Thursday, June 24, 2010

When Eros Sings: Variations on a Theme

Sermon delivered at Arlington Street Church, Boston MA - August 3, 2008

The song which calls to me, and which I wish to share with you today, is a love song.

It is a song of passion and pleasure, of joy and joining.

It is also a song of pain, of longing, of be-longing, of the conflicts and tensions which come whenever lives come together so intimately.

Each love song we sing and hear, and each way it is sung, is unique, just as each intimate relationship is unique and beautiful in its own way. The theme which runs through all of these is universal, with endlessly diverse variations.

How often we forget this. How often our minds connect so strongly to one song from our memory, and think of it as the universal song, the ideal by which all others are to be measured.

Consider the song sung as our first hymn this morning: "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine." Even the title is an echo of the first lines of the biblical Song of Solomon: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine … " How could such a song not be universal?

Well, for one thing, it follows the confines of gender, not only in that it is the story of a man and a woman, but of a man pursuing a woman, as traditional gender roles demand. Even more ideal, the man did so having "never been kissed" (and, presumably, neither had his partner), the two falling in love and marrying. As lovely as that story is, the majority of people go through several relationships before choosing to join with another for the long haul; some may never settle into a permanent relationship, yet still be perfectly content. The idealized couple in our song have children, but not all couples do. And while most people couple and remain monogamous (or at least try to) some find love and joy in groupings of three or more.

And what of the qualitative ways in which love is made manifest – the tempo and the mood? Here I would cite another song, by Bill Morrissey, where another husband and wife discuss what kind of wood to put in their stove on a cold winter night. Sipping a glass of wine, she suggests filling it with birches, inviting him to "watch as the fire burns bright" as they did in their younger days; yet he, grumbling about how he hates a cold house, insists on using oak, which "will burn as long and hot as a July afternoon." So often we are drawn to the bright passion, like burning birches, yet told to strive for a more mature and lasting love like oak – yet, like the woman in Morrissey's song, how we miss the splendid "hungry light" of first romance, however brief, wondering how we could have both birches and oak.

Finally, the satirist Tom Lehrer takes that notion of fiery all-consuming passion to a darkly humorous extreme:

I ache for the touch of your lips, dear,
But much more for the touch of your whips, dear.
You can raise welts
Like nobody else
As we dance to the Masochism Tango.
Let our love be a flame, not an ember
Say it's me that you want to dismember
Blacken my eye
Set fire to my tie
As we dance to the Masochism Tango.

Now, who could take something like that to heart? Well, as satirical as that is, many of us in the BDSM or "kink" community have embraced Lehrer's parody as an unofficial anthem. For once, someone has composed a song which, however imperfectly and mockingly, acknowledges that what we do is about love and passion.

So many songs, so many ways to sing them. Such a variety of ways to find joy, love, pleasure and connection with another.

What then is the theme, the common thread, which joins them all together? How do we bring together our diverse sexualities and relationship patterns – queer and straight, monogamous and polyamorous, vanilla and kinky, intersex, asexual, and more – in harmony with the universal song of Eros? This is the challenge which I, in my own self-exploration, have found myself taking up. How do I bring the principles and values of my UU faith to bear on something so intensely powerful and personal? And how can we, as a spiritual community, do so in a way which transforms ourselves and our world for the better?

If we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, then let us affirm in word and deed alike that each of us is deserving of love, joy and pleasure. Sounds easy enough, but how often we forget to affirm this – including for ourselves.

If we believe in justice, equity and compassion, then let us speak out against both discrimination towards sexual and gender minorities, and sexual abuse and exploitation; let us further temper our attitudes and actions with compassionate concern, not only for the victims of these wrongs, but for their perpetrators as well.

If we believe in accepting one another as we are, then let us affirm each person's self-determination in how best to fulfill their desires, encouraging one another in a sexual ethic governed by honesty, respect for oneself and others, mutual consent, awareness of risk, and the affirmation of pleasure. In her book Sensuous Spirituality, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott recalled that one of the greatest gifts of inspiration she received was the advice to avoid condemning any other person's attempts to relate, however imperfect we may find it to be.

If we believe in a free and responsible search for meaning and truth, then let us speak up for comprehensive education on sexuality, not only for our children and youth, but as part of a continuous and lifelong process of growth, as a way of furthering our understanding and appreciation of the human condition.

If we believe in democracy and the right of conscience, and the goal of a just community with liberty for all, then let us provide safe spaces where people can discuss their questions, concerns and desires regarding sexuality, whether with an intimate partner, or in the context of community.

And if we believe that we are a part of an interdependent web of existence, then let us be mindful that our erotic selves are an integral part of our whole selves, and as such, one with a vital spiritual component. Let us not only infuse our respective sexualities with spiritual values and practice, but in return enliven our spirituality with a celebration of the sensuous and erotic, recognizing and affirming as the late John O'Donohue noted, the "secret relationship between our physical being and the rhythm of our soul," that "[t]he body is the place where the soul shows itself."

Above all else, my friends, let us not be complacent. It is easy to compare ourselves with those holding more conservative and puritanical approaches to sexuality and relationships, patting ourselves on the back for being so much more welcoming and open-minded. But the challenge of our progressive faith is that we must constantly question and challenge one another. We must not only speak our truths in love, but listen when others do the same, and be mindful that doing so also means speaking truth to power – including the "powers-that-be" amongst us. To hearken back to the admonition of Jesus, we need to look for the mote in our own eye before pointing to the speck in others.

The love song which calls to each of us is but one variation of the song which Eros sings to us all. Some can sweep us away, others make us think more deeply, and a few may even freak us out. But each one in the repertoire has something to tell us about ourselves and our wider human family. Like love and joy and pleasure, these songs are something to be shared, so that each of us may learn and grow and heal.


No comments:

Post a Comment