The week of re-postings: Sacred Sperm, Ancient Knowledge, Dangerous Prayer

Every Sperm is Sacred
Originally posted August 04, 2005

Modern Medicine Catches up to Ancient Knowledge
Originally posted June 11, 2005

The Dangerous Prayer of Blessing
Originally posted May 20, 2006

EVERY SPERM IS SACRED?

Got an interesting email from another blogger, a fairly new Catholic, who is having a little trouble believing something. He writes:

…some people on my blog suggested that every ejaculation had to hit the target, so to speak….meaning, umm, no completed oral tasks, for example.

I am quite sure hardly anyone knows about the “every sperm is sacred” rule or thinks it is still valid – I hadn’t known that some insist every sperm had to umm “hit the target” – certainly no one in RCIA mentioned that – it would have sent people running. Are there any other Christians who’d demand every sperm find its way? I never knew that Monty Python song was correct !

I can’t believe the Church today would get into such over-regulation?

I am sharing this with you because I am sure this fellow is not the only one confused out there. I am surely no spokesperson for the church, for that matter, I’m not even an “expert,” in this subject. I am only a Catholic laywoman who has thought long and hard about all of this – as many of us Catholic laywomen have! :-) As such, I can tell you what my own understanding is, and it may help some who just dismiss the stance of the Church as utter nonsense.

The teaching, first off, is not – specifically – “every sperm is sacred,” although, it must be said, when you’re talking sperm and ova you are talking about essences – our essential selves, which are derived from the deepest parts of our beings, and you are talking about the material which was designed specifically for the purpose of assisting God in the creation of humanity. God loves us into being – we are begotten. Our creation is no accident, but the Love of God made manifest, and the “tools” or “materials” that He uses for that creation – committed love and the mysterious and miraculous products of that love – do, simply by their designation as “tools of God” demand a certain respect and recognition, because they are a great deal more than the equivalent of nasal mucous or earwax. They are the essentials of human creation, and therefore they are of staggering value and import. In THAT sense, yes, every sperm is sacred.

Buddhists understand this, and so do Taoists. They, particularly Taoists, will go out of their way not to “waste” their seed or their sexual energy, because they understand how powerful it is, what a pure force is contained within that material, and within that energy. Mystics from pretty much all traditions will tell you that the energy and product of one’s sexuality, if treated with respect and conservation, contributes to their overall mental and spiritual well-being. Somehow, when the wisdom comes from the East, people go, “ooooh, wise and mystical!” When the same wisdom comes from the West, they say, “ooooh, repressive, obsessive and mean!”

If you are only going to consider sperm and egg as by-products of humanity and human sexuality, you’re never going to understand what it is the church is trying to say. If you accept that they are more than mere by-products but literally these “Divine Materials,” then the teaching becomes much more understandable.

As to the teaching that every sex act must “hit the target,” (that’s a rather, errr, colorful way to put it), it simply means that every sex act, if it is truly to be respectful of God’s design and creation, must be opened to the possibility of new life, to God and to His will as to whether or not new life will be created. If the couple is NOT open to that possibility, if they take steps to suppress that possibility, then they have – essentially – excluded God from the act.

It is, really, kind of an ultimate surrender, an ultimate trust. For Christians who routinely say, “Thy Will Be Done,” it is where the rubber meets the road. No pun intended.

This is how I related it to a Protestant emailer who was rationalizing the use of birth control as something that “if God really wants to, he can overcome (the pill or the condom) because he is God.” He wrote:

Here’s the thing … I don’t agree that using a condom or spermicide “actively precludes” God’s involvement in your life. As I said earlier, a condom or a spermicide is a paltry obstacle to the One who spoke the Heavens into existence. He can and has intervened in that way many times.

Yes, I understand his point. But that is a fast bit of rationalization – I know because when I was younger, I subscribed to pretty much the same notion. “You’re God, you can do anything, so if you really want me to have a baby, you’ll make that happen even if I’m using a spermicide, a condom and taking the pill…”

All true…but that’s not surrendering. It is barricading oneself in but with an overall view of “well, if the fortress is breached, I’ll sign the treaty!”

