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On Human Relations, . . . . . part 6: The Path of Romantic Love

My Chorale PicAn intimate, romantic, and sexual relationship with another human being, far from distracting one from spiritual attainment, can open a fast-track path to spiritual transformation: the path of romantic love.

This path is cluttered with signposts bearing moral Christian doctrines that warn of a sinful destination for those who seek erotic pleasure in natural sex drives that were designed to bring couples into a state of ecstatic union, along with the function of propagating the human species — sex solely for gratification not withstanding. The church is solely responsible for the degradation of sex from sacrament to sin in human relations, using Jesus, the celibate divine redeemer, and Mary Magdalene, the human “sinful prostitute,” as models upon which to base its thwarted and therefore false premise.

I’m in my second reading of Cynthia Bourgeault’s profoundly insightful and thought-provoking, if not controversial, rendering of  “The Meaning of MARY MAGDALENE – DISCOVERING THE WOMAN AT THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY.”

This is unequivocally the most powerful book I have yet read on the story of Mary Magdalene and her role in the life and ministry of Jesus. The author, an Episcopal priest, literally plumbs the depth of my soul and awakens dreams of a “perfect world,” almost to the point of disturbing my default inner peace by arousing once again that painfully familiar longing for a seemingly unattainable state of “singleness” as a whole human being — ironically, a singleness that can only be obtained, according to her insight and perspective, in the state of holy matrimony. Cynthia’s Jesus came to “reclaim the path of romantic love” and to uplift marriage between a man and a woman to its original state of “one flesh” that no man can “put asunder”– and he walked his talk. He was not celibate by any connotation of that word. Nor did he recommend celibacy as the higher path to spiritual transformation. His was a life fully “enfleshed” as a whole human being, and that’s what made him such a powerful magnet and lightning rod. The people loved him for his authenticity. The governing religious leaders of that time hated him for the same reason.  Actually, in their gross darkness, they simply did not comprehend his light, and it frightened them and threatened their self-serving authority.

This book has a Voice. One that speaks from out of the ancient past, spanning time from the “beginning”– the Edenic origins of Man and Woman — up to and including the life, public ministry and death of Jesus the Nazarene, only not the Jesus introduced to us when we were children and foisted upon the Christian world since the fourth century Council of Nicea.  Cynthia’s Jesus is a whole human being who “emptied” himself fully of both his humanity and his divinity, leaving no part of his soul and body unused in service to his heavenly Father and to Humankind. And it was his intimate relationship with Mary Magdalene to which Cynthia attributes the fulfillment of his mission and purpose for incarnating on the planet when he did. I should say the fulfillment of their shared mission and purpose.

That said, I don’t think that I can do Cynthia’s book justice in a blog-long book review. So, with the thought in mind that my readers may be inspired to read Cynthia’s book to fully enjoy her viewpoint on these timely issues, I will simply share a few passages from her book that moved my soul to the point of shouting “YES! That rings so true!” I will share and comment on them as they come up in my second reading. Enjoy and be blessed.

I will start at the beginning of Chapter 7, “RECLAIMING THE PATH OF ROMANTIC LOVE,” just to give you a sense of the tone of Cynthia’s voice, along with the context in which she writes. Here she speaks to the issue of celibacy in a priesthood supposedly modeled after Jesus and his celibate apostles — or were they?

NEARLY TWENTY YEARS ago, long before The Da Vinci Code uproar broke, I was serving as parish priest in a small Episcopal congregation in Colorado. When the gospel appointed for one particular Sunday in August was Luke’s account of that anonymous “sinful” woman with her alabaster jar, I decided to take the risk of breaking open some of the insights that even back then were beginning to emerge from a growing spate of Mary Magdalene studies. My parishioners were a bright and intellectually curious bunch, so why not? During my sermon, I gently presented Margaret Starbird’s assertion (in her book The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, named after this very gospel passage) that the anointing of Jesus’s hands and feet described in the text was not simply a random act by a penitent woman, but an exquisitely symbolic ritual enacted between two lovers about to be separated.

The fire storm was predictable.

I had tried to pave the way as carefully as I could. My point in raising those issues, as I made clear both in the sermon itself and in the discussion that boiled over afterward, was not to argue the case one way or another, but rather to get at some of the attitudes underlying the way we Christians do theology — and more important the way we do love. “How do you feel about the possibility that Jesus had a human beloved?” I asked these parishioners. “Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Why?”

The responses were pretty much what I expected: “But if Jesus had sexual relations with a woman, he couldn’t be sinless.” “If he loved one in particular, he couldn’t love us all impartially.” “How could he be the son of God unless he gave himself completely to God?” The overwhelming consensus was that if Jesus had known erotic love, he could not possibly have also been the full embodiment of divine love. It would somehow disqualify him as the divine redeemer.

