In my last post I wrote about my devotion to the Rosary. This is an old and common Catholic prayer and it is one of the first things I began practicing when I became more interested in my faith many years ago. Throughout all the stages of my life, wherever I have lived or whatever I have been doing, in times of plenty and penury, the Rosary has always been with me. The only other constant in my life has been the Mass. But even there, when I have not gone to Church in a while, I would still pray the Rosary. I really do not know what it is about this prayer that I find so satisfying, but all I know that I do find it satisfying. If I go for a few days without praying this, or prayer in general, I can actually feel the difference in my being. Something is missing, and, like someone who has not eaten for a while, I feel a certain type of spiritual hunger and longing for spiritual sustenance.
And then there is the physical, sexual and erotic sides of life…
Perhaps my love of eroticism seems as odds with my spiritual life? Sometimes I wonder that myself. It is not a question I can really ever answer with any concrete assurance. For most people in the spiritual realm, eroticism is something not to be approached except in the married state, and even there with certain restrictions and great caution. There is an old and pervasive dichotomy in the religious world between the spirit and the flesh, the later being considered the less important of the two, if not downright corrupt and sinful. Just read St. Paul for some influential examples of this. It is easy to understand this tension, since the flesh does decay and eventually die, while our souls are everlasting. And as we recently saw from the horrific injuries in Boston, the flesh is quite fragile and easily damaged. Still, we are not merely angelic, spiritual beings. Rather, we are a mixture of spirit and flesh. Our physical desires are more than proof of that.
The idea of conforming my life to a set of preordained laws and rules concerning sexuality has never worked for me. I tried such things in the past, usually to my own detriment.
What many people do not understand, is that being a highly sexual person, or a person with an extremely, perhaps even freakishly high sex drive, does not prevent someone from being a spiritual person as well. I firmly believe the two can be reconciled, even if one is not married. After all, marriage is not something we are all destined for, or, if married, we may not stay married, due to death, sickness or divorce. It is not as if you can simply go to Wal-Mart and buy a spouse when you are without one and in need of certain spousal pleasures. And being a highly sexual person does not necessarily translate into actual, unbridled sexual behaviors; rather, for me at least, it is understanding who you are, and being open to different experiences, and learning and growing from those experiences. Hopefully it is all part of a larger journey ultimately leading me closer to God.
As I said above, I don’t pretend to have the answers for the eternal conflict between the spirit and the flesh. All I can do is rely on my own experience, learn from others, and move forward in life. Whether I am right or wrong in what I do or write, I can only trust that God is leading me on a path He desires for me. What I do know is that to deny either one, the soul or body, to an unreasonable degree usually has negative consequences.
And I will continue to pray the Rosary daily to help me gain spiritual insight to all these questions.
On the night of my heart attack I was alone. It was dark, and late at night, and I could not sleep. I knew something was wrong, but I was not sure what it was. My chest hurt, I was having a hard time breathing, and I felt as though I had eaten something which was about to make me sick. Still, despite all these signs, the thought that I was undergoing a heart attack was furthest from my mind. Usually I might have problems with a sudden asthma attack, and so that is what I thought was going on. But in the darkness of the late night, when all the world is quiet and only whispers are heard, I felt terrified. I had to turn somewhere, and so I turned to something that always comforts me in times of distress: prayer.
One of my favorite prayers is the rosary. I try to pray it daily, at least one decade (one Our Father, ten Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be while contemplating some part of the life of Christ) if I am short on time. The rosary has been with me my entire adult life, it was one of the earliest prayers that I learned as a Catholic, that is, when I became more serious about my religious faith. In all the decades I have been praying the rosary, I have always found it a great source of consolation. I prayed my first rosary in 1986. So this is my 27th year of practicing this old Catholic devotion. There is something very peaceful and meditative about this prayer. Although of obscure origin (the tradition is that Mary herself appeared to St. Dominic and told him to preach this devotion) it most likely has its origins in prayer practices picked up from the Muslims by the Crusaders. The use of prayer beads is a common custom in many cultures. I can see why. The prayer beads give a certain structure to the prayer, so that you know before you start how long the prayer will last, you know the type of prayer you will doing, you know the things to be contemplated before the contemplation begins. The tactile nature of working through the beads is also a nice, physical manifestation of the ultimately spiritual nature of the prayer. A study was actually done which suggested that the very structure of the “Hail Mary” prayer, the essential, repeated mantra of the rosary, leads one to a certain type of breathing which is beneficial to calmness and relaxation. Although many, if not most, Catholics do not practice it, and many who do find it dull and boring, it has always been a special prayer of mine. I even carry a rosary around in one of my pockets. If for some reason I forget to take it with me in the morning, then I feel something is truly missing for the rest of the day.
