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

(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

enthroned within.

- 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."


When Joel joined the Franciscans (Episcopal Order of Society of Saint Francis --SSF) he took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.... he said that being married to me has meant greater poverty, greater chastity and greater obedience than he ever experienced in community --thanks for getting me thinking about all this again.

Thanks for posting this. I agree wholeheartedly - these words are loaded and largely misunderstood. Part of that misunderstanding has to do with the concept of purity. That's ultimately a whole other blogpost, but you have captured much here. It is also another comment, which I won't post here. I will say this - people who "strive" a bit to hard to be "pure" for God - whatever that means, end up in some ego trap, no matter how well-intended it may begin.

God does all the work, we respond. In that alone, that response, there is some purity. 100%? Not so much.

As someone who has been and is still around deliberately celibate men and women (religious and ordained clergy) I see this in a different light. For people who have freely chosen this path, it is a beautiful way of life and really seems to be about something other than sex.

Many people should perhaps not be in this kind of vowed life - that is a huge issue.

In the RC Church, many people say that if there were no enforced celibacy there would not be a sexual abuse crisis. Mmmm, disagree!

Not so simple. There is a whole school of thought, that deserves discussion and discernment in community, that diocesan priests might choose to be celibate, or not! Those in orders (Francican and so forth) who become part of a community in a different way, would remain celibate.

Many in the RC church don't want to hear that! Sex = impurity and that is that! Just have none.

There is no wisdom in that, none at all, no depth, no wisdom and certainly no love.

Oh how I could go on and on... I must get going however.

Thank you for this. And BTW, Brother Dan, who posted this, is a IRL friend and a truly remarkable young man. His name will be known, this I know, stay tuned for his work and wisdom in the world.

And I love Margaret's comment and Joel's deep wisdom. As well as your own wisdom and love, Maria!



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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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