There's a prayer in the traditional Jewish morning liturgy that thanks God for creating our bodies in wisdom, for creating the various openings and organs. The prayer goes on to say that if one of them should fail to function, it would be difficult to exist and stand before God. Yet I think of people I've known in wheel chairs, who have not stood in years (if ever) and a dear family member whose eighty-three year old body is failing but whose spirit is strong. No, it's not hard to know what health is. And there was much talk at this Summer's Gay Spirit Culture Project Summit about defining spirituality, about writing a statement on what Gay Spirituality is. But there was little agreement on thoughts or words.
Is healthy spirituality like pornography? In 1964, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, said "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it" No, I'm not thinking about friends of mine as they were dying of AIDS, covered with lesions, shrunken till they resembled Auschwitz survivors, men who looked like the fast-forward button had been pushed on their mortal frames—who exuded a radiance and peace I've seldom felt. And I think about my family, the Communist side, who lived with a passionate spirituality my Orthodox relatives lacked, who laughed at anyone who believed in anything sacred and would have bellowed at me if I'd used the word "spiritual" to describe them to their faces.
In my time I've gone to massage school, had thousands of needles stuck in me by acupuncturists, almost all of them either Chinese or Jewish (What is this odd connection? Acupuncture, Mah Jongg, spare ribs?) I've eaten too much ghee, as prescribed by Ayurvedic practitioners, fasted, been vegan, meditated for countless house, and read more self-help books than I can count (even written a few,) all in a quest for spiritual health. But in the end, I've really only learned one thing that I can share with you on this subject.
Truth be told, it was much easier for me to come out as a gay man than it's been for me to come out as a person who speaks to angels and to disembodied entities. But I'm here with you, and you won't be too surprised if I tell you that the best thin I learned about healthy spirituality came to me from an angel, (the disembodied kind.) A paradox, that someone fleshless would give me the best advice I've yet received on healthy spirituality, but here it is—massage your body every morning.
"Massage your body every morning? Is that it?" I can hear you saying. Well, frankly, yes. That's it. As far as I and my angel friends are concerned, the path to spiritual health is that simple. In my two previous columns in White Crane, I've used those tidy little bullets to:
But this time I don't need them. My advice is simple. Massage your body every morning. There, I've put it in boldface, so that it seems as if I'm saying something of substance, for substance, you see is exactly what I'm talking about. We are eternal souls who come into the world to learn and grow, and it is only through being physical, through having substance and becoming men of substance, that we can do this. We could meditate forever, on cushions fashionable or plain. And we could pray prayers from every religion in the world, only, which of them have written prayers for men like us, for men who love other men? But when we wake, and in a silent liturgy of the flesh, tenderly touch ourselves from head to toe as fondly as a lover, as best we can, as far as we can reach, then we slowly ground our immortal souls in our cells. And that, an angel once told me, is the path to healthy spirituality. Try it, slowly and lovingly. Celebrate yourself through your sacred touch. If, due to age, health, ability, you cannot massage yourself, imagine that you're massaging yourself, or imagine that an angel is doing it for you. And gradually, over time, you will learn to be your body and hear what it's trying to tell you and you'll exist in the world with a new grace, a sweet reverence, and a glow about you that says:
THIS MAN IS ALIVE IN THE WORLD.
Andrew Ramer lives in San Francisco. He is the author of the delightful gay classic Two Flutes Playing. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.
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