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CITY: Three Icons
By Robert Orchin 2002
'Passion' means suffering. At the root of the word, down there, where words rot into their constituent parts and draw in nourishment from the words of long ago, is a root which means suffering. You can feel why in your gut when in lust, desire or when the endorphins are flowing.
You can yearn with passion until your gut aches or your heart breaks. And it fits with the CITY. The CITY is an icon of passion in this aching, desiring way. Why else would the priests talk about the Passion of Jesus Christ.
All the blood and the pain and the tortured sinew, it fits, it compares well to the images of alt.binaries.pictures.tasteless, and the heroin chic, the tattoo parlour and the body piercing. Passion is the intensity of neon and the sticky hiss of car tyres in the rain.
Passion is the difference between what should be and what is. It is when people think of you as degenerate (like it's genetic; like you are de-gene-erate) and cannot see the depths of friendship, or hear the crying after justice and freedom over the rumble and rattle of wheels on cracked concrete.
These people have no passion. They do not suffer extreme desire or the yearning to connect with others. They pass each other on pavements and never wonder about the contents of each others' minds and lives. The soles of their shoes are too thick and their coats to full and warm, the CITY cannot touch them.
And so com-passion means 'suffering-with.' Not pity or a schmultzifying sentimental glance. Com-passion is a real contact. Com-passion is like, falling off your skateboard and scuffing elbows, knees and shoulders on rough tarmac.
Com-passion is falling off and rubbing up against the red raw wounds and old scar tissue of others. And the CITY is an icon of this because in a city those wounds and scars are there to be seen and touched.
All the great revolutionaries had Passion. The Passion of Jesus Christ, the Passion of Ghandi, of Jim Carroll and Charles Dickens. In Passion they touched the untouchable and re-sequenced the de-gene-erate.
The loading bays and car parks, piers and ramps and warehouses of the CITY can be its holy spaces where a person of Passion can exercise their com-passion in a world away from those with sole's so thick that the CITY cannot touch them.
Sacred Space is space that is used; loved in, played in, thought and felt in. Crystal clouds with Seraph sunbeams capture a heaven of a thousand years ago, a vision of home, a wide-screen technicolour womb to return to.
Finding sacred space is like finding a place which speaks more eloquently of who you are than the old childhood bedroom did, with all its insecure posters, unfortunate parental additions and relics of that childhood before adolescent definition.
Sacred space starts with the body (your body = a temple). The span of DaVinci arms and legs, the small space where breath can still be felt between lips and the vacuum of CITY air, the fragile reach of an exhaled cigarette, this is sacred space.
It extends to those objects which connect with us; the board trembling beneath feet, the bag touching shoulder and back, filled with personal identifiers like relics of the self. Sacred space expands and contracts like a heart.
The red brick gothic church which, despite all that may have happened there, breathes cool and peace amid a thousand consumer footfalls on the pavement outside is not the only sacred space in the CITY.
The top storey, of the not-much-used car park, exposed to summer heat-waves. The ball court where t-shirts hang like votives off the wire mesh fencing or the creaking iron rungs down to a blocked storm drain where cigarette tips glow like candles in the hushed dark; these are places into which our sacred space extends.
These are places, like the hundred yards of dock frontage which feels especially mine, in which a vision of Home, real Home, can be captured and felt. These are places where the idea of coming home is most fundamentally felt and where the self fits, clicks, into place with the world. Places to be shared but not frivolously, places to be guarded from desecration but not reserved into piety.
If something has created us then coming home is coming back to that thing. Coming home is coming back to that space in the world which, whilst we may never have seen it before in our lives, contains everything we have been and much that we have been looking for.
It might be lit with damp sodium yellow and fenced about with steel but the CITY offers these places of sacred contact where the sacred space of our bodies is inhaled by the world.
Sex and Spirit; the tinderbox of the uneducated tabloid emotion which explodes like an incendiary device when the two rock and roll together. You want to say, 'take a walk on the wild side and look into reality.'
The words: lustful, slippery, sweat-slicked, passionate, messy, hard, penetrating sex are real. The baleful mourning of the headlines for a world that never existed brings unreal words: single-parent, queer, pornographic, perverted sex criminal. Don't let the real be criminal.
The sexy, poet-priest John Donne asked the divine to break, burn and beat him. To give him freedom through ravishing him in a consensual rape. How queer is that? Yet sex and spirit both bring ecstacy saints and sinners alike know that. There is a crying need, a painful need, to reclaim the cocktail (Molotov or otherwise) of sex and spirit. And certainly in the CITY where the mixture is so abused, where bodies are dealt with through fragile fear.
The girls whose only advertisement of self is a thin copy of Kate Moss, heavy lipped and 'available', short skirts declaring fast sex like the Golden Arches declare fast food. The other girls whose aspirations have been shot through by the food they shovel, because no one has taught them otherwise, and whose obesity hangs like a grave shovel at their hips.
The boys whose only contact with each other's bodies is sharp, hard and hoping to hurt, grasping for the right to touch and be tender, never finding more than pain in rituals of domination and pack hierachy.
The boys who are subsumed with the desire to extend their bodies, fearing always they are not adequate; an arm with a stick or a knife is longer, a body from the gym is thicker and less permeable, a thrown stone extends the body like magic into the smashing of a windscreen. These are the victims of the body fear in the CITY.
So take hold of the body and Do Not Be Afraid. From the tender touch of friendship to the wet heat of sex: See That It Is Good. And in the connection of sex and spirit find a freedom that denies the unreal words and worlds of the tabloid. For if the divine is anywhere it grows from what is real.
It grows from the body, from the source of all our experiencing, from its functions and messy-made design. In sex is the spirit, imbued with respect and justice for all bodies.
Robert Orchin is a queer poet and priest living in a South Coast city. He has written for Gay Times, The Independent, and The Guardian
© Robert Orchin 2002
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