Saturday, December 30, 2006


From Wrestling with the Angel...

Recently, at a party where I was speaking to a young man about trouble he was having with his job, I all at once became aware of his face, which before this moment hadn't appeared to me in any definite way, but which suddenly appeared to me very beautiful.

The attraction roused in me more than the desire to kiss him, but to make love with him, as if his naked body would be his face more revealed. It occurred to me that I have always been attracted, first, to a person's face, and that for me sexual attraction to a face is sexual attraction to an entire body. Then it occurred to me, surprising me because the simple thought had never presented itself so immediately before, that when I am drawn to make love I am most drawn to a body made whole and exposed in the bed of an individual personality. I am not excited by the anonymous body in parts, and the very idea of making love with someone whose face I couldn't kiss, much less see, rouses nothing in me but incomprehension of how it can for others.

I accept that, though sexual desire for me has to be made whole within an individual personality, others would find their sexual desire roused by depersonalizing the body, roused, even, by fixing on parts of the body as if they did not belong to a whole. I think my desire comes entirely from my having breen brought up a Catholic, taught, from the very beginning, that as long as we are on this earth our souls are indivisible from our bodies, and that we are in the wholeness of our personalities what we are because we are both body and soul.

Though I say I can't understand someone wanting to see the body devoid of the personality, devoid, in effect, of the soul, I can, really, when I consider the responsibilities imposed on a Catholic to save his soul by denying himself his body. I can understand a Catholic who is brought up to believe he will most likely condemn his soul by giving in to sins of the flesh rather than save his soul by remaining pure, throwing off all the imposed beliefs to live entirely within the freedom of the soul-less body, a body freed even from sexual responsibilities toward other people. Catholic gays have done this with a vengeance, and they have been right to do it, for, according to the Church, they are condemning their soul utterly by any expression of their sexual attraction to their own sex.

I, as a Catholic, threw off, with a kiss, any sense that I was condemning myself by kissing someone of my own sex, but --- and I have no idea how, except that it might have had something to do with the kind of Catholic I was, a Franco-American Catholic from a small Franco-American parish in New England --- I retained, as if with the sense that it gave me more than it took from me, what I see as the basic Catholic teaching that sex is an expression of love for another. If my sexual love for another was not sanctified by marriage, much less by heterosexuality, I never doubted, not for a second, that it was love, and even if I spent only one night with someone, what that person and I had exchanged over the night, in the wholeness of our love-making, was love. I have never, not for a second, felt any guilt about making love. I have always felt that in making love with a body in its wholeness I was also making love with a soul. This idea fills me with the longing to make love, and this idea comes directly from my religion.

The very images of the body my religion gave me that have added to, rather than detracted from, my sexual attraction to the body are images of wholeness, a wholeness that goes beyond the contours of the shoulders, chest, thighs, groin, legs to something else that, in itself, gives wholeness of soul to all the body. Saint Thomas Aquinas said we have a sixth sense, the sense that apprehends wholeness in diversity, and I, since I first heard this teaching, have taken the sixth sense to be as sensual in its apprehension as the eye, the ear, the finger tips, the tougue, the nose. It is the sense that can make one aware, at singular moments during love-making, of a larger, fuller, more erotic body just beyond the body you are holding in your arms, but which gives to the body you are holding in your arms a wholeness that your mere senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell can't in themselves account for. My religion taught me that the body has its largest, fullest sense --- its fullest sensuality --- in the soul.

And if my religion taught me that the greatest desire one can have is the desire for eternal happiness with God, it taught me that we would experience the fulfillment of his desire in our resurrected and glorified bodies. No image of the body, as conceived of by Catholicism, is more potent than that of the resurrected and glorified body, which would occur at the end of the world, not too far off. We would rise from the dead, from the rot and ruin of death, with bodies made entirely beautiful --- we would be aged thirty-three, which was the age of Christ when he died and was the age at which, the church calculated, we are at our height physically and mentally; and we would shine, in our great beauty, with a bright light; and we would be like this forever and ever and ever, eternally happy with God. What is important to remember is that we would be in, not outside, our bodies, as much in our physical bodies as we were on earth, and there would be no conflict, but total accord, between the body and the soul, so our bodies and souls would be one, and all our desires would be fulfilled.

However separated off from the Church I am, the Church I once belonged to gave me the possibility of such awareness, and I am happy for it. My religion gave to sex its greatest sense --- and here once again I insist on the most acute sensuality of a sense that apprehends the beauty of a naked body as more than skin, hair, bone, blood, in the same way that the Catholic church apprehends itself in all its parts as the living Mystical Body of Christ.

DAVID PLANTE is the author of several novels, including Annunciation, The Francouer Trilogy, and The Catholic. He lives and writes in London.

1 comment:

  1. We suffer from the same thing here. I too find faces to rouse me the most...but I never made that Catholic connection. Very interesting! Funny I was just thinking this too, though I also know it's not ONLY the face that rouses me either ;)