in Angels in America, "the body is the garden of the soul."
It's gratitude that turns eros into prayer, a gateway
through which we pass to become the angels of Jacob's vision, ascending the
ladder from earth to heaven, if only we
allow pleasure to open our hearts rather than close them off. This is true when
you're alone, falling into the miracle of the pleasure you're capable of giving
yourself. It's true when you're with a partner or partners, becoming for
another the angel who in your ascent extends a hand to draw him up from below,
becoming the one who takes a hand offered from above , for the healing of yours
souls. And then descending more deeply into the world of all flesh, which longs
for and stands in desperate need of repair.
In his column there this morning, Clark Strand wrote:
"In times past
people took to their beds at nightfall, but not merely to sleep. They touched
one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the
middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and
divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life....
"We need a rest
from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us. And the
earth, too, needs that rest. The only thing I can hope for is that, if we won’t
come to our senses and search for the darkness, on nights like these, the
darkness will come looking for us."
If "tree hugger" is too much a phrase of mockery
for you ever to have done it, you should give it a try. Ideally, find one
that's been alive longer than you have; one that wasn't planted by human hands.
You have to meet the tree. You have to get out of your head.
You have to understand that the tree has its own life beyond your experience of
You have to visualize what lies beneath your feet. You have to
remind yourself that the trunk your chest and cheek are pressed against are not
its base, but its midsection. That the roots visible at your feet only hint at its hidden life, which reaches down and spreads out as far into
the earth as the branches over your head. That half its being is an unseen
tangle you can only vaguely begin to imagine, another world you
I work in a building on one of the busiest commercial
corners in mid-town Toronto. Starting in my block and heading east, luxury
retailers have stacked up the last few years thick as cockroaches: Louis
Vuitton next to Tiffany next to Coach, and so on down the block; Cartier is
across the street. To the west there's a different mix: a sequence of public
institutions and university buildings south of the street, on the north side toney
new condos and a posh hotel, punctuated by relatively downmarket eateries left
over from thirty years ago. Between the museum and the Royal Conservatory of
Music lies a surviving ribbon of a greener Victorian Toronto: Philosopher's
Walk, following the dale of a creek that now flows invisibly through a subterranean
culvert. An Edwardian stone and wrought iron gate bows away from the sidewalk,
creating a little eddy out of the main pedestrian flow, an invitation into the
tranquillity of the the footpath leading south, away from the traffic and
One afternoon about two weeks ago, a man knelt beside the
gate, a random selection of stones at his side. Before him, more stones rose as
he'd left them balanced, in columns of three or four. A field of focused energy
radiated around him. At its centre lay only his union with the work of creating
equipoise and stillness.
There was no question of our pulling him out of his task.
Instead, he drew us in. I misread him at first, emptying the spare change from
my pocket into the satchel he'd set to one side, before it sank in that his
practice had nothing to do with solliciting money, on a street where half a
dozen people a day ask me for a handout. Or perhaps: that if it did, the heart
of his enterprise lay securely beyond any expectation of the donations he might
take in. It existed for itself. It was pure gift. As I dropped my few coins
into his bag, he said while making eye contact only a moment, "I love you,"
and went back to the work of finding the still point hidden in the heart of the
jagged, angular rock he was holding almost motionless over the one beneath it.
Saturday afternoon: as the sun prepares to set on this Day of Atonement in the
Jewish year 5775, those of us who attend the final service of Ne'ilah will
meditate one last time on the New Year call to t'shuvah--"repentence," but more literally, "return":
return to our original natures in their divinely ordained goodness. The
repentance of the High Holidays doesn't grovel in self-loathing. Instead, it
points toward the ways human nature is meant to do better and is capable of
doing better. Which is why I go back, year after year, gentile in a Jewish
congregation that I am. I find there an invitation (one I never answer fully) to
be the best of myself. For me, that call often gets lost in my own
Christian tradition, especially in the pieties of Lent, tinged with
self-loathing as they still all too frequently remain.
The sober self-assessment this day invites us to exercise is
grounded in the fundamental goodness of who we are at our core, of who we were
made to be. That core includes the discovery, the rediscovery, and the living
out of our authentic sexuality and gender identification. Our core embraces the
force for good, in ourselves and in the world, that acting on the truth of our
sexual being can be.
T'shuvah calls you to repair the self, not to deny the self
or to turn it into some other self. T'shuvah calls you to show kindness and
respect; to embrace your own capacity for desire and pleasure as miracles to
which the proper response is gratitude and celebration, within yourself and in erotic
communion with others. It calls you not to shame others; not to belittle them;
not to evaluate and use them as objects.
It calls us to affirm
the best of who we are and to resist everything, both inside and outside
ourselves, that denies our right to return to the truth of our queer souls.
That scrutiny of who we are at our core surely also includes
a close look at the complex, often painful heritage of our early religious
upbringings. The impulse to walk away from traditions that served us badly is
strong. Sometimes walking away from a spiritually abusive heritage is the
healthiest thing queer men can possibly do.
But I know from my own experience that the alienated rage I
felt for so long towards the Lutheran tradition of my childhood and youth
screened a deep pain--the pain I felt at losing the riches it held along with
the abuse it doled out. For me, t'shuvah--return--has meant finding a way back
to embrace again what fed my soul as a
child and as a young man. My own queer t'shuvah eventually meant claiming my
right to return to religious language and symbols that from my early childhood on
were woven into the truth of my soul.
My path of return is all the more queer
because it wanders on its course through rich traditions not my own--and guided,
this day and this evening, by the sound of the shofar in the wilderness.