So on the night of my greatest peril, in the midst of pain and darkness and confusion, I sat down and prayed this wonderful prayer. It was a Tuesday night, so I must have prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries, the mysteries which reflect on the sufferings of Christ before and during his Passion. How wonderful it is, to mediate on Christ’s sufferings when you yourself are suffering. How wonderful it is to be close to Jesus when life is ebbing away from you, even if you are unaware of this!
Unbeknownst to me while I was praying the rosary, I was having a heart attack. The most dangerous part of a heart attack is the initial 30 minutes. Sudden heart failure and consequent death can occur. This could have been my fate. I thank God, not so much that I survived during that critical time, but that I was fortunate enough to be praying and drawing to close to Christ at such a time. What a better way to die than while praying? But I do believe, for whatever reason, the rosary helped saved my life, and preserved me for some reason, some reason which I am not yet sure of. I believe that turning to God, to Christ and to his mother Mary, at this time saved my life. And now, after this event has happened, my life is changed forever, and I am not the same person now that I was before. I may be physically damaged for the rest of my life, but I feel I am a better person in so many other ways, and I thank God for that. I really do believe I am starting a new life, La Vita Nuova. I look forward to where this journey goes from now. It is a journey I have completely entrusted to God.
Prayer is a beautiful thing. It is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. It is ultimately the source of all my strength in life; as the Blessed Pope John Paul II said, “We can do nothing without prayer.” How true.
What I often seek in the nudes I post here is a sense of balance and harmony. For my entire life, my aesthetic tastes have always leaned in the direction of a certain kind of restrained classicism. This is true even for my erotic tastes in art. Overly baroque, even grotesque depictions of sexuality do nothing for me, indeed, they even repulse me; but a calm and harmonious expression of sexual beauty is a wonderful thing. Most “porn” today is all too infused with the grotesque; it is rare to find something that has some sort of true aesthetic merit, although such erotica does exist. If you are willing to sift through the mounds of porn manure out there, you will eventually find some decent expressions of eroticism. But it takes time and work.
I like the above photo because it shows the beauty of an ancient sculpture contrasted with the beauty of a modern woman. Both are expressions of artistic merit. The one, however, the sculpture, bruised and damaged after two millennia, is perfectly acceptable in our society; the other, a woman disrobing, is generally not. What is the difference between the two? Outside of the fact that one is a flesh and blood woman, the other a piece of marble, I don’t see much of a difference. The very pose of the woman is quite classical in its balance, restraint, and harmony. Her body is nude, we see her natural curves and smooth skin, she is merely a woman, a creation of God, and yet for many in our society, especially those of a religious persuasion, this image is wrong, evil and decadent.
Again, as far as I am concerned good erotic art is just that, art. And good art is something worth promoting and defending in a free society.
I would like to think of this blog as a medley of sexual themes. Sexuality and eroticism are things that have always fascinated me. For instance, I often post photos of nude women; I might write some erotic pieces myself (although I do less of that now than before); I might post more explicit types of erotic photos; I like to explore the societal hypocrisy that often surrounds sexual issues. The relationship between religion, spirituality and sexuality also fascinates me. I like to link to sites that also explore sexuality. These are just a few of the various avenues of sexual discourse that I enjoy exploring on this blog. Of course my love for beauty is an overarching theme as well. To me, erotic beauty is a wonderful thing, worth pursuing and celebrating in various ways. I believe it is something that God gave us to enjoy.
