Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Silence and sexual desire

Christopher Page tells me he gets much more traffic when he writes about homosexuality rather than Boblical Studies or his own profession as pastor. Well, I'm not so sure I want to try, but a Marginalia review of Diarmaid MacCulloch's Silence, A Christian History, reviewed by Sarah Coakley is hard to pass by.
The driving argument, or so it seems at the start of the book, is that the Church’s underlying instinct for silencing truth about sexual desire — or, more specifically, about outlawed homoeroticism — is somehow the underlying impetus for the other forms of (mandated) silence that the Bible and tradition have thrown up along the way.
But O dear, this excellent author, moved, I expect, by his own powerful inner impulse, to the extensive work he has done, is also unable to resolve this problem? So it seems from Coakley's comments at the beginning of this extensive review. And she is quite correct to point out MacCulloch's failure to explore some aspects of Biblical silence:
Oddly, he does not muse on the embracing of desert loneliness by various biblical figures (supremely Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus himself), or on the commendation of judicious or awed silence to be found scattered at points through the psalms, the prophets or the wisdom literature.
Yet, at the end of the review, she comes close to justifying what seems to be an essentially confused and incomplete book.
silent devotion is precisely the condition under which an unspeakable God may disclose the secrets of the heart and give joyful voice to the politically voiceless and the sexually marginalized. So which is it, and how would we tell the difference? That is the spiritual and moral dilemma that this fascinating book most frustratingly never solves.
I find it strange that MacCulloch would somehow fail here. He is a clear and comprehensive writer, but sexuality is never a topic that can be addressed head-on by anyone. What a dilemma! Perhaps silence is vital, but there is some truth in the cultic noise of history. Lewis gets to it in The Great Divorce, and he succeeds only through the death of the cultic object. The image could well go unnoticed. The Psalms get to it. You would expect me to say that. The Scripture is supportive in all ways, but there are so many pieces of advice that it is hard to pick out the salient ones. The New Testament is much more explicit, but again you might miss it.

Perhaps it will not surprise you, that a lesser writer who spent his life running just a step ahead of many fears, ran nevertheless into a story (Seen from the Street edited by Ravinder Ozha) that could illuminate this dark place and 'explain' why circumcision is the sign of the covenant. And to boot, give hope to the marginalized and rebuke to the normal, who think themselves without need of deliverance from normality.

Perhaps a psalm of the anointed is appropriate as a conclusion: (from Psalm 17)
קוּמָה יְהוָה
קַדְּמָה פָנָיו
פַּלְּטָה נַפְשִׁי
מֵרָשָׁע חַרְבֶּךָ
Arise יהוה
confront to its face
make it bow down
Secure me
from the wicked, your sword
מִמְתִים יָדְךָ יְהוָה
מִמְתִים מֵחֶלֶד חֶלְקָם בַּחַיִּים
וּצְפוּנְךָ תְּמַלֵּא בִטְנָם
יִשְׂבְּעוּ בָנִים
וְהִנִּיחוּ יִתְרָם לְעוֹלְלֵיהֶם
from men, your hand, יהוה
from men, from transience, their share in their lives
whose bellies you fill with your treasure
Let them be satisfied with children
and leave their surplus to their progeny
אֲנִי בְּצֶדֶק אֶחֱזֶה פָנֶיךָ
אֶשְׂבְּעָה בְהָקִיץ תְּמוּנָתֶךָ
I in righteousness will gaze on your face
I will be satisfied to awaken in your similitude
But the most obvious lack of silence on this subject is Psalm 139.
לְדָוִד מִזְמוֹר
יְהוָה חֲקַרְתַּנִי וַתֵּדָע
For the leader
Of David, a psalm
יהוה you have examined me and you know
אַתָּה יָדַעְת שִׁבְתִּי וְקוּמִי
בַּנְתָּה לְרֵעִי מֵרָחוֹק
You yourself know my sitting and my arising
you understand my thought from afar
אָרְחִי וְרִבְעִי זֵרִיתָ
וְכָל דְּרָכַי הִסְכַּנְתָּה
my path and my lying down and stretching out you sift
and all my ways you cherish
כִּי אֵין מִלָּה בִּלְשׁוֹנִי
הֵן יְהוָה יָדַעְת כֻלָּהּ
For there is not a speech on my tongue
יהוה knows all of it
אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי
וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה
rearguard and advance you fortify me
and you lay on me your palm
פְּלִיאָה דַעַת מִמֶּנִּי
נִשְׂגְּבָה לֹא אוּכַל לָהּ
Wonderful - knowledge beyond me
I am set on high - I cannot accomplish it
But no psalm can be known solely as 'explanation'. Explanation is not knowledge. It is second-hand. First hand knowledge comes direct from the source through the experience of presence (thinking back to Qohelet chapter 8).

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