For my Advent read this year, I took Rachel Manns book Dazzling Darkness. It is an exploration of her sexuality, and her grappling with the meaning of this to her, as a Christian.
In one sense, I cannot really criticise the book. It is her exploration and understanding of what she went through - because it is a personal journey, and not particularly similar to the one that I have traveled, I cannot really make too much comment: this is her experience. End of story. But the question I have to ask is this: what can I learn from this? With a radically different journey, a story that is currently is a very different place, what can I learn from it?
Well, the first thing is that she is sometimes rather too theological for her own good. There is within the book sometimes an attempt to theologise her experience, which - for me - is not necessary or helpful. I suppose from where I stand, I want to interpret the theology that appreciates where she is, where she comes from, in a way that I can understand - of course not everyone who reads it will be wanting to do that. I am not sure that the theology in the book will necessarily help. For me it is a distraction - I want to know here feelings and responses, not how she explains it. I am sure that for her, this is important, but as a reader, maybe not so.
But that is a minor issue. The journey she has taken - from boy to woman, from high-life student to priest - is a considerable one, and one that very few would be able to follow, whatever their hopes and intentions. The pain and anguish of this journey is clear in the writing - it has not been a simple route, plain direction.
There is one point that I do want to explore further. "Christianity has often given the impression of having a huge downer on the body" - so true, and not just in the way that Rachel has experienced it. There are those who so dislike their body that they undergo plastic surgery to "fix" it. There are those who frown upon those who "fix" their bodies, saying that bodies are not important. There are those who claim bodies are not important, while preferring to spend time with the better looking ones. All of these are broken body images.
The truth is that Jesus came to earth in a body. It was a dark-skinned, middle-eastern body. It had too much fat at times, and too little at times. He got blisters on his hands from working, and painful feet from walking. It was a real, genuine body, with all of the niggles and problems that a body has. He never grew old in it, but if he had, it would have suffered from age problems like any other body.
To deny the importance of the physical, of the body we inhabit, of the impact that this body has on our self, our humanity, is gnosticism in disguise. It is a denial of the real, physical incarnation of Jesus. To read Rachaels exploration of her spirituality along with her physical changes, and the mental and emotional development from who she was, to who she is, is to start to understand something more of the importance of the body, the physical, the touchable.
And, of course, part of this physical is the sexual. The long-term problem that he church has had with the sexual is also a part of the problem with the physical. The idea that Christianity deals with the spiritual not the physical is a big problem, because it then fails to relate to real, physical people. In fact, Christianity - because it is about God Incarnate - God in meat - is about us as physical, sexual, real people.
It is sad when we miss that, especially as we celebrate Christmas, the coming of God to a human, physical body.