Surrender – “not my will but thine be done” – is the ultimate goal. It comes with an open door, not a barricade, or it is not surrender, at all.

Yes, it’s a difficult thing to communicate to people. Some accept it…some don’t. I don’t judge anyone, because I’ve walked the whole walk, myself.

What one must keep in mind is that what the church is putting forth is an IDEAL. And that’s part of the job of the church, to teach and inform us as to what the ideals are, and in this case, the ideal is that we humans remain open to the will of God, in all circumstances.

That’s a tall order, and one that we cannot possibly meet without Grace. But the church does understand that we, in our imperfect humanity and willfulness, will very likely not meet that ideal – it tells us that there is no way we can even begin to meet the ideal if we are not at least trying to, if we’re not asking God’s help and grace in doing so.

Nevertheless, if the church did not put forth the IDEAL, it would be terribly, sinfully remiss in its teaching, because it would basically be telling people not to bother to strive for perfection in our openness to God’s will because “it’s not possible.” A fatalist message is never a good one, particularly when Jesus tells us in the Gospel that “…with God nothing is impossible.” (Mark 10:27)

One of the jobs of the church is to help us find our openness to God – to help us to maintain that openness to His will, so that we might reach our own best and highest spiritual potential, because we are not called to dwell in darkness but to live in the light, and in holiness. We are called to holiness: “Be holy as my Father in heaven is Holy.” Holiness is not something that we can compartmentalize. If we are holy, it is a permeation of our entire being, and our holiness will be reflected in all that we do, in our every action and choice, and the path to holiness begins with an openness to God, in whom we live and move and have our being. If holiness is our quest, there can then be no limits to our openness.

This is not a difficult thing to understand, at all. It is difficult in practice, but the church is not here to baby us along and make the roads wide and smooth. Christ told us the way is narrow, and not easy. What was it Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Quite right.

So, you see – the church has no choice but to teach this truth, even in a season of sneering disregard and mockery. The truth is we are not all little gods but offshoots and creatures of the One God, who wishes to bring us back to him. The Way back has been made known, and the church has the duty to keep pushing us along the road, knowing we would rather take the easy way, knowing we’ll look for shortcuts, knowing we will sometimes step off the path and say, “it’s too hard…” The church has no choice – she must teach it.

How we receive this information and how we apply it to our lives depends entirely on our own choices, on our own determination of whether or not the quest for holiness is worth the giving up of our own sensibilities and our own feeling of control.

But control is often an illusion. How many people do you know who used the pill, used a condom, were diligent in their birth control and STILL got pregnant? It happens all the time. Because the products of our human sexuality contain enormous power – power too many of us simply do not appreciate. And God will do what He will, sometimes, whether you’re open to it or not…in hopes that you WILL become open, and more open, to his loving gifts.

If you look in scripture you will never see a baby referred to as anything but a blessing from God. But we live in an age where things are topsy turvy, and we often mistake our blessings for chains and our chains for blessings.

ALL OF THIS supposes fertility, of course. The church understands and respects nature – sooner or later fertility ends, that does not mean sex ends. One of the common misunderstandings is that “the church says sex must always and only be about procreation, and if it’s not possible, then sex is a sin.” This is nonsense. Sex is the gift and privilege of married couples, both pleasurable and procreative. When fertility has come to an end, when the possibility of new life is no longer there, that means the procreation part has ended, not the pleasure. And please remember, folks…what I am trying to communicate here is what I have come to understand through my reading and talking with priests, etc. I’m no expert. I do have a catechism, somewhere…I’ll have to dig it out! :-)

Update: I’d like to point out that I am in no way suggesting that people should simply “do their own thing because the ideal is too hard.” I am not saying “wink, wink, the church teaches this but you aren’t expected to listen!”

