Listening to this controversy that the Vatican has incited by criticizing the good sisters in North American for not promoting the Vatican positions on sexuality, I consider a character we created in Sexual Mercy. Heidi certainly is no nun – in fact she’s a lesbian phone sex operator – yet she may be articulating what the deepest Catholic teaching tries to maintain the connection between our sexuality and spirituality. Here’s a stretch of conversation between Heidi and Dom that comes toward the end of the novel Sexual Mercy that might serve to illustrate that point:
“I did love her.” [Dom]
“Good, you recognize that it’s a verb. Making love, the noun form, is the product of loving, as in the verb, an action.” [Heidi]
“At least you recognize that this action, as you call it, doesn’t always have to be sexual.”
Both women were noticeably testy, getting testier by the minute.
“Just sexual? As in just friends, as if friendship wasn’t the highest calling.”
“According to you I should go back and fuck her, just to prove that I’m a human being.”
“Who asked you to prove anything?”
“Why are you trying to get the upper hand?”
“Don’t get so defensive. I’m just trying to make a point.”
“I can’t win here. Is that your point? If Tuy and I were to become sexual partners again, that wouldn’t be as good as staying simply friends while, according to your logic, sex has some kind of mystical spiritual meaning.”
“You’re absolutely right on that score.”
Both Heidi and Dom recognize that connection between spirituality and sexuality is close, they remind me of a story Fr. Jim, a priest for more than forty years, once told me:
“You know, I have a friend, a psychiatrist, who told me he’d never had a patient come to him with a sexual problem that wasn’t, at the root, a spiritual problem. I thought about it for a minute, then told him, ‘That’s interesting, because I’ve never had someone come to me with a spiritual problem that wasn’t, at the root, a sexual problem!’”
After decades of listening to confessions, Fr. Jim was well aware that our sexuality and our spirituality are intricately connected, maybe one in the same thing, a God given creative force pushing us to go beyond ourselves. I think that’s Katy’s discovery in the novel. Her husband is having an affair of sorts, with Heidi, a lesbian phone sex operator confined to a wheel chair. Katy’s got to find her own power to be as sexually appealing as this voice on the phone, and in finding her own power I believe she comes to know a higher power, that which calls us to be powerfully compassionate, truly and completely a human being, body and soul, as one and ultimately/intimately with God.
The Vatican needs to learn to listen if they are going to provide any authentic leadership, listen to people who listen to the people, to renew their faith and inform their teachings certainly before they start giving directives to those people.