Erotic Eucharist: Nurturing Deep Attraction Between Friends

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.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

13 thoughts on “Erotic Eucharist: Nurturing Deep Attraction Between Friends

  1. I like the “post-Freudian” references. Even though Freud may have said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”, the wider effect of what his psychology seems to represent for so many, even today – i.e. what Freudian psychology has somehow led to or come to embody – is the tendency in Western or Western-influenced societies to devalue whatever has no material manifestation. When it comes to our relationships, that means having an orgasm. Otherwise it’s not real. I think our non-sexual relationships are absolutely primary and I totally reject the notion that not having sex means “we didn’t do anything” and are therefore somehow innocent, as well as the idea that non-sexual relationships are not as close or not as deep as sexual ones. What we experience in having sex can be an illusion, a fantasy that we attempt to act out. To be real, in my experience, it needs to be inextricably intertwined with non-sexual things that are much more important. Therefore the Church’s insistence that sex should not be deliberately severed from real and important things like procreation and male-female parenting is no mystery to me. That teaching is saying much the same thing as what many of us have learned by experience, that just having an orgasm does not make a relationship more real. Love normally happens without it. Friendships can easily be more real – as well as profounder – than sexual liaisons, and often sex can ruin a friendship. The next question is: What does “erotic attraction” mean? And how important is it?

    • Evan, I appreciated your comment! In my humble estimation you are quite differentiated in a Christian world that cannot seem to differentiate God from sex (in a materialist world romantic sex is the highest point in a materialist religion). I think we need to move toward how personal beauty in friendship “attunes” to God’s beauty in indwelling love (“Trinity”). Our most fundamental desire as theologian Sarah Coakley has pointed out is God–more fundamental than sex.

      As you can tell, I’m comfortable with the term “erotic.” Eros at the popular street level is commonly translated as sexual urges or romantic energy. As others have pointed out, eros may not have anything to do with healthy sex or romance. I”m with those who believe we can’t reduce eros to sex. It’s important these days to acknowledge how eros means so many different things to different people.

      For me, “erotic attraction” at the very minimum, means an attraction to what is good, and beautiful, and valuable, In that sense, erotic attraction and erotic attunement become important in interpersonal interactions in romantic relationships *and* in relationships where sexuality is present (because we are spiritual-sexual beings) but the trajectory is nonsexual but embodied intimacy. .

        • Great question! It seems at some point in time that we have to explore this question if we are going to explore the question of “deep attraction” in human love/relationships.

          As I see it, from my personal history and from what I’ve read, two of the major presenting issues that block us from experiencing deep attraction in human relationships are 1) the sexual challenge and, what I will call 2) the personal beauty challenge. I would propose the question of personal beauty is a major issue to process we think through deep attraction between friends. Part of the challenge is that it’s deeply embedded in the messy entanglement of how Christian communities interpret the abstract debate of agape and eros; these communities then determine who is in and who is out. You and I already share some deep common agreement Evan about how relationships sans sexual intimacy can be just as important and significant as those relationships which do.

          But a deeply embedded obstacle in *assigning* and *experiencing* worth and value of deep, interpersonal attunement and beauty in friendship is the abstract debate regarding agape and eros. Yes, I totally admit as someone who still has one foot in the evangelical community, I’m in the minority on how I interpret the the agape-eros issue. But a wide range of faithful Christians who are serious thinkers but not evangelicals are rethinking the collateral damage of twentieth century Protestant debate on agape and eros which shut the door on personal beauty (both in marriage and in friendship)erecting high social, theological, and personal boundaries.

          So I want to suggest that no matter where we end up (or no matter where our favorite theologian/philosopher ends up) in making abstract distinctions on the agape-eros issue that we remain open and continue process personal beauty in friendship looks like. From my own personal story, I had no way to resolve or think through the agape-eros issue while I was experiencing and encountering personal beauty in friendship. As a deep thinker and processor, this was an enormous challenge for me for several years while I was encountering personal beauty in friendship. All I could do was receive the beauty of Christ in the Eucharist (faith part) and walk along the road of “Whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9) on faith *and* sexuality.

