Today’s post is a guest reflection by Dan Brennan, author of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women. We believe it is just as important to give voice to heterosexual experiences of deep, meaningful, relationships outside of marriage as it is to create space for the stories of non-marriage relationships among celibate LGBT Christians. Dan, who has been married to his wife Sheila for several years, has also grown spiritually from a close relationship with his friend Jennifer. We are fascinated by Dan’s work in the area of sacred friendships and are honored to share a sample of his writing with you today. As always when reading guest posts, please keep in mind that everyone’s story is different, and the experiences, perspectives, thoughts, and theological ideas presented by the author will not necessarily match completely with ours. If you are a celibate LGBT Christian or ally, or if you have a story to share that is related to the themes we discuss at A Queer Calling, feel free to Contact Us.
A reflection by Dan Brennan
She sat to my left. Sheila, my beautiful wife, sat to my right. We were about ready to celebrate the Eucharist which we did weekly in our Anglican church. My attraction toward my female friend who regularly sat next to my left was deepening. Before I had any theories about “erotic” Eucharist, before I knew any language to describe “erotic” Eucharist, I was thoroughly processing my attraction.
Looking back on this season in my life nine years later, I can definitely rejoice in the spiritual eros I experienced in participating in the Eucharist at the time. Ever since I became an Anglican several years earlier, I longed to meet Christ every week in the Eucharist. Liturgy was no-run-of-the-mill religious ritual where I went through the motions. The Eucharist was where I celebrated the Feast. Each week I lifted my heart before the Lord’s presence. Christ was my sweet desire in Eucharistic intimacy. The real presence of Christ was my sweet delight. Each Sunday, I yearned for the deep beauty, goodness, and delight of Christ’s presence in drinking “the cup of salvation” and eating “the bread of life.”
So perhaps in hindsight, it was no coincidence I became open to explore the connection between the divine eros in the Eucharist and my deepening attraction toward my female friend.
Before I proceed, I’m honored that Lindsey and Sarah have invited me to write a post on their blog. Ever since I came across their blog a couple of months ago I’ve admired their particular calling and how are they are engaging subjects like chastity, sexuality, friendship, and the LGBT community. I’m writing from a straight white male perspective aware of my privilege. My journey has led me to a deep curiosity of how sexuality and friendship can flourish in close friendships and community. I admire Lindsey and Sarah’s call to celibacy.
Taste and See that the Lord is Good
Opening my desires, my attraction, my longings, and my anxieties while I ate the bread, drank the wine, and fed on Christ’s love and presence was a powerful discipline for me during this season. I had intuitive trust in seeking Christ through Eucharistic intimacy. I had come to know Christ, I had come to receive Christ, and I had come to trust Christ through this intimate connection. Opening my attraction for my female friend to Christ was a natural thing for me to do.
Each week I surrendered my friendship, my attraction, my desire for deeper connection before the Lord as I drank the cup of salvation and ate the bread. Wisdom is better than jewels and all that I desired could not compare with my knowing the sweet and sheer delight of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist (Proverbs 8:10-12; 30).
What is deep attraction? I desired ongoing intimacy with my friend at multiple levels: spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual. Did I have a sexual attraction for her? Or was it a nonsexual longing to deeply connect with her that included physical affection? It’s hard to sort that out when you are opening yourself up to deep attraction. I was not physically attracted to her when we first met. But as our friendship grew she became deeply beautiful in my eyes. But I was fiercely committed to my wife and I was also committed to seeing my friend as more than an object to be pursued for sexual gratification. So what I mean by deep attraction is the desire to connect with the whole person in friendship with passionate commitment to not make a move toward sex.
I was seeking the delight and presence of Christ in the Eucharist among other things. Years later, I would read something Amy Frykhom suggested: “True, deep, real pleasure is an avenue to the Holy” (See Me Naked). That was my intuitive posture as I sought Christ in the weekly Eucharist. I was not seeking self-indulgence. I was seeking the beauty of the Christ I knew in the Eucharist.
