Fra Angelico (1395-1455) was an early Italian Renaissance painter. He was also a Dominican Friar who spent his the greater part of his life in the friary of St. Marco in Florence, Italy. According to the Giorgio Vasari, who wrote a famous work on Italian Renaissance painter, The Live of the Artists, “It is impossible to bestow too much praise on this holy father, who was so humble and modest in all that he did and said and whose pictures were painted with such facility and piety.” He also said Fra Angelico painted with a “rare and perfect talent”.
The above painting is of the Transfiguration of Christ. This is told at today’s Catholic mass. Basically, it is the moment when Jesus went up to a high mountain with three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, and was “transfigured” before them. According to the Gospels, his physical appearance changed, as he “was transfigured before them; his face shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light.” Then, a shining cloud appeared above his disciples, from which they heard a voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”. It is one of the most intriguing moments in the Gospels.
It has also been a favorite scenes of many artists. Raphael painted perhaps the most famous depiction, which I posted on a few years ago. Today’s post celebrates the painting by Fra Angelico, who, as mentioned above, was one of the most spiritual of all Renaissance artists. He has even been named as “Blessed” by Pope John Paul II in 1982, which is a mark of high sanctity and is one step removed from formal sainthood.
Fra Angelico’s paintings are wonderful depictions of the life of Christ. In their calm and simplicity, their peaceful quiet and solid beauty, they reflect the deep spiritual soul of their creator. Not only can they be enjoyed simply as nice works of art, they also can be used as aides to prayer and meditation. In many ways they are a bridge between the more traditional Byzantine, icon style paintings of medieval art, and the emerging naturalism of the Renaissance. In fact, most of his painting were done in his friary, St. Marco, and were, like most religious art, intended as spiritual aids, rather than simply as sources of aesthetic pleasure. Fra Angelico was a great influence on the next generation of Italian Renaissance painters, such as Leonardo and Raphael.
His painting may be difficult for modern eyes to understand and appreciate, but for me their beauty and sense of spiritual truth far excels so much of weirdness and ugliness that exists in most modern art.
Now the Lenten season is upon us. It is a time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is a general renewal of the spiritual life in preparation for the Easter season, and the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Although a few other Christian denominations practice some form of Lent, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are still the place to find the full expression of the Lenten spirit.
In today’s Mass readings (Matthew 4:1-11) we hear the story of Jesus’ journey to the desert, where he fasted for forty days and nights and was tempted by Satan. The first temptation was that of food. Jesus was hungry, and Satan approached him to suggest he turn the stones into bread. Christ’s response was one of the most famous lines of the Bible: “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.
It is always good to be reminded, especially given this blog’s penchant for the celebration of physical–and in particular female–beauty, that there is more to life than simply the world around us. For me, life without the spiritual is empty indeed.
I am not sure where the painting above is from, but I find it to be a good expression of this great passage from Scripture. It also expresses well what many of us may experience went tempted by evil. There can be darkness and difficulties in life, worries and confusions, struggles and deep temptations, but in the end, as Lent reminds us, despite all this there is the ultimate hope of the resurrected Christ.
Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the year. In fact, despite the best efforts of the cultural, Marxist Left to diminish the importance of Christmas in our society, Christmas Eve still remains one of the most powerful and popular moments in our otherwise very fractured and divided society. For many of us who grew up in an earlier time without the benefit of all the technological gadgets that entertain people today, Christmas was the moment of the year of true magic and mystery, joy and happiness. The more simple gifts we received were always greatly loved. I for one loved trucks. We had no Playstation or X-box back then. So just going out into the yard and getting dirty with your new toys was always a delight. Even if you have no religious affiliation or sympathies at all, Christmas can still be a time of love and selfless giving.
