I read the Four Loves the spring that he left, and while the rest of life was bursting into bloom, I was growing older and colder.
I had nothing to regret – and I almost regretted that.
I read about Affection and I thought about my mother, all of the cautious, overabundant motherly love that she had bestowed on me without my ever deserving or requesting it.
I read about Friendship, and I saw my favorite Maria friend – the one who put up with my platinum gold highlights in the seventh grade and my occasional emotional tornadoes and that one trashy trucker hat phase that she lovingly endured without a dissenting word.
I read about Charity, and I saw thirty faces on thirty street corners – my friends who lived in the empty lot behind my house in a North African ocean town and would come around on Saturday nights to eat bologna-and-cheese sandwiches with us and talk about the God we loved and their dreams that they had almost let die and were now thinking about watering again.
And then Eros. I almost skipped the chapter. I knew that the whole chapter, the whole concept, was a topic that I was not allowed to broach, even subconsciously. Sexual attraction was the dirty secret in his and my relationship – the “urine in our glass of water”, if you will. (We’ve all heard that one, haven’t we? Holler at me fellow PKs!!!) As ludicrous as it sounds to me now, I thoroughly believed that C.S. Lewis was, in fact, misguided and that sexual love could not be any kind of real love at all.
Real love was sacrificial.
Real love was tragic.
Real love was anything but pleasure & enjoyment and the only genuine passion one person could have for another had to be “pure” and painful and chaste.
And so I had to learn how to love his mind – to dive deep into the depths of him and just soak in all of the charming, stormy, volatile mess that was his personhood and that I do not regret. I had to pursue and seek out those parts of his heart that stayed mysterious to me (I’ll be blogging soon about how women pursuing men is also something that is not a sin). I wrote poems about that man’s soul and I drove him to school everyday and together we read Macdonald’s fairytales and pretended that all we were was brains and hearts and the loftiest of aspirations.
But nobody can pretend to be just brains forever.
We started to deteriorate as soon as we realized that we could actually touch each other too. And I’m not saying that we made any decisions that purity culture at large could point any fingers at, either. All of the carefully delineated steps that our educators tell us lead to sex and babies and AIDS and death were carefully avoided and so, naturally, things got real weird real fast. We took our stolen moments in between classes and tried to feel close without breaking any rules. I remember slowly walking back to my car at twilight wondering what had just happened; confused how I could feel violated without ever getting so much as a real kiss.
The only boy who ever got up the gumption to kiss me in the years that followed ran down the stairs, made himself a pot of coffee, and patently ignored me until I finally left, dazed, when I dared to tell him that it was my first.
What kind of world have we created, Jesus-lovers, where the fear of sex is so engrained into our subconscious that we avoid all healthy expression of attraction and are then belittled later in life for admitting our lack of experience?
Somebody tell me I’m not the only one here.
Three years after I lost my first love, I sat around a Chicago dining room table with my roommates, trying to decide what exactly to do with my love life or lack thereof. I’d been seeing someone, and all I could come up with to say about him was his “wonderful heart for worship” and “great sense of humor”… which, as all of you know, sounds the certain death knell for any relationship. Our discussion was about how I ran away from him when he tried to touch me at dinner.
“You can’t cringe when he comes near you, Hannah,” one of them was saying, gesturing emphatically. “That’s sort of a given.”
“Is it, though?” I found myself saying. Was it really so bad that I only wanted to write songs with him and have lots of late-night parked-car conversations and check out some stars real fast then hug and go home at reasonable hours?
That was all that I’d ever wanted out of anybody else, after all!
I had run to the other side of the table when I realized he’d wanted to push our chairs together. I had hugged him quickly and fast-walked to my car door and turned up the radio immediately to overpower the sound of my own irregular heartbeat. If I was being honest, I wasn’t sure whether it was because I was so afraid of what would happen to my body if he ever did touch me or whether it was him specifically I did not want.
I had never learned to decipher between the two.
“Well, sooner or later, you’re gonna mess up. You know that right?” The penetrating voice of my best friend broke into my reverie like glass shattering. “You’re gonna go too far, and you’re gonna start over and work through that together. I know I have.”
