We kissed in two chapels and one church on a rainy evening, experiencing the thrill and the sacredness of being human and divine. I later pondered on the ecstasy of tasting a lover’s lips, a sensual yet vulnerable moment, in churches. In church, a congregation gazes in awe as a newly-wedded couple takes their ‘first’ kiss. For those of us, who would probably never get to exchange vows, we make peace with kissing our lovers naughtily, secretly, defiantly.
Our expressions of love and affection get sanctioned by religious and cultural mores. In the past, temple sculpture in the Khajuraho temples depicted different aspects of life with wonder, beauty and insightfulness. Sexual congress among people and beasts were portrayed as an aspect of different stages of life. With time, some sexual acts were considered normal, natural, necessary and some abnormal, unnatural, deviant, demonic. In a world, where wars are fought and lives are at stake, how does one live, sexually and spiritually? How do we allow ourselves to be liberated and be unabashedly who we are? How do we navigate spaces that are continuously policed by singular and constricting outlooks?
Both our sexuality and spirituality are inner affects directed outwards to an other. There is an interconnecting relationship among the self, the other and a higher force, that some call ‘god.’ How we are and live and act and engage with others comprises our sexuality. How we are and live and act and engage,in relation to a higher, inexplicable force or presence comprises our spirituality. Our spirituality encompasses our worldview, which shapes the way we make sense of our lives.
The desire for an other, tangibly or transcendentally, is outwardly oriented. Accepting this desire might make us feel humble, vulnerable, limited and/or elevated, powerful, desirable.The desire may be a quest for wholeness with the sacred. The leap into a higher state of being might entail living our lives authentically and differently and may even cause ripples of discomfort in the places we inhabit.
We need to claim our spirituality differently and imaginatively. There are many paths to god. For some it might be religion, or science, or sex, or love, or meditation, or art. God may be a turgid penis or clitoris for one, or it may be the laws or forces of nature for another, or the all-powerful god of a particular religion, or it may be a combination of all of these, or something else altogether.The symbols and language and representations for signifying our notions of god may be different.The wizened face of an older person. A selfless act of giving. An uplifting song that pierces our soul.The ability to continue even in pain or despair. The aroma of incense. Perhaps our world is imbued with the grandeur of god. Each experience may allow us to transcend into an otherness, making us vulnerable.
Our quest for a different spirituality is immersed in reality. Forming networks of loving and sustainable relationships might be a way to withstand hostile environments. Our material and economic needs for survival and our vulnerabilities will always be an integral aspect of how we interact with others in our relationships. Our relationships might seem messy as we strike to seek a balance with our bodies, desires, needs, egos, power, and control. An evolving spirituality involves a sometimes difficult, yet responsible act of putting the other first, at times.
Possibly, another way of claiming our spirituality is by simply living our lives differently. Though we may have to stand up to forces that diminish or harm us, we pave ways for ourselves and others. We need to engage and dialogue with newer audiences about our beliefs, faith and practice.
Sometimes, it might be necessary to pose challenges and raise questions in religious conversations to broaden spaces for difference.Questioning guarded orthodoxies might open tiny fissures of dialogue that eventually have interpretations that are a wee bit more inclusive than earlier. Revisiting ‘religious’ stories and speaking points-of-view of characters allow for difference, complexity and integration.
We might need to interpret our own experiences of divinity, salvation, forgiveness and liberation from our brokenness and shamefulness. Evolving in our own spirituality would above all place the onus of narrating our own stories of redemption. We need to be reflective beings. By allowing for ‘indecent’ insights (challenging what is taken-for-granted, decent or acceptable) from our lived experiences,we make spaces for understanding our notion of a god who is more like us. A god who is sexy and horny and broken and was rejected or rejects.
I recall an instance of going to church one Sunday morning, almost a year after I left a religious order, only to spend more time with a guy who made me taste heaven. That day, the gospel reading was the call of Peter. Attractive Jesus, lean, dishevelled beard, and in a single-piece garment, stands on a shaky boat, all sweaty from the excessive humidity, as four scantily clad fishermen cast their nets. Suddenly, Jesus asks Peter to cast his net on another shore. (Was Peter’s net a metaphor for his raw seductiveness?) And only then do Peter and the other three men catch a large haul of fish, so large that it almost takes their boat to sinking point. Peter is so moved and humbled and vulnerable, that he falls on his knees and begs Jesus, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” Then Jesus compassionately says, “Come Peter, I will teach you to become the fisher of men.”
Though I had heard this story so many times before, I realized that Jesus was recruiting Peter to become a fisher of men. (What were those insights to catch men, oh Peter?) Were the apostles and Jesus fishing for men? Were the sexual stories of all these men insignificant for the writers when they highlighted their spiritualities? A story I had heard umpteen times earlier spoke to me, as a gay man. It was a story about the unworthiness of love, and vulnerability, and the promise of wholeness in a wise relationship. That morning, Jesus and Peter were as human and broken and desirous as I was.
Our spirituality, like our sexuality, is not just our own, but also an aspect of how people in a society evolve collectively. For some of us, this might mean having to live and claim our spirituality, being responsible, irreverent and, perhaps,‘degenerate’, so that we widen our horizons of understanding and loving and just being!
Cover Image: Khajuraho