In Bed with God

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In Bed with God

I teach a survey of art to undergraduates and we cover works of art throughout history and across cultures. Why is it growing up we are taught about God in a completely rigid and asexual way? At least in art, God throughout history appears utterly sexual.

For a second, forget what you think you know about these most famous images and just look at them through the eyes of desire.

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Creation of Adam, (detail) from the Sistine Chapel

Did you all know Michelangelo was as gay as the day is long? And his most prominent Christian works are housed in Vatican City. Oh, the irony of it all.

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(top) Michelangelo's David. (right) Tom of Finland sketch

I’ve had this book Love Poems from God sitting in my bookshelf for years. I bought it because there were these great translations of the sufi poets Rumi and Hafiz, as well as poems by Christian and Hindu mystics.

One story that really interested me was St. Teresa of Avila, who lived during the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century. In fact, her family were conversos, Jews who converted to Christianity so they wouldn’t have to endure having wooden spikes driven under their nails, or a myriad other horrific medieval torture techniques including waterboarding. No wait, I got myself confused. It’s the U.S. military that uses waterboarding, not the Spanish Inquisition.

So Teresa lived during one of the most misogynistic and orthodox periods of Christian history. Yet despite this, at the age of 21 — as her hagiography goes — she ran away from home and moved into a convent where she began to have profound mystical experiences. She wrote about her experiences in poems that the church, of course, tried to destroy and eventually control after she was canonized. Various translations of her work still exist, such as this poem:

The Sky’s Sheets
When He touches me I clutch the sky’s sheets
The way other lovers
Do

Any real ecstasy is a sign
You are moving
In the right
Direction

Don’t let any prude tell
You otherwise.

This sculpture below is entitled St. Teresa in Ecstasy by baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. I’ve been staring at this image all semester long and it only occurred to me recently this is Bernini’s rendering of Teresa of Avila.

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If fucking God is the way to understand the mystery of the divine, then sign me up.