Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage (2 Corinthians 11:1-6) transports me to a February 1993 meeting at Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Hemitage, Tennessee, where the youth group of Tulip Grove becomes the first to sign the True Love Waits commitment cards. They are starting a nation-wide movement promoting virginity before marriage in the same year that Madonna publishes her book Sex and embarks on her Girlie Show world tour. These youth don’t know it, but they are also starting a promotional industry bonanza to rival Madonna, that now includes officially licensed TLW jewelry, wristbands, refrigerator magnets, t-shirts, and my favorite of all, the You and Me Are Pure online dating service, billed as The Friendly Place for Virgins to Meet. Their web site advertises it as a convenient way to find virgin people, no need to wander around and find them, exclusive attention to virgins. You and Me Are Pure has a clear mission: The aim of our website is to use virginity as a significant compatibility tool to bring people together. Some people may overlook the bonding power of virginity. . .This bonding power is something that cannot be purchased with all the money in the world.
I wonder what the Apostle Paul would make of all this. He had to preface his statement to the Corinthian church about purity with this: I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness. And all he did was write a simple paragraph! No virginity silly bands or temporary tattoos for him. Foolishness aside, he was fiercely and jealously guarding the faith of the Corinthian Christians, sensing the spiritual danger of the local scam artists who were attempting to con the converts and woo them into all sorts of wayward paths. Paul wanted to be clear as crystal that when the believers made a decision to follow Christ, it was the Christ embodied in the life and ministry and teaching of Jesus, and they couldn’t go around attaching the name of Jesus to just any old way of life; they couldn’t just label any old activity “Christian.” This was the Jesus who welcomed strangers and fed the hungry and loved enemies and released captives and laid up treasures on heaven instead of on earth. Following this Jesus was true love to Paul. And true love didn’t play the field. True love didn’t mess around with other suitors. True love meant waiting like a virgin, saving it all for the great wedding night in the sky when the love between Jesus and the Church would be consummated.
I think Paul and the Tulip Grove Youth and the You And Me Are Pure folks could have learned a lot about how to wait for true love from a 16th century virgin, that beautiful barefoot Carmelite nun from Avila, St. Teresa. This Spanish Saint waited alright, but she wasn’t sitting around twiddling her thumbs; her waiting involved the kind of high energy and deeply intense prayer life that undoubtedly gave her an outlet to vent whatever sexual energy she might have stored up. Her ecstasy surpassed anything she could have experienced with MDMA (the party drug known as ecstasy): She wrote: The soul, while thus seeking after God, is conscious, with a joy excessive and sweet, that it is, as it were, utterly fainting away in a kind of trance: breathing and all bodily strength fail it, so that it cannot even move the hands without great pain ; the eyes close involuntarily, and if they are open, they are as if they saw nothing. One of her more famous ecstatic experiences, which she had a number of times, involved an encounter with an angel who seemed to be on fire. She wrote: I saw in his hands a long golden spear, and at the point of the iron there seemed to be a little fire. This I thought that he thrust several times into my heart, and that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew out the spear he seemed to be drawing them with it, leaving me all on fire with a wondrous love for God. The pain was so great that it caused me to utter several moans; and yet so exceeding sweet is this greatest of pains that it is impossible to desire to be rid of it, or for the soul to be content with less than God.
If I were a teenager today getting ready to sign the TWL commitment card I think I’d read some Teresa of Avila and quote Estelle Reiner in When Harry Met Sally, I’ll have what she’s having.
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