But perhaps what is most important, what I strive for the most on this blog, is to ask and explore the question: what is a healthy sexuality. What I find most interesting about this question is that there is really no definitive answer. What is healthy for one person may be unhealthy for another. Unlike other health issues, such as diet, smoking or exercise, the same principles do not apply equally for everyone. Sexuality is by its nature extremely fluid, not only among individuals, but also among cultures, societies and throughout history. This makes sexuality a fascinating study for me. Not only is sexuality something deeply personal, but the broader, social implications of sex are endlessly intriguing.
So what is a healthy sexuality? The answer for me is, I really do not know. I can only answer for myself, and then perhaps come to a few conclusions in general about other people I know or have heard about or listened to. What I have also read and studied about sexuality adds to my knowledge, but not a whole lot. For myself, a healthy sexuality is being aware of your own sexual desires, understanding how they may be stronger or lesser than others (for me it is always the former), and what is the best way to incorporate those in your life. Because of my religious background and my spiritual longings, I have gone through periods where sex and sexual desires and practices were a bad thing. I tried to suppress them, control them, think of them as something evil to be kept in strong chains, as if they were dangerous beasts shackled in my basement. Given my deeply sexual nature, this only led to neurosis on my part. When I finally accepted my true self, when I finally recognized that my own sexuality was stronger and more powerful than most, and when I finally embraced it, my life improved and I gained a greater happiness. I also found my spiritual life improved as well. Health extended beyond the physical and into the spiritual
Others may chose to live less sexual lives. That is fine. Celibacy is certainly healthy for some. There are simply people whose sex drives are not all that great, who do not desire the pleasures of sexuality, or who possess little eroticism, if any at all. We find this particularly among the religious types. Androgyny is more vibrant in religious circles. At least that has been my experience. Unfortunately it is usually these types who tend to try to tell the rest of us that our sexual lives are bad and sinful. It is almost as if, feeling resentful about the enjoyment that others take in sex, they cannot stomach their own lack of sex and sexual desire, and try to project that upon others. That they have entire religious systems and traditions behind them only makes their arrogance all the worse. I believe this to be unhealthy.
Then there is the argument that all sex is reserved solely for marriage. I suppose this works for many, but not all. It is true that most of society needs the structure of monogamous marriage in order to propagate itself. But for me it was never appealing. For whatever reasons, I enjoy sexual variety, I need different experiences, and I have always understood that. Monogamy may be the norm for most people, but for those of us who have unusually strong sexual desires or who don’t fit into the paradigm of the traditional nuclear family, monogamous relationships are little more than an oppressive prison of desire. I also deeply desire my personal freedom. As one married woman I had an affair with once said, “You should understand how lucky you are to be able to come and go without having to answer to anyone. I wish I still had that.” Yes, she loved her husband, she said, but she still desired freedom and sexual exploration with others. One of the great pleasures of my life has been sharing that with various women who also felt the same way. A man can easily and with societal approval avoid the married life and enjoy sexual freedom and variety; it is more difficult for a woman. But what I know is that there are lots of women who also feel constrained by the married life, who desire to experience different sexual partners and pleasures outside the traditional bonds of marriage or even a monogamous relationship. And yet so many fear to do so…
Life is fascinating indeed.
Of course then you have those who, tortured by their own strong sexual desires but still disgusted at who they are, are always attempting to crusade against sex and eroticism, usually in the name of religion. They tend to be the most ferocious of the puritan types. They also tend to be the most self loathing. In addition, they tend to be the ones who are in secret engaging in some form of sexual behavior, despite their public, puritanical personas. In due time their own hypocrisy is usually exposed. If listened to, they can do a lot of harm to others. If left unchecked, they can do even more harm to those who trust in them and do not expect them to act out sexually. The Catholic Church is filled with such people, not only clergy but laity. The child sex abuse scandal is proof of that. I believe these types, with their public denouncement of all sexual practice outside of marriage as wrong, harmful and evil, are a particularly virulent form of unhealthy sexuality.
There was a time when younger that I was influenced by such types and their notions of extreme, ascetic self control and demonization of all sexual behavior. Fortunately for me I no longer listen to them. Again, my life is better because of that. It is healthier.
So for me a healthy sexuality is understanding who you are, being comfortable in that, and exploring it in a safe way. Being extremely sexual does not necessarily mean unbridled explorations of sexual pleasure, although it can mean that at times. The deeply sexual person always need to be safe and careful, since there will always be the physical and psychological consequences of hyper sexuality. We know that all too well in this age of HIV. Rather, being extremely sexual is just that, being an extremely sexual person, and nothing more. What is healthy, at least for me, is embracing that, even celebrating that in whatever way you choose. Such celebrations of healthy sexuality are part of what this blog is all about.
There is nothing really adequate that can be said about what happened during the Boston Marathon on Monday. As someone who is well familiar with Boston, having grown up close by in New Hampshire, I find this event a bit more abhorrent than something which may have occurred in an area unfamiliar to me.
The bombs seem to be rather crude and simple devices, apparently pressure cookers packed with gunpowder and shrapnel They were intended to do only one thing: kill and maim as many people as possible. They succeeded in doing this, but fortunately the ready availability of first responders and the great hospitals in the Boston area saved many lives. Still, for those who were injured in this act, some with particularly gruesome injuries such as lost legs, their lives will never be same.
Perhaps the worst story is of the eight year old boy, Martin Richard, who was there to watch his father cross the finish line. After hugging his father, he returned to the stands, where the bomb went off, killing him, seriously wounding his mother and sister, the later of whom lost her leg. She was only a little girl. I can’t even begin to imagine the grief of the father on what should have been a joyous day. We should pray for him and his family and for all those killed and injured in this event and their families as well.
If you believe in God, or some spiritual nature of the world, you always ask yourself after something like this, why do such things happen? Why do people do such things? Where was God? No one can answer this. For me, such acts are a reflection of the reality of evil in our world. How do we combat evil? First, by goodness. We saw the response of people instinctively running into the bomb scene, a scene that was still quite fluid as to whether or not more bombs would explode, risking their own lives to save others. We hear about such stories of heroism in times of warfare; yesterday we saw it in action for ourselves: normal people doing extraordinary things to help others. The next way we combat evil is by going after it, finding it, and eradicating it as best we can. We can do that individually in our daily lives but also collectively as a society in different ways.
As someone said yesterday, although there is evil in the world, there is more good than evil. If mankind were completely craven and depraved, we would have destroyed ourselves a long time ago. No, we live in a world where we must deal with evil and violence, but the goodness and justice always win in the end. For me, the promotion of beauty, of finding the beauty in the world and writing about that, is one way of lessening the evil and darker sides of life. Yes, there is evil and ugliness in the world, but there is also goodness and beauty.
Boston is a tough place. New Englanders are a tough people. Our history goes back to those first Pilgrims who braved the harsh Atlantic seas in 1620 and the brutal Massachusetts winter to create a new settlement and start a new society. Most of the members of that first voyage died during that first difficult year in Plymouth, but that did not deter the survivors from building of a new community that eventually became this country. The American Revolution began in Boston. We fought the British, the greatest army in the world at the time, losing the battles such as Bunker Hill but still maintaining the fight until the British finally left the city they had besieged and blockaded. It is a city, despite its schizophrenic relationship with its puritanical past, devoted to liberty. It is a city perhaps more steeped in history, culture, intellect and artistic and architectural beauty than any other in this country. Traditions, such as the Boston Marathon, the oldest continuous Marathon in the world, are a vital part of the city’s character. Sports, politics, religious controversy, intellectual richness, these are part of the spirit of Boston. That spirit is still alive today. A few murderers will never be able to hinder that spirit. I am confident the perpetrators of this heinous act will be brought to justice, and that love, peace and freedom will always prevail in places like Boston, and in the United States. Hope demands this.
After coming across this photo I was reminded of the ancient Greek myth of Leda and the Swan. As the story goes, Zeus desired Leda, the wife of the king of Sparta. He seduced her in the form of a swan on the same night that she slept with her husband and consequently she bore Zeus’ children, one of whom was Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world and the ultimate cause of the Trojan war. It is one of the more famous stories of classical mythology.
What is interesting about the Leda myth and its depiction in art is the inherent eroticism. From the Renaissance onwards, this story is about sex. As a matter of fact, the eroticism of this story is still controversial to this day. Last April, for instance, in London a piece of art work depicting the copulation of Leda and the Swan was forced by police to be removed: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/9232512/Mythical-swan-photo-taken-down-after-bestiality-fears.html They cited it as an example of bestiality, which is illegal in Britain.
And I thought the Victorians were prudish. As a matter of fact, the Victorians were less uptight about Leda and Swan artwork that then police in modern London. It was, after all, a favorite theme among the Victorians. Even Queen Victoria enjoyed nude artwork: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/7228202/Queen-Victorias-passion-for-nudity-goes-on-display-in-new-art-exhibition.html. But then again, I guess the Victorians found it more acceptable to view images of a swan fucking a woman than a man fucking a woman.
As we see with the London police incident as well as the neo-puritans in the U.S., the desire to remove all images and references to eroticism is still quite well and alive. For many religious and conservative types, all artistic expressions of sexuality and eroticism are bad, dirty and impure. I am always amused at just how uncomfortable so many people are with sexuality and eroticism, especially the artistic expression of such a basic part of our world. That is fine for them, if they want to avoid such things. But when they try to control the sex lives of the rest of us, when they try to deny us the right to enjoy such things, then it is time to fight back. To Tony Perkins, the Ayatollah Rick Santorum, Pat Roberston, and the other nut cases of the prudish right who crusade against such things, I can only say: Fuck you and go away.
There is a plethora of Leda and the Swan art pieces. Below I have shown a few throughout the ages, going all the way back to classical antiquity. This rich and significant historical tradition raises an interesting question for us today: how do we distinguish between “porn” and “art”? Some of the images below, such as those by Rubens or Cezanne are literally priceless. Others might get you fired from your job if found on your computer. Yet they are all sexual and erotic. Rubens’ work, again as an example, could be depicted as “bestiality” and therefore be deemed illegal under British law. Clearly, he is strongly suggesting that the swan is in fact copulating with Leda, which is of course the whole point of the story. So who decides if it is porn or art? Who decides whether it is permitted or forbidden? Some stupid cops? Some uptight soccer moms? Some crazy religious fanatics? Such questions continue to be interesting, and even humorous, if not dangerous. From Leonardo’s depiction of this myth to the London art gallery, it has and continues to be source of controversy.
Ancient mosaic from Cyprus, 3rd century AD. I have to say she does have a nice ass for an ancient mosaic.
This ancient Roman marble is a bit stiff and lifeless but the Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cucinelli of Virginia would still try to cover her breasts.
Cesare Sesto, after the lost original by Leonardo da Vinci. How I wish we still had this original! Leonardo is always fascinating.
Peter Paul Rubens, after the lost original by Michelangelo. Clearly, both Rubens and Michelangelo are strongly suggesting the actual act of copulation. Today they would be throw in jail in Britain for such things.
Sixteenth century marble, most likely inspired by Rubens’ work. Again, it is pure filth.
Paul Cezanne, 19th century. She seems uninterested, at least for now.
And finally, the scandalous work in the London art gallery banned by police in April of 2012!!! Hide your pure, holy and virgin eyes lest you be corrupted!!!
As we can see, each one of these hints at, if now outright celebrates, the sexuality of this story. It is a strange story, as most myths are. What is even stranger is that it would still be a source of controversy today.
The arrival of Spring offers us many lovely sights. This is one of them. When we think of Spring, we think of fertility, the rebirth of life, the ancient cycles of passion and procreation that possess all creatures at this time. The world teems with new joys and energy. Sex seems to be everywhere.
This photo, luxuriating in the loveliness of her breasts and hips, reminds me of the basic earthiness of our existence. No matter what our technological sophistication, no matter how advanced we may think our civilization, we are still subject to the everlasting rhythms of this earth. We cannot escape our primal natures, no matter how hard we try. This is not to deny the spiritual and unseen component our lives, or that we should live like primitive peoples, but rather it is to humbly acknowledge our continued dependence on the world around us.
