Between The Worlds
Last night, as we were driving to a gathering of a "Sexual" Society, a male dominant-female submissive gathering of people, where there would most likely be some kind of sexual "orgy"-like activity going on, with the males of the group 'dominating' and tying up the women and inflicting on them some kind of 'pain' and restraint, I put on a tape of the Glide Memorial Church Choir. My lover-companion-slave girl, 'N', after listening for a few moments to the Gospel music, which we both loved so well, said, "It doesn't seem right to listen to this music when we are on our way to a function of this sort. We listen to this music on our way to church on Sunday and here we are listening to it on our way to a gathering that is all about sex!"
I was both intrigued and inspired by her comment. It made me acutely aware of how I envision both religion and sexuality. When I considered the matter, I felt as religious or as sexual at church as I felt at a Sexual party. There was fundamentally no difference between the two. (I had arrived at this state after a long and painful acting out of the consideration.) As I reflected further, I saw that what has occurred in our Western culture is the development of a split, a psychic, life-arranging-attitude changing split, between what is sacred, the temple (fanus- Gr. -temple) the place of the sacred and what stands outside the place of the sacred . . . the profane (pro-in front of the fanus- temple). Why and how have sexuality become somehow profane, put out in front of the Holy precinct of the Sacred? And, what does this do to our culture, our lives?
I know that in my own life, it is only recently, at the age of forty, that I have come to accept and recognize my own sexuality without a crippling and deluding sense of shame. I cannot count the times I have been walking down the street and have seen a pretty woman or beautiful face and looking, have been met with a verbal criticism (for my desire/appreciation) from the woman I have been with, or a mild, or sometimes not so mild, sense of disapproval. And I have somehow accepted their displeasure with (a strange to me now) acquiescence and an unconscious, unacknowledged sense of humiliation. Now I know this as a debasement of the very appreciation of sexual beauty, the very desire of sexual attraction. My own desiring was put out of the temple of the sacred and thus profaned. Somehow the existence of desire, outside the confines of Romantic Love or marriage is somehow low, sinful, unholy and depraved.
I know that there is a difference between the Greek God, Dionysus and the later Roman derivation of Bacchus. The difference in feeling tone between the two Gods and their play, refelcts the difference between a more harmonious relation to sexuality, represented by the Greek culture (Dionysus) and a somewhat 'degraded' viewpoint represented by the Romans (Bacchus). I feel a restorative, regenerative power in the play and culture of Dionysus. The play of Dionysus shows the paradox and the circle, while there seemed to be a linear, only indulgent and oft corrupted atmosphere to Bacchus. With Dionysus, the ecstasy of wine, orgy and sacrifice were always connected with the Divine, with something that transcended the play of desired opposites, while with Bacchus, desire seemed to swim in the ocean of sensual indulgence alone.
Without a sense of the sacred, there is no all-encompassing form or ritual given to a celebration. The celebration becomes only about itself and nothing else. It is like a marriage performed at city hall by a justice of the peace. I am reminded of the parable told by Jesus in the Bible where he tells of the marriage of the Kings son. At first the servants of the king are sent forth to invite the friends of the king to the wedding, those who were properly invited to the wedding. These, however, did not honor the invitation and in fact even slew some of the king's servants. At this the king sent forth his armies and destroyed the cities of these and then again sent forth his servants to invite all those who they could find on the highways, both bad and good.
"And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment:
And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.
Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and, and take him away, and cast him into the outer darkness;
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called but few are chosen.
This parable, as harsh as it seems, speaks to the outer appearance of the wedding guest. The unfortunate man who wasn't dressed for the occasion. This symbolizes the ritual and the ceremony that creates the temple, the realm of the sacred. The wedding dress is the outer sign of the inner preparation for a holy occasion.
At this party, I was first taken by the low grade of enthusiasm and excitement that the participants had for the wondrous matter at hand. As we entered the door, there was a group of people with the woman mainly in a state of undress, wearing lingerie and slave collars, while the men wore middle class clothes of a style that I associate with tourists. We had come together to enter into the sexual power exchange of men and women. For one reason or another, the men and women gathered together there had found some meaning and wonder and happiness in a male dominant - female submissive play in their sexuality; N and I certainly had. What it was that we had found I do not know yet quite how to explain, but it was that mystery we had come to this gathering to further explore and to reflect on in ourselves with the help of the company of others. It is said that ontogeny (the history of the individual), recapitulates phlogeny (the history of the race). Just so, by my participation in the gathering of like minded couples, in the collective gathering of this "Sexual" Society, I hoped to further understand my own desires and tendencies. It was in the company of others that I sought to see myself.