Going too far?! Was that something that happened? I was actually surprised. I mean, I knew that lots of people slept together all the time – I do assume that’s something going on around me all the time – but it struck me like glass shards that someone who loved Jesus could be with somebody else who loved Jesus and somehow fail the Ten Commandments of sexual purity and come out on the other side unscathed, un-struck by lightning, pick up the pieces of their love and keep on going. I had always firmly believed that I could escape that fate. That I could get to other side – the other side meaning marriage and a happy ending, I suppose – having completely avoided even temptation herself.
I had confused the temptation with the sin.
I had equated sexual attraction with adultery.
I had spent nine months of my young life pretending that I could somehow talk God into giving me the gift of celibacy. http://trashtown.tumblr.com/page/96
And yet here she was, sitting across from me, telling me that it was inevitable; that at some point I would fail, that I would give into – even momentarily – my attraction for someone and do something I’d wish I hadn’t. That that wasn’t somehow game over – that you could forgive and be forgiven and change and grow from that point forward. But something was not quite right.
I tried to imagine the last time I’d felt even the slightest inkling of that sort towards anybody. Nothing came to mind. I literally could not recall the last time that I’d wanted to do anything but side-hug anyone at all! Could it be that in all my valiant effort to inflict the “gift of singleness” (whatever that is) upon myself that I’d actually completely squandered my ability to want someone? It was strange, to be sure! When anyone ever asked me what my “love language” was, I would sheepishly admit that it was, in fact, physical touch – only I knew the embarrassing truth that whenever anybody touched me – no matter who, no matter how – it immediately registered as a sexual action in my mind, primarily because I had taught myself that touch of any sort was to be avoided as sin.
And so, here I was, nearly immune to even the most persuasive advances, and feeling considerably less arrogant about the fact then I had heretofore.
Well, this particular confession led to a chorus of shocked but mildly impressed girls asking if I could teach them how to do that. Looking around the room, I realized that I had forgotten that sexual attraction was sort of a pervasive, across-the-board sort of thing.
It was then that I realized that purity culture had made me into a cold, repressed, unapproachable, difficult-to-love sort of girl: a far cry from who I actually was.
Because everything else about myself is widescreen hobohemia technicolor. I want to know all of the things. I want to read all of the things. I am fascinated by souls and journeys and mysticism and baking and linguistics and jawbones and stars. My curiosity and my adventurous spirit are elven and rampant and tireless. I write poems sometimes and love to sleep in grass and on beaches and stay up all night screaming the blues and I suppose you could call me frigid, but please, please don’t. You really wouldn’t be taking my whole person into account. AND THAT’S WHAT THIS WHOLE JOURNEY IS ABOUT, ANYWAY. https://ajesusgypsy.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/today-i-embark-on-an-expedition-to-take-back-my-personhood/
It’s finally midnight, so today marks day 1 in an adventure that Emily, my new roommate and loud, proud, Jesus feminist over at http://www.emilyjoyallison.com/, are embarking on to put ourselves through PURITY CULTURE REHAB. We’re going to do a bunch of things that we never would have done as drinkers of the purity culture Kool-Aid but that we’re doing now as holy women of God who are slowly but surely recovering our moral agency.
Won’t you join with us? As much as it is not my desire to decry anyone of my brothers or sisters that Jesus loves dearly, it would seem to me that there is, indeed, a better way than the one that purity culture at large has left us with.
This is not an attempt to throw off the shackles of Scripture and create our own way, but rather to walk in the ways of Jesus without the cultural constraints that Western conservative pseudo-Christianity would place upon us. We’re going to start taking care of our bodies, because we don’t have to be gnostics anymore. We’re going to ask a boy to coffee – and PLATONICALLY, too. We’re going to get our battle cry eshet chayil! tattooed on our arms to remind us not to give up.
We’re going to do a couple other things too – but you’ll have to wait and hear about those when we grow the balls to actually do them. 😉
Courage, my friends and sisters. Your desires are not to be squelched and squandered. You were created with a mind and with a body too. I remind myself daily, along with you, that it is no sin to seek to be loved as both.
Perhaps together we can reclaim eros as an expression of love to be treasured and valued and yes, protected, but not defamed.
Let’s recover and rebuild, redeem and restore ourselves and those we love as WHOLE PEOPLE that our kind Father created and declared that first day and everyday since,
“It is very good.”