The sex that is presented to us in everyday culture feels strange to me; its images are fragments, lifeless, removed from normal experience. Real sex, the sex in our cells and in the space between our neurons, leaks out and gets into things and stains our vision and colors our lives.
I am convinced, however, that the sexual problems of many middle-aged men are the symptoms of a spiritual crisis that has nothing to do with sex. Men are rummaging around in their small rooms looking for the solution — younger women, better gadgets, subtler techniques — when the real answer is outside the room altogether. It is a matter of discovering what sexual energy really is, something like what Roger Corless meant when he said that anything you do with your deepest energy is a sexual act. It is a matter not of looking for sex in new places but of seeing that sex is everywhere.
I am a moody, bookish teenager living in a small town on the coast. Ten miles offshore, the Isles of Shoals seem to hover, whispering of mystery, a promise unfulfilled, a gift forever withheld. In fact, the islands are easily reached by boat in an hour, and the one time I went there it was bleak and cold and a seagull swooped down with its sharp yellow beak and stole my sandwich. I prefer to regard them from the shore, imagining a paradise just beyond my reach.
A sacrament is physical, and within it is God’s love; as a sandwich is physical, and nutritious and pleasurable, and within it is love, if someone makes it for you and gives it to you with love: even harried or tired or impatient love, but with love’s direction and concern, love’s again-and-again wavering and distorted focus on goodness, then God’s love, too, is in the sandwich.
Rain pounded on the train-station roof like kettle-drums. We were the only two foreigners in the waiting area, and faces turned each time we spoke, watching and listening. But this didn’t bother us. We had been in China long enough now that we were immune. We could say anything in public, as long as we said it in English.