Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!





Proverbs 18:24:

Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.

Part of the Gaelic tradition still practiced by the modern day Irish is the concept of the Anam Cara--the true "soul friend." In Irish culture, these are the friends in your life that seem to always be a part of your life no matter what the ebb and flow of both lives--the ones that when you hang together, everything "fits" and you can even simply be comfortable together in wordlessness. They are not necessarily "The friends you spend the most time with," although there are times in your life when they might be. They are the kind of friends that when you have not seen each other for years, you pick right up where you left off. When they leave, you find yourself pining or longing for them but it dissipates and you know it will be fine until the next time.

In short, it is a friendship that is a form of true love.

American culture does not handle this type of love well because, in my opinion, we don't have enough words for "love." We have the word "love," and it has to make do for everything from how we feel about cherry cheesecake to who we partner off with for sexual intimacy.

The ancient Greeks did this one far better. They had eros and filios and agape--sexual love and love like a sibling and a more or less "awesome love" where we just find ourselves in awe of people for who they are. They were wise enough to give these loves different words.

My theory is that when we love another human being, that love is composed of a mixture of all three of these types of love, and a love that falls under the Gaelic idea of anam cara is heavy in filios and agape, and eros doesn't really play a huge part in it. One of your soul friends might be your sexual mate (probably ought to be, really), but "desire to be sexually intimate with the person" is not a requirement.

That's another place where American culture falls on its nose a little. We seem a little squeamish about being the least bit psychologically intimate with people with whom we don't plan to be sexually intimate--less so than many other cultures, and less so even than with Americans of the past. Think back to old photos of baseball and football teams in the 1890's. They are not lined up like soldiers, but are more relaxed and intimate. For instance, study this picture of the University of Michigan football team:


(Click on photo to enlarge)

Look carefully at how many of the young men are touching each other. The two men on the left are touching hands and both hands are rested on the one young man's knee. Imagine what would be said if a modern football team sat like that for their team photo! But in an era when it was not unusual for young people to die of infectious disease, accident, and childbirth, people weren't so squeamish about a certain level of physical intimacy or psychological intimacy. Perhaps when life was shorter and more unpredictable--when the hand of death was a more real and felonious object in day to day life, it made people a little more likely to "talk flowery" to each other and allow a certain level of spiritual intimacy that now, we have no room in which to place it. We don't seem to know quite what to do with it in a healthy way, and we are so attuned to the pathological manifestations of inappropriate intimacy, I worry that we have lost the ability to safely return to being able to love and be loved in some of the ways our ancestors did.

I also worry that we don't have the ability to understand the "up" side of celibacy, let alone the ability to discuss it.

It's a subject I wish were more open to discussion outside the circle of "vowed Roman Catholic religious and a few other vowed religious." Here's the problem...

When a person is celibate for a period of time, it's very hard to discuss with non-celibates because the knee-jerk reaction is, "You're just sayin' that to make yourself feel better, because you ain't gettin' any." But it is my belief that just as we are called to our secular professions, some people are called to secular expressions of celibacy for indeterminate periods of time. These periods may be temporary or permanent.

But it's not like people are clamoring to hear what celibacy has to add to one's spirituality. Celibacy is viewed too much as simply "the absence of sexual activity," and it gets constantly blamed for the root cause of sexual pathology in the church. It has become an even worse "aberrency," in some ways, than being in a same sex relationship has.

What I have discovered when I have been able to talk to secular people who admit their present celibate state, and as a person presently in that category (I jokingly refer to myself among my closer friends as "The Accidental Celibate",) is that being without a sexual partner does NOT excuse people from withholding love. There is always a need to love and be loved. It is simply part of the human condition. Healthy celibates learn to be attuned to opportunities to practice filios and agape. Some find that they actually fall in love with the ability to see the love of Christ in people in a way they would not have been aware of, if they had devoted the love and energy to loving a single person for the purpose of gaining regular sexual intimacy. Some find they can be more in love with the world than they thought was possible.

I can only speak for myself on this one, but I think back to one of the most frequent complaints a past intimate partner had with me, that ultimately broke us up. He said, "I want you for myself. I get tired of having to love a whole damn crowd of people." He wasn't being selfish--I think he only wanted what society expects of intimate pairings. But in retrospect, I realized I wanted to be in love with a bigger world than just one person, and truthfully, I was a failure at being able to devote my attention to him in the way he expected. He wasn't pathological, or needy, or a bad person at all. He just told the truth as he saw it. Unfortunately, it took me a couple more intimate pairings to realize I might be called to loving the world as a form of a soul friend more than I was being called to love a single person as an intimate partner...and when it happened, it wasn't like I woke up one day and said, "Today, I will be celibate until God tells me not to." I just sort of drifted to this celibate place and one day realized, "Gee. I like who I am much better than when I was trying to force paired relationships."

But these are conversations that we can't seem to have in the church. Many church "singles groups" exist solely as a meat market. We only seem to promote celibacy among teens, and for many churches, that message is simply, "God says don't have sex until you're married." Our climate with dealing with sexual exploitation makes it difficult to talk about celibacy outside of a vowed religious life, and even then we question the psyches of those who vow to be celibate. You must be a little pathological to even consider it, right? What are you hiding? Are you gay and just don't want to tell anyone? Are you a pervert who feels guilty? Are you impotent or frigid?

It's just not a healthy climate in the church to even have these discussions. But maybe we need to, simply to explore the notion of "three part love." Maybe we need to have these discussions so people who are in committed sexual relationships don't feel so squeamish about loving others with the love of filios and agape.

I don't know any answers, but I know we are long overdue to talk this one out at the kitchen table.

5 comments:

I like this investigation, but I wish it were possible to examine male-male intimacy without denigrating male-male sexual love and homoeroticism. The pendulum always swings so close to saying "my love is a higher love because I don't approve of your type of love" OR "your love is a perversion of love of which mine is a purer, less-self-interested manifestation." The discussion must be held, but it must honor the great diversity and potentials of human beings in their fullness, not in their caricatures. Otherwise, we just move the barriers around and don't really free ourselves up to choose the best for EACH of us on the prompting of Spirit in each of our relations.

And THANK YOU!!!! for including an image where there is at least one person of color in the midst of all the other men. I was touched by his presence in the midst of the rest of the men, and that moved me to plunge more deeply into the discussion in a way I might not have had I not seen him there. This picture also reminds me of John 1, where Christ is in the kalpos (the bosom) of the Father as he makes the Father known.

John, thank you for your thoughts. I too was touched by the man of color right in the center of the photo; that is part of why I chose it! It speaks to a familiarity on this football team that was not yet in the real world. I am sure they loved this guy like a teammate.

You, of course are right about the problem with discussing same-sex intimacy, and I hope you realize there was no intent on my part to denigrate it. But that is part of exactly why we need to have these discussions within the church--that all these forms of love are not stratified.

In my own solitary state, I find that there is a back-door denigration in the forms of non-sexual love we have for others and love for "non-relatives." I have thought about friends who simply lost their best companion, and how they are told to "buck up for the family." That somehow they did not lose as much as the family.

In order for all of us to more fully love as Christ loved, we have to be more open to many forms of love being equally intense and meaningful. The problem is, it seems, that the heterosexual marriage is held up as the "gold standard" and nothing else is "as good."

Maria - I too believe that it is important - vital - to have a soul friend. Kenneth Leech has examined this issue as a case for Spiritual Direction; St. Aelred of Rievaulx was a strong proponent both within and without his Cistercian community. Currently there is the vital Anamchara Fellowship*- "an inclusive community welcoming women and men, clergy and lay, mariied, single, or parners in a committed relationship. I agree with your statement that there must be healthy discussion of a chosen celibate intimate life and the particular-ness of having at least one friend with whom you may exchange your deepest self. * http://www.anamcharafellowship.org/index.htm

This is all very interesting and refreshing. I have always believed that Males could show love and affection for one another apart from the sexual aspects that are often expected. I think the difficulty is often in finding other males who are willing to go there and allow themselves to be vulnerable and intimate with another male - bonding in a deep spiritual friendship that does not have to go to a physical sexual place. I actually believe that mant men yearn for this type of male friendship that goes deeper than beer and pizza. I for one would like to continue this discussion feel free to email at barefootndude@me.com. I really like Celtic Christian Spitituality and the Anam Cara aspect of friendship

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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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