          And this is why my experience of Christ and my intimate trust in him in the Eucharist was so profound–this was why Eucharistic intimacy was so profound and life-changing for me because my faith and sexuality became messy for several years. I was not going to walk out on my marriage but this whole issue of experiencing deep attraction in heterosexual friendship was rebelling against the evangelical (which was a lot of evangelical patriarchy) order of agape-eros.To elaborate further, I had come from a very conservative evangelical background with a strong rational based faith that relied on correct theological abstract information–which included the dismal dichotomy between agape and eros.

          I am more than willing to explore the agape-eros debate here because that’s a huge necessary part of processing deep attraction between friends.I would say it’s part of the ongoing challenge Sarah and Lindsey have of doing life together and flourishing as a celibate couple who are lesbians. This is huge for singles who don’t want to be singles and for committed celibates. It’s huge for married folks like myself. Can we engage in deep personal beauty in friendship? Is it just about us (as two friends–which could be just self-centered drives) or is our experience of personal beauty somehow connected to God who desires, a God who longs, and a God who is infinitely, relationally beautiful?

          Once we engage the challenge of personal beauty in friendship (straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer), the issue of inestimable value, beauty, worth, and glory come up. Which takes us back to cultural Freudianism in the Church which says,it’s not just sex, but ah! it’s “romantic sex” where the greatest relational treasure and meaning are found. So, you can’t really be present and open your heart up to personal beauty in the moment because doing_____(insert the gestures/actions we attribute romantic–and therefore “love is forever” meaning) in friendship. Or, we find it difficult to say, “Wow, friend, you are so precious. I desire you and our connection so much in friendship.” Or, looking back on a deep friendship after so many years, and ascribing inestimable worth–“You are such a treasure in my life. You irreplaceable and you are so special; you are profoundly valuable and important to me.”

          So, one “short” way to look at this from a “biblical” perspective is, Can personal beauty experienced in friendship be a part of the kingdom is like a treasure in a field in which we encounter and experience deep joy (Matt 13:44)?

          With that as some background, I’m totally open to exploring the agape-eros distinction with you.

          • Dang, I ask for forgiveness for the typos. On the run and not a morning person. Sorry.

          • No problem — I had some typos in mine, too. Anyway, I think you’re right to try to avoid over-abstraction. I think we need to make it concrete. What would your wife consider cheating? Sorry — that sounded too direct and somewhat rude. I don’t mean it that way. It’s actually of practical significance to me. If I’m getting way too personal, please don’t feel obligated to respond! It’s just that I can’t help share the suspicion of some of the other commentators here, as others I’ve met who have blurred the eros-agape distinction have sometimes ended up straying from Church teachings …. I think we need some way of drawing the line in practice

          • Hi Evan,

            I think there is more than one paradigm. For just one example, one can opt for blurring the eros-agape distinction and explore more nuanced meanings of what that means. Or one can choose the agape-philia model. There are a number of theologians (Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) who think that a robust view of friendship attraction is not to blur eros-agape distinction but to embrace a more passionate, richer view of philia. Typically, they assert that intense affection, emotional depth, devotion, loyalty, companionship are not to be seen as erotic (sexualized friendship or codependency) indicators.

            I’m happy to go either way. 🙂

            Yes, I think mutual discernment between spouses is an ongoing important discipline in discerning differences, discussing jealousy, intensity, attraction, etc. For example, for about six years, I’ve had “daily” (in quotes to admit that it hasn’t been literally every day but closeness of an everyday character with maybe 30 no contact days for a given year) connection with my friend. If one were to tell my wife and I 15 years ago, I’d have a very close friendship with a single woman in which there was everyday connection for 6 years, we would have said you are nuts. 🙂 We wouldn’t have believed you or couldn’t conceive such a thing happening. And yet, through mutual discernment through the years here we are. My friend though, has never participated into the structure of the marital mutual decision-making process that identifies Sheila and I as “one flesh.” Sexual intimacy is one part of the marker of one flesh. My other marker would be mutual decisions-making process with the marital couple as a unity. I think mutual discernment with a stress on “mutual” (both spouses expressing differentiation of owning their own voice in the marital relationship without the implicit or explicit presence of a third party) nurtures a secure marital identity in which there are no sexual competitors. Does that help?

  2. I have a question, Dan. Do you ever find people who are suspicious of your relationship with your friend? How do you deal with that? Do you think more people don’t have special friendships because of other people being suspicious of them?

