Tuesday, May 14, 2013

abstinence training: and makyth my body fre to god

sometimes i feel like i've spent most of my life learning to abstain, practicing abstinence:  from sex, alcohol, coffee, food, overeating, gossip, too much meat & butter, envy, tea, gluttony, murder, and slothfulness.


like a lot of us raised to abstinence, abstaining thinks to be a path to enlightenment or salvation.

some from this tradition engage, too, in a cycle of abstinence/indulgence.


for the past few weeks i've been trying to abstain from:

*diet coke
*peanut butter m&m's
*binge watching breaking bad

i abstained from two of the three.

that's a pretty sad list of vices.


margery kempe:

"Sere, yf it lyke yow, ye schal grawnt me my desyr, and ye 
schal have yowr desyr. Grawntyth me that ye schal not komyn in my bed, and I grawnt 
yow to qwyte yowr dettys er I go to Jerusalem. And makyth my body fre to God so 
that ye nevyr make no chalengyng in me to askyn no dett of matrimony aftyr this day 
whyl ye levyn, and I schal etyn and drynkyn on the Fryday at yowr byddyng." Than 
seyd hir husbond agen to hir, "As fre mot yowr body ben to God as it hath ben to me." 

chaste marriage  Kempe is determined, after 14 children, to enter into the category of chaste wife - maintaining the lawful bond of marriage but vowing not to exercise sexual relations.  She bargains with her husband: she pays his debts, he grants that they live chastely.  Virginal marriage was not an unusual status, and of considerably more advantage to the wife.  The status of a layman within civic and church organization was not appreciably changed, but a woman was accorded greater respect and social autonomy.  Widows were, in general, more advantaged than wives. In the late 13th century, Jacobus deVoragine compiled theGolden Legend, a collection of saints' lives ordered according to the liturgical calendar.  He also recorded rituals such as the Greater Litany on the feast of St. Mark (April 25) and the lesser Litany, also in the spring, celebrated in the three days before the feast of the Ascension.  He describes processions for both; for the Greater, he speaks of seven ranks of participants: first the clergy, then the monks, then religious, nuns, then children, then the laymen, then widows and virgins, finally married women.  This ranking gives some indication of the problematic position of the married woman that persisted even in Margery Kempe's time. Well-documented examples of virginal couples in the 14th-century can be found in "The Virginal Marriage of Elzéar and Delphine" and "A Holy Woman During the Hundred Years' War: Jeane-Marie of Maillé” in André Vauchez. The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Beliefs and Devotional Practices. Ed. Daniel E. Bornstein, trans. Margery J. Schneider. University of Notre Dame Press: South Bend, Indiana, 1993.  


yoga and celibacy:

Celibacy and yoga meditation go side by side. The yogi is however, essentially a Brahmacharya, i.e. the yogi has renounced all desires and acts of carnal pleasure. He redirects his carnal stimulus and converts them to exercising the cosmic energy derived out it to the task of meditation and commuting to his spirituality. A minimum period of sexual abstinence for 12 years is required to attain celibacy, and this is no easy a task. Sexuality is the final touch to attain enlightenment. It also entails the practice of mental celibacy.



Gluttony--like lust--is one of the seven capital sins (sometimes called "mortal" or "deadly" sins) according to medieval Christian theology and church practice. Dante, at least in circles 2-5 of hell, uses these sins as part--but only part--of his organizational strategy. While lust and gluttony were generally considered the least serious of the seven sins (and pride almost always the worst), the order of these two was not consistent: some writers thought lust was worse than gluttony and others thought gluttony worse than lust. The two were often viewed as closely related to one another, based on the biblical precedent of Eve "eating" the forbidden fruit and then successfully "tempting" Adam to do so (Genesis 3:6). Based on the less than obvious contrapasso of the gluttons and the content (mostly political) of Inferno 6, Dante appears to view gluttony as more complex than the usual understanding of the sin as excessive eating and drinking. 


fasting is quite fashionable right now.

what used to be such a once-monthly torture for me as a child is now a cure-all for obesity, allergies, migraines, inflammatory diseases, metabolic disorders, what have you.

(i remember how delicious a snuck bite from a saltine tasted, or a spoonful of raisin bran in ice cold milk stolen from my younger siblings, who were too young to fast.)

an added side benefit might be finding the true way, experiencing god through your body, freeing up your body from digestion so it can experience other sensations.  


i was so angry when the state of utah (it's sorry excuse for a legislature, that is) decided to offer abstinence only sex-ed to students.  as we've heard in the past few weeks, this type of education puts kids at risk, and not just for unwanted pregnancy and std's.

i want my kids to decide what they're going to do with their bodies with full knowledge,  all they can get.  and, really, i don't want to have to tell them EVERYTHING myself.  

i'm sure they don't want that either.

luckily, more reasonable policies prevailed.  a lot of parents felt the same as me, and a lot of us got active and made the legislature do the right thing. 


i read about this guy,

a gay mormon dude,

who went to a monastery to explore celibacy as an alternative to a gay relationship.  he spent three months there, considering if it was an option for him.  the monks told him that if he had to consider it, it wasn't an option for him.  they told him it had to be a calling.

it seems like most of the stories i read:  of yogis, visionaries, mystics, monks and anchoresses, employ abstinence after a vision or calling.

i know people who have been miraculously blessed through abstinence.

i know people who have been irreparably harmed by it.


i think abstinences of all kinds are to be chosen in full knowledge, with blessing and vision, 

not out of compulsion and guilt.


  1. Great images, and a very nuanced response to this theme. I'm always intrigued when people embracing sexual abstinence out of great sorrow--extreme loss, like the founder of the Shakers, Ann Lee, although she did see herself as called. tp://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/334519/Ann-Lee

  2. It seems that abstinence, long-term, from anything greatly needed or desired is almost impossible, however good the aim, without a community to support it. Unfortunately, the communal support that makes abstinence/dieting/refraining from, etc., plausible also carries all the potential freight of . . . communities, i.e., the compulsion, guilt, and, worst of all, shame that communities tend to plant, like so much bindweed, in their members. A community that functions without compulsory means, by long-suffering, love unfeigned, kindness, and knowledge--now that would be something. It really would be something.