When I see a photo like this, I instinctively know what it means, what it suggests and beckons, and how much power the eroticism of life has over all of us. Her breasts and hips are also a testament to the older forms of female beauty that prevailed before the stick figures of modern aesthetics came about. I find these traditional images more attractive than the rather emaciated, androgynous notions of female beauty that are too often presented to us today. A image such as this overflows with the same sort of primal energy that fills each Spring day.
As we welcome the delights of Spring, so long live breasts, hips and the wonderful GNP, all reflections of the ancient and primal eroticism of rebirth and renewal.
P.S., for those who may not know, the GNP is “The Glorious Natural Pelt” otherwise known simply as “the bush”. And my older readers know how much I love the bush. Which reminds me, I think I need to write a new post sometime soon on the beauties of the bush. One is long overdo. I am after all a stalwart advocate of the traditional bush on a woman.
Just a nice image for today. I particularly enjoy the play of skin, light and fabric. The sheer, delicate textile of her garment only enhances the beauty of her breasts. When I see an image like this, I wonder how many people would consider this porn? How many art? It is impossible to say. I would hope most would see the artistic merits of this photo and not summarily dismiss it as “porn” and therefore bad and worthy to be suppressed. Rather, it is worthy to be viewed with pleasure as a pleasant depiction of female beauty.
Claude Lorraine (1600-1682) was a French painter most well known for his beautiful landscapes. I have always enjoyed his works. As winter has now finally retreated to its icy abodes for the next six months (at least in my neck of the woods), leaving us with the joys, warmth and wonders of an incipient spring and summer, and as nature begins to blossom into her full beauty, I am often reminded of the lovely and magical landscapes of Lorraine. If ever there was a painter of both vernal and aestival joys, it was Lorraine. As a matter of fact, so popular were his paintings in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that tourists, travelers and fellow painters, especially in England, would often use something called a “Claude glass”, a type of mirror through which someone might view a natural setting. The Claude glass created a sort of Claude Lorraine like hue to the scene: a soft, almost humid atmosphere, imbued with shady and shimmering light, peppered with both natural and man made enticements.
The best way to describe a Claude Lorraine landscape is to think of a hot summer day somewhere in the Southern U.S. There is a certain quality to the Southern summer which is hard to describe: beyond the often oppressive heat, the air is filled with moisture, and a kind of serene calmness pervades everything as life seems to slow down, magically and inexorably, beneath a blanket of warmth, shade, sun and chattering Cicadas. The rich vegetation of the Southern climate also creates a panorama of green life and brilliant floral patterns spread among the many trees and flowers. Although originally from New England, I now reside in a Southern state, and the South in the summer is truly a delightful place to be. Most people hate the heat. I like it. As I like to tell people, unlike snow, you don’t have to shovel humidity.
The painting above is a nice example of Lorraine’s work. It contains both natural beauty, such as the trees, the water, the clouds and the distant, misty horizon, but it also depicts man made adornments, such as the old bridge and castle in the background. In many ways this mixture of natural and human elements in a evocative natural environment is a precursor to the 19th century Romantic love of nature and old, man made ruins. Claude also adds some Classical depth to this landscape: we see the story of Apollo, playing the violin, unaware that Hermes is stealing his cattle. The addition of cattle makes the scene all the more pastoral, while maintaining its mythological, and therefore unreal essence.
Perhaps the following quote describes best Claude Lorraine’s paintings. It is by John Constable, the great British romantic landscape painter, who describes Claude as, “the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw”, and says of his landscapes:
all is lovely – all amiable – all is amenity and repose; the calm sunshine of the heart
The painting below is pure pastoral: a shepherd with his flock. I love the play of light, the golden mellow atmosphere, the peace and calm of a lovely summer day. To experience such things both through art and nature, through aesthetics as well as life itself, is indeed a blessing. This painting does capture such delights, what Constable called, “the calm sunshine of the heart”.
Nature is a beautiful thing. And painters who devoted themselves to depicting the beauty of nature have always been among my favorite. Just as I find a painting or photo of a nude woman to be beautiful, so too do I find the magical landscapes of artists such as Claude Lorraine examples of beauty.