Where Angels Fear to Tread

In Wrestling With the Angel, a collection of essays he edited, author Brian Bouldrey explores faith and religion among gay men

He has been accused of hypocrisy by those who feel that the term "gay Catholic" is an oxymoron akin to, say, "gay Republican." But one of the aspects of Catholicism that holds enormous appeal for Bouldrey is the distinction it draws between spirituality that is comforting and spirituality that simply makes people feel comfortable.

New Age people, he believes, espouse the latter: "a thinking that is easy, merely consoling -- Louise Hay, creative visualization, and so forth. It's an American fallacy [to believe] that human life is perfectible. When people are told that and then it doesn't work, it's worse. What was it Toni Morrison said? 'Happiness isn't what I seek, I seek joy.' "

Bouldrey dismisses the current popular obsession with angels: "It's a New Age trick. Angels are not gauzy, soft-focus creatures. Angels are fierce! Angels wrestle with Jacob, they put a foot to Mohammed's head, they cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. They're not nice!"

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As a college student coming to terms with his sexuality, he somewhat predictably allowed his faith to lapse. "I had moments in church where I'd just openly shake my head and say, 'You can't make me listen to this! This is not very loving or very holy!' But when I walked away, it was not out of being injured. It was more because I wanted to sleep in."

His journey back toward faith came via the path of reading and books: the works of Iris Murdoch, for example, in which Bouldrey feels that "suffering creates images of beauty and eroticism," as well as other great writers associated with Catholicism -- Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene, and Dante, "who consigned several popes to hell."

His own search is reflected in the essays in Wrestling With the Angel. There's an unmistakable tone of relief in virtually all of them, as though their writers had been waiting for a reason to put all this down on paper and were literally disgorging themselves.

Bouldrey agrees. "Some of them have been carrying so much around. Like the Mormon bishop [Antonio Feliz] who cast out a member for being gay. The kid later committed suicide. [Feliz] has to live with that. There's so much pain, but relief is the right word.

"Also a sense of wonder that they've uncovered this. Mark Doty's essay ["Sweet Chariot"] actually says, 'I can't believe I'm writing this.' "

As chapters came in, Bouldrey admits being amazed over and over, not only with how different they were, one from the other, but how alike: "The book's a kind of a confederacy. It maybe sticks together for a few minutes and then flies apart. What holds the essays together is the community that writing is. [The result] is a chemistry that's very surprising. You couldn't plan it.

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