Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts, or Cultivating the Garden of My Mind


OK, first of all, I want to be the first to say that "virtue" (from the Latin word meaning "manly") can refer to lots of good things besides sexual virtue. But here I want to focus on the sexual kind of virtue anyway.

There's a lot of special pleading that goes on in the gay community when it comes to sexual virtue. And it is true that in our homophobic culture, gay people are essentially told that there is no such thing as virtuous expression of our sexuality. Mormons talk about "bridling" or "channeling" our passions, not "mortifying" (i.e. "killing") or "damming" our passions. We all know what happens if we dam a river without providing a channel for the water to run into. Disaster. That is why it should not surprise us that conventional gay culture has responded to society's efforts to dam our sexuality by saying, "OK, so you say nothing goes? Then everything goes!" And we have paid the price for the bursting of the flood gates. AIDS, sexual addiction, and soul-numbing loneliness.

When the second counselor in our Stake Presidency spoke to us about "letting virtue garnish our thoughts," he said "you all know what I mean." And I did know what he meant. The Holy Spirit was quietly present reminding me what it should mean.

I had somehow convinced myself years ago that it was still always OK to look at a man a certain way, to entertain certain kinds of thoughts, even though I had chosen a man and he had chosen me. Even though we'd promised our love to each other. And I'd used pornography since before we tied the knot, and continued to use it afterwards. And I thought those habits, and the habits that came along with them were harmless, and maybe they mostly were. Our love was true, but my mind was an unruly and neglected garden, choked with weeds. And since I've been attending Church weekly, the Spirit has been quietly whispering, "See if you can't put that away. See if you can't give that up. See if you can't cultivate the garden of your mind, weed it, and grow more beautiful things there." And I'd begun by growing a flower or two here and there, and weeding a bit around the edges.

The ongoing cultivation was truly the work of the Spirit in my life, because I was learning to notice the times when the Spirit fled, and it was the desire to bring the Spirit back that kept me working at it. And bit by bit, the garden of my mind has been watered and tended and planted, and Göran and I can walk through it together and be very happy with what is flourishing there. The love between us is showing new dimensions and new meanings I never dreamed possible. And the many long absences of the Spirit that I once assumed to be just normal or inevitable have grown shorter and shorter, and I find the Spirit more of a constant presence and companion. The garden still needs daily tending. Always.

What applies to sexual virtue applies to every other form of virtue: industry, patience, compassion, kindness. It is all cultivated the same way, through mindfulness, attentiveness and love.

So when the brother said, "You all know what I mean," I thought, "Yes, thank you. Finally I do now."

2 comments:

Bill McAlister said...

John:

I love the part where you say the Spirit has been quietly whispering, "See if you can't put that away. See if you can't give that up. See if you can't cultivate the garden of your mind, weed it, and grow more beautiful things there."

I doubt there is a person in the Church who would not benefit from hearing the Spirit say this to him. Every marriage relationship can benefit as yours has from each partner doing his or her own bit of weeding.

Thanks for helping me feel the Spirit today!

Love, Bill

J G-W said...

Thanks, Bill. Thanks for being the first person to leave a comment on my new blog!

Isn't it amazing that the Spirit can even work via the Internet!