Following my strange little wee-hours rant on apes and desire last night, reader Jamie added a quotation from C. S. Lewis, which of course is where I got the idea in the first place — thanks, Jamie:

If you find in yourself a desire which no earthly thing can satisfy, the logical conclusion must be that you are made for another world. That other world—heaven—echoes in you.

And reader Peter asks an excellent question:

Now I’m dying to have you elaborate on the obvious – what about your SSA? Does that desire lie, or is that, too, a reflection of something heavenly?

The answer is yes, to both, in different ways.

I’ve always been in love with a kind of beauty that is specifically masculine. I don’t mean this only, or even primarily, in a sexual way. Masculinity and femininity aren’t limited to humans, or even to animals in general. They’re archetypes, and they’re everywhere. Oops, I’m paraphrasing Lewis again, so I’ll let him speak for himself:

Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings…Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. (Perelandra, p. 172)

I’ll stop before I quote the whole book, but you can see a bit more here.

So my love for the masculine has sexual ramifications, but the root of that love is not sexual, or is only partly sexual. Part of what I love about men is the same thing I love about climbing mountains, or playing in the waves when they’re ten feet tall. This isn’t, obviously, a phenomenon limited to men with SSA.

All archetypes meet in God, the author of both men and mountains. I’ve stood on a mountaintop in New Hampshire, or under a terrifyingly starry sky in Colorado, and thought my heart would burst. I think it would, if I felt those things in their entirety; there’s only so much beauty you can take.1 But to increase in holiness is to increase in your capacity for the perception of beauty. The closer we get to Heaven, the more beauty the heart can stand.

So part of my desire for men is traceable to my love for the masculine, and that love has its proper fulfillment — partially now, in my fellow men and in nature; but fully later, in God.2

But nobody wants to go to bed with a mountain.3 That’s the part of my SSA that isn’t traceable to love of the masculine per se, that is sexual and emotional as well as aesthetic, and that is more problematic. But I think this post is long enough already, don’t you? Stay tuned for part two.

1 Which must be one reason why the ancient Hebrews, who knew stars and mountains so much better than we do, believed that looking on the face of God would mean instant death. Probably death by spontaneous explosion. The Greeks must have had the same instinct, which is why Semele dies when she asks — understandably, but foolishly — to see Zeus in his full glory.
2 Incidentally, I the same can be said for love of the feminine.
3 I take it back. Some people do.

20 thoughts on “Men and Mountains, Part I

  1. viego pobre

    Just thinking out loud, with some questions to dig deeper into these terms beauty, love/desire, masculine/feminine and SSA.

    it would seem to me, that real beauty must be the balance and integration of the masc and feminine. on a surface level they may seem to be separate, but can they really exist separately and not be impoverished? isn’t real beauty the harmony of the masc and fem (body/soul)?

    we can be attracted to the externals of masculine expressions in life…..but what is the source of that attraction/desire to the externals and why does it get sexualized/eroticized for those with SSA?

    for some men with SSA, they can be very gifted and more rooted in the feminine archtype ( i prefer the jungian tern anima) and not understanding this deep reality in their lives, or being insecure about it or afraid of it……they can easily get caught up in being attracted to masculine expressions (the old opposites attract) and this is a detour that can lead to a lot of dead ends (especially if it gets fossilized in masc/sexual/genital projections and attractions) or we get stuck on external expressions of beauty.

    it seems to me that a person with SSA just has a different experience of this journey to integration and wholeness than others, but is the same journey for all men and women. in the middle ages the goal of spiritually was to find this inner beauty (wisdom) that is expressed in the latin term “dulcedo” which means sweetness, not in a simplistic way but the sweet harmony of everything being integrated (human/grace; masc/fem;light/dark etc) and finds a unique expression in each individual.

    sorry for the abstract babbling, i am just trying to express, however poorly, some concepts that i wished someone had shared with me when i started on this journey. we all make our own journey but we do not have to reinvent the wheels all the time!

    Reply
  2. Peter

    That Lewis quote pretty much just made my head explode. I can’t even talk about it, there’s millions of thoughts flying around my brain now.

    viego pobre, I’m very interested by your thoughts, but I’m afraid I got lost about the fourth paragraph. Could you clarify the extent to which you see each archetype being present in a given man or woman, and the role you see archetypes playing in SSA? And are you saying wholeness consists in successfully integrating two archetypes within us? Or in having our archetype completed by another outside of us? Thanks for posting.

    Greetings to the other Peter; we’re going to need some way to tell us rocks apart.

    And if it was a mountain bike, perhaps it was a case of indecent Trek-sposure?

    Reply
    1. Tara S

      This whole post made my head explode! It’s just beautiful. In the realm of humans, archetypes, and love, it seems that there is something incredibly important to be gathered from the idea that an archetype can love itself – not in the egotistical sense, but in the truly appreciative and celebratory sense. That although the masculine and feminine complement each other, maybe they are not incomplete alone, or even if they are incomplete somehow, they are still beautiful and rich enough to love without the sense of a need for completion from the “other.”

      It feels like another aspect of the kind of love that God must have for us, distinct from the self-giving reciprocity of spouses or the care of parents, yet equally vital to the aesthetic of our understanding of Him – we are Created and thus are fully His and and of Him, and so cannot be “other”!

      Steve clarified something for me, something that I have long felt, but could not understand the Divine Purpose thereof: that although many types of desires and actions (sexual or otherwise) may be disordered, there must be something fundamentally Created in the existence of same-sex orientation. So many times I have seen a same-sex orientation in a psychologically healthy person, and at the heart of it I’ve seen Truth, not disorder. Celibacy can be a heavy cross to bear (more so when it is not out of circumstance but a fundamental requirement of one’s very being!), but now I think I can understand the incredible power of the witness that it carries along with it.

