"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, August 31, 2015

‘One Flesh’–Sex, The Gospel of Matthew, And Adolescence

Rainey Vann always squirmed in his seat when he heard Father Brophy talk about ‘one flesh’ which he did as often as he could.  On the pulpit, in a snap visit to catechism class, or in the sacristy to the altar boys, the old priest always recited Matthew 19:3-6
Jesus said, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh
One flesh…How impossibly erotic and exciting for a young boy. As soon as the priest said the words all Rainey could think about was that soon-to-be delirious moment of ‘sexual union’, his flesh and the hoped-for coupling with Nancy Blithe.

Of course he was too young to know exactly what sex with Nancy would be like.  Up until now it had been only hearsay, what went where and how, how to get a girl excited, and what to do then.  That’s the wonderful thing about sex, he thought many years later. Even before you know what it is, you want it; and you never stop wanting it, no matter how old you are.  But those years before you have it when you can only imagine what it must be like to touch soft breasts, to breathe a woman’s breath, to taste her lips, are the best.

‘Anticipation trumps execution’, a German philosopher once said when elucidating an obscure metaphysical point. Rainey thought it described his early adolescence; but ‘Imagination is really what trumps execution’ was even more accurate. Nothing could ever match those few years where girls drove him crazy and he didn’t understand why.

Father Brophy went a bit overboard with the boys of St. Maurice.  Not that he was ever out of line as priests are today. He kept his hands to himself, and expressed the joys of sex in only the most appropriate ways.  By referring to Matthew he felt that he was on safe ground; and he would have been if he had stuck to the idea of the indissolubility of marriage; but he could not help but dwell on the sexual act itself. 

Brophy had spent years parsing Matthew and the other evangelists to fully understand the relevance and import of Jesus’ words.  Fueled by his own sexual passions and celibacy but also as a Jesuit intellectual, Brophy risked the censure of his Archbishop when he broke Pauline tradition and explored the material and spiritual nature of sex.

If Jesus had meant to speak only of marriage and its theological importance, Brophy argued, he would never have chosen such physically descriptive terms. He understood that the sexual bond between a man and woman was both human and spiritual; and that no other act of intimacy could ever duplicate or replace it.

Although Jesus was explicit in his condemnation of adultery and fornication; and although he saw marriage as the replication of the divine (Father, Son, Holy Mother) and therefore indivisible, he also understood that sexual consummation between men and women –‘joined in one flesh’ was more than just a procreative act.  It was an act which reaffirmed both humanity and divinity.
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  Christ Pantocrator, Hagia Sophia www.conservapedia.com

That one word – ‘flesh’ - acknowledged the unique potency of the physical act.  Sexuality features in the Upanishads and sexual expression depicted at Khajuraho:
“A woman’s lap is a sacrificial altar; her hairs, the sacrificial grass; her skin, the soma-press. The two labia of the vulva are the fire in the middle. Verily, indeed, as great as is the world of him who sacrifices with the Vâjapeya (“Strength-libation”) sacrifice, so great is the world of him who practises sexual intercourse”7 (Brhad-Âranyaka Upanisad)
              Khandariya Mahadeva Temple www.thinkingparticle.com

One of the Hindu stories of creation is that Brahma split himself into two – male and female, the two essential life essences of the universe – and unlike Christianity and Judaism which are fundamentally male, Hinduism incorporates the two sexes equally.

The Chinese concept of Ying and Yang has a sexual basis;
Some Taoist sects during the Han dynasty performed sexual intercourse as a spiritual practice, called "HeQi" ("Joining Energy"). The first sexual texts that survive today are those found at the Mawangdui tombs. While Taoism had not yet fully evolved as a philosophy at this time, these texts shared some remarkable similarities with later Tang dynasty texts, such as the Ishinpō. The sexual arts arguably reached their climax between the end of the Han dynasty and the end of the Tang dynasty. [However erotic art continued to flourish through the 19th century](www.wikipedia.com)
 Image result for images chinese erotic drawings
                     Chinese Erotic Pillow Book www.1stdibs.com 
Rainey Vann forgave Father Brophy for his obsession with sex once he understood the seriousness and honesty of his research.  In fact Vann kept up a friendship with the priest until he was in his late 90s.

Brophy was in his fifties when he began to study Matthew, and after so many years of celibacy, he had forgotten what it was like to be an eleven-year old boy and to be aroused by only a word.  He had always been quite eloquent about the spiritual nature of sexuality. “God could have created a far less powerful orgasm”, he said, “if he only had procreation in mind.”

He never regretted his celibacy, and was very critical of the sexual abuse that was epidemic in the Church.  Not only did these priests betray children; not only did they disregard Christ’s admonitions about the perils of the material world; but they engaged in spiritually empty and therefore meaningless sex.

Homosexuality within the Church could never be condoned, he said, because sex between men could never fulfill the Biblical – or for that matter Tantric, Hindu, or Taoist -prophecies of male-female sexuality.  It was divorced from Creation, the Fall, procreative intimacy, and spiritual generation.  Christ did not condemn homosexual acts per se , but his focus on the family, the indissolubility of marriage, and the male-female sexual unit made it clear to his disciples what the point was. 

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            Boucicaut Master www.blogs.getty.edu

Rainey Vann had an assigned seat to Nancy Blithe in History class which was held right after Religion.  Rainey always found it hard to concentrate when he sat next to her, especially in the warm weather when she wore sleeveless blouses; but concentration was impossible if Father Brophy had talked about sexual union and the flesh during one of his pop visits.  All Rainey could think of was touching Nancy’s warm, soft breasts so available next to him.  The wisps of hair under her arms were inviting.  Her rounding hips irresistible. 

Father Brophy had accomplished more than he intended.  He had made sexual intercourse even more alluring and eventually more satisfying than the young or even adult Rainey Vann could ever have imagined.  The priest had added a new dimension to sex.

To be honest, Vann was never completely faithful to his wife; and had had many affairs; but the lesson he had taken away from the sacristy was not about fidelity, but about the ineffable and indescribable sexual intimacy between a man and a woman. He hoped the Church would be forgiving, for he was never a sexual wastrel, nor a dismissive husband; and in his later years he more fully appreciated Christ’s teachings about marriage. 

In his seventies, he abjured sex entirely.  At his age there could never be any ying and yang or tantric complementarity. He would be reaffirming his virility, fooling himself that he was keeping Death at bay, and offering nothing but temporary companionship to the women he slept with.  Besides, who was he kidding? What woman would want him?

He was too harsh on himself.  His new celibacy was very Pauline. Especially in one’s later years, the only worthwhile focus is on death and dying; or as the Yiddish expression goes, ‘Too soon old, too late schmart’.  Which is where Father Brophy’s second lesson kicked in.  “Listen to anyone who matters”, the old priest had said. “You will understand Jesus’ words a lot better.” The first chapter of John made a lot more sense after having studied the sophisticated cosmology of the Upanishads.

Image result for paintings st paul evangelist middle ages

Sex had been important to Rainey Vann all his life – more so than most of his friends, he realized. They ranged from the promiscuous to the indifferent; but few loved sex and women as Rainey did.
America is a sexualized culture; but it lacks depth and perspective. Sex is a pastime, an entitlement, a diversion, and eventually a means to a family; but sexual adventure soon loses its appeal, marital sex becomes routine, and in old age men wonder what the fuss was all about.

Not Rainey who drove up to Connecticut for Father Brophy’s funeral.  Thanks to him, he could grow old without sexual regret; and only because of him could he finally prepare to meet his Maker.

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