Friday, August 17, 2007

Sexuality, Otherness, and the Truth of the Self

[Vox Benedictina, December, 1993, pp. 333-364; revised 1.2.95]

[This lecture was originally commissioned by the Catholic Pastoral Council on Sexual Minorities, Minneapolis,
and presented at their Annual General Meeting in May, 1992]

The purpose of this lecture is to suggest some new models for thinking and speaking about some of the issues most central to our lives, the issues that form the common concern that in its own way explores the heart of the Eucharist. For in discussing sexuality, otherness and the truth of the self, we are talking about the one Bread that is broken to make us one, the brokenness that makes us whole as individuals who are part of a larger whole, and the struggle to offer our lives on the altar of our bodies with integrity, with that singleness of heart that earliest Christians called virginity, a virginity not necessarily related to genital intactness.

This is such an important and subtle topic that I should like to begin by setting this paper in context, and then suggesting definitions of commonly used words and ideas that may differ somewhat from the way they are commonly understood. To begin with, my efforts as a writer have been directed towards a theology for the next generation, that is to say, my concern as a theologian is not to join the ranks of those engaged in exploring the issues of gender and sexual politics. There are many competent people doing this, their work is extremely important, and I want to acknowledge my debt to them.

But my concern has always been to look beyond these issues, to life as if, as they used to say in Solidarity—and indeed, as the early Christians tried to live. By this I do not mean the lived fantasy that is an expensive and destructive form of denial and self-indulgence, but rather the living out of a concrete reality in attitudes towards self and relationships that moves counter to the crushing weight of prejudice and persecution, particularly as it issues from the very institution we might hope would foster clear-eyed compassion.

To live as if: to live as if the bigotry weren’t there; to live as if the cultural and sexual tyranny weren’t there. To live as if we were free from self-generated stereotypes. Of course, to try to live in this way either deliberately or inadvertently exposes illusions and deceits, those of others as well as our own, and along the way the honesty for which we strive may become stumbling blocks to others and invite attack. But beyond being a strategy for effecting hope, to live as if has a way also of making boundaries disappear.

This word, boundaries, recently has become nuanced in a particular, sexual way, and I want to say a word about what I mean by boundaries. In the second chapter of the Divine Names, Pseudo Denys asks the question, ‘How can God be totally self-outpouring and entire in himself?’ It seems he is extrapolating from the image of God, for we are never more our selves than when we are utterly self-forgetful. Or, to turn this around to address the boundary issues directly: it is only when our boundaries are secure that we can have boundless compassion, and it is under the guise of boundless compassion that boundary violations often occur. So in talking of sexuality, otherness, and the truth of the self, I do not mean boundaries in this more recent sense of the word, but something far more fundamental, towards which the quote from Denys gestures.


Post a Comment

<< Home