The soul wants not an altar, but a love affair. ~ Lucrezia (a friend of mine in Florida)
The best-selling author, a former monk,
has promised to speak about sex.
The end of the lecture is drawing near:
he’s still trying to define
the difference between spirit and soul.
A middle-aged, conservatively dressed
woman in the front row
begins to rock back and forth,
demanding, “Sex! Sex! Sex!”
The ex-monk blushes. He begins:
“Sex is the archetype of life.
‘I feel totally alive,’ you say
as the world wakes up in your arms.
Sex is a messenger of life,
announcing that despair
is beside the point;
it continues, the banquet of life.
You think you want a new lover,
but what you really want
is a new life.”
He quotes Dante’s lines:
“In the book of my memory
stands a chapter headed
Incipit vita nova:
Here begins the new life.”
Vita nova. Enter Beatrice.
The hunger for a lover
is the hunger for a new life.
“But,” the speaker cautions,
“there is the drive to couple,
and the drive to uncouple.
It’s possible to be married
and yet to satisfy
the need not to be married.”
He continues: “I strongly advise
against communication in marriage.
Marriage is a great mystery;
sex is always transgressive.
You need to invoke Aphrodite.
She is the Muse of Sex.
She’s also the goddess of affairs.
A new lover may or may not
be the entrance to a new life.”
Will we share a private language,
will we need an alibi?
This is what Aphrodite sings,
faithful only to herself.
I wonder: what is Aphrodite,
that glistening metaphor?
Aphrodite the lover of laughter,
subtle serpent and the dove?
Always faithful to herself,
Aphrodite is the soul.
A tall, skinny man in the back row
rises like a steeple:
“You are speaking totally
from a male point of view.”
“Of course,” the ex-monk replies.
“I wouldn’t presume
to speak from a female point of view.”
A tiny gray-haired lady stands up:
“Thank you for a wonderful lecture.
I also love the way you blush.”
– “Freud said that blushing
is an erection of the head,”
the speaker jokes. Laughter and applause.
Crashing echoes of departure
from the wooden pews.
We walk out of the soulless cathedral
of Saint Paul into the blushing,
and set off in search of a new life.
~ Oriana © 2015
This is a poem from an unpublished chapbook, LETTERS TO LUCREZIA. True to my pattern, I sent the chapbook manuscript to only one place, which promptly sent it back. It was the wrong year; that year, they were judging only fiction. So the Letters to Lucrezia became letters to myself, a throwback to the year when Thomas More’s Care of the Soul became a huge bestseller — and then pretty much disappeared from public attention.
More’s message is simple, though he’s found a myriad ways of phrasing it: make taking care of the soul a priority. By “soul” he means the inner life, but with emphasis on feelings and the need for beauty. Oddly, what I remember best from that book is the advice to get a beautiful cup or mug for tea and coffee, and making a nook in the house as beautiful as we can — that will be the temple of our soul.
Now if only writing weren’t so devouring . . . but then to a writer it’s more satisfying than finding a beautiful coffee mug.
Still, More’s advice was important since it gave me the idea that something outrageously beautiful is indeed worth the money. Keats put it best: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
And that of beauty — an exquisite little cup — may be more important than ever, since we live in a world threatened by ugliness, littered with cheap plastic goods. But, as if to prove Hölderlin’s motto that “where danger is, that which saves us grows also,” there is a relatively new trend: the emergence of artisanal communities. Groups of creative people rent abandoned old factories and set up their workshops. Amateur chefs are drawn to these places and start preparing wonderful meals, using organic vegetables grown in the eco-garden just outside. Since fulfilling work remains an emotional necessity, and traditional jobs are shrinking, arts and crafts are blossoming.
This, too, reflects the soul’s yearning for love affairs — not always with a person, but with a new enthusiasm in life, the kind that is deep and lasting rather than fleeting. Find your craft, find your vocation, and you will find soulmates.
In an interesting back, all this harkens back both to William Morris and Karl Marx. Both warned against alienated labor. Both wanted to substitute creative and scholarly pursuits. Morris wanted to achieve this goal by setting up arts and crafts communities. That takes love. Let’s hope that love wins over greed and soullessness.
Aphrodite was not only the goddess of erotic love. One of her forms was Aphrodite Urania, the "heavenly Aphrodite," the goddess of beauty and inspiration, the patron goddess of the arts. That's why Jean Shinoda-Bolen chose her to be the goddess of creativity, a choice that at first seems unexpected. Shinoda-Bolen expains that a person embarking on a creative project needs to fall in love with that project, to have a love affair with it.
TRIANGLES IN THE SERVICE OF LIFE
Thomas More returns to one of his central messages — have a love affair, but not necessarily with a person — in his new book on creating your personal religion.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise that soon after people get married some new thing comes threatening the status quo. Hillman and Pedraza talk about a triangle as a dynamic force that would be both challenging and life-giving. The triangle might be the typical pattern of a married couple challenged by a third person who may be a lover, a friend, or even a business associate. The third intruding factor might not be a person but a job, a hobby, or an intellectual interest. I’ve known a few married couples dealing with a new religious or spiritual fascination that captured one of the people.
Hillman’s comments on marriage may sound extreme. He says that the fantasies married people have at the beginning, fantasies of togetherness symbolized by an unbroken ring, are delusional and defensive. They keep eros out. They’re rooted in anxiety about the stability of the marriage being threatened. Such an arrangement can’t hold, because life wants to break in on that deathly demand for absolute stability.
Hillman offers a rule of thumb: “The more we rigidly insist upon unity the more diversity will constellate.” He was always in favor of diversity, or psychological polytheism, making it one of the foundational planks in his archetypal psychology. For myself, whenever I hear someone insisting on unity, in whatever context, I worry about the suppression of the soul, which is many-sided and full of the richness and the tension of multiple urges.
So the third factor, whatever it is — the desire for another person, a new job, interest in another country, a new art — will probably disturb the status quo. For me this insight about the delusion of unity and the necessity of a triangle has been a breakthrough idea.
A similar pattern may arise in a person’s religious life. You may grow up in a family in which a certain religious understanding and practice are taken for granted. Then you go to college and discover a larger world. You come home with new ideas, and your family worries about you. In their anxiety, in their delusion of unity and assumption that there is only way to be religious, they find it difficult to embrace their wayward child.
The secret is not to be too literal about a new passion. A triangle is an opportunity for a new vision of life and not necessarily about a new relationship or love interest.”
~ Thomas More, A Religion of One’s Own
More correctly points out that taking a strong new interest in anything is like having an affair: our partner may feel neglected and disvalued. Conflicts may arise: the spouse wants to travel while we are in the midst of a creative project. But the marriage (or any relationship) may also gain in stability, because now there is a potent source of satisfaction that frees us from demanding too much from the partner.
I agree with the need for “polytheism of the soul.” The most rewarding part of love is “personality expansion” — what used to be called “personal growth.” The soul needs a love affair because the soul longs to grow.