One of the things I love the most about Christmas Eve is the confluence of light and darkness. Of course, the religious meaning of Christ coming into the darkness of the world with the light of life, The Nativity, is what is most important about Christmas. Still, for our modern world, the display of Christmas lights and decorations are an expression of this, even if many of them are now peppered with more secular images of Christmas, such as Santa Clause and other figures. Whatever the ultimate reason for such decorations on the part of those decorating, I have always loved the public display of lights and decorations for Christmas. Since we are in the darkest period of the year, when the days are short and there is little light and much cold, there is real emotional, spiritual and even mystical beauty to such sights.
The celebration of Christmas on December 25 of course originated in an ancient pagan Roman festival called the Saturnalia, which occurred at roughly this point in December. It was originally a sort of Winter solstice celebration. From a purely secular standpoint, what we have in common today with that old pagan festival is hope: the hope that is brought about in the darkest point of the year of new light, the eventual return of sun and warmth with spring, and the subsequent renewal of life itself in nature. So whatever the origins of this season, it always has been, and still remains, a wonderful time of the year.
And of course there is all the beautiful music. No more needs to be said on that!
And I am glad to notice since the election of Trump that more and more people seem once more to be saying “Merry Christmas” in public. I noticed this recently, and wondered if this was simply my own misguided judgment, until I heard some news pundit mention it as well. So perhaps there is something going on here. If so, the cultural Marxist left which controls most news media and entertainment, and all of academia, will be quite displeased!
Oh yes, and one of the best Christmas presents I have received this year is watching the Left’s complete meltdown at the election of Trump. It is truly one of the most delightful phenomena I have witnessed my entire life!
So here is wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!
Since today is Sunday it is a nice time for some spiritual reflection. The Anima Christi has always been one of my favorite prayers. Its origins are unknown, but perhaps it took its present form sometime in the fourteenth century. The founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, loved this prayer, and even it put it in the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises. Anima Christi means “Soul of Christ” and it is one of the most wonderful expression of Catholic spirituality. The fact that is has remained extremely popular for centuries is a testimony to its power and appeal.
Now, it may seem strange to some that a blog such as this would explores spiritual and religious matters as well as sexual and erotic. I admit there are contradictions here, especially vis a vis the posts concerning Christianity. Many of my writings on sex and sexuality are, in the end, incompatible with Christianity. Even more incompatible are many of my posts and the morals of the Catholic Church. I will not try to play the sophist to reconcile these things. I offer no explanations or apologies except to say that what I am attempting is an honest discussion of the different forces which influence people’s lives. Religion and sexuality are two of those forces. Even though we live very much in a post Christian society in the West, and in particular a post-Catholic, nevertheless the influence of Christianity on our daily lives is still there. We may not be as aware of this as in the past, nor may we be as influenced by it as in the past, but it undeniably still there. In fact, the vast majority of people, at least in the United States, still identify themselves as Christian. This cannot but help shape the society in which in live. Given that fact, then writing about different matters relating to religion and sexuality is more than justified, even if it may seem contradictory.
I suppose one defense of my erotic writings is this: in my posts dealing with sexuality, whether they be merely erotic pieces of fancy, or more serious discussions of sexual issues, I have always emphasized the importance of love and relationships. I have also written on the ultimate importance of the highest form of human love, marriage. Yes, I have occasionally written things of a purely frivolous nature, and I do those simply for the sake of entertainment. These writing appeal to some, and to some they do not. Everyone has different tastes.
There are religious readers, at least in the past, who have commented on some of my posts, and these readers were also in marriages. What they reflect is the fact that many people of a spiritual or religious nature are also deeply sexual, and that they understand and appreciate the complex nature of human sexuality, especially with regard to traditional religions, such as Catholicism. As I have often said here, the sexual conflicts and contradictions within many individuals who are nevertheless steady and even devout members of the Church is a subject often treated too poorly, are simply ignored all together, and the results of this are often seen in some of the more bizarre sex scandals which manifest themselves quite frequently. Neurotic suppression of erotic desire is a dangerous thing. For those with a deeply erotic spirit, the best avenue for the expression of that spirit is a healthy relationship with another person, and marriage is the traditional means of securing that.