Quite the contrary, I have tried to make the point that simply because this ideal is difficult is no reason NOT to ask for the Grace to be able to achieve it, and that Jesus himself tells us nothing is impossible with God’s help. If anyone does not comprehend my saying that, I would respectfully ask them to re-read what I have written.

I can’t believe I have to spell that out, but I guess I do.

Hmmm…here’s a can o’ worms I shoulda kept closed! ;-)
Related: Self-Respect is not prudery.

***

MODERN MEDICINE CATCHES UP TO ANCIENT KNOWLEDGE

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the constitution of a mother while pregnant will have lifelong effects upon her child.

For example, a mother who is severely depressed or experiencing extreme sadness during her pregnancy may suffer some lung ailments: Sadness effects the energy and tonality of the lungs. Ergo, her child may end up having problems with asthma.

Interestingly, Western Medicine is beginning to find the same correlation the Chinese had discovered so long ago.

Mothers who suffer from major depression or anxiety disorders are more likely to have children with asthma and other allergy-based conditions, according to a US study. The association was only found for biological children, supporting a “shared genetic liability” theory.

Ramin Mojtabai, a psychiatrist from Columbia University in New York, US, assessed the relationship between parental psychopathology and childhood allergy in more than 9000 parent-child pairs from the 1999 US National Health Interview Survey. Most of the parents were biologically related to their children, but 554 of the pairs were non-biological.

[...]

Mojtabai says it is unclear why the children of mothers with depression had a higher risk of allergic disorders, but he speculates that it might be related to mitochondria – which are inherited through the maternal line – as mutations in mitochondrial DNA have been reported in both atopic and other skin disorders and in bipolar mood disorder. “Or it could be to do with genetic imprinting – how some genes are expressed when received from one gender, but not the other,” he says.

“Other studies have shown a shared genetic risk for allergy and mood disorders in twins, and that people with depression are themselves more likely to suffer from asthma, although we didn’t find any strong evidence for that,” Mojtabai adds.

I love finding stories like this. Western Medicine is wonderful, and I would not try to live without it – it is the hardware of the science of human wellness, health and recovery. But sometimes I think Chinese medicine (and some folk medicine) is the software of that same science. (Prayer, of course, should suffuse and accompany both.)

Although Western medicine is relatively young (150 years or so) and the other medicines are ancient, they both have value, and I’m always amused when someone pooh-poohs an Eastern remedy that has been around for thousands of years, simply because it is NOT a new Western treatment. Many people don’t realize that well before the discovery of penicillin, Oriental doctors were making compounds of mold and deeply green leaves (chorophyll) to fight infection. So when I find stories like this, which have even the barest suggestion of bringing West and East together, I like to highlight it.

I can tell you that I was robust and hearty with my first pregnancy and my elder son is never sick. I was much less so with Buster (threw up for 9 straight months, almost from the moment he was conceived until the very morning of his delivery) and he has seemed, from the start, to have a more delicate constitution and more penetrable immune system. That’s a mere anecdote, I know, but it is interesting, when reading Chinese Medicine, to think back to all the times you have experienced great sadness or grief or stress in your life, only to have it followed by upper respiratory situations. Knowing what I know about the Chinese theories of sadness and the lungs, it was not a great surprise to me to find that 12 weeks or so after the death of my brother (while on vacation, when my body was finally starting to relax) my lungs and immune system were so amenable to laying me out with pneumonia. My husband, too, was hacking away, although he managed not to go all the way into the bark-wheeze-and-gag which made 7 days at sea so much fun!

Interesting stuff. The Web that Has No Weaver is a particularly good book if you’re looking for accessible reading on Chinese Medicine.

