How far we come to see the miles ahead. Late in the summer of 2009, I sat to gather in words what I knew of love and relationships – especially the relationship of Eros, of romantic and sexual love. I quickly became embarrassed by my naivety; the Note has since disappeared from Facebook. As the growth has taken place, however, the journey ahead has stretched ever more widely and longingly before my eyes. I journal five pages a day, and the territory never seems to end. We gay males (and gay Christians) have been left to find our own way in this world. Just as the progress of science unlocks more mystery than understanding, the spiritual work of introspection and Charity presents challenges of apparently increasing insuperability. This is where Foster is quick to remind us that not to progress in the spiritual life is to go back.
Several lights have arisen on the journey. Thank God for Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way. Thank God for Brené Brown’s TEDxHouston talk on vulnerability; those twenty minutes have long sustained my soul. Now, this week, a new light has been found in the words of Thomas Merton:
To love another is to will what is really good for him. Such love must be based on truth. … The first step to unselfish love is the recognition that our love may be deluded. We must first of all purify our love by renouncing the pleasure of loving as an end in itself.
Together with the succinct words of a close friend, this passage served the role of an iced bucket of water dumped with great alacrity over my head. I’m selfish – terribly so. I have made love all about me. The way to remedy this is apparently to practice the discipline of “renouncing the pleasure of loving as an end in itself.” What does this look like? What does it ask us to fast from? I do not think it means renouncing the pleasure of love. Nor do I think it means renouncing physical pleasure. But it does insist upon a certain kind of mindfulness. To know what is best for the beloved involves the mind – and deserves the best of its faculties! We might ask ourselves before even the most casual encounter, “Is there any way I can prepare to meet this person with selflessness? Given what I know of him, are there specific words or activities that would not serve this person well?” Importantly, what is best for the beloved may often necessitate that we do not communicate our love in the way we desire. In order to free him from bondage, we do not tell him about the way his hair falls on his face. We do not kiss him at the opportune moment. We give him to God for a better, more lasting purpose.
How, then, to seek fulfillment while following the advice of Richo? He tells us not to look for the ideal man, for an ideal man is not a real man – which is the only kind out there. How to rectify this reality with the desire to find someone who meets our deepest needs, values, and wishes? Another friend helped illuminate the real meaning of this: that two people must be relatively complete, and must not be looking for someone else to complete them. Such a situation (let us call it independent wholeness) is the only one in which real relating is possible. Webber says it like this: “No one is loved perfectly; some part of our authentic self is never going to be met by a partner.” We must accept and feel this reality, and let it saturate our awareness as we seek a partner in this world. Further, we must also recognize that there is something greater than any one item on our list of “partner requirements.” This greater good is a persistent staying with and staying by; a togetherness; a sense that the other will not leave you. Yes, I rail against this. I think of times when I have felt great loneliness in another’s presence. I think of stasis and lazy mornings that call to mind Cameron’s words: “If I don’t create, I get crabby. As an artist, I can literally die of boredom. … Creativity is oxygen for our souls. Cutting off our creativity makes us savage. We react like we are being choked.” With palpable exasperation I can remember, with friends and lovers alike, these times of suffocation. Breathing heavy. I would have killed for coffee, philosophy, and the written word. I would have surged ahead in a marathon just to get it out of my system – the need, for God’s sake, to DO. Yes, I know that mere fidelity and togetherness are not enough for me. Still, it is humbling to realize that I have not properly appreciated their infinite worth. I have much work to do.
These realizations have sent me spiraling. The first glimmer of sure footing lies in what Lewis emphasizes: that Charity, the love of God, must be present in all our relationships; nay, must be its fuel. That selflessness is the only thing that can give our love a backbone. It is the only force that can prevent any of our loves – Friendship, Affection, or Eros – from becoming selfish and destructive. It means seeking the good of the beloved as much as it means seeking the good in him. We must search for the God in him whom we love, and help him also to find it for himself. Sometimes the search will be difficult, but we must, with Merton, become “convinced and penetrated by the realization that without my love for [him he] may perhaps not achieve the things God has willed for [him].” One need not even assent to the existence of God to see that, without some action on our part, those we love may never receive the love, support, and wisdom that they need to find and execute their purpose in this life.
We are bodies and spirits united; the product, as Nee writes, is the soul – the emotion, mind, intellect, and will. Neglecting either component of our existence will lead to decay – to stagnation and disease in our souls. Thus I leave with the words of Webber, published in Psychology Today but no less wise than the writers of the past. They serve at once as a challenge and a mystery. Be honest, be wise, and take seriously (and without shame!) both your biological and spiritual needs. Do the work of introspection that a healthy life requires, and foster that Rilke-like solitude inside your soul that makes real love possible.
To enter a relationship with an idea of what it should look like or how it should evolve is too controlling[;] it takes two people to make a relationship. … One of the most common reasons we choose the wrong partner is that we do not know who we are or what we really want. It’s hard to choose someone capable of understanding you and meeting your most guarded emotional needs and with whom your values are compatible when you don’t know what your needs or values are or haven’t developed the confidence to voice them unabashedly. … Most of us are guarded about our needs, because they are typically our areas of greatest sensitivity and vulnerability.
It will bring me great joy if any of my struggles inspire you to dig deep and do the work; I hope they can also shed a little light on the way.
 Brown, Brené. 2010. The Power of Vulnerability. TEDxHouston.
 Cameron, Julia. 1992, 2002. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Penguin Putnam Inc., 237 pp.
 Foster, Richard J. 1978, 1988, 1998. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. HarperCollins, 228 pp.
 Lewis, C.S. 1960, 1988. The Four Loves. Harcourt, 141 pp.
 Merton, Thomas. 1955, 1983, 2003. No Man Is An Island. Fall River, 264 pp.
 Nee, Watchman. 1968, 1977. The Spiritual Man. Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 207 pp.
 Richo, David. 2002. How to Be an Adult in Relationships: the Five Keys to Mindful Loving. Shambhala, 272 pp.
 Rilke, Rainer Maria. 1934, 1962, 1954. Letters to a Young Poet (trans. M.D. Herter Norton). W.W. Norton & Company, 123 pp.
 Webber, Rebecca. 2012. Are you with the right mate? Psychology Today 45(1):56-65.