So, for many in traditional religions, the best option for their sexuality is marriage. And yet marriage is not a guarantee in life. We may never find the right person, or be in the right marriage, or we may even suffer the death of a spouse. So what about those who are still deeply sexual, but are not married? How do they reconcile their sexuality with spirituality, especially the spirituality of a traditional religion to which they may belong? Perhaps this is the audience I am striving to reach the most here. There are many people of this nature, and more today than ever, as marriage is less practiced today than ever in human history. Such people often fail to explore the spiritual side of life because of the censure they believe they will experience from a religious community or institution. So in the end I wonder how many people never find a spiritual base for their lives because of these issues? Religion and spirituality have been and remain part of the universal human experience, and even modern psychology admits the importance of a healthy spirituality for an overall, healthy life. I write openly and loosely about eroticism and sexuality here because I am expressing what I have experienced in my own life in these matters, not only in my own life but among others I have known, and hopefully others can find some sort of comfort or meaning in that as well.
One thing I have noticed though among those who discuss these issues is this (and I am particularly referring to Catholicism): many such people often seem to want to ultimately undermine Church teaching, not only on sexuality but on other issues. It seems that the moment you open the door for discussion on sexuality, sooner or later the question becomes the nature of the sacraments, especially the nature of the Eucharist, the structure of nature of the Church, or even the divinity of Christ. I reject all of that. In my discussion of sexuality, or even in my erotic writings in general, I am not seeking to undermine traditional Christian or Catholic teachings and doctrine, although I admit posting nude and erotic photographs and writing explicitly erotic posts seems precisely to do that (e.g., the photo above by Michelangelo was controversial for its nudity the moment it was painted), but rather I am seeking to throw a light upon the reality of the world around us, a reality of our sexual natures that exists today and has existed since man first walked the earth. Again, it is a form of contradiction, but these contradictions are what many spiritual people live with day to day, especially those spiritual or religious people who are not in the comfortable boundaries of a traditional marriage. In a modern, complex, vast and industrial and technological society, these contradictions can be quite unhealthy to a person’s mind or soul or body if they are not confronted openly and honestly.
So, in the end, the Anima Christi is a beautiful prayer, and one that I say after every Mass on Sunday.
Once again, Sunday is a day when love can flourish. What are Sundays for, but for the enjoyment of sweet love. Love is a strange thing: it can come upon us in the most unexpected situations, and then, when we are the most unprepared, we are overtaken by this strange and mysterious force. What do we do then? There is no simple path for such a journey, and on this journey, no two paths are the same. Love is powerful when it happens, terrifying, yes, but still wondrous.
Sundays are always a beautiful day for love, and there are the different kinds of Sunday love, and yet these kinds of love are all related. There is the love we express for God on Sundays, and then there is the love we can express with each other. The love between a man and women is the most blissful type; it is also the most dangerous. Still, it is a danger we must not flee or be afraid to experience. What is life without such experiences? It is usually a grey and bland and dull journey utterly devoid of true feeling. The spectrum of love, from the love of God to the love of two people is always in the end a kind of spiritual experience, and although the sexual pleasure of physical love is always divine, it is even more divine when we remember the deeper, more mystical nature of such love.
Spiritual and sexual love is a kind of bond that is a true reflection of the greater spiritual bonds that pervade the universe: mysterious, utterly beyond our feeble human comprehension, and yet known to us nevertheless. When our paths cross with someone special and we can share such a bond with them, this is a great gift from God. It is not a common thing, it is rare, so when it does happen, we should seize the moment before the moment is lost, and lost forever.
Such are the mysteries and cruelties and beauties of life and love.