***

THE DANGEROUS PRAYER OF BLESSING

This blessing is dangerous because it takes you (and me) out of the equation and dares to allow God to work what and as He will. I read it first from an emailer who got it here, via here

This ‘blessing’ was prayed over Henri Nouwen by his spiritual mentor:

May all your expectations be frustrated.
May all your plans be thwarted.
May all your desires be withered into nothingness.
That you may experience the powerlessness and the poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

That sounds like a terrible prayer if you are praying it, for example, for a dying loved one, for parents of a sick child. But is it, really? In fact, it sums up the whole idea of “not my will, but thine be done…” it is precisely what Jesus taught us, but we forget that. We’re so into “feel good” Christianity and “Expect a Miracle” thinking (and there is much to feel good about, in Christianity, and many miracles to expect) that we forget the hard truth – that beneath all of that we’re supposed to be disposed toward surrender, we’re supposed to be getting out of the Creator’s way (and our own) so that He may increase as we decrease. We pray “thy will be done…” but I think many times we don’t mean it. We say it because we know we “should,” but it’s bittersweet. “Okay, Lord, you’re going to do it your way, so I’ll acquiesce…but, please, please, can’t you do it my way? Think about it, Lord! My way is pretty good, too, isn’t it? And you want me to be happy, don’t you? Get back to me, Lord! Love ya! Mean it! Call me!”

Okay, I’m indulging in a little silliness, but only because this is such an un-silly prayer, an un-silly topic.

The reason I am thinking about this prayer, and about the sort of surrender my sister and her family are tearfully making, is because of this “I want what I want when I want it” mindset I am seeing in stories like this one:

A sperm donor passed an extremely rare and dangerous genetic ailment to five children born to four couples, doctors reported Friday in a case that exposes a gap in the screening process.

No, you don’t have to go the sperm-donor route in order to pass a genetic illness on to your children; it happens to couples all the time. But this brings up the whole idea of “wanting what you want, when you want it” and being completely unwilling to simply accept the gift of your own basic circumstance. And I am about to become very unpopular, but I hope you’ll stay with me a little, before blasting me.

By basic circumstance, I mean this: A child-loving couple finds they are infertile. This is an agonizing situation, to be sure. But while they pursue every and all possible means to have “their own” baby, or one that is “mostly” their own, do they ever stop to think, “Lord, what are you trying to show me…is it your will that I not have children, is there a path I am supposed to be treading, that is not this one?”

We rarely stop to think that way. In a noisy world full of possibilities and sciences – most of them good – the idea of not having what you want is almost unthinkable. Of course we should all have precisely what we want. That’s why God gave us science, right?

Well, maybe…but maybe not. Maybe that couple was supposed to adopt a kid who ended up unadopted. Maybe they were never supposed to have kids at all – they were supposed, instead, to rescue dogs, or put enormous time into volunteer work.

Or, maybe they were supposed to have kids, precisely as they had them – but I’m just putting it out there – do we ever stop to think that the stuff we’re being given to deal with we are meant to actually deal with, live through, emerge from in a changed and beautific way?

How about another scenario – and this one will really tick some off – you’re gay. You’re a human being, with a human sexuality and a human sex drive, but you’re gay. The church in which you’ve been raised says, “okay, so, you’re gay. No sin in that, but as such, you may not marry – because marriage is the province of men and women whose coming together assists in the continuation and revitalization of all creation – therefore, since you may not marry, you are called to the same celibacy as any unmarried person. One gift has been denied you, but if you pay attention you will be shown your gift, and your calling – perhaps you are called to be a necessary other…do you accept the calling? Do you accept this dangerous blessing?”

The answer, of course, is “no, hell no, screw this, screw the church, screw this crazy idea of my having some sort of otherness or calling I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it, and don’t give me any crap about thinking differently or you’re a freaking homophobe and I will take you down…” But I know there are some gay folk out there – there must be – who read a book like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and think…maybe I am called to more than a gay pride parade, a DVD collection of Will and Grace and allegience to my almighty orgasm. Maybe there is something else I am supposed to be doing, that I am not? Maybe I am too much in the world, and there is mystery to which I have not surrendered?

