In the past several years I have been more than a little hurt when, on more than a few occasions, friends of mine would leave the priesthood, the convent or even the church itself because they felt that they were too full of the zest for life, too sensual, too sexual and generally too human and complicated to live the spiritual life. Most often the complaint sounds something like this: “I can never be a real spiritual person. I am just too restless! I want to live too much! I am too full of life! I feel like Zorba the Greek! I want to experience things more! I am just too unspiritual!” Such an attitude, while extremely common, is extremely dangerous for it is either a grave rationalization or a very serious mistake. It is deadly in either case. When in fact someone in all sincerity believes that they are too full of life and eros, restlessness and complexity, to live the spiritual life they are being sucked in by a viral heresy which would have us believe that eros, the drive for life, is fundamentally irreligious. That is always a serious and costly mistake because eros is the very basis of the spiritual life and everyone, absolutely everyone, must live a spiritual life.
What we do with the eros inside of us, be it heroic or perverse, is our spiritual life. The tragedy is that so many persons, full of riches and bursting with life, see this drive as something that is essentially irreligious, as something that sets them against what is spiritual. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our erotic pulses are God’s lure in us. They are our spirit! We experience them precisely as “spirit,” as that which makes us more than mere mammals. However, again and again, in my ministry and in my friendships I am confronted with persons who sincerely believe that they are unspiritual when, in fact, they are deeply spiritual persons. Unable to form a vision within which they can integrate their drive for life, celebration and sexuality, into a commitment which includes church-going, Christian sexual morality, prayer and involvement in a Eucharistic community, they are forced into a false dilemma: They must choose between a Christian commitment (which appears as erotic suicide) and a life partially away from Christian community, sacraments, prayer and morality, but within which they feel they can be fully human, sensual, sexual and celebrating. This dilemma, within which the church is seen as a parasite, sucking life’s pulse out of its subjects, then allows society’s amorality to parade itself as being ultimately life-giving and the true defender of eros.
A perfect example of this is seen in Mary Gordon’s poignant novel, Final Payments. Her heroine, Isabelle Moore, is a very bright, talented, deep and frustrated person who has to choose constantly between faith-God-church and her tremendous passion for life, celebration and sexuality. Poor Isabelle can see no room to express her passion within the confines of a religious commitment. So she is forced to abandon her religious practices and all links to church in an effort to find passion and full life in celebrating life and sexuality with her non-Christian friends. Isabelle, like so many of us, misunderstood her passion and drive for life as something essentially non-religious. That forced upon her this illicit dichotomy. Few things are hurting us as badly at present as that misconception because what it does is identify the spiritual life with piety, naïveté, lack of sensuality and sexuality, lack of passion, and lack of interest in, and zest for, life itself. When such an attitude is sincere, as it sometimes is, it still serves to block any deep journey towards the type of love, friendship, sexual integration and Christian commitment that could bring one genuine life. When such an attitude is a rationalization, it also hides the true meaning of our drive for life. However, in this latter case, it is more dangerous since it then becomes an excuse to selfishly pursue pleasure and to refuse to offer a fiat to God and community.
Moreover, whether sincere or insincere, it is too an incredibly arrogant and judgemental stance for it implies that those who do commit themselves to church, sacraments and Christian sexual morality are simple, unsexual, unsensual, and somehow less bright and less interested in life than we are. I submit that this type of attitude, however sincerely adopted, is the most cutting insult that anyone can offer to a person who is committed within the church. Be that as it may! My purpose in writing this is not apologetic. This is a plea: If you are the type of person who, precisely, understand yourself as too complicated, too bursting with eros, too-driven in the pursuit of life, too sensual and too sexual, to be a real spiritual person then don’t, please don’t, see this drive as something irreligious. Nobody is more qualified than you, nor more called, to live the spiritual life. The more erotic you are, the more spiritual you are, but know that only in the building up and in the consummation of Christ’s body will that spirit with all its noble and lusty impulses find peace. Know too that only in the chastity of that body will that sensuality and sexuality spawn lasting bonding and new life.