Saturday, August 13, 2011


Eros is one of three primary Greek words that is translated in English as 'love.'  The three are:  Agape- 'being loyal and receiving unconditionally the other',  Phileo-' liking and enjoying the presence of the other' , and Eros ' desiring through all the senses, longing for the embodied Spiritual other'.  I believe that until we as Western and Christian cultures can include all three dynamics of love into our' image of love' we cannot fully incorporate and experience the giving and receiving of love in all areas of our human lives. And that the process of adding back Eros in greater completeness is a needed step in our Spiritual/psychological development as human beings.
'Eros and Psyche', The Greek  Effort To Describe Eros.

Eros is not simply physical sexual appetite or release of  pent up sexual energy but rather something which likely reaches more deeply into the human spirit than any other psychological/spiritual factor. Eros has not been welcomed ever by Western culture. It has not been encouraged into full consciousness. It has not been respected  by the secular or the orthodox religious cultures that we are part of. And it never seems  to fully show up when humans imagine they  have managed to capture it, define it and control it, such as with legal marriage. Western marriage does not usually become the releasing and ushering in and honoring of Eros that many a person has anticipated but often quite another story begins. Yet  marriage as a containing vessel  does harbor that potential.

Eros is probably what we are talking about as Christians when we read and speak of the forbidden fruit in  Adam and Eve mythology. Surely, most of us conclude, it was something far more serious than eating a fruit that the naive garden couple decided to approach, something that was fully against the stated warning of their maker. Yet the same maker acknowledged that 'eating of the forbidden' is  alone the path to a mature and responsible 'knowledge of good and evil.' Christian orthodoxy, and a materialistic  literalism,  has way over simplified the uncomfortable conundrum that the story is intended to place the human in. All that is learned when taken without deeper reflection is,' God says don't, so the human must obey  and that settles it.'  That settles nothing for obviously a loving God, who necessarily desires the fullest  development of his highest creation,  would have the human to become knowledgeable, especially of what 'good and evil'  really are.  And  literally eating  a piece of fruit  can hardly be the essence of real evil. This story is about the necessary yet frightful path of the human to fully experience and embrace the great power Eros. This is likely the dangerous  'narrow and strait way  to fullness of  life' that Jesus refers to in the gospels.  I doubt that we have considered that conundrum nearly as much as it deserves. Eros would insist that we pay close attention to such inherited spiritual myth. How many have not concluded that it is talking about the couple’s conspiracy to make the frightening decision to consciously experience the ecstasy of love making? And if that continues to be seen as a way of despising or discrediting the Sacred source of all, then entering into a primary path of Eros is forever frozen in human thought as a negative and guilt ridden. It becomes labeled  as most likely the sin at the heart of the 'fall and separation from God.' This is precisely what has happened regarding human sexuality and Eros throughout Western culture. No wonder modern spiritually sensitive people have many reservations about the fun, the joy, the ecstasy , the spiritual flight that Eros still, even after all its rejection, promises the human person and human culture.

Well, this is a rather bleak picture of Eros but even when experienced negatively it gets its message through to the human heart that there must be, even if only in fantasy, the possibility of human beings being lifted to the heights of ecstasy, to what can be nothing less than a flight of the soul, a 'joy unspeakable and full of glory.' But it also says to arrive at such legitimately is a path of great mystery, danger, sacrifice and endurance. And yet if realized would likely be described as an experience of the sheer grace of God. Unfortunately, many religions seem to exist partially to protect or to forbid frail humans from walking fully into the dangerous experience of Eros. It is the thing  they warn most about and seek to get the human mind to diminish and to take the attitude that the areas of Eros are “ just imaginary”, “not real” , " a sign of immaturity" and that “only bad results can come from looking into or entering these realms.” It is said of Human sexuality  just like it was of the earthly origins of the Messiah;  'nothing good can come out of Nazareth.'

Without going into detail here I do not think  the words and actions attributed to Jesus fall into the category at all of placing these negative attributes onto Eros. I will just say  I don’t think it could ever have been said of a man without awareness of his connections to ‘Eros’ that he ‘for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame...'  Of all the words for love, only Eros has the potential of carrying the human spirit to those places truly beyond oneself. It turns out to be that Eros is likely the only door to fully open up the meaning of life in the Spirit and of life with God and even life in the fullest and most whole service of one’s fellows. But this very same life giving  Eros love  has been given an extremely negative evaluation by both our religious and secular cultures.

Importantly, Eros is for sure not just about human sexuality, perhaps not even most about that.(I have described elsewhere of how one's work  or strongest interests can  potentially be rooted in and an experience of one's Eros). Other attributes of the human experience of Eros include the experience of total innocence. Approaching Eros, as we have seen, is likely frightening but being there would be the experience of child like innocence and total unconditional acceptance. Notice these are the states that well describe the New Testament vision of 'salvation by grace.' Other passages that proclaim an erotic element include, ‘You who were apart have been brought near’, ‘ I came not to condemn but to save’.  The Old Testament Song of Songs(or Song of Solomon), at the very center  of the Bible, is an ode to the reality and importance of Eros. It offers one of the most specific descriptions of  spiritual erotic love in all of Western literature. It describes  the ongoing separation and coming together of two lovers with repeated moments of ecstatic joy.  The story implies, much to the shock of many believers,  that they are not a formally married couple. This points us to the the supposition  that to try to harness Eros as only happening in legalized marriage  can be one reason that it refuses to show up or to be sustained in marriage only. This likely would also lead us to doubt the orthodox view that only opposite sex unions can be the environment of a fully  developed love relationship. For same sex couples experience the same quality of Eros that straight couples do.   The painting above  is no doubt inspired by images in the Biblical  Song of Songs such as 1:2 "Kiss me, make me drunk with your kisses! Your sweet loving is better than wine."

