Table of Contents
Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
You're Not A Wave
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
The Two Loves
Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook
Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer
The Way Out by Christopher L Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson
Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry
Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr
Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois
Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson
Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low
Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman
The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman
Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor
Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine
The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada
The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook
The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther
The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel
Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak
Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez
Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr
Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman
Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano
The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo
The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar
Occam’s Razor by David Duncan
Grace and Demion by Mel White
Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso
The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery
The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass
Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen
War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar
The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal
Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion
by Jeffrey J. Kripal
The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre
Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak
A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey
Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes
The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes
Keys to Spiritual Being by Adrian Ravarour
In Walt We Trust by John Marsh
Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary
A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary
Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson
By Lawrence Scott
Allison and Busby
445 pages, Trade paperback, £7.99
Available used for as little as $0.77
Available from amazon.com
Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of Gay Spirituality: Gay Identity and the Transformation of Human Consciousness
Aelred's Sin is the story of a young man who enters Catholic religious life in the early 1960s and of his gradual realization of his homosexuality and its consequences on his vocation. It is a bittersweet, but nostalgic and romantic novel of young love and of young religious devotion and goodness.
I resonated with the story because I too entered Catholic religious life in the early 1960s and gradually discovered my sexuality within the context of monastic life and made a similar decision to the protagonist's. I treasure that experience as a wonderful adventure in consciousness and in reliving a kind of human life from a past world of belief and devotion that few modern individuals ever get to experience. For the many gay men who have experienced seminary or monastic life, this novel offers reminders of youth and youthful zeal, as well as youthful confusion and curiosity and infatuation.
The novel is especially interesting for its writing style and composition. It is set in several time frames. The storyteller is the protagonist's brother who has come to visit the monastery in the mid-1980s as part of his effort to understand his brother's life and death. Though in a way the story is totally predictable, the details of each event in the young monk's life are hinted at and only slowly revealed, including not only of his death, but also of the traumatic event which caused him to go to the monastery in the first place. And woven into the account of the brothers' real life experiences are two sets of fantasies from their youth in the Caribbean, both of which involve images of black slavery. The monastery is in England, far from the Caribbean Islands, so themes of race, racial difference, climate and culture play into the accounts. The novel is beautifully written, though perhaps a little slow because of all the nostalgia and scene-setting.
The young novice protagonist is given the name Aelred after St Aelred of Rievaulx, the 12th Century British monk and Abbot who wrote about "Spiritual Friendship," i.e., chaste gay love in the context of monastic life as an analog of Divine Love—with the "chaste" part being the difficult and confusing challenge. Aelred of Rievaulx is now recognized as a kind of patron saint of gay spirituality even though the real historical character would probably have disavowed the homosexual label (much as another, though uncanonized, "patron saint" of gay consciousness, Walt Whitman, disavowed the homosexual label).
In my own experience of religious life in the 1960s, Aelred of Rievaulx was unknown. But I was able to reconcile what might be an anachronism in this story by the monastery's being in England and so geographically closer to the real Rievaulx. St. Aelred makes a couple of appearances in the course of the novel as his modern namesake fantasizes the "truth" behind the saint's writings. At any rate, fellow ex-seminarians will recognize the monastic rules against "particular friendships," as gay love in the monastery was euphemized—and de-eroticized—as. There is one scene of two novices succumbing to temptation and to love—and to more sex than the 12th century Abbot would have countenanced—that sticks in memory because of its veracity.
Especially to those fellow ex-seminaries, I recommend this book; it brings back recollections of joy and of pain and confusion and of the vitality of youth. I also recommend it for the richness and variety of the writing.
To order from amazon.com
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are
available now from Lethe
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