Yesterday a robin hopped into our birdhouse, poked his head out and sang his song, wings tucked in and feathers bristling in anticipation. A sweet female answered his call, alighting on the arbor before hopping down to join him, and together they disappeared inside. I swear I could see the birdhouse rocking with their tiny weights.
It is Spring here in California, sap is rising, love is in the air and I wager that sex is on our minds whether we admit to it or not, whatever our genders. I’m certainly glad to see and feel it.
I recently read a book about Heloise and Abalard, the 11th century lovers in France who the Church martyred by gelding him and shutting her up in a convent because by Church rules sex was a sin – imagine! – and love between an unmarried man and woman was unsanctified, especially if the woman was as strong and intelligent as the man, and the man was a teacher of philosophy in the Church. They suffered big, those two, and no doubt scared off many other folks who might be pining with desire for one another but not daring to act on it, the wages of sin being death and all that. It’s like the Church was saying, “Give in to your natural loving inclinations and you’ll be punished here on earth and then again in Hell for what, in your young innocence, came naturally and with a full heart.”
I’m willing to bet Jesus never suggested any such thing!
I shake with rage at the story, not only for them, but for the generations of us who still resonate to the message of “Bad! Bad!” and fear our natural attractions to one another. I mean, Why? Look what we’re missing!
Do we really believe that people uneasy in their bodies, who feel shame and guilt for desiring one another but long to feel the passion of real connection, can do the world work of changing our dysfunctional systems to functional ones when they so badly need to be changed? I think not.
And don’t we have to start this work with ourselves?
I once spent a few weeks in Italy at a 15th Century villa near the Adriatic coast where the current Contessa, who was my friend’s friend, invited several healers to come and demonstrate their techniques and discuss how to turn the villa into a healing retreat after her death. One day, when the others were out, I went into the historic chapel to be by myself for awhile, noticed a small hidden door behind a pillar, opened it and went up a narrow spiral staircase, and there beneath the cupola was a small cramped room, windowless and silent as death. A narrow bedstead, one hardback chair and a prie-dieufor kneeling comprised the space – along with crumbly layers of ancient dust, stale air, and the ghosts of every itinerant priest who had ever slept there over four centuries.
It scared me silly because I could feel in my blood the lonely souls who had once lain down their bodies there, sex-deprived men who had power over their congregants’ souls, including the power to punish. I could feel in the airlessness their frustrated nights there, out of earshot of anyone sleeping in the villa below, these celibate men – priests by choice or by circumstance – trying not to sin by releasing themselves in their lonely beds, often giving in to those urges anyhow, and then spending the rest of the night kneeling at the cross in penitence. Or worse…
Alone with those hungry ghosts I got spooked, and ran out of there as fast as I could, down the spiral staircase, through the chapel and out into the orchard where I sobbed hysterically beneath a tree, wanting my husband’s warm arms around me – or anybody’s warm arms, for that matter! If I recall, I made a grab for a passing cat but she ran away.
As I watch the political shenanigans of our times, I find myself wondering how healthy the love lives of each of these contenders are? How healthy are our own love lives, for that matter, and those of our doctors and nurses, our policemen and our schoolteachers? Seems to me that since we would have to live with the fallout of their personal problems, we probably have a right to know.
A few years back, when a young friend told me she was applying to Courtesan School, I tried to talk her out of it. “You’re too good for that!” I argued. She just laughed and insisted that she felt committed to bringing back into the light the erotic as our natural birthright. “It’s been hiding in the shadows where it doesn’t belong!” she said. “We’ve got a lot of unlearning to do.”
“But…how? And is it legal? You’re not going to be…a…prostitute, are you? Do your parents know about this?”
“Not yet,” she admitted, “but I’m a healer and I think this is my healing path.” I knew this young woman well, watching her grow up from a girl to a mature beauty inside and out, and I took a deep breath. “So…how do you, um, start?” I asked.
“I practice!” she teased. “No, seriously, there’s a lot of studying to be done first, and then I want to start by working with men; you’d be surprised how scared so many men are of their feelings, of anything to do with their bodies. When I ask a guy what he’s feeling he tells me what he thinks!” She and I had a good laugh over that.
“The cool intellectuals are the hardest nuts to crack,” she went on, “the folks who live mostly in their heads, whatever their genders,” she sighed and her eyes got misty. “They need this, you have no idea. There’s so much fear and longing out there, and they feel so bad about themselves.”
“And if they’re hurting and they have power in the world, then they hurt the rest of us as well?”
“Yes,” she murmured.
“You’ve been hurt too…” I whispered, putting my arms around her.
“Most of us have,” she admitted, eyes brimming. We hugged, warm body to warm body, knowing that it was world work she was doing, and that in reality, as Rumi put it, all the particles of the universe were in love and looking for lovers.
Science knows about the force of attraction, too, and gravitational pull – an allurement, a binding as I have heard gravity described – not to mention magnetism, polarity, and strong and weak forces. Attraction, it seems, is writ firmly into our world!
“…Before there was night or day, birth or death
The ancients knew this too, and in the Hindu Rig Veda can be found the earliest known hymn of Creation, that contains this: (my translation)
Could there have been some knowing, invisible Spirit
Some essence of Goodness like a conscious, infinite Presence
Breathing with windless breath?
In this darkness shrouded by darkness,
In this fathomless ocean of featureless, still water,
Could this unmoving force have caught its breath
with longing, and roiled the dark waters into hot motion,
Planting the primal seed – born of desire –
Into the heated void?…”
In human terms, this is a description of ecstasy, I believe, a high state of being alive in the world. A blessing.
The two birds are back, and right this minute are busily picking up bits of bark to make their nest, first one then the other, plucking up soft sticks and racing them back to the nest. I can almost see them gaze at each other with excitement as they fly in, meet at the birdhouse, tuck their stick inside and then fly off again to pluck up their next bit of fluff. I am watching a time-honored ritual dance of life, and smiling.
Go little birds!