God is not my gay sex buddy

Ron Hansen’s novel Mariette in Ecstasy details the life of nuns in a convent known as Our Lady of the Afflictions. The first half of the novel shows the nuns living their daily lives: lots of hard work, prayer, silence, masses, and feast days. And while the portrait he weaves is delightful and even fascinating (akin to the lives of the monks in the film Into Great Silence, but with women), Hansen also has a story to tell. The latter half of the book focuses on Mariette Baptiste, a 17-year-old postulant in the convent who exhibits signs of the stigmata. This causes quite a scandal among the nuns, not so much because they are concerned for Mariette’s health and safety as because they are jealous. 

In the culture of the convent, Jesus is the collective husband of nuns–entering the order is a kind of spiritual wedding ceremony–so when he appears to be favoring one of them, and especially a new, young, pretty girl, it creates all kinds of discord throughout the convent. To the nuns, the stigmata represents the deepest, most penetrating level of intimacy they can hope to have with Christ; to put it crudely, it’s like sex to them. 

Reading Mariette in Ecstasy, I was reminded of the evangelical practice of “dating Jesus.” I haven’t looked into it extensively, but from what I understand, it is a practice where single girls (I’ve heard about teens doing it, but older single women might as well) take the energy and attention they would otherwise put into their relationship with their boyfriend and apply it to their relationship with Jesus. I don’t think it goes as far as actually going out to dinner and “seating” Jesus in the opposite chair–it seems like it’s more of a focused, intentional time of private communion and prayer–but as I said, I’m not an expert on the topic. 

All of which brings me to the title of this post. (I know you’ve been wondering.) I’m a straight guy, so it’s not like I’d ever want to go out on a date with Jesus, even if he was the nicest guy in the church singles group. I am single, however, so what am I supposed to do with the energy and attention I would otherwise focus on my girlfriend, if she actually exists? (Statistics indicate she’s probably out there somewhere, but I tend to assume I’m on the “exception” side of stats like that. That’s really a post for another day, though.)

I’ve recently (i.e. last night) started looking at Christian singles pages to see if they have any good advice on this topic, and while there are some good thoughts out there (especially from Lauren Winner), most of them are written by and for women. It seems like most single men either don’t think about singleness as much as I do, or they do but just don’t write about it. 

I did think of a few examples, though. While I don’t recall Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) addressing this topic directly, it is evident that he uses the freedom singleness affords to good effect, both by living in roommate-type community with his friends, and by traveling to speak around the country and to campaign for causes he supports, as he did for Barack Obama. 

The second example is Sufjan Stevens. Stevens is a singer/songwriter best known for the 2005 album Illinois. In addition to his own music, Stevens has collaborated with a number of artists, including the Danileson Famile, Denison Witmer, and Rosie Thomas. After Thomas became burnt out from touring and promoting her 2005 album If Songs Could Be Held, Stevens invited her to stay with him and Witmer at the apartment they shared at the time in New York. It was a time of recuperation and healing for Thomas, and which ultimately resulted in the recording of her album These Friends of Mine. With my interest in writing and the arts, a story of that kind of a creative community is particularly inspiring. 

I’m not trying to say singleness is inherently holier or more spiritual than marriage. I just want to say that it isn’t necessarily worse, and to dispel the notion that while I am single, the best (or only) thing I can do as as Christian is just wait and “prepare myself” until I do meet someone. Single life is not purgatory.

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