I had to cut a lot from the book, and this chapter was eccentric and zigzagging enough that it made sense to get rid of it. But I’m glad to share it with you guys now. Some of these thoughts will be familiar to readers–and some of them get recycled in the book itself, e.g. “Will I be gay in Heaven?”, because I thought that stuff was important to keep in–but I hope there’s enough new material to keep y’all interested.
I first heard of the Anima Christi in Nathanael West’s scathing novel Miss Lonelyhearts. A New York newspaper features editor parodies the prayer in a futile attempt to get his degenerate, depressed, pseudonymous advice columnist to turn in something resembling usable copy:
“Soul of Miss L, glorify me.
Body of Miss L, nourish me
Blood of Miss L, intoxicate me.
Tears of Miss L, wash me.
Oh good Miss L, excuse my plea,
And hide me in your heart,
And defend me from mine enemies.
Help me, Miss L, help me, help me.
In saecula saeculorum. Amen.”
This may not have been a prepossessing beginning. But over the years the Anima Christi has slowly woven its way into my prayer life. I’ve turned to it again and again, especially in crisis, and felt a need for it deeper than for any other set prayer other than the rosary.
One of the main points of this book is that you can shape your spiritual life in a wild array of different ways. Your spiritual life as a faithful Catholic doesn’t have to look like your mom’s, or your priest’s, or Mrs. McGillicuddy’s who always does the floral arrangements. Over time you’ll discern your spiritual needs and find ways to fill them, in your vocation and in the life of prayer and the sacraments which supports that vocation. I’ve already given examples from my own life when it comes to discerning a vocation, so here we’ll look at my prayer life, and specifically my reliance on the Anima Christi, as a case study. This was a prayer I loved long before I could articulate any reasons—my initial reaction to it was just a shocked, thrilled, “It’s so lurid!” The Anima Christi is like the tabloid headline of prayers—if it bleeds, it leads. Only after I’d learned to incorporate it into my daily prayer life did I begin to understand some of the reasons it spoke to me so deeply, and I know it has a lot more to teach me in the years to come.
Body of Christ, Save Me
This is a fleshy prayer. It’s a recognition of the Incarnation and, as such, it honors the body. It’s a rejection of alienation from the body and a remedy against that alienation. We relate to Christ not just as rational mind to rational mind or soul to soul, but body to body, taking His body into our own when we receive communion.
Because of this emphasis on the body of Jesus this may also be considered one of the prayers in which Jesus’ masculinity becomes important. I don’t want to push this too far or make too many assumptions about why I love this prayer, but I do wonder whether one of the things it gives me is an opportunity to have a spirituality of woman relating to man. I’ve done a lot of work crafting a spirituality which allows me to express my love for women, but I’ve been much less intentional about crafting a spirituality in which I can delight in sexual difference.
The writing on sexual difference and Catholic theology of sexuality which has spoken to me the most has said that sexual difference is important not because women are sweet and nurturing while men are noble and strong, but because women and men are directed toward one another in some important way, made for each other. Although I don’t experience an emotional sense of being made for or directed toward a man in my erotic life, the Anima Christi may speak to me in part because it points me like an arrow to God become not generically-human, but man.
Blood of Christ, Inebriate Me
Obviously there’s a hint of the ironic, or the self-parodic, in my affection for this particular image. But it’s a reminder of all the promises alcohol makes and then, if you’re addicted, begins to break one by one. Because so many of them are also the promises of Christ.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which means that it lets you say a lot of stuff you would be too self-conscious to say without it… but at the end you’re isolated, in hiding, and if you’re talking to anyone at all you’re often lying. Alcohol makes you more social, more tolerant of others (“Hell is other people” must’ve been written while hungover, not drunk), and more willing to be honest and vulnerable… and then it separates you from everyone it once helped you confide in. Alcohol makes you say smarter stuff, at least some of the time… until it reduces you to incoherent or self-aggrandizing rambling. Alcohol takes you outside yourself, outside the confines of your own tiny mind—until by the end it leaves you unable to connect with anyone else, unable to imagine any other way of life, endlessly circling the confines of a bottle. It promises you more than normal life and you end up with much less than mere normality.
Think of these same longings and challenges in terms of Christian life. A lot of the time what I think of myself as “too shy” to say, I’m actually too proud to say—I’m too afraid of being wrong. Too afraid of looking dumb. Humility would get me the same results as vodka if I were willing to pursue it as ardently.
