In light of my most recent post, I’ve been thinking a lot about “gay celibate relationships” this week.
The way I see “gay celibate relationships”–and have always seen them–is that they are pursuing an apparent good in place of a true good. I always feel when I hear about them that the people involved are stuck in a place of being “almost there.” I think that probably sounds offensive to some ears, or remarkably hubristic, but I write it not to be a critical blowhard, but because I want to urge them to go “further up and further in,” to quote C. S. Lewis in The Last Battle. I want to say to them, “Hey there! The path to peace, joy and happiness is this way! Don’t stop where you are–you haven’t gotten there yet! Keep going. It’s just over the next bend!”
What I mean by this can be summed up in something I just read today in Blessed Dom Columbia Marmion’s great book Union With God:
Ask your patron [saint], as I do for your, to obtain for you such an ardent love for your Divine Spouse that all other love may flow from it. We may never share our love for God with any other creature; His commandment is formal: “Thou, shalt love the Lord God with thy whole heart.” But in the same way as we love God, we may love others, because He loves them, and because He desires that we should love them, and in the order and degree in which He wills that we should love them.” [Emphasis in the original.]
Our love for God must be such that when we love others, we will love them “in the order and degree in which He wills that we should love them.”
The “order and degree” in which God wills that we love members of the same sex is in the form of friendship, one of the true and great gifts of God. If we try to squeeze our love for our fellow members of the same sex into the mold of something else, or some other order of love, it will be a distraction and impediment to true and complete union with God: it is settling for an apparent good, instead of for the true good.
Not only would it be a distraction to us, it would be an impediment to the one we love most in the world: the “partner” we’ve chosen to share our lives with.
I think we are settling for something far short when we strive to ameliorate our loneliness by working out what it might be like to live in a “celibate partnership” or viewing ourselves as “a couple.” Any sort of pseudo-spousal relationship, or a “committed relationship” between two members of the same sex is outside of the bounds of “the order and degree” in which God wills that we love our neighbor. “Committed friendships” or “coupled friends” are a strange and novel view of friendship, and really have nothing to do with friendship at all. I think urging people towards that vision of the fulfilled life for the person living with attractions to the same sex is mistaken.
My criticism of this way of thinking isn’t motivated by thinking the people doing this are off their rocker. Far from it. I understand keenly the isolation and oppressive loneliness people can feel when they desire to be faithful to God, and yet find their desires to be out of step with God’s plan for humanity. For many long years of my life I had moments when I thought that if I weren’t to wake up in the morning, life would finally be better, because it would be over. The loneliness I felt would finally be gone, the isolation I felt would be over, and the constant tension in my life between my love for God and my desires would be over too.
In that frame of mind, naturally a “celibate gay partnership” would seem like a good idea. But God save me from anything that would impede me from realizing that my whole self must become wholly reliant on God.
That awareness only comes through pain and suffering, and thus, the most valuable and precious thing to me in my life now are all of those years of pain, loneliness and isolation I endured.
In the light of the hellish lonely existence that so often accompanies this life, especially in the early years of this journey, gay celibate relationships seem to be an understandable form of self-triage that attempts to stanch the flow of that pain in one’s life. But it’s done with the ignorance of the poor child who has to undergo surgery to save his life, and can’t possibly understand why.
St. Francis de Sales has helped me immensely in all of this.
Here are some words of spiritual direction he wrote to one of his directees:
Yes indeed, my dear daughter, it is certainly true; these eternal and irrevocable renunciations, these immortal adieux which we have said to the world and to its friendships cause some grief to our heart, and who would not shrink under the action of this keen-edged knife cutting between, and separating, the soul and the spirit and the flesh’s heart from God’s heart and ourselves from ourselves? But thanks be to God that the knife has been applied, and it is over: no, never shall there be a rejoining of one with the other, by his grace to whom to join ourselves with inseparably we have separated ourselves for ever from all else.
I don’t want to be cheated from all of the good that God desires to do in my life because of the loneliness I have felt–and sometimes still feel. That’s why I have no interest now in a gay celibate relationship, or why I’m not really tempted to try and date anyone anymore. And it’s why I think gay celibate relationships take us in the wrong direction.
This letter from C. S. Lewis to Warfield M. Firor, dated December 5, 1949 has helped me make sense of all of this:
Well, thank God (for there is still part of me, a tiny little infantine voice somewhere amidst all the strong, confident natural voices, which can just thank Him, or perhaps only thank Him for being able to wish to thank Him) we shall not be left to the world. All His terrible resources (but it is we who force him to use them) will be brought against us to detach us from it—insecurity, war, poverty, pain, unpopularity, loneliness. We must be taught that this tent is not our home. And, by Jove, how terrible it would be if all suffering, including death itself, were optional, so that only a very few voluntary ascetics ever even attempted to achieve the end for which we are created. A propos—dare we gloss the text ‘Strait is the way and few there be that find it,’ by adding “And that’s why most of you have to be bustled and badgered into it like sheep—and the sheep-dogs have to have pretty sharp teeth too’! I hope so.
I don’t want the teeth pulled from the sheepdogs.
God, in his inestimable mercy and love, allowed loneliness, isolation and feelings of hopelessness to enter into my life. This is a paradoxical view of pain, that makes no sense outside of God’s love for us.
Blessed Dom Marmion once again helps me understand all of this:
Your soul is in God’s hands; He loves it, He looks upon it unceasingly and He makes it pass through the states that, in His Wisdom, He sees to be necessary for it.
Gay celibate partnerships have always seemed to me to stem from the sheep not liking the sheepdogs who are doing the will of the Good Shepherd. If we are wise, we would run to the sheepdogs, instead of running away from them, and realize that loneliness, isolation and pain are the instruments of the Great Physician, shaping us to become divine works of art.
The smartest and wisest course of action is to lay still on the surgeon’s table, and accept the fate God has planned for our lives. That’s the way to true peace and happiness and joy.