We are standing beside an ancient Greek temple. It is beautiful, and remarkably tasteful: sensuous without being obscene. We are arguing. It is an old argument. I have been here many times before.
You just don’t understand, I have to go in.
Look, I know you don’t like the old gods. You say they are corrupt and impotent. But this one’s different. I know she’s good. She has done wonderful things for me in the past. Yeah, I know I’ve often used her as an idol. But really, I’m beyond that. I just want to thank her for the past, and move on. What’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s?
“You’re the one who doesn’t understand, Ernie. I’m not saying you’re wrong — though I’m not saying you’re right. I’m not even forbidding you from entering. But…”
“I won’t go in with you.”
[I pause. Confused yet determined as I am, his simple statement frames it as a stark choice. I can’t leave him. Whatever I owe Her, I owe Him more.]
So, what do we do? You do agree she has a claim on me, don’t you?
[Now He’s the one who sighs] “Yes, she does. I would have spared you from this if I could, but her claim is legitimate. And as you well know, all debts must eventually be paid.”
[He looks straight into my eyes] So I will go in, and you can come… with me.
He turns and enters. I pause, uncertain, then follow. I am both annoyed and grateful that he doesn’t trust me to see Her without Him…
The temple is as gorgeous as I imagine. The myriad statues celebrate the wonder of human beauty and sexuality in its most reverent form. Though explicit, there is nothing crude about any of it. I catch my mind (and body) wandering, so quickly refocus on Jesus, who is leading the way, almost marching towards the altar at the end. I hurry to catch up.
The altar is large, golden, and round — almost like an egg (the egg of a Roc). My heart beats a little faster. I’ve been here many times before, usually in shame, yet often in joy. But never with Jesus. I don’t know whether to be excited or terrified.
“Venus, come forth!”
The giant figure that emerges is familiar to me, yet ever new and terrifying. Which is perhaps appropriate, since she is the ultimate woman. The Goddess. Of course, usually she comes forth with a sly smile, as if she knows all the secrets of the universe, and might be persuaded to share them — or at least part of them. Today, however, she is all business. She knows that voice.
She is veiled, as usual, in a gossamer robe of shimmering light. Usually it verges from translucent to transparent, always suggesting without ever quite revealing, but today it seems more matte than glossy, and very near opaque. Instead of standing behind her altar, in her usual place of worship, she steps forward (surprisingly, usually I always go to her), and kneels before Him.
‘Yes, my Lord?’
Her voice is low, controlled, subdued, without its usual coquetry. She doesn’t seem ashamed, or abashed, or obsequious in any way — but neither is she rebellious or defiant. She is simply — and completely — submissive. Like a maid before the Master of the house.
“You know this Man.”
It is a statement, not a question. A preamble, to set the stage. For what? She turns, looks at me with neither warmth nor coolness, the turns back and nods, waiting.
“I know you have a claim on him. I would see it.”
She nods again, rises, and disappears briefly back into the altar. She comes up bearing a large silver bracelet — a collar? She kneels back down, and places it before the Lord, almost like a cat presenting a mouse to her master.
“How did you come by it?”
A flicker of — what? embarrassment? surely not, but something — crosses her perfect face. Her voice, however, betrays no hint of whatever emotion might have troubled her.
‘In the usual way, my Lord. He came to me as a boy, as all males must do. However, he didn’t stay long, though, and then disappeared for several years. He continued to feel the tug, of course, and eventually re-entered the temple. For many years, though, he never approached the altar, and merely worshipped at the statues by the entrance. Finally, though, he broke down and approached the altar. He met several of my maids, and at last, when he was ready, I revealed myself to him. As I was created to do.’
She finishes and bows her head, awaiting His reply. Again, she doesn’t seem abashed at all, yet nonetheless her final words felt, what, defensive? Not fear, exactly, but recognition that she is in the presence of a greater power, and needs to watch her words carefully.
“You do know, of course, that this is one I have a direct claim to.”
Jesus speaks matter-of-factly, but I can see her tense up.
‘Of course, my Lord.’ she adds, just a little too quickly. ‘Know that I did not seek him out. He came to me of his own free will, in response to the Law that was set down from the beginning of time.’
Jesus senses her discomfort, and smiles.
“Peace, daughter. I have not come to destroy — or even discipline — you. I know the Father has created you as you are, and you are a faithful servant in your own way. You do a good work, in its place. It is not your fault that the evil one has twisted your work to be an agent of destruction.”
It could be my imagination, but I’d swear I could hear her sigh in relief. But then Jesus’ face and voice grows firmer – not hard, exactly, but unyielding.
“However, I trust you remember the terms of your charter.”
She looks up, with an expression between puzzlement and alarm.
‘Of course, my Lord!’
He glances at her sternly.
“Please, don’t be so surprised. You know the ancient Enemy loves to find loopholes to work his will upon unsuspecting humans. For too long you turned a blind eye to the actions of your maids, for you enjoyed your ease. I say it again, I have not come to discipline you — this time. But a time is coming when the sons of men will rise up and demand a reckoning. Therefore, be watchful and awake, for the time is short.”
She stiffens under the rebuke, then bows her head, finally humbled in spirit.
‘As you say, my Lord. I acknowledge my debt to you, and in partial repayment I offer this.’
She lays the collar at his feet. Jesus turns and beckons me to pick it up. I obey, amazed at this casual display of sovereign power, greater even than calming the storms and the sea. Jesus nods at me, then turns back to the figure of a woman.
“Tell your maids — especially those that flirt with the Evil One — that this one [pointing at me] belongs to me. They are not to seek him out. If he comes to them, have them report it to me. Is that understood?”
‘Yes, my Lord’ [no longer abashed, but resolute]
“Peace, daughter. Though a time of discipline is coming, know that it is meant to free you from your many years of bondage. I know that within the heart my Father gave you, you feel the pain of broken love caused when your maids war with each other and you. Someday, very soon, I will be lifted up, and you will take your rightful place at my feet.”
I am shocked to see tears of joy on her face, and a radiant happiness that totally transcends and transfigures the usual earthly pleasure of her face.
‘Thank you, my Lord’ she breathes — and then she is gone.
Usually the room feels hollow after she leaves me, but today the area is more alive than ever in the presence of my Lord. I turn, thinking we’re walking back to the entrance, but instead Jesus winks and motions me forward.
I look, but behind the altar is nothing more than the back wall of the temple, covered in fantastic designs of every creature under heaven, male and female. Uncertain, I watch as Jesus steps forward anyway, and then I hurry to follow. He nonchalantly keeps going, heading straight for the wall.
I hurry up, staying right at his heels. He passes through at the precise midpoint, without any apparent discontinuity or disturbance in the tapestry. I barely have time to think before I too pass beyond the temple in the footsteps of my Lord.
What Just Happened
There is only one God, one ultimate principle behind the whole universe. However, we all experience the ultimate in diverse, apparently disconnected ways. This leads to two kinds of errors. One, we can deny different facets of the ultimate, as I tried to deny my sexuality for so many years. Two, we can idolize individual facets, as either self-contained or in conflict with other facets.
The reason Aphrodite had such power over me was two fold. One, I had failed to give her her due as a child, as thus she had unfinished business with me. Two, I had worshipped her in a completely disjoint fashion from my worship of God, setting her up as a semi-omnipotent (that is, omnipotent in a particular dimension) being. In other words, I had given her both my authority and God’s.
What would’ve been the healthy alternative? Well, it is the difference between meeting an Irish Wolfhound alone in a forest, and meeting one in the presence of her master. In the former case — if you are young — the only choice is to flee or submit. But, if you know the god, er, dog is leashed, we have the freedom to enjoy it while trusting the Master to protect us from harm.
Aphrodite isn’t evil, but she is undisciplined, and (to be blunt) somewhat weak-willed and opportunistic. Especially in this day and age. The solution, though, is not to avoid her altar, for then we miss the valid blessing only she can give (which will always haunt us). Rather, we must go through the altar in order to get beyond it. Which we can only do in the presence of Jesus.
THAT was my real sin. Not that I sought Aphrodite, but that I sought her apart from Jesus. Like the fall itself, what was merely Bad became Evil to me, since I pursued it apart from God’s protection and covering.
Trying to rein myself back from the temple of Aphrodite was a losing battle, and a foolish one — hence the immense relief when I finally let myself go, and the wholeness that resulted when I stopped fighting myself. However, the goddess can only do so much, and if we try to make her do more she becomes a demon. The only route to true happiness runs through the cross.
What I should’ve done back in October was not try to force myself to behave. Rather, I should have explicitly invited Jesus to walk with me, and talk with me, as the part of me that was lost went on a quest for True Love and Authentic Manhood. THAT is the secret — being willing to let Jesus lead us into the places we want to go, rather than either leaving him behind or telling him to follow us. For if there is real good there — as there was here — then Jesus will never be afraid to enter.
And, ultimately, that is the most powerful and liberating lesson: desire is good, in that it pursue something that is real and valid and legitimate. But desire is not God, and treating it as such will destroy us. Instead, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, when we let Him kill desire, it becomes a stallion that will takes us everywhere we need to go.
Lord, have mercy on me, a fool.
Father, I am so sorry that I didn’t trust you, that I didn’t believe your power was strong enough — and good enough — to grant me my heart’s desire. Hell, I didn’t even believe and trust in the power of a demi-goddess, to my own hurt and dysfunction. I am glad that you’ve opened those doors to me, so that I no longer have to fear not being a true man. Yet, I confess that I foolishly pursued those doors without your presence, weakening the doors of my own heart.
Forgive me Lord, I knew I was wrong, but I knew not what I was doing, nor what I needed. Have mercy on me, for the sake of your son. Please, break the bondages I have so thoughtlessly created. Teach me to understand and appreciate beauty, and sexuality, and wholeness the way you intended, in your presence, and in my marriage to my wife. Please grant me the wisdom about when, how, and how much to share with her, that there be no secrets between us. Grant her the grace to forgive me.
Make me into Ernie 2.1, the mature, complete version, lacking nothing, even as I prepare for even greater challenges and growth ahead.
I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.