We all think we’re supposed to hear “yes” all the time. And “yes” feels so much better than “no.” Although, for most of us, we can look back on our lives and find a few times when the “yes” we wanted so badly would have been better off a “no.”

I am not proposing that the whole world take a look at the cards in their hand and “fold.” To surrender is not to fold. It is to play the hand you’ve been dealt – to take it as far as you can, in faith and obedience (there’s a word you never hear anymore…)
Sometimes you have to play aggressively and even radically. No child born should have to “surrender” to racist treatment because they were dealt a skin shade others may not appreciate. No gay man or woman should have to submit to violence or public scorn and disrespect because they were dealt homosexuality. But perhaps part of our whole human experience is meant to contain a moment wherein we say, “okay, God, you dealt me this hand. I don’t particularly appreciate it – it’s not the hand I would have chosen. Therefore, I’ll let you play it, I’ll follow your lead and trust that it will not come up a stinker.

Tough to do…it goes against our every instinct. And yet, this is what Christ lived out for us. His trial, torture and death were NOT what his followers had in mind. It did not meet their expectations. It thwarted all their plans and turned their desires into nothingness. And they had no choice, they had to just deal with it, accept it, live through it. And on the third day, Christ rose, and the entire world was made new, due to that surrender – due to playing a hand no one really wanted to see dealt, faithfully, and to completion.

There is a lesson Fr. Nouwen taught:

First Christ takes us as we are.
He blesses us.
Then He breaks us.
And gives us to the world to bless.

We are – historically – a stiff-necked people. And we more and more refuse to be broken, to allow ourselves to be given out.

I have an idea buzzing in my head – I’m not ready to articulate it; it is for another post, possibly a multi-parter – but I’m thinking of another group demanding “what it wants, when it wants it,” my friends who have taken the uncompromising stand on illegal immigrants, the stand that says “ship them all out, no amnesty, not even for folks who have been here a long time and been productive…and by the way, Bush sucks. He sucks about everything, now, because he didn’t say yes to us.”

And damn you, Moses, leading us out of slavery and into the desert. When we were slaves in Egypt, at least we had melons and meat. You suck, Moses – we can’t see the sense in what you’re doing and we don’t like it. You’re slow of tongue, you’re stupid, you’re letting us down, you’re breaking faith and you should put someone else in charge. You’ve only given us 75% of what we want! Yeah, the Red Sea parting was nice, but what have you done for us lately? And you’ve been too long on that freaking mountain, too. Let’s melt some gold!

Yeah, all your sickness
I can suck it up
Throw it all at me
I can shrug it off
Theres one thing baby
That I dont understand
You keep on telling me
I aint your kind of man

Aint I rough enough, ooh baby
Aint I tough enough
Aint I rich enough, in love enough
Ooh! ooh! please

Ill never be your beast of burden

The beast upon which we ride – individually and collectively – is so enormous we cannot see its beginning or its end. We cannot really describe it. Were we to dismount, we would find it looks nothing like what we imagined – we might not even recognise it as our beast of burden. And yet, we are all so very sure about what it is, exactly, and where it is taking us.

I expect a lot of people to completely misunderstand this post…mostly because I’ve probably written it poorly, expressed myself without enough clarity. That is my fault, and I apologize for falling short and lacking the lucidity it might demand. I just put it out there as food for thought.

Mick Jagger said it much better: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • TNP

    Amazing.

    My mother’s brother was killed tragically while she was carrying me. She never got over it.

    I have asthma.

  • TNP

    Amazing.

    My mother’s brother was killed tragically while she was carrying me. She never got over it.

    I have asthma.

  • GJMiller

    Lengthy, but eminently worth the effort. Thank you. There is so much content in this post that I’ve printed it for a more leisurely perusal.

    As always, your site is an essential part of every day!

    You have my complete respect and affection.

  • GJMiller

    Lengthy, but eminently worth the effort. Thank you. There is so much content in this post that I’ve printed it for a more leisurely perusal.

    As always, your site is an essential part of every day!

    You have my complete respect and affection.


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