“The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams, but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love. . . . To discover God in the smallest and most ordinary things, as well as in the greatest, is to possess a rare and sublime faith.”
Jean Pierre de Caussade
I love pondering this quote from a Jesuit priest (1675-1751) and what it means for the intersection of cross-gender friendship and sexuality. In focusing on a second book on the connection between theology, sexuality, and friendship, it is acutely humbling at times to become in touch with the vast disciplines, within theology and beyond--i.e., "secular," speaking into this massive (it's not small) intersection where sexuality and friendship intersect.
Of course, if we have any robust view of God's creation, how can we deem any discipline, secular? But that's for another time.
It's quite humbling in the sense that it is beyond my puny self to think for one nanosecond, that I, can claim any sort of "God's eye view" of what contemporary theologian Sarah Coakley calls, "the profound entanglement of our human sexual desire and our desire for God."
To begin any kind of in-depth research into this entanglement that so impacts authentic deep desires for cross-sex friendship, one is immediately confronted with conservative views of post-Freudian sexuality that want to throw friendship under the bus, as well as progressive views of post-Freud sexuality that want to throw friendship under the bus with meta-claims about "pure" sexual desire between two consenting adults.
It's quite humbling to see the boundaries for the infinite riches of friendship immediately collapse for some progressive tribes and conservative tribes when the potential for sexual attraction and sexual desire is at stake. Humbling in the ultimate sense, I cannot resolve the mystery of this messy entanglement.
But humbling, too, in the sense of knowing how easy it is to claim certainty between progressives and conservatives for knowing light in this entanglement. One of the immediate attractions for me out of an evangelical fundamentalism was this call or invitation to the mystery of God beyond evangelical proof-texting or what author Christian Smith calls "biblicism."
But it doesn't take too long to be at this all inclusive progressive, wide open table where, one encounters progressive individuals or particular tribes claiming their own brand of meta-essentialist claims to uphold their "pure" arguments for sexual desire within this messy entanglement. Suddenly, progressive hermeneutics are privileging in meta-"essentialist" points about sexual desire with no contemplative insight or wisdom offered other than to claim "Jesus" and "non-judgmental openness," "compassion," and "mystery."
What is attractive to me whether one is a conservative, moderate, or a progressive, is an ongoing, reflective, mature, contemplative self-awareness and other-awareness of this messy entanglement. And, of course, laying my own cards on the table as much as I can, what is attractive to me is when I notice conservative, moderate, or progressives in sync with the unexpected riches of cross-gender friendship and don't throw it under the bus when they begin dipping their toes into the messy entanglement of desire for God and desire for sex.
Are there "infinite riches" to be known in cross-sex friendship? Or, perhaps looking at it, another way, can we truly know the abundant life, the abundant riches of God's present in close friendships where there is a potential for sexual attraction between two friends? Can we know God is fully present in the connection between two friends where both friend's authentic openness to the fullness of God's love may stir sexual attraction? Or does friendship get thrown under the bus for hanging out in conservative or "open" communities where the meaning of "infinite riches" of love and pleasure become known through sex? Committed sex or uncommitted sex?
At least part of the paradox as I see it at this hour, "this hour" meaning at this present moment in my journey after a decade plus of complete immersion into this messy entanglement, is that a man and woman knowing God together as friends--may know these "infinite riches" as friends. In other words, part of the messy entanglement includes the extraordinary, mind-boggling, profoundly mysterious experience of knowing the wild excesses of Divine enjoyment between two friends who may or may not experience sexual attraction in their vulnerable openness to Divine enjoyment.
In this messy entanglement, Divine enjoyment doesn't collapse the infinite riches of friendship connection into sexual love nor collapse friendship boundaries--friendship gets thrown under the bus--when one or both experience sexual attraction within the friendship.
From my vantage point, there is meta-anxiety among conservatives and progressives when anyone starts to claim the "infinite riches" of friendship can be enjoyed--sans sex.
I have come to treasure women--conservative, progressive, moderate, queer, straight, or lesbian--who can intuit these "infinite riches" in the friendship/sexuality conversation. I treasure men who intuit this as well, also.
I value the deepening freedom when I'm conversation with a woman--a conversation in which one or both of us could experience sexual attraction toward the other--who desires to be fully present with me in the moment. Once you extract the potential for sexual attraction from Hollywood stereotypes of "hot" men or women, you truly become aware of the normality of sexual attraction that can happen with the rest of the 95% of the world's population that are not "eye-catching" "hot" immediately.
After ten plus years into this, I greatly value female friends (acquaintance or close) who are not ready to throw friendship under the bus (either theoretically or experientially) during an intimate encounter of sacred conversation when sexual attraction could happen or does happen.
I greatly value women who seem to me to embody a God who is present in infinite riches in the present moment in our friendship encounter or connection. What intrigues me with passionate curiosity is this paradox within this messy entanglement --an open-ended mystery--where there is a real sense we can truly say friendship has no boundaries. How can it? It mirrors God's infinitely free, ever-present, ever-dynamic friendship to both of us. And yet, there is another sense in which the very nature of friendship is a boundaried claim in which the infinite riches and depths of sex don't happen in this relationship.
It is precisely here in this intersection--both in theory and in experience--one can know the infinite, free, bottomless depths of God's non-possessive, non-coercive love in friendship without throwing friendship under the bus for some anxious-driven meta-claim about the meaning of sex.