      Reply
  3. viego pobre

    Peter 2.0

    it is almost impossible to discuss this in a combox, i will try to give a very short answer and if you want to discuss more, perhaps there is a way to get you my email.

    so to change the paradigm some, instead of using masculine and feminine archtypes, i will use animus for the masc, and anima for the feminine. it is my experience in life that these are both present in us and yes, wholeness comes when we find them in real harmony in us. the anima is the most important because it is what “animates” and the animus is what gives it created expression (i can build a house, but the anima makes it a home). so we always need both. our journey is to get a conscious connection with them and to integrate them into a wholeness.

    for a heterosexual man, he will find his contact with his anima through the other (his mother, then his spouse). it is all projected on to her, but in time the projections no longer work and then he needs to make the big shift to find his inner anima and then to accept and love his spouse not as a projection he needs but as a real human he loves. but alas, all too often mr. knucklehead does not make this transition, falls back on old tapes and just vegetates with too much beer, sports on tv, maybe falls into low grade depression or runs off with some new younger “bimbette” that he just repeats the projection cycle with.

    now here is the point, for some men with SSA, they are so rooted in their anima (which is the source of their great giftedness) that the challenge is reversed. and they are seeking a connection to their deeper animus. but for them, they must not project it on a partner or they will just get totally lost. for them they must come to see that celibacy is the real answer for liberation, wholeness and integration and creativity. the more they can me at home in their anima, the more creative and fruitful their lives will be. and that is what celibacy is, being at home in this deep anima and letting the flow of creativity and life well up in me and through me.

    there is so much more to all of this but i hope it clarifies your question to me? if this approach is interesting, you may like to read a short book by Robert Johnson called HE where he looks at this through grail myth. there is a beautiful prose poem by thomas merton called Hagia Sophia (which you can find by a google search) where he expresses his encounter with the anima. and from this perspective the works of Henri Nouwen are interesting because he was SSA (and faithfully celibate) and his works express some of the journey this path takes for men with ssa (the confusing search, the lonliness, depression and the joys). hope this helps, at least i tried!

    Reply
  4. Peter J

    It seems an appropriate moment to note how blessedly wonderful it is to be able to have intelligent, respectful rapport regarding this sort of topic in an online venue. Compared to Youtube comments, this place is Harvard. Thank you, Steve, for your considered thoughts on your experience and for your Catholic lens through which you see it. All others, thank you for helping make the comments section a place of respectful discussion.

    Reply
  5. Peter M

    viego pobre, thanks very much for your response! I’ll need to look into this some more. To be honest, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of an archetypal description of human interaction; it’s not that I think it has no value, but it has seemed to me like a brave attempt to simply categorize something that defies simple categorization.

    On the other hand, God has worked male and female into the very fabric of His creation, and I’d be foolish to deny it. I’ve read a little by Henri Nouwen, and I’ll check out the Johnson book.

    Peter J, ironically, my middle initial is J. I too have altered my moniker, in case a third Peter enters the combox. Cheers!

    Reply
  6. viego pobre

    Peter M,
    I am only giving a very superficial response here because that is all one can do in a com box. and i am only talking about ideas that might help certain people in their journey with SSA. so if none of this finds a “echo”, just keep searching. but for those who hear an inner echo, it may provide some words or concepts to help understand these dynamics.

    that being said, i have no doubt in my mind that understood in the right way, these ideas are as much a part of our inner make up as DNA is for our genetic make up. it shows that certain behaviors are wrong, not just because of external morality or external authority…but they go against our very inner structure. natural law is not just something based on externals, but these ideas when understood correctly, give an x-ray into our inner structure and dynamics that we can check out for ourselves.

    the bottom line in all this is “what works”, what helps me not only to stay chaste, but to even make my celibacy the source and well spring of my inner vitality? and i have seen this approach really do this for men.

    so many men just “white knuckle” their celibacy. or they are like an alcoholic who is just on a dry drunk. for them their celibacy is just a cross to bear, and even a deprivation they have to endure. the problem with this approach is that it just leads to chronic relaspe. their sobriety is not a great gift of freedom and serenity that they are grateful for and fight hard to
    keep and protect because without it they are not really a human, let alone the person God has created them to be.
    sorry for going on about this, i dont want to wear out my welcome in the combox and appreciate the patience to read this!

    Reply
  7. Ruth

    “So part of my desire for men is traceable to my love for the masculine, and that love has its proper fulfillment — partially now, in my fellow men and in nature; but fully later, in God.”
    Does “in nature” include “and in myself”?

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      I suppose so, though I’m not sure what you’re asking. I was mainly talking about eros — desire-love — and that’s (generally!) directed towards other people and things, not toward the self.

      Reply
  8. Ruth

    I agree that desire is a kind of doorway to another world, in which, alone, our desires can be fully answered.
    But, as you say, there are gifts that God has given us through which He ministers to our broken hearts, here in the midst of this fallen world. One of them, addressing our need for the truly masculine, is in the name “Father”. Another is in the “Son”. Another is, for you, in your own maleness, given its truest, ultimate form (in the “inner man”) by obedience to the Father and the Son.

    Reply
  9. Peter M

    viego pobre,
    “…certain behaviors are wrong, not just because of external morality or external authority…but they go against our very inner structure.” Amen, amen! Natural law is truly built into our very being and cannot be reckoned merely by externals. And without going into details, I have some experience with addiction and know the hell that is white-knuckle sobriety.

    Thank you for your kind replies; I certainly intend to give the whole subject more thought. God bless!

    Reply
  10. Mary

    I know this is a comment far too late, but I just found your blog.

    This post is so beautiful and really speaks to some of my own thoughts on sexuality and aesthetic admiration as of late. It make me happy that I’m not the only one thinking of these things :)

    Reply

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