My attraction to my friend was utterly paradigm-shifting for me and opened up a whole new world as I sought to bring the wholeness of who she was before Christ in weekly Eucharist. It was conventional wisdom for evangelical men to run away from any kind of deep attraction toward women in which both parties had no romantic potential. I was seeking Christ as my wisdom as I explored this deep attraction; not a conservative list of dos and don’ts.
Too Good To Be True
Nine years later I can say I’m so grateful for the Eucharist and the gift of deep attraction. I have no regrets about continuing to talk about delight, pleasure, and mutual cherishing with a trajectory toward deep attraction in friendship. One of my differences with Christians who are my critics is right here: they think I am promoting something too good to be true for our present culture and world. Some think I’m a “daredevil.” Some think I’m suggesting a practice akin to “emotional dating.”
For many years, my conservative evangelical sexuality prohibited me from experiencing “too good to be true” moments outside of my marriage. In the past 10 years I have intentionally chosen to be open to attraction in friendships—including deep attraction with my other sex friends—with the Eucharist at the heart of integrating my sexuality and my friendships.
As Christians living in a post-Freudian culture, we are going to have to address the question: are we are going to view the Eucharist through a cultural Freudianism or are we going to view the cultural Freudianism through the Eucharist? Viewed through popular Freudianism, sex in a materialistic world is the ultimate, too good to be true story. Viewed through the Eucharist, the ultimate too good to be true story is union/intimacy with God and with one another.
At the center of the Christian faith is the Eucharist which invites us all—straight, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer—to this “too good to be true” intimacy where we eat and drink and take in Christ, we digest his body. Eucharistic intimacy summons us to the life and love of Christ, of shared intimacy in the present world but also into a future world. In the midst of chaos and dysfunction, it is hard to believe—‘too good to be true”— deep attraction toward healing, human flourishing, shalom, and deep delight. The Eucharist offers us a narrative where friends know the powerful delight of Christ’s love in this world.
I’ve now lost track of the many “too good to be true” moments in my various female friendships and in my marriage. What a deep joy to experience too good to be true moments with Sheila as a result of/in the midst of our other friendships. If we have good marriages, families, friendships, we all experience moments of that kind. But I am deliberately including those moments birthed of deep pleasure and love which involved my other sex friendships.
I have no doubt, that Sarah and Lindsey have experienced some of those “too good to be true” moments in their own friendship. The cultural Freudian narrative would believe Sarah and Lindsey could not experience such depth in their relationship sans sex. However, if you view their friendship through the lens of an Eucharistic intimacy, there is no ceiling on spiritual beauty in their relationship.
I continue to nurture a deep attraction toward my wife and to this day, I find her more beautiful than ever. I also continue to nurture a deep attraction toward my female friend. We have been close friends for twelve years. I had made several decisions back while I was “staying with” my attraction in a contemplative posture in my practice of the Eucharist. I took responsibility for my own actions and refused to ever act on any sexual feelings or any erotic energy I was experiencing in my friendship. I refused to fantasize. I also stayed clear of any pornographic material. I continued to nurture my attraction and love toward Sheila.
It just so happened somewhere about nine years ago that as I was experiencing the sweet and delightful love of Christ in the Eucharist and my growing delight and attraction toward my female friend, I encountered the gift of sexuality and friendship. Instead of running away from it, ignoring it, or seeking sex, I chose to nurture something deeper: a social desire for an alternative intimacy in friendship which did not neuter my sexuality. This didn’t happen overnight. But I continued to seek Christ, engage in conversation with trusted others, and eagerly search for wisdom on a wide range of issues pertaining to sexuality and friendship.
I now have a wide range of friendships. I view nurturing a deep attraction with my other sex friends as an intentional practice for being authentic in my sexuality and being authentic as a trusted and safe friend. “True desire,” writes Philip Sheldrake in his rich book, Befriending Our Desires, “is non-possessive. It is an openness to the future, to possibility, to ‘the other’ whether human other or God.” Nurturing a deep attraction is to choose the path of Eucharistic intimacy: to learn to receive, to learn to be open, to learn attentiveness to real presence, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to let go, and to attend to delight and beauty in our deepest relationships. It is too good to be true. But this is the trajectory of the Christian faith. To find the greatest treasure in the world—Christ in our relationships.
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