By Trudie Barreras
For over a year now, I’ve been talking about, quoting from, and rereading Kittredge Cherry’s incredibly beautiful novel in two volumes, “Jesus in Love” and “At the Cross.” I haven’t tried to “promote” these books to people I perceive to be “unbelievers”. Neither do I seek to share them with the category of “believers” that I suspect are so extremely mired in “Tradition” that they would be scandalized at the mere suggestion that Jesus was truly human in the sense of experiencing erotic love, whether genitally expressed or not. However, I find that even some people who share my perspective that erotic love is not inherently evil tend to balk at the idea that Jesus could have (indeed MUST have, if he was, as the Creed tells us, True Man as well as True God) experienced it.
So this reflection is going to be a plea for honest evaluation of the type of love we call “Eros” and for an acceptance of the fact that if you can read about it in novels about “ordinary people” without considering yourself to be depraved, you should be able to read about it in Cherry’s wonderfully sensitive discussion of how it might have manifest in the ideal human Christians claim Jesus to have been.
Although I don’t “collect” the type of erotically focused romance novel that has become popular fare on the racks of supermarkets and “big box” stores, my daughters do. One of them graciously loans me some of them, including the novels of the extremely popular author Nora Roberts. Although I could cite thousands of examples, here is one chosen from her book “Private Scandals”:
He watched the instant of frantic denial, the stunned panic, the mindless pleasure. Everything she felt echoed inside him. As breathless as she, he lowered himself over her, raining kisses over her glowing face until she was wrapped around him, until her movements grew frantic and his own churning need demanded release.
“Look at me.” He fought the words out of his burning throat. “Look at me.”
And when she did, when their eyes met, held, he slipped inside her. Slowly, his hands fisted in the rug as if he could grip control there, he lowered to her, felt her rise to meet him until they moved together silkily.
When her lips curved, he pressed his face to her throat and took them both over the edge. (p. 244)
For my discussion I’d like to juxtapose this description to a passage from the beginning of “Jesus in Love”:
“Let’s make love,” the Holy Spirit whispered while I was praying.
Each of us was both lover and beloved as everything in me found in the Holy Spirit its complement, its reflection, its twin. We took turns switching roles and switching genders. The momentum of reversing polarities stretched me further and further until I was almost overcome by the force that we had generated.
“Marry me, Jesus,” the Holy Spirit sighed.
Unprecedented pleasure accompanied this most unexpected proposal. When the Holy Spirit kissed my mind and heart, I also felt a tangible touch run down the inner spine of my physical body. Enjoyable arrows of energy shot toward my crotch, concentrating power in my genitals. (p. 33)
Neither of these descriptions is nearly as “anatomically explicit” as many of the scenes in other romance novels. Although in subsequent descriptions in “Jesus in Love” Cherry describes interactions between Jesus and humans such as John and Mary Magdalene, one thing is extremely important. Though the eroticism is real and beautifully described, it always occurs in the context of prayer. This, I believe, is the true genius of Cherry’s writing. She has completely integrated the human Jesus with the divinity of Christ’s being, and the physical and spiritual of our own humanity, in a way that I have never encountered in anything else I’ve ever read. She also fully accepts and celebrates the fact that Eros is indeed divinely created. It is not a “lesser form” of love, somehow tainted. It is that form which was designed by our Creator to enhance human – human relationships as well as to provide the impetus for continuation of life from generation to generation. Eros – Cupid – is depicted in myth as an archer, and I think it is intriguing that in the passage quoted above, the term “arrows of energy” is used.
Another book by which I’m currently enthralled is Sherwin B. Nuland’s “How We Live: The Wisdom of the Body.” Nuland, a medical doctor, writes fascinatingly comprehensible descriptions of many physiological processes, weaving them together with vital philosophical and spiritual insights. In a chapter entitled “The Act of Love” he manages to make the purely biological processes of the formation of ova and sperm cells, the joining of these cells at the time of conception, the subsequent implantation of the zygote, development of the embryo, and the growth of the fetus, into an erotically stimulating narrative. I found it quite as stimulating, in fact, as attempts to produce arousal in novels.
I really, truly believe it is time to use the insights brought to us by medical science, as well as the growing awareness of our own reality as embodied spirits, to stop demonizing our own erotic urges, which need to be comprehended and integrated with our full humanity and brought into the service of creative love in all its forms – procreative, relational, and spiritual. I believe Cherry’s books, as well as Nuland’s and several others I have read recently, make a vital contribution to this endeavor.
Writer and artist Trudie Barreras is a member of First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, Georgia. Her painting “Annunciation” is the logo for this series on Eros and Christ.
Coming soon: Our summer series on Eros and Christ will continue with reflections on Jesus as lover by gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer.