Few words sound as archaic as “chastity.” For that very reason, few words have as great a potential to be retrieved as powerful symbols, as “chastity.”
Yet before the embarrassing cliché of chastity as “sexual deprivation” and “anemic innocence” becomes once more the heroic quest for “self”-control praised by the ancients, a pivotal shift needs to happen.
We need to be re-integrated. We need to become “whole” once more.
Today, we are living in unprecedented times where the body is quite simply a tool, an accessory, “part” of me rather than simply “me”. In our times, not only can the body be dissected and recomposed at will—think cosmetic modifications; think surgery of all stripes; think technologies of genetic manipulation—but “me” is a chimera that floats in and out of “virtual” and “physical” realms, in and out of multiple constructed identities. In such times, bodily/sensory thrills like sex, food, extreme sports, even arts of body modification like piercing and tattooing, are brief reminders of the flesh… a momentary re-connectedness with the earth, with the “carnality” that we have otherwise abandoned in our hyper-digitized universe.
Retrieving this unity of body with “soul” is the pre-condition for reasonable self-control, since it is the only way of recovering a “self” in the first place.
Yet, if today, the “psyche” or “mind” is almost analogous to separate “digital”, networked existence(s), re-uniting—and quite literally, re-grounding—those selves into my one body, is a task that is as difficult as it remains foundational for human personal and communal well-being.
The immense difficulty, however, should not discourage us. Rather, it is merely an acknowledgment, that like all excellent things in life, true gifts and talents are rare and worth striving for.
Those who are “chaste”—that is, able to purposefully and joyfully direct their bodily impulses to fashion a “self” who is whole and complete, a self who is then gifted to an other—can be role models who are hard to come by, but precious when recognized and imitated. In particular as expressed in the tangible and permanent loving bond of partners that bears fruit, “chastity” is a concrete reminder and powerful symbol of the man and woman who is “whole” in an age of fragmentation.
Hence, chastity is also the pre-condition for true community and “friendship”—that other ideal of excellence celebrated by the ancients—but that today we clearly continue to crave for as evidenced through our insatiable appetite for connectedness.
Yet, a connectedness that satisfies and nourishes implies more than merely being “in touch” or (pardon the pun) touching while adrift. It acknowledges and strives to fulfill a desire for care, mutual respect, partnership, love. It implies a constancy of embodied selfhood. Indeed, as that ancient gospel (and common sense!) wisdom teaches, loving another completely implies the man or woman who truly loves himself/herself first—holistically as one body, mind and spirit.
The deepest irony of our times might just be this: to love “chastely” is to truly love “carnally” because one loves “humanly”.