I’ve already talked about how Christian friendship can provoke the same intense vulnerability as drunkenness—only more so, since both of you will remember it in the morning. You can’t hide behind the Boys in the Band line, the plausible-deniability “Christ, was I drunk last night!”—you have to own the intimacy of true friendship. [edited to correct BITB line!]
And the ekstasis of Christian faith doesn’t merely take us past our own limits, far outside our “comfort zones.” It takes us into ecstatic contact with God. It’s a rejection of the everyday not in favor of never, but in favor of eternity. I love that feeling, drinking, when you know you’re about to be swept away and you’re not quite sure where you’ll end up. But the places you end up if you let Christ sweep you off your feet are a lot weirder and a lot more sublime than waking up under the back porch, with your bra in a solo cup. After a while that gets really old, whereas the Beauty ever-ancient is still ever-new.
Possibly this all seems fairly flippant. But it was really helpful for me to realize that the longings which I fulfilled to some extent by drinking weren’t all bad, and weren’t things I simply needed to deny myself. They were real needs which I could meet in a deeper and more lasting way. I don’t know that any of this is true for all alcoholics, but then very few things are true for all [insert identity-group here].
Passion of Christ, Strengthen Me
This line became much more important to me when I was first quitting drinking. I was facing a challenge which seemed totally insurmountable, totally beyond my capabilities. I couldn’t do it. And Christ, through this prayer, gently reminded me that I didn’t have to. He wasn’t asking me to rely on my own strength but on His. I could continue to view myself as extraordinarily weak in this area—evidence for that belief was all around me—but my weakness didn’t need to matter. All of my own fears, struggles, little areas of pure crazy, all of this mattered less than the strength of the One I trusted to carry me.
This imagery of being “carried” was suggested by my spiritual director. Like most of his suggestions, it struck me at first as being kind of obvious or silly, not big enough to tackle my giant sparkly special problem. But I was very desperate, so I began doing like I was told: reminding myself throughout the day that I was being carried by God. (I suppose this imagery makes me into the Cross. I’m glad I didn’t think about it that way at the time! I would say that it’s better to think of oneself as that one stray sheep being fetched and carried back by the good shepherd, but my impression is that sheep are actually quite obnoxious and smelly animals, so maybe that’s not too much of a step up on the social ladder.) And these reminders that I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t need to rely on my own (nonexistent) resilience and strength of character, calmed me and helped me to trust that those first months of recovery were survivable.
This line also suggests that we become strong not through emulating Christ the King but through emulating Christ the Lamb, sacrificed and suffering on the Cross. This image of strength through sacrifice speaks to a Crucifixion-centered spirituality.
In Thy wounds, hide me.
The image of being sheltered in a wound is one of those grisly little medievalisms I love. But there are several features of Christ’s wounds which have made them an important part of my spiritual life.
That’s true even though I resist a lot of the language Christians use today about the relationship between homosexuality and woundedness. We hear about homosexuality as itself a wound, with various attendant gender-related wounds like the “sports wound” of awkward boys. These descriptions really resonate with some people, and can even be used in helpful ways by people who don’t find them intensely compelling. A friend of mine had a lot of fun and did get a certain feeling of acceptance and healing from playing soccer with a bunch of other same-sex attracted men, many of whom had experienced sports as an arena in which they were ostracized and considered incompetent. Although my friend didn’t have a “sports wound” of that kind, he still found that he was less self-conscious around other same-sex attracted men than he would have been in a mostly-straight group. He was able to loosen up more, and able to feel good not only about his own physical competence but about his participation in helping the other men accept themselves.
These gender-related wounds didn’t play much of a role in my own development. But one of the reasons I’d suggest prayer centering on Christ’s wounds to any same-sex attracted/gay/queer person is that there are so many different ways those wounds can speak to us.
For example, Christ’s wounds were public. They separated him from the respectable world and were part of his humiliation, part of his death as a criminal. To honor His wounds, as Christians have done for centuries, is to honor Christ the outcast.