    • Samara,

      Great question. The short answer is yes! The long answer is yes! The answer in between the short and long is yes! 🙂 This falls into the very similar suspicion that Lindsey and Sarah encounter in their commitment to celibacy. Is it more dicey for me since I am married (my friend is single)? Perhaps. You know, just so many directions one can take this “suspicion” if I’m married. Our marriage is ______(fill in the blank). Or I am________ (fill in the blank).

      This is where I have come to LOVE “differentiation.” Differentiation is the intentional practice and presence to love and engage in personal beauty (including friendship) and stand on your own two feet in the pressure to conform to important others. I had a good friend I was talking with during this stretch of time (ten years ago). He was someone I respected and he was married for twenty years at this point of time. I asked what about the people who may gossip or interpret my closeness with suspicions? He said, “My first thought that comes to mind, is “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matt 5:12).

      I most definitely believe there are people who can’t enter into the joy of deep attraction in special relationships because of other’s suspicions. That’s SO sad!! They are closed off from openness to receive personal beauty calling out to them. One of my biggest reasons for coming back to Sarah and Lindsey’s blog again and again is their calling to stand on their own two feet in their special relationship in spite of suspicions from various people.

      I cannot control what other people think. Am I going to get stuck into some kind of codependency with my community because I have please others? I want to to respond in humility and sensitivity but this journey has taught me how much I was a people pleaser! That was a hard thing for me to see. Truth is, I want to be liked by and respected by everyone!

      In our own personal community (my wife, my friend, my adult son, the people who know us intimately and well) we have learned to assign deep beauty, goodness, and trust in the presence of others who are skeptical, doubtful, suspicious, questioning, and so on. I don’t want to quote this verse out of context (which has been so quoted out of context) but it does have truth here: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt 18:20).

      As someone who has decided to take this into the public square (my blog, my church, my book, etc.), I have faced layers and layers of social suspicion. As a Christian, I’ve come to see that if we follow Jesus this may very well be part of our calling. If we don’t domesticate Jesus, think of how he made so many choices that stirred other’s suspicions.

      Some of us are called to be on the front-line of creating stories of special relationships to make a way for others. Some of us are not called. Some of us feel called but then the pressure of what others think triggers shameful reactions and it gives us an opportunity to process the shame.

      It’s a great question, Samara. It’s an opportunity to stand on our own two feet and say to others around us,that we think differently than they do and we make choices out of our own spiritual integrity to what God has called us to.

      • Thanks for this – it prompted some thoughts about situations I’ve been involved in with both male and female friends – relationships that people have supposed or might suppose that were romantic/sexual when in fact they weren’t. I find it annoying and sometimes upsetting when that happens but I also don’t want to withdraw from good relationships out of fear of what people might think.

        This is a connection I had not made:
        ‘He said, “My first thought that comes to mind, is “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matt 5:12).’

        ‘creating stories of special relationships to make a way for others’
        This may turn out to be something I’m doing, though it’s not something I set out to do and not something I’m prepared to talk about in detail publicly at this point, even pseudonymously.

  3. Sarah and Lindsey- I’m so glad you re-tweet posts from your archive, because I somehow missed it the first time around, and it’s given me a lot to think about.

    Dan- I have to say (and I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it!) that this post made me feel really uncomfortable. One of the things that I think makes Sarah and Lindsey’s ministry so valuable to people in intimate relationships of all kinds is the way they constantly reflect both individually and as a team on the ways they can be united and attentive to one another. I heard you reflect a lot on your own feelings, but not in a sense that gave me any idea of how your commitment to friendship with your female friend shapes you and your wife’s understanding of your marriage, or of how your friend sees your marriage as impacting on your friendship together, or how you both place your friendship within the context of other vocations your friend may be called to.

    But honestly, thank you for sharing here. I’m going to go straight to your blog to see what else I can learn from your journey.

    • We’re glad that you find us tweeting from our archive useful. Dan’s blog is a really great resource. We think that it might be easier for people to have a holistic view of our relationship because we have so many posts about how we understand ourselves. Dan has written a lot about his relationship with his friend Jennifer, but he could only say so much in his post here.

Leave a Reply