Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Divine Love


Here is a quote by Saint Teresa:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.[3]

Few people familiar with this sculpture think that the spear is aimed at her entrails. For many, this is an erotic sculpture and her experience is a sexualized union with God -- divine love.

Some modern critics have derided the semi-syncopal religious experiences as veiled orgasmic phenomena rather than spiritual encounters; in particular, the body posture and facial expression of St. Teresa have caused some to assign her experience as one of climactic moment.[4] However, Robert Harbison has expressed his doubt that Bernini, a follower of the mystical exercises of followers of St. Ignatius of Loyola, would have intended to depict here an episode of lust fulfilled[5]. Instead, Bernini aims to express the facial and body equivalents of a state of divine joy. It is arguable that in the seventeenth century, it was possible to draw distinctions between religious and erotic experience that are more difficult to make today.

As an addendum to yesterday's post, this sculpture seems to unite the Eros and agape forms of love (despite the objections of some critics). True spiritual, soulful love will often have a sexual component to it. This is as it should be.

When Eros and agape occur together, I think we are approaching the ideal of integral love or relationship. The physical and spiritual often are closely linked. But we generally don't allow the spiritual, soulful element into our experience of sexuality. Our loss.

And moreover, we can have this experience without engaging sexually with another person. We can feel the purity of divine love, with all its sexual undertones, without attaching to any form of bodily experience.

If we do engage sexually, it's important to honor the source of this form of love. It is not sexual. But because it is soulful, it has a sexual element to it. The true source of divine love transcends the bodily, is bigger than and purer than the physical. But through the physical, we can experience it and express it with another person.

But this isn't necessary in all circumstances. Sometimes it is enough simply to feel and honor the love. Just as Teresa experienced her love of God.


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