Moreover, Christ’s wounds complicate any Christian idea of “healing.” This is especially relevant to those gay Christians who have little or no interest in being “healed of homosexuality.” Because Christ’s wounds were in fact not healed. He’s got them now, in Heaven. He had them when He appeared to the disciples; they’re part of the imitation of Christ by the stigmatic saints. God heals some wounds. Others, He glorifies. He transforms them in some way we can’t necessarily imagine beforehand, just as we can’t quite imagine what it will mean for our flesh to be glorified in the Resurrection.
The important thing for our spiritual lives is that we accept that we don’t choose what God will do with our wounds. We can’t pick the ones we want to keep and say, “Okay, God, glorify these ones, but heal the others, I don’t like them.” We can’t ask God to heal the uncool wounds but glorify the darkly exotic ones. I’d certainly love for God to heal my temper, for example, but glorify my sexual orientation. But it would be very like God to do things exactly the other way around.
This perspective also, of course, helps us shift from a singleminded focus on healing to a more complex focus on serving God with and through our wounds. Focusing on healing can sometimes simply delay our spiritual lives. We can end up in a kind of extended adolescence, failing to take necessary steps in our vocation because we’re not healed yet so we think we’re not ready. This problem occurs not only in situations where someone is pursuing healing from homosexuality but in many other cases, although I worry that it is especially encouraged in “ex-gay” ministries because there is an obvious vocation, marriage, which you shouldn’t take on before you receive “healing” defined primarily as orientation change.
If we instead see that God may be glorifying our wounds rather than healing them, this frees us to seek out ways we can serve God at every moment, without waiting. We’ll need to be aware of our wounds and allow them to shape how we live out our vocation. If we pretend that we don’t have particular wounds we may end up taking on tasks for which we’re ill-suited or, worse, using other people as props in the psychodramas of our emotional and spiritual needs. But God is calling us all in the present, not just “in the future when all’s well.”
Let me not be separated from Thee.
I’d just like to point out here that our prayer is for love and union. The Christian life is a life of desire, a desire which is always fulfilled if we let it be fulfilled. The Gospel story is violent, painful, sacrificial, difficult—but it is a love story, too, and it ends with the lovers reunited.
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints and with Thy angels, forever and ever.
I find the whole idea of Heaven really weird. We know very little about it; what we have in Scripture is mostly about singing, I think, and we’re also reassured that Heaven is a city and not a farm or forest or Super Mario Brothers cloud level. In general I don’t think it makes much sense to shape our spiritual lives around “getting to Heaven”—that’s too close to asking, “How much sin can I get away with and still win the prize? How saintly do I have to be to ride this ride?”
But here are two thoughts about Heaven. First, one reader wrote me a poignant email which included the question, “Will I still be gay in Heaven?”
There are probably several different questions being asked at once here […] But what I said to this reader was that one of the few things we do know about Heaven is that there is no marriage there. In Heaven married love is transformed into some other thing, of which it was the shadow or prefiguration.
So too I believe our gay loves and desires may be transformed. Are there any heterosexuals in Heaven? I’m not sure the question makes sense. All of our human, temporal loves will be transformed there, whether those loves were expressed in this life as marriage, as friendship, or even (if there was real love there) as an illicit sexual relationship. Take for example a cohabiting straight couple. In this life their love is real, deep, and sacrificial, although it also isn’t entirely rightly ordered or expressed, since they’re sexually-active but unmarried. In Heaven, once their souls have been prepared and purified, their love won’t be transformed into marriage. It will be transformed into something of which even marriage itself was merely the outline. Similarly, I don’t think it’s very likely that a gay couple’s love will become, in Heaven, a friendship, even though devoted spiritual friendship might have been the best way for them to express their love in this life. And I definitely don’t think that their love will somehow become a heterosexual marriage! I think it’s more likely that their love will become something far greater than either marriage or friendship. It will be more beautiful than anything we’ve seen.
The second thought about Heaven is that we tend to think of the “reward” for loving and serving God as an earthly reward, even when we’re picturing Heaven. We think of pleasure and prettiness. One of C.S. Lewis’s more fascinating points in The Problem of Pain is his speculation that there might be pleasures in Hell—degraded, horrifying pleasures—and pains in Heaven—sublime, honorable pains. These speculations may or may not be accurate (I’m sure I don’t know), but they point toward an important truth. What we “win” through loving Jesus is simply Himself. Therefore when we pray to be with Him in Heaven we don’t pray for happiness, peace, healing, beauty, or glory, but simply for His presence and the joy of praising Him.
That will be enough.