I am not sure if I have posted this image before, but this is one of my favorite drawings by one of my favorite artist, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). What I find so alluring about his works is his ability to capture a kind of strange, other worldliness, and to do so with the most exquisite beauty imaginable. Although Leonardo was at best an agnostic, his works still reflect the deep religious feelings of his time, especially in Catholic Italy of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. When I see his works I am reminded that, at least for me, we are physical beings journeying through a world of spirit and and transcendent mysticism.
This is merely a sketch. And yet is has such beauty, evocative and alluring and even mystical, that is really cannot be explained in words. Most great art cannot.
Is this what Eve looked like? When Adam first saw her, and felt that first erotic desire for her, he saw something like this.
Love and desire are part of our human experience. Love and beauty are intertwined. A woman’s beauty stirs love in a man, and love, as the Song of Solomon tells us, is a wonderful thing.
In the world of the spirit, there has always been this tension with the world of the flesh. In the end the flesh will pass away, but the spirit remains. And yet the two are intimately intertwined, and cannot be totally separated. After all, in Christian theology, the body will be resurrected and reunited with the soul. How we treat our bodies while on our earthly sojourn is what is important–how we treat our own bodies, and how we treat others as well.
We really have no idea where we came from, or where we are heading, except that at one point in time the first truly human female walked on this earth, and when she did, the first truly human male desired her. Where and when was that? Who knows. But if there really was Garden of Eden, I like to imagine that this was one of the of the visions that garden provided.
There is so much hatred and ugliness in the world. Sometimes it is overwhelming. One cannot read any news these days without being bombarded with stories of the most sickening kind of violence. Where do we find peace, hope and love? Where do we find true beauty in the midst of so much depravity? This is a question for each individual to answer.
For me, I have once again found comfort in spirituality, in faith and belief in God. I have lived long enough to know what life is like without faith, and what life is like with faith. And, despite the numerous difficulties that necessarily go along with such beliefs, the life of faith is better.
Often I have extolled physical beauty: a beautiful landscape, a beautiful work of art, a beautiful woman. These are all important manifestations of God’s presence in our world. And yet there is another kind of beauty, an internal beauty that comes with faith. We can see this sometimes in others, we can feel their inner beauty refining the atmosphere about us, like a cool ocean breeze that softens the brutal intensity of a summer sun. Perhaps their faith is completely different from ours; and yet we feel something that is good in them, and we know that this goodness is a reflection of the eternal God. In the end, it is all a deep mystery.
Prayer is the gateway to such experiences. As Pope John Paul II used to say, “Without prayer we can do nothing”. Through prayer we can reach another world, a world unseen, but a world that is still as beautiful, if not more, than the physical world surrounding us. It is a different kind of beauty. It is a beauty that is lasting, untouched by corruption, free from the stains of violence and ugliness. It is beauty that stretches throughout space and time, reaching as far back into history as possible, and traveling far beyond the limits of the universe and into eternity. Our understanding can only hope to grasp one small part of this, and yet this one small part is so immense and profound that we could spend every waking moment contemplating it, and never come to any real or concrete understanding of its true essence. And yet the more we contemplate such beauty, the more we thirst for a deeper draught.
As the great St. Augustine said, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new!”
Now we seem to live in a world which seems utterly devoid of prayer and faith in anything except whatever thrills the latest technological advancement brings. What is ugly and what is bizarre seem to be what are most valued. The iron laws of nature are ignored and we believe that we can declare ourselves to be whatever we want to be. And in those parts of the world where religious faith is strong, there seems to be a deep sickness and madness overcoming many. We live in strange times. Many of us wonder what is becoming of the world.
But in the end we remain, as Socrates once described us, “featherless bipeds”. Whether we like it or not, and no matter how much we may want to imagine otherwise or try to change what nature has ordained, or how much we are dazzled by our own cleverness and power, we are still creatures of this earth, dependent upon the earth, our fates completely intertwined with the natural world around us, and there is nothing we can ever do to change that. This is the way it has been since the first humans emerged from Africa 100,000 years ago, and this is the way it will remain until the end the time. In this age of technological wizardry and massive state controlled systems of life, it is important to remember just how quickly that technology can vanish, how industry, governments and even civilization itself could suddenly crumble, whether through natural or man made disasters, and how quickly we could return to being utterly dependent on ourselves, upon what we and grow from the earth or find through hunting for our survival. We ignore all this at our own peril.