 The whole gospel of 'good news' originally must have  pointed to this secure, yet adventuresome  and sometimes ecstatic state of mind. Eros lets the child in a human live again and revel in her/his innocence and spontaneous play. It is knowing that any power above one is a loving power and one that takes delight in its child being fully his/herself. Does this not sound a lot like a return to Eden? That is because it is but with a very big difference. It is a return to Eden but as a more fully conscious and spiritually/psychologically developed human being, not as a naive one who does not have a knowledge of the actual 'difference between good and evil' as with Adam and Eve's original less conscious status.  It is a return to Eden  as ones who have  found a wisdom desperately needed today- that Eros is not an enemy but a much needed  friend.

Sadly, much religious emphasis seeks to transport us back to the garden security but still as naive and overly dependent ones, ones who have not yet found their Eros and are not courageously seeking to live all of life. This is a way of seeing the possibility of the “joy” that the New Testament dares to mention many times. I doubt that such joy is very close to being fully actualized and realized by a human except with the integration of Eros. Robin Scroggs in his book Paul For A New Day hints at this in pages re 20-30. He says that according to Freud a mature and healthy humanity could never be a happy humanity and I think he is quite right. If we only look to Freud’s conclusions, which have been the common ones for the West the past 75 years,  'joy' must remain a childish illusion to give up so as to grow up. And it sadly appears that many adults in our culture have done just that even if we don't know why or how. This results among other things in adults trying to capture their own innocence and joy vicariously through the children, which is  psychologically abusive and unfair to children,  and to believing  society/religion  can capture Eros by refusing  it permission to exist except in Marriage. Viewing the dynamics at a little league baseball game is likely to reveal this 'loss of child likeness'   problem.
Angry Parent At Child's Ball Game

A less obvious symptom may be "O, I just happen to have my grand kids' pictures right here.” Are we sometimes saying “let me show you my wished for Eros?” Eros is that which lets one return to the childlike wonder, acceptance and joy that otherwise is a permanent loss to a human being battered by the hardships and disappointments of life. Freud's ego gets trapped in the warfare between superego and id and one's life is condemned to remain in that hapless balance. This points to the urgent need of a more integrated Eros in our adult American culture.  Jungian thought moves us far more in that direction than Freud is able to do. Only Eros can offer the bridge to a state of mind like the early innocence, but now with a more fully developed  and responsible consciousness. The ego is not any longer to be the center of personality but the 'Self' as Jung postulates, which can be thought of as the indwelling 'image of God.' This goal must surely have a very special place for honoring Eros. With the 'Self' made more conscious as our center , not the ego;  the un-winnable battle between  super ego and id is transcended and  sustained  joy becomes truly a natural possibility for the human species.

My thought is that Eros well describes the presence of the Spirit of God in the human psyche. I believe it turns out that to 'follow the Spirit'  is to more consciously  follow the wrongly maligned Eros down its winding and tantalizing road. It is not without meaning  that alcohol in our culture is called  'Spirits.' All addictions are likely symptomatic of the human search for the Spirit which is strongly connected to Eros. The commonness of addictions that so frustrate us and confuse us are mirrors to show us that our culture is looking for the Spirit, looking for Eros. Even organized religion is often merchandised as a road to the Spirit that can be as much a dead end as booze. In a not very fair game of hide and seek Eros has been hidden, and like any good hiding place it has been hidden where it is least expected to be. Our times of ‘sex is everywhere’ is also a time that the Spiritual sexuality of Eros may be practically nowhere. The demonizing of human sexuality in our puritanical heritage or the more modern practice of separating it from Spirit as with most pornography are calls to all of us, not just to ones acting out the problem, to take Eros seriously. And to look for it where it can be found, first in our own human heart and life experience. Eros is waiting there as an essential part of the 'Image of God', an image that includes  'eating,drinking, dancing and loving.'  Eros is that which gives to love its life. Eros dwells in us all and may, like nightly dreams, come forward if invited and welcomed.

Eros has always been in and around , reminding us in the deepest places of our heart to not give up on the anticipation of the joy of life. And  to never minimize the Dionysus type promise from Christ,  that he came to ‘give life and to give it abundantly’ reminding us that we should 'drink the wine' of joy  in remembrance of him.  These are  initial  meanderings of some of the pieces of the meaning of Eros that circulate in my mind and heart. Jim
Note: Other  blog post the reader may wish to read is Love's Trouble:  and  The Greatest Of These: and An Ontology Of Love: 

Note: Two contemporary books that explore the religious and spiritual implications of Eros are  The Erotic Word by  David M. Carr and  Eros and Chaos by Veronica Goodchild.

"Historically, the Bible has been used to drive a wedge between the spirit and the body. In this provocative book, David Carr argues that it can--and should--do just the opposite. Sexuality and spirituality, Carr contends, are intricately interwoven: when one is impoverished, the other is warped. As a result, the journey toward God and the life-long engagement with our own sexual embodiment are inseparable. Humans, the Bible tells us, both male and female, were created in God's image, and Eros--a fundamental longing for connection that finds abstract good in the pleasure we derive from the stimulation of the senses--is a central component of that image. The Bible, particularly the Hebrew Bible, affirms erotic passion, both Eros between humans and Eros between God and humans. In a sweeping examination of the sexual rules of the Bible, Carr asserts that Biblical "family values" are a far cry from anything promoted as such in contemporary politics. He concludes that passionate love--our preoccupation therewith and pursuit thereof--is the primary human vocation, that Eros is in fact the flavoring of life."

No comments: