When a porn star taught me how to pray

This piece is offered as part of the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2015“Let’s talk about sex (and bodies)”.

 

One day I found myself lying on a blanket in a dark nightclub with a hundred others all around me, they were moaning and their bodies writhing. This was a workshop my partner had invited me to that was entitled “ecstasy breathing for the creative process”.

The leader of the workshop, Annie Sprinkles, used to work in porn and now taught people techniques in using sexual energy to explore spirituality. She was pretty awesome and had a lovely way with language, using the suffix “–gasm” to add a frisson to any word. Assuring us that by the end of the hour together we would all have an “energy-gasm”. As she demonstrated the breathing techniques she warned us not to be perturbed if, during the process, she had a “cry-gasm” because her dog had just died and this might trigger the release of some of her grief. And so we crowded around to watch as her body twisted and pulsed on the floor with loud sobs of sadness and joy.

The whole experience veered between the utterly ludicrous and the deeply profound so it was, pretty much, just like sex.

 

At the end of the session we all emerged into the daylight, dazed and blinking with a dishevelled post-coital radiance. I felt my body buzzing with energy and couldn’t wait to get into my studio to start painting. Somehow she had helped harness the intensity of sexual energy and released it into a joyful and exuberant creativity.

I had a chat with Annie after the workshop and told her how much it had helped my faith and understanding of what it meant to pray.  My over-earnest 20 year old Christian self is now tut-tutting with concern for my soul but there’s nothing here that is out of synch with the life of someone trying to follow Jesus. At the heart of the Christian faith is a body. A real body with all the hormones, drives and desires of a human being. And, with the eyes of faith, this fully human body is also divine.

This redemptive experience of the holiness of the body came to me on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I walked the ancient pilgrimage route (pilgrimage being another wholly embodied exploration of faith) as I wrestled with my understanding of my sexuality. At each town and village along the way I’d stop and pray in a Catholic church and in every church there would be a visceral sculpture of Jesus hanging on the cross, sinews taught, red wounds gaping, eyes gazing down to meet mine. And, always, with a six pack abdomen to die for. His body was so beautiful and drew on my deep desires to reach out and touch. I began to understand what it meant to pray with my whole self. Not just my head and my heart but with all of my body, offering every part of my sensuous human experience to be transformed by Love.

And so it is that, whatever anaemic rules and petty theologies I may have clung to in the past, that this glow of sexual energy in my guts is a good thing. A life giving source of creativity, at times capricious, but at its heart a force that instinctively reaches out to the other. My experience on the floor of that night club reminded me of a prayer technique I had come across before in Urs  Mattman’s wonderful book “Coming In: Gays and Lesbians reclaiming the spiritual journey” . He suggests making space to still ourselves and become aware of the sexual energy inside us, noticing its quality, colour and feel. Becoming aware of where in our body it resides. Visualising it as a glowing ball of light on fire in our abdomen we then allow it to grow and flow through our whole bodies, moving up through our heart to our throat and then to the top of our head, flowing down our arms to the tips of our fingers and down to the end of our toes. So that our whole body is suffused with this God given life. There are countless other ways to pray of course but this technique taps into an aspect of our lives often neglected by the Church. And whilst some people are genuinely asexual I suspect that for most of us this sexual, sensual energy forms a core part for us of what it means to be fully human. If we are made in the image of God then it’s source is divine and it reflects an aspect of who God is.

So now, when I take time to acknowledge this place in my being as I orientate my whole life towards the love of Christ, I really do hope that Ms Sprinkles would be happy to call the experience a “prayer-gasm”.

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John holds a cardboard sign in the Land of the Free

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“John holds a cardboard sign in the Land of the Free”

Ric Stott (2015) Acrylic, oil and gold leaf on board. 123cmx160cm

I met John one evening in Times Square, Manhattan. It’s a remarkable place that seems to express capitalism and consumerism distilled down into its purest form. Neon signs and bright screens as tall as sky scrapers flash and flare in the night with adverts, twitter feeds and scrolling news telling us to buy this, be this, need this, feel this. A digital world searing itself on your retina whether you ask for it or not.

In the midst of the crowds John stood with his cardboard sign. It said “Jesus Christ, Jesus Loves You”. No message of condemnation and no sense of a need to repent for the end is nigh, just a simple message of love written onto a tattered white square.

Painting is a search for meaning and a way of thinking beyond words so in creating an image of that experience I try to listen to the deeper rhythms of the soul. For me, the freedom Christ invites us to is a limitless expanse of possibilities; possibilities of encounter with God, with ourselves and with each other. And so, in the middle of Times Square where countless gigabytes of information are poured out of bright signs 24 hours a day, the message of love is shown as a blank space: the love of Christ is an invitation not an imposition.  This is the invitation to freedom in a digital world.

For me this is an echo of the experience of Christian mystics throughout the centuries. They show us that freedom is not found in Christ through receiving more information about God but through the path of unknowing: that entails a laying aside of our preconceived ideas, frameworks and neat theological formulae. Whatever we say about God, even if we filled the digital message boards in Times Square for a thousand years, would never be enough, it would always fall short of the reality. But the quieter way, the space of possibility that opens up in the midst of the bright lights, the place that calls us to grow into the person we were always made to be without demanding that we become bigger, better or more beautiful, that is the place of grace and true gift.