(Chastity belt courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Only way to begin.
Break free from the old mindsets, the labels,
the conditions in which society expects us to operate.
Be open to the renewing of your mind, the
possibility of new and richer understanding
as the years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds
pass on into eternity.
Not a denial, but an acceptance
of your truest self and your purpose, mission,
vocation on your pilgrimage.
The greatest of these things is love.
Not the love of parent and child, or of friends, or of spouses,
but the love of Fourth and Walnut…
the love that in an instant can change a life, can change the world.
The love that brings with it the realization that
we truly are one body in Christ.
The love that sees each and every being as who and what
God sees it, as it was meant to be on that seventh day in Eden.
A love that embraces this world in all its broken beauty
and refuses to live in silence. A heart afire with zeal
burning brightly on the hilltop, witnessing to the Christ
- Joseph Madonna (2011)
I bumped into this poem from a link that my blog and Facebook friend Fran posted recently when a friend of hers took solemn vows in a religious order. It really spoke a lot of how I view myself as a deliberately celibate person. But it also illustrates my pet peeve about something.
I think "chastity" and "celibacy" are the two most misunderstood words and mistakenly switched words out there.
Celibacy, as some churches define it, is a vow not to engage in sexual relations. Celibacy, as I understand it, can also simply mean a choice to live a single life with a deliberate choice in that life not to engage in sexual relations. Non-vowed celibacy does not have to be permanent; but what it does mean is any choice to change that state should be viewed as an opportunity for discernment rather than a snap judgment to have sex with someone.
Chastity comes from the latin word castus, or "pure." To be chaste is so much more than our behaviors regarding sex. To be certain, it does include being sexually "pure." For single people, that may not necessarily involve being celibate. It could simply mean to be true to the person with one has a sexual relationship. It includes the concept that married people practice chastity when they have an exclusive sexual relationship with each other.
But chastity involves soooooo much more than sex.
Chastity means that we strive to be pure in who we are as a child of God. It means we take time to examine our conscience on a regular basis to see if we are being "pure" in our dealings with other people. It means being brave enough to take our own moral inventory and contemplating change in the places where we discover impurities.
Now, fact is, none of us can ever truly be 100% pure (Even Ivory soap is only 99 and 44/100ths percent pure!)...but I don't think it's about "how pure we are," it's about the desire and the quest for purity. It's about the willingness to become more authentic to our God-given selves.
I think chastity is a much more positively oriented activity than we have been led to believe, actually.
It also makes me think about what chastity is not. Chastity is not something we can force upon others. All one has to do is search the Internet to find woodcuts and manuscript from the 1400's to the 1700's to find cartoon-like illustrations of all the ways people managed to thwart chastity belts over the years. What we learn in those old jokes is that enforced chastity always has a negotiable price!
I think back to all the times other people (often people in authority figure positions) tried to punish me for my perceived "impurities." (Now, I'm not talking about punishments I deserved, here. I'm talking about things like being scapegoated, or being the "fall guy" for something that went wrong.) But of course, when I think about what others have done to me, I can't help but think about what I've done to others in the same fashion. What I've come to realize is that 99% of the time, when we enforce "purity" on other people, or tear someone down for their impurities, we are all usually chafing from our own. I've hurt people for the sake of my own impurities and others have hurt me for theirs, and when it's all said and done, all that says is "We're all in this together." All it says is that we all fall short of the glory of God, and we all are the recipients of grace. Even the people who have made me so angry I can't see straight are the recipients of as much grace as me.
Sometimes I shake my head at how we all act like grace is a finite commodity. That somehow, if that person that irritates us or angers us or hurts us gets some grace and we don't, that somehow, we got shorted. When I get in a rut about things being "dirty" or "messy" or "not pure," and find myself wanting to assign blame, I need to step back and remind myself that there is no grace shortage in God's realm. When I feel that someone has done me dirty, or made me out to be the bad one, and I know it's not true, I need to ask for God to show that person some grace rather than simply fire back at them.
The most important concept I see in it, and in the poem above, is that chastity is so much more about saying "yes" than "no." I think that is why Mary is a great icon for this; she was all about saying yes to letting the divine not just enter her heart, but in her physical body. It's about saying, "I know as a human being, I am a flawed, imperfect character, but I'm going to say yes to the possibility that every day, something just a tiny bit more pure than I am now, can enter me and change my life."