Sunday, February 18, 2007

Shore Pebbles from Author David Weale: Stairway to Heaven, a meditation on sex

Stairway to Heaven

We all know that the incandescent stage in sexual pairing is at the very beginning, and doesn’t last very long. It moves, all too quickly, in the direction of the dreaded ‘relationship,’ where the initial carbonation dies down, and what remains becomes increasingly tepid and routine, often fizzling out altogether. The soaring ends, and the trudging begins. I also believe that, contrary to much conventional wisdom, it is in the beginning that we experience the deepest sharing and confidentiality. It might suit us to believe that after the intensity of the ‘merely physical’ aspect of the pairing diminishes the couple can then begin the more important process of getting to know one another; but that, in my view, is a post-romantic rationalization. The deepest, most glorious knowing, is in the beginning.

A man returning from the arms of his lover is a man full of grace, and there was a night when I was seventeen when I was so filled. It was the night of the senior prom. Over the objections of my puritanical parents, who regarded the dance floor as the Devil’s playground, I attended the prom with my girlfriend, Sandra, whom I had been dating all through grade twelve. That evening she seemed especially beautiful in her low-cut, spaghetti-strap gown, and all night long as we danced together my hormones were in a state of rock and roll excitation. The song Great Balls of Fire, popular at the time, would have described my condition precisely. We were travelling with my friend Jimmy Hogan and his girlfriend, Diane, and after the dance we all went to Andy’s Downtown restaurant for a meal, then headed directly for the Experimental Fox Ranch, a fairly secluded spot north of town where everyone went to neck.

The word necking was an apt description for my level of sexual behaviour at the time, and even though I wanted very badly to push my hands beneath that prom gown, I was prevented, by her scruples and mine, from any type of direct exploration of the territories south of the necklace. When I think today of how many scores of hours I spent entwined with that girl, without so much as laying a hand on her breasts or thighs, it underscores just how great was my parents’ control over my life at that time. Two months later, the night before I left for college, I gave it a tentative try, but she didn’t seem to think the historical nature of the occasion called for more liberty, and I was gently dissuaded.

The night of the prom, in the back seat of Jimmy’s car, I confined my attentions to the neck and above, but experienced, nonetheless, a marvellous intimacy. At some point, I told her I loved her, and she told me the same, which we had never done before, and I thought my heart would burst.

The girls had to be home by three, but after we dropped them off we drove to the end of the railway wharf and just sat together for a couple of hours talking quietly, listening to an American radio station, and teasing out for as long as possible, the delectable, erotic buzz that the evening had created in both of us. As the sun came up slowly, and Holman’s Island emerged from the darkness, I thought it one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and was filled to the brim with a wondrous serenity. I was in love, Jimmy was the best friend a guy could have, the music on the radio was perfect, and the world was radiant with loveliness. And all that without a drop of booze. If it wasn’t a spiritual experience then I don’t know the meaning of the term, and anyone who is bothered by the role of the hormones in the epiphany is surely being prudish.
One of the greatest travesties of Christianity was the attempt, by the Church, to demonize sex. Its teachings on the subject weren’t just cautionary; they were defamatory. Many of the austere fathers of the church, like Augustine, would have preferred a world entirely without sex, and went so far as to declare that, even within marriage, it was a sordid activity and a venial sin, and that it debased a man by drawing the blood away from the brain to the gonads. Not everyone was that extreme, and we know that over the centuries many of the churchmen failed repeatedly to live up to their own celibate standards. But while there was always dissent, there was never any clear, corrective voice of protest against the gloomy maligning of sexual behaviour by the church; no acknowledgement, as in Hinduism, or the discredited pagan religions, that the coming together of a man and a woman is more than a mechanical act of giving and receiving seed, but a mystical experience of self-transcendence and ‘oneing,’ a term the mystics borrowed from lovers.

And are we to suppose that this correspondence in language is a mere coincidence, and that spiritual ecstasy and sexual ecstasy are two entirely separate experiences? I don’t think so, and suspect, as some research has already indicated, that the part of the brain that is activated during the spiritual epiphany is the same part that glows during foreplay and orgasm.
What I experienced that night, in the back seat of that big brown Buick, was a swift ascent up the stairway to heaven: an intensification of awareness which delivered me out of the mundane; made me more poignantly aware, not just of my girlfriend, but of everything around me; and put me in touch with the deep, procreative urge of the universe. The whole world became the beloved, and what could be more righteous than that?
David Weale writes his Shore Pebbles from Prince Edward Island. He is the author of The True Meaning of Crumbfest, the unabridged audio edition of which is available from Rattling Books and the print edition from Acorn Press.