I could hardly blame the congregation for feeling that way.

After nearly two millennia of reinforcement, these assumptions have become so much of the landscape of Christianity that they appear to be part of the seamless structure of revealed truth. But in fact, assumptions are what they really are — not core tenets of the faith, not anything that Jesus himself taught, but superimpositions of a male, celibate, priestly theology which for nearly two thousand years has been the only game in town.

The complicated history of how this situation came to be could fill a book in itself (and in fact has several times over). The short version is basically this: during those first four centuries of Christian life, as leadership moved from a charismatic eldership model to the threefold sacramental ministry we know today (bishops, priests, and deacons), part and parcel of this evolution was an increasing tendency to view both Christ and his apostles through the prototype of celibate priesthood. This is of course a flagrant anachronism in light of the unambiguous scriptural references to Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14) and the only slightly more ambiguous allusions in Luke to the other disciples’ “companions.?”

But counterbalancing the testimony of the gospels themselves was a growing discomfort with conjugal intimacy, a discomfort whose roots probably lie in the extreme Essene asceticism out of which Jesus himself most likely emerged (we will be exploring this topic in greater detail in the following chapter). Beginning as early as Paul, this unease was magnified in each succeeding generation by a chorus of Christianity’s most influential thinkers including Marcion, Tatian, Jerome, and Augustine. The consensus grew stronger and stronger that sex and the sacraments simply didn’t mix. By the fourth century edicts were in place forbidding married priests to have conjugal relations with their wives. Not long thereafter married priesthood itself dropped astern in Western Christendom, and celibacy became the entrance requirement for admission to the power structure of the church.

It gives one a bit of a start to realize that for the better part of two millennia, Christian theology has been written, shaped, formulated, and handed down almost exclusively by celibates talking to other celibates. In that respect, it is extraordinarily monolithic. And from this exclusively celibate template emerges the only image of Christ our tradition has allowed us to entertain: of a celibate renunciate whose “sinless” purity would necessarily entail sexual abstinence.

At the age of twenty-one, this very requirement barred my own entrance into the Roman Catholic priesthood after seven years of seminary life, during which I tried in vain to suppress my body’s natural erotic urges and my soul’s longing for a feminine soul mate.  Cynthia goes right to the heart of the highly emotionally charged premise that in addition to all the roles attributed to Mary Magdalene — apostle, visionary, healer — “there is still one remaining to her, which may just be the most important of them all: soul mate.”

Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene lovers? Were they secretly married? That, of course, is the claim laid out in  The Da Vinci Code and a number of other books and documentaries and which the church angrily refutes.

The question would never have a fair hearing in Christian circles, she goes on to say, where the “mote” has not yet been cast out of our own eyes while we dare to pass judgement on those who entertain a different view from our own.

It is one thing to argue the case for reclaiming Mary Magdalene as apostle and wisdom-bearer, purveyor of a sorely needed feminine presence in the church; it is quite another to tie this claim to the theologically taboo subject of a romantic involvement with Jesus. Two-thousand years of dogma and tradition have left the field so thoroughly land-mined with negative assumptions and stereotypes that it is virtually impossible to see anything other than red, like my congregation that morning. The question will inevitably be heard as an attack on Jesus and as an act of sabotage upon the Christian faith itself.

After two-thousand years of programming that celibacy is the highest Christian way when compared to the second-rate path of committed spousal love, “it is hardly surprising that our Western anthropology of human sexuality is abysmal.”

In the secular version relentlessly foisted upon us by contemporary culture, it’s all about pleasure, performance, gratification. In the bedroom of the faithful, it’s still all too often about duty and shame: a begrudging debt to future generations which, even when carefully managed, is still tainted with carnal sin. Mention “erotic love” and people will immediately hear “sex,” then immediately thereafter, “dirty.” The idea that there could be anything holy about this kind of love is too alien to even consider. That’s simply the way our ears have been trained to hear it; we are all children of a cultural stream whose vision of human love  has been shaped by the shadow side of celibate spirituality.

From the gutter, the view of the gossip and speculation around Mary Magdalene and Jesus in various studies is less than holy and rather “scandalmongering,” Cynthia writes.

We are really presented with only four options:

1. That Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s mistress;

2. That theirs was a politically arranged marriage, strictly for dynastic purposes;

3. That they were sexual consorts in some Gnostic Mystery religion, ritually reenacting the sacred hieros gamos, or union of the opposites;

4. That the whole story is purely archetypal, a great Sophianic myth depicting the integration of the masculine and feminine within the human soul.”