And yet in all the difficulties of life, faith remains. Prayer remains. Our need for and belief in God remains. It is and always has been part of our human condition, despite the modern Western world’s best efforts to ignore this. And with faith and prayer there is beauty, a beauty that also provides the strength and sustenance to help us endure the vicissitudes of our everyday world, and perhaps that is the most powerful kind of beauty of all.
Recently I have been going through sort of an old transformation. When I began this blog over seven years ago, I was not sure what direction I wanted it to go, or even what I really interested in writing about. It was just a fun little exercise in nonsense. Over the years this site developed into one which concentrates on beauty, eroticism and spirituality. Occasionally I will write on a political topic, although I tend to avoid these because I really do not want to deal with the animus that often arises in people when the topics are political. Cultural things are also of an interest to me.
In time, sex, spirituality and religion became one of the main topics here, especially the way sexuality and spirituality either colluded or conflicted. Recently, however, I have found myself growing tired of the more explicit aspects of sexuality, so I have decided to stop writing about them. There are plenty of sites out there that deal with explicit sex, and I no longer want this site to be one of them. In fact, I have grown tired of the over saturation of explicit sexuality in our society. Too much public, vulgar, unbridled sexuality lessens the depth and and beauty of a healthy sexuality, and diminishes us as humans. We can be animals if we want, and certainly at times there is nothing quite as delightful as good, physical sex, but when it is completely divorced from all mystery, sensuality, and, most important of all, love, then it becomes merely a meaningless, bestial activity.
Beauty and eroticism are still important topics to me though, so I will continue to write about them. One of things I find important to write about, and to express to others who may be experiencing the same things, is how spirituality, religion and sexuality can often conflict greatly in a person. It is one of those things I simply have no answer to, but I think it is important that it is at least written about in an open and honest way. There are many people who are quite spiritual and even religious, but who are also quite highly sexual, especially if they are not in a relationship, and at the same time privately tortured by their unresolved sexual feelings and struggles. There are even those who are married or in some sort of relationship, but their sexuality is different from their partner’s, especially in desire and intensity. This can lead to problems in a relationship, even in one’s relationship with God.
For a few years I had been separated from my religion, Catholicism. I suppose it was a classic crisis of faith. I won’t get into the details here as I prefer to keep those things private; but what I will say is that over the past few months I have returned to the Church, and, after having done so, I am quite happy I have. I can see now that I need God and faith more than anything, and without them I am a lesser person. I will also say that prayer is one of the most powerful tools we have for peace and happiness. This is not new to me; for most of my life I have known and practiced these things, but the past few years I became detached from them. Now that I have reincorporated these practices into my life, I can only wonder why I ever stopped in the first place.
As far as my particular religion, Catholicism, I even wrote some things on here that were quite critical, even insulting to the Church. They reflect my state of mind at the time, but now I reject them. They are no longer on this site. Still, that is not to say that there still won’t be posts on here that seem to contradict many of the official teachings of the Church. I still believe that feminine beauty is a wonderful creation of God, so tasteful, artistic nudes will still be posted on here; but I will avoid anything which is crass or overly explicit, as I have often tried to do.
So I guess I have simply gotten tired of too much sexuality, and will no longer be writing things of an explicit nature. I will still write about beauty and sensuality and eroticism, but all in the context of a larger theme of how we can incorporate these in our lives without them becoming harmful or destructive, and especially how they related to those who are seeking God.
Life is a constant journey: we grow, we change, we discover new things, we discard old things. The important thing is that the directions we are heading in are the right ones. When you trust in God, or at least some sort of divine guidance, then you can trust your journey is in good hands.