After the exchange with N in the car, I felt more clearly the difference with which I approached the event. The group was made up of largely middle class and predominantly overweight people who, I felt, had not taken very good care of their bodies. There seemed to be no cultural consideration that informed their lives relative to health and this seemed to hold true almost without exception. N and I were the healthiest of the bunch and N, with her beautiful dancers body, shone in their midst like a jewel. Perhaps the lack of appreciation of sexuality as a sacred experience went hand in hand with the lack of appreciation of the body and care of the body.
There was lacking a culture of instruction relative to bodily life, as if bodily life, itself, had also been considered profane. This was the cultural inheritance of our Western Society in the 1990's. This was the cultural milieu in which this group was existing . . . It was a vision of the celebration of Bacchus. . a Bacchanal. The situation seemed to cry out for ritual, for some sense, some shared sense of the sacred, of the common participation in a mystery. . . not in the sense of something obscure, or ambiguous, but in the sense of a sacred or holy experience. Something that transforms the being, opens it up, brings the epiphany, a mystery that we should approach wearing the wedding garment.
Now, what do I want? What do I see as an auspicious forum for sexuality? How do I envision the Dionysian context? What is my epiphany? Perhaps a waking vision I had in Church, best presents it: On Sunday, the very next day from the Sexual party, we went to the Glide Memorial Church. At the beginning of the services, the Choir sings some really heartfelt gospel, jump up from your seat and get down soul livin' God praisin' music. It never fails to raise the energy in the room to a stand up fever of good feeling. In the midst of this celebration with the choir beltin' out the gospel, I envisioned N, naked, bound, spread eagled and upright to a cross, divine in her beauty and the music and singin not focused on her but definitely including her, honoring her bodily sexual beauty as a testimony to all that life is good, that there is beauty and that we, the congregation, offer up our beauty in God as a sign in the midst of our praisin and prayin. Now this is where it gets even more strange and I don't quite understand it myself:
From out of the group of churchgoers steps a radiantly handsome youth, Dionysus, he walks up onto the proscenium, approaches her and bows, dramatically, sweeping his hands, both of them from his heart, outwards on either side, the music and singing pick up even further in intensity . . . then, he steps back and I see in his right hand a black whip. He raises it in the air and then begins to scourge her with it, the blows, somehow a sign of the ecstasy that is all of ours, hers, mine, sweeping the whole church. Somehow, her pain is intimately tied to the free feeling of the assembled worshippers. Somehow, it is through the acknowledged sharing of her pain, here, displayed prominently on the altar, on the beautiful girl before us, that there is a going beyond the sweet approach of religion to the full bodied sexually violent and compassionate nature of the God who both creates and just as often viciously destroys. People are standing and singing and clappin their hands, my chest is ripped open, feeling flows forcefully and the voices of the singers are callin up and out for more . . .
But, the same one-sidedness that I saw in the party of the "Sexual" society, is also displayed in the church. In church, there is a lack of inclusion of the dark and dirty side of life (outside of the poor or homeless which Glide does much good work for and with), there is a similar lack of acknowledgment . . . (There are in the back halls of the Glide church, homeless people, who have no interest in the goings on in the church today, but sit on the back stairs waiting only for their meal). This is a squalor that we do not want in our prayer, there is a sadness that I lose touch with in my happiness and the whip brings that all back to us as the young girl, my sweet love writhes and turns under the whip of Dionysus and remembers me that just so, the poor and unhappy, the unlucky for reasons of birth or conscious choice, sit in all of us. And it is because of our lack of acknowledgment that this dark side of our own sacred nature does not merely exist, for acknowledged or not, it would exist, but, precisely because it is unacknowledged, runs our lives, our world, because we do not look it in the eyes and say Yes, You do exist and I am you!
It is because of our lack of acknowledgment, because of our denial, that we cannot forgive ourselves, for there is nothing to forgive; And because we cannot forgive ourselves, we remain as we are, violent, we remain uncaring, because we do not look in the eyes of the reality before us and so she stands bound helpless before us as a testament to all that is beautiful and sexual and helpless and bound and terrible and tortured in life; She stands before us as Reality enacted in the sacred temenos of the church and I can feel again how there was human sacrifice in the ancient times, how there was no attempt to sugarcoat reality, how there was no 'God' who did not also lust and lie;
And this awakens our love and compassion as we see, that we are, ourselves, the perpetrators of her torture and suffering, we are ourselves the God whom we have come to worship, for this God, even according to those I am in church with, for their God created us.
With every stroke of the whip we see that it was Yahweh who hardened the Pharaoh’s heart. Every time Moses would lay a curse upon Egypt, the Pharaoh would say, "Let the Jews go!" But, no, it was Yahweh who prevented the Pharaoh from continuing with his felt plans to release the Jews and so the terrible curses were visited upon all of Egypt, and so many died, men, women and children . . . and it was all the doings of God! - So says the Bible! And so Dionysus continues his whipping of the beautiful one, the sweet one, the one who has been called forth before them to serve as a sign and a sacrifice.
In the midst of the Divine, all turns to our salvation!