With that, I will leave you to ponder these options for yourself and return in two weeks to compare your choice of options to Cynthia’s in my next post as we continue to explore romantic human love as a path to spiritual transformation. I will present four “propositions” or “myths”– all “rooted in the soil of celibate spirituality — that together have subtly sabotaged our ability to see romantic love as an authentic path of spiritual transformation.” Until my next post, then . . .

be love ~ be loved.

Anthony

Read my Health Light Newsletter on-line at LiftingTones.com.

 

 

 

On Human Relations, part 3 page 2: Man-Woman Equality

My Chorale Pic

With the recent church shooting  in Charleston, South Carolina by a twenty-one-year-old man that abruptly ended nine lives, my thoughts turn to questioning the home life of this deeply troubled and misguided young man and the culture of racial prejudice into which he was born.

We’ve been considering The Law of Balance in this series on Human Relations. Here’s a case where that law has long been ignored in this young man’s family life, but more so in his social environment. Violence has its roots in the family unit and in our culture of hate and prejudice, particularly here in the South. Gun control is not where we need to go to fix this problem, and jailing or executing the shooter brings no healing to this wounded human being.  Only compassion and understanding will begin to heal him and eradicate prejudice and hate from our culture. He needs to be taken in by society and bathed in love, not shut out and disposed of by our penal system. That system needs a complete re-thinking and re-ordering. The church members were as quick to forgive this young man as they were open to welcome him into their congregation. That’s a huge step toward healing, both the traumatized congregation and the young man. That attitude needs to be reflected in society as a whole and somehow in our penal system.

*  *  *  *

In the previous post, I ended the excerpt from Lao Russell’s book, GOD WILL WORK WITH YOU BUT NOT FOR YOU, with this brief but poignant paragraph:

Man has always crucified love on the cross of his own self-glory by the killing of men; and women have always wept at the foot of the cross, as they wept when men crucified the Nazarene while all but one of His disciples who professed to love Him, deserted Him.

I then closed my post with thoughts that arose from reading what Lao had to say here concerning the crucified Nazarene, offering that there were actually three of His disciples who stood at the foot of the cross: Mary Magdalene, his wife and soul mate, his mother Mary, and John the Beloved with whom Jesus endowed His mantle of authority. I then suggested that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had fulfilled their mission and purpose on earth by restoring the union between Man and Woman, a union that had been fragmented since Adam blamed Eve for their disobedience. That failure on the part of Adam to accept responsibility for his action but rather place all the blame on Eve drove a wedge between them. It also separated them from the Creator, but only in consciousness and awareness.

With this severance of the unity between these two earthly partners in Creation and between Man and his Creator, the world as we knew it in the beginning began to change, as did our perception of the world. It became a hostile place to live where survival and the killing of animals and of one another became the way of existence on the planet. Man became the hunter and gatherer, as well as protector of his territory, and woman became the home maker. Love was lost in our fall from grace as fear darkened our hearts and clouded our vision. And that is how it has remained to this very day.

Lao continues to share her perspectives and understanding—which some of my readers may find antiquated. This was written, after all, in 1955.  Much has changed in our consciousness since then. I should hope so anyway.

All of this is quite natural. It could hardly be otherwise, for man in his unfolding (or evolving) remembered the fighter spirit of his primate days of taking, while not realizing that the woman spirit of giving was gradually awakening in him a keener desire for mental mating and the spiritual unity of the equal Father-Motherhood of balanced mating. The hardest lesson which man must learn during the long ages of his journey is that God made man and woman equal with one another in order that they should manifest divided love by equal interchange in their givings and regivings. God’s whole purpose for dividing His spiritual Self into pairs of fathers and mothers is to dramatize His Love nature by the romance of equal and opposite interchange of love. The romance of awakening love is far greater than either its mental or physical interchange. Every expression of mating is empty without the romance of love itself. Romance is love-awareness without which there can be no complete happiness in any mating.

The Cosmic drama of Creation is a romance which all mankind is perpetually transforming to comedy and tragedy as it eternally seeks romance without knowing the path which leads to it. Through the romance of balanced interchanging of love between fathers and mothers they find unity which alone gives to them the ecstasy of the divine nature of God.

Physical sex interchange has been first in the desires of mass-man. Mental sex interchange is rare, while romance starves in a world which would give all else for just one hour of it. That is the lesson of life which all must learn who search for the peace and happiness which will alone bring rest from world tensions. The world has never learned it because the senses of man have never let him know the real meaning of either love or romance.

