Celibacy and Soul. Exploring the Depths of Chastity
by Susan J. Pollard
Review by Dr. Brendon Stewart
Most Saturday afternoons I spend time waiting to have my groceries checked out at my local friendly supermarket. While waiting I can easily indulge my social research interests by reading and at times skimming through the journals that bring us the latest circumstances detailing various marriage breakdowns and the unabashed sexual arrangements of some celebrity.
What could I make of a book, recently in my hand that was suggesting celibacy and chastity could be imagined as passionate and beautiful? Susan Pollard near to the beginning of her Prelude makes clear that consenting to the way of celibate love is about a sense of rightness for her and she finds herself happy as a celibate. She is quick to say that what she is writing about is not high on the popularity list of erotic tales and yet it is a fascinating and radical choice about how one might choose to live as a sexual person. Yes, a sexual person, for the author, her celibacy is not some strange neurotic twist of body hating, sex fearing timidity, which saw her flee to the convent but rather an aesthetic, sensuous and psychologically deep choice that will tell the story of her love.
Along with being a Sister of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Pollard is a Jungian analyst and clinical psychologist with a professional practice that takes her into the secular world. Celibacy and Soul: Exploring the Depths of Chastity references Jung often enough especially by way of his emphasis on the Greater Self who is the Other within every person. It is this Other, this Other within, that Pollard is attending to and she writes of the transformative potential of celibate love as she engages this archetypal relationship.
The story held in these pages is structured around the author’s own journey, her quest for a living God. And to complete her experience she includes the voices of other sisters, nuns, monks, brothers and priests, all of who live in a physically celibate way.
In the loneliness and desert of celibacy says one of her co-researchers, there is a rich opportunity to search out the deeper truth and beauty of sexuality. There is the stripping away of everything to befriend sexuality and delight in its gift. For me, he goes on to say, celibacy doesn’t make sense without spirituality because both are about relatedness, and celibacy enables me to search out the essence of sexuality.
In Celibacy and Soul: Exploring the Depths of Chastity, Susan Pollard makes reference to a post-modern sensibility and I assume an intellectual stance as being pertinent to the way she is describing celibacy as a cosmic development, a shift in consciousness. She wants to answer questions for herself and others about unlived experiences of sexuality that the celibate must confront. Celibate people need to be conscious, she says of the positive and negative shadow aspects. Searching only for the goal of virginity instead of embracing and living an intimacy with God and with others is a sure way to neurosis.
So her personal choice to seek out the beauty and singularity of a celibate life for herself, one in which she has found both a physical and psychic passion with her God, is for me the most compelling aspect of this book.
I do find however, and maybe I am being too Protestant and post-modern myself, it strange if a little fudging of the ‘facts,’ that she turns to the scriptures to argue for a lineage more or less established with the Holy Family to justify virginity followed by celibacy. Throughout the book she gives quite interesting and sometimes detailed accounts of celibacy as practiced in other faiths and from different historical periods. This said, as I read them, the Holy Scriptures do give a portrayal of the sexual life of the Holy Family. Jesus’ brothers and sisters are mentioned several times in the gospels, and in the Acts of the Apostles and even named in Matthew 13:55 as James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. Matthew also tells us that Jesus had sisters, but he doesn’t bother to name them. A difficult starting point for this post-modern author has to be the Catholic church’s insistence on the perpetual virginity of Mary. Once again Matthew tells us that Joseph had no union with Mary until after she gave birth to a son, to whom he gave the name Jesus (Matthew 1:25). Jesus’ half-siblings were the children of Joseph and Mary.
This is a book about Susan’s choice to celebrate and publically declare her celibate beauty. She makes of it a sign within the church and society that the loving service to others and to her God, are the hallmarks of her life.