Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fasting From Sin

I've always thought Paul's description of sin as some kind of infectious disease was spot on. If you've ever gone through withdrawal--be it from a breakup, from drugs, or from a lack of attention--you know that removing yourself from a strong attachment causes pain.

After fasting from food for forty days in the wilderness, Jesus "was hungry." I always found that understatement to be very funny. If it was a true understatement made by the gospel writer (he chose not to write "after forty days of not easting, Jesus was fucking starving!"), it makes me wonder what Jesus' state of craving was. Was he composed, and could say nonchalantly, "I'm hungry?" Or did "hungry" really mean his human appetite came to the forefront and forty days worth of not eating made him think of nothing but food--i.e., his craving was pretty strong.

If people really took the humanity of Jesus seriously, I don't think we would equate things like his 'being hungry' to a dainty expression of "really being able to do with a hamburger right about now." If his tempting in the wilderness was anything real--and worth taking as real--it would be the anxious distress and temptation towards savagery that comes when a human being is deprived of something that keeps his clock ticking. "Being out of one's mind" with hunger might be a better expression--at least if it was me doing the fasting (and that might only be after forty hours).

There's a reason why men (and women?) are said to think about sex every seven seconds: sex brings us into being. Our continued existence depends on procreation and the best way to ensure that that happens--that we don't say 'I'll get around to it after I get home from work-take out the trash-turn forty, etc.--is to always have it at the forefront of our minds, i.e., "Must have sex. Must have sex. Must..." If you subscribe to an 'Intelligent Design' theory (I don't), maybe that falls in there?--i.e., we were 'programed' to want to have sex, and have it often.

Of course 'having' sex is only an external expression of the drive that motivates the desire. The undercurrents of that desire make up our psycho-sexuality, the more 'sophisticated' department of sexual desire, if you will, that bleeds into our everyday thoughts and actions. It often partners with sensuality, making cameos in the form of: perspiring at the sight of fruit; being overtaken by a dark chocolate (Chocolat), being aroused by an invigorating intellectual conversation, feeling connected through a mystical experience (spiritual orgasm). Sexual energy is incredibly powerful. Tantric practice in its genuine form is not so much about how to have explosive orgasms (thought it is often mistakenly used for that purpose) as it is about harnessing that incredible energy as a focusing tool for enlightenment.

When I was in college and thinking about sex every .7 seconds, I used to pray for some sanity so that I could stay chaste and get my schoolwork done. Of course, in that context sanity=rationality, the antithesis to sex, which has no use for reason. That's why philosophers like Augustine eschewed sex like the plague in the interest of job security (he was a professional rhetorician). Their life depended on clear thinking, and sex doesn't help with that. If you've ever wondered where the distorted anti-sex sentiment comes from among Catholics...thank Augustine.

My prayers were answered in my mid-twenties when my biological sex drive quelled, aided significantly by the introduction of a steady dose of lithium into my bloodstream (which was being used to keep my irrational mind--not my irrational sex drive--in check). It was a perfect example of not knowing what you had until it's gone. I felt like each day I had sold off part of my sexuality in order to be able to have a healthy mind. Creativity, among other things, fell through the floor. At some points it seemed like a small price to pay for a sane life. At others, I wondered what was keeping me human.

I had a friend from college who decided he would not masturbate for forty days during Lent. He had to change his sheets a bit more often, but he did it. I was impressed, as I always am with people who say they are going to do something and then actually do it. People who say that sex is not a sin are right in one sense: I would call it more of an appetite. If you think you are addicted or attached to something, try cutting it out of your life; your suspicions will be quickly confirmed or dismissed based on the degree of craving you are accosted by.

But sex in a Christian sense can, and is, sinful when it is misappropriated. If you are a strict moralist, and prefer certainties and black and whites, you will have no problem living by the Church's authoritative teaching on sexual ethics--at least in knowing what is 'right' and 'wrong.' If you are like me and view the Law like a posted speed limit, or (in filthy Thomist terms) like a 'NO FIRES' sign in a national forest, you see the responsibility of making moral choices with regards to sex as being on the individual, not on the Church. There is a reason we have speed limits--people don't always know how to drive safely or prudently and need a standardized law and threat of enforcement and punishment if that law is broken to keep them from killing themselves or other people because of reckless, unchecked driving. Would I view, in moral terms, doing 66 in a 65 as a sin? No. Because I see the purpose of the law through a different lens. But take it to court and the police would have every right to ticket me. Fucking pigs;)

* * *

Sometimes it is easier to fast from food than from sin. It allows us to justify ourselves in our own eyes as righteous while completely missing the point: fasting is a practice, a discipline, used as a means to an end. In refraining from food, we see that we may suffer from hunger as a result...but we will not die. Food is necessary to sustain life...but overindulgence sets the stage for sloth, not just at the dining room table, but in all areas of life.

In fasting from sin--whether that be in a generalized or particular sense--, we suffer because sin has made a home in us. More accurately, we have made a home for sin. Try to kick it out, and it will put up a fight. In that sense Sin and Ego are like cousins: tell yourself that you are not the center of the universe but only a small part of something much greater and see the depression that sets in. That is because for most of us, our ego has taken seat behind the cockpit controls and has been flying our plane since the day we were born. It not that we can't fly--we've just turned over the controls, like parents who spoil their children and then try to get tough with them by saying they can't have a toy in the supermarket. Brutal. Try to take back your rightful seat and you will be in for a hell of a fight.

Sin as attachment has always reminded me of those gophers at Chuck-E-Cheese that you bop on the head, only to have them pop up from another hole. I'm drinking coffee this morning because I had a hard time getting to sleep and didn't sleep well even when my eyes finally did close. That was because I said to my body, 'I think I'm going to fly this one tonight, thanks." My body is like an old man who likes to have the same seat on the bus every day--if someone else happens to be sitting there, he gets cranky, and its all he can think about. The night was not especially white knuckled, the way you might drive through a snowstorm. But it was still a bit of a red-eye. Jesus was tempted and never sinned I seem to sin without even having to be tempted.


Jeannie said...

great blog. want to hang out on the 15th? When everyone else thinks Valentine's Day is over, we'll just be beginning...

robthefob said...

it's a date!