The world of divided humans must some day know that God’s divided universe is an electrically sex-divided dramatization of CAUSE and EFFECT. The CAUSE is Mind-desire for expressing static idea through intechanging motion. The EFFECT is what happens because of that division and the necessity of interchanging. CAUSE is, therefore, oneand EFFECT is always two. The lesson of life is to learn how to so balance the interchanging between the two halves of every effect that all EFFECT is completely canceled out in complete sexlessness by their balanced unity.

God’s motive as Master-Playwright of His Cosmic drama is the love urge of the mating idea expressed physically by the uniting of bodies to void the physical tensions of the sex urge by balancing them, and thus reproduce other bodies. It is also for the purpose of expressing the love urge in its mental and spiritual expression by eliminating the mental tensions of separateness. This is accomplished by uniting spiritual mates for creating spiritual idea.

A mental sex relation is for the purpose of creating idea, while the physical sex relation is for the purpose of creating body forms of mentally conceived ideas.

That is why any woman and any man who have harmonious spiritual relations with each other, such as a mother and son, or good friends, or business partners, can multiply power in each other very much more. than any two men, or any two women could possibly do.

That is why any organization which consists solely of men, whether it be an industry, a club, or the cabinet of the President of the United States, or of other organizations composed of women only, necessarily creates unbalanced structures in which there can never be complete unity.

That is why this man-made world is so badly unbalanced and disunited. Its male qualities are so preponderant that it has made a civilization which operates like a flywheel whose shaft is badly offcenter. A woman-made world would be just as unbalanced. Its preponderance of female qualities would make it equally disunited.

If you look into the life history of any great man you will find a woman in it who had a tremendous influence upon the creative powers which accounted for his greatness. It may be more than one woman, such as his mother, and his wife, or sweetheart, or dearly loved friend. No matter who that woman, or those women were, the basis of their interchange with him must first be love mentally
expressed. A spiritual union between any man and woman is of ten-thousand times more value than love physically expressed without the spiritual.

The romance is in the awakening of love in one another, which is not a one-time event when our hormones are beginning to kick in. It’s has to be an ongoing event.  

Love is not objective, nor can it be possessed. The woman awakens love in the man, and the man awakens love in the woman. The romance of it is in the awakening, not in the consummation. It is the awakened ability to love which counts, and not the acquisition of the object which has awakened it, nor in any physical contact whatsoever. A woman may not even be aware that she is deeply loved, and the man who loves may never even exchange a word with her. Where love is spiritual it uplifts, exalts, enriches and ennobles.

Where sex is purely physical it debases and defiles. Millions have ruined themselves through physical sex expression which was not spiritually balanced. The roué [debauched person] is despised where the parent is honored. Whole civilizations have been utterly destroyed by the sex debauchery of incest and promiscuity. Wherever spiritual sex-mating is preponderant over the physical there is then the beauty and glory of the power which men and women can alone
know who have that unity which comes to those “whom God hath joined together.”

Any man and woman who are thus spiritually and physically balanced multiply their unified power by eight—not two. Two separate, disunited potentials are only two, but when two potentials act as one their power multi-plies in the ratio of the cube. In other words, when two completely united, balanced mates act as one they do not add their two powers together to equal two, they multiply
them in the ratio of gravitation mathematics, which are three dimensional.

There is no lesson so hard to learn, or of such great import, as the long lesson of learning how to interchange all spiritual and physical divisions of effect equally in order to unify them, and thus make two unbalanced conditions become one. A balanced life, home, business, community, nation or world of nations is possible only by learning that great lesson by the hard way of experience until it is put into practice.

An approximation of balance will not suffice for complete happiness. A man who still insists upon being “master in his own home,” cannot have a happy home, even though he provides for his family generously and is a model husband in every other respect. With such a condition contentment is possible but romance is utterly stifled. A residue of unbalance still remains which makes it impossible to cancel out all actions and reactions by balancing them as a businessman balances his books constantly. A business could not succeed if a daily deficit made it impossible to balance its books, nor can a family succeed in being all that a family should where a constant tension exists which cannot be utterly voided.

The wife would try to assure herself she was happy by seeing the good points in her husband. Something would constantly be happening which would not happen if the home was a balanced one. A daughter might marry against her better judgment because of the tension which could not be eliminated, or a son might leave home where he otherwise would not. Unity cannot exist where tensions hold two apart. They will always be two until residual tensions are balanced. The two will then be ONE.

In countries where their women are forced to accept infidelities as a matter of course there can never be the happy home life enjoyed by those nations where infidelities are the exception and not the rule. Under such conditions unity is utterly impossible, because romance is impossible.

I will leave it there and leave you to ponder, and perhaps comment on, what you have read. We will continue along this vein in the next couple of posts.

Check out my Health Light Newsletter at LiftingTones.com.

 

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