Theoëroticism: If This Body Wasn’t Alone
By Jacob Perez and Zebulon B. Hurst.
The escalating spread of COVID-19, the ways it has disrupted and transformed our communication and interactions with one another, reveals eschatological dimensions within our responses—our spiritual and embodied desires. Prayers for an end to the pandemic are filled with yearning, longing for a time when it will be safe to embrace and touch once again. Not surprisingly, the urgent needs for medical intervention and intimate connection have led to radical shifts in political governance, social dealings, and spiritual practice. In this piece, we briefly explore the creative and disruptive potency these desires and their eschatologies contain for theological re/articulations of our interconnectedness. We offer a term, theoëroticism, to speak of the sacred energies, imaginations, and incarnations from which new litanies of regeneration can emerge. Our approach is a contemplative mix of poetry and reflection, grounded in the transgressive frameworks of queer theology and the relational methods of ecofeminism, meant to foreshadow ever-widening approaches to scholarly theological reflection.
Yohana Junker’s prophetic invitation for the “regeneration of all our relations” calls forth a deep hopefulness amidst the crisis of COVID-19 and welcomes readers, through a brilliant array of images, into her meditations of “breathing-being-praying.” These examples synthesize mind, soul, and body—the heart frequency from which Junker creates her mesmerizing dance of lines and letters—into a glimpse of transcendent possibilities in faith. We can almost sense we are in the room with her as she writes aloud. In our collective work of regeneration and healing, how can we re/create this feeling of presence beyond proximity, especially as the news around COVID-19 continues to exacerbate our feelings of physical separation? Most of the answers to this question are yet to be experienced, and our goal is to offer a sample of our own heart frequencies in reverberating solidarity with “our relationships to each other, our subjectivities, and the earth.”
if it helps to know that the love shared between comrades
cannot be squelched by distance or silos—
those means which before were arbitrary and now necessity—
then know that this different world we’ve been
told is possible is being made by your presence.
even in the space between us, in those virtual rooms,
or on media deemed social in which
our bodies ache for the touch, the smell, the embrace of each other,
know that your presence and your words and your actions
abound. with. purpose.
the arms of solidarity reach further than the lies of capitalism,
and the hope that you embody stands firmer through every trial.
until we touch again,
if this body wasn’t alone
if it could touch another
body if my
body got to hold your
body because it is my
body too we belong
to each other
the moon sprints across the sky
+ wails outside my window
on your behalf
neither of us can be consoled
we do not comfort each other
O Blessed Mirror
show me how to be merciful:
my mind is all knives from twilight
last week your camera stopped working
but not your mic
your tears echoed in the empty space within my belly
i want to tie rope from your waist to mine
to keep you from leaping off the ledge of the world
is there a free masterclass for that?
all prayers have left me unless they are desperate
simple enough to say while cooking the last two eggs
i hope i live
i hope we all live
i Dream the world is all calm water
all purple mornings
the Sun a ripe fruit just beyond reach
there is no incarceration
no apartheid occupation
no stock market
the fabric of Time loses its pleats
in a basin that smells of rosemary + cedar
The yearnings held deep inside our bodies and souls for one another during separation is fertile ground. We can root our spiritual practices in that rich soil we identify as theoëroticism—that is, a way of knowing the Divine as erotic and life-giving, creative energy. Speaking from within—but not exclusively to—the Christian faith, Jay Johnson reminds us that longing “for an end to loneliness” is intrinsic in the divine love-energy, eros, that created the world. What world might we create in our striving to end the way “things were,” already fragmented and isolating? What communities of hopefulness, walking the path of religious biodiversity that Ivone Gebara envisions, will religar, re/link, re/bind bodies in the NOW to a whole sense of self, each other, and the planet? How will we rise above patriarchal rubrics of denominational categorization? What theoërotic songs, prayers, confessions, homilies, and symbols of deep desire await to spring up amidst virtual spaces?
do you Lack me? yes/no/maybe
my ancestors wore loaves of bread in the snow
survived on bone marrow, neckmeat
+ now my country cages children who wish to die.
do you “need to avoid aloneness” as you count the kitchen tiles?
we are so far from the past space
even if Time continues to collapse.
yesterfuture finds me leaning into instability
submerged + exposed
by a ‘disorder’ continually
called an illness
my mind is no more perverse
than a waning harvest moon
the libertine is amongst + within us as is the divine
— and what is the difference between the two?
isn’t all holiness just as embodied as my Beloved
who will someday sleep again
between these worn flannel sheets?
Desire is embroidered
across my abdomen
tight threads of lack + envy
of terror + bliss
of spectacle + the fools we are.
i am on my belly in the deepest furrow of love
+ digging deeper with this soup spoon
soon it will just be my nails, my teeth
clearing away darkness until the brighthot core
melts my face off
i want to hold you close to me
your back against my chest
my hand encircling your wrist before you roll over
to kiss me.
as the thicket remains
empty of rams
i wish there was something
that could be done for the sake of holding all of us in tandem
with arms that never carry weapons except to protect
what do we do to close the valve?
do we throw up our hands + pray? praise? Surrender?
what is saved is what never took place.
 Yohana Junker, “Covid 19 and the Mandate to Regenerate All Our Relations,” https://www.fsrinc.org/covid-19-and-the-mandate-to-regenerate-all-our-relations/.
 Jacob Perez, Mar 31, 2020, in response to a localized and radical redistribution project of income and resources.
 Jay Emerson Johnson, Divine Communion: A Eucharistic Theology of Sexual Intimacy (New York: Seabury Books, 2013), 50.
 Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation, trans. David Molineaux (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 205-12 and translator note on 222, with gratitude to Yohana Junker for further explanation.
 Zuriel Biran, “they moved me” (In the author’s possession, 2020).
 Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom (New York: Farrar & Rineheart, 1941), 19.
 Marcella Althaus-Reid, The Queer God (London: Routledge, 2004), 26.
 Zebulon Hurst, March 16, 2020, in response to statements about love poems and sweets.
 Althaus-Reid, The Queer God, 138.
Jacob Perez (he/his) is spurred by the possibilities of agitating and re/imagining our religious traditions and practices, especially within an emerging postPentecostalism. For that reason, he is a graduate student in the Theological Studies program at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley and a Co-Chair of the Latinx and Latin American Religions Unit for the American Academy of Religion Western Region. Jacob also serves on the Board of Directors for the AARWR as the Student Representative of Northern California.
Zebulon B. Hurst (He/Them) is a Master of Divinity student at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. His work weaves together queer intimacies, pleasurepain, somatics, and poetics. They received a BA in French and Francophone Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a Newberry Library Undergraduate Scholar and a recipient of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Initiative (LASURI) at UIC. Their continued research explores manifestations of fissure, domination, and self-sublimation. Hurst authored a chapter in the 2017 volume edited by Anthony J. Nocella, II and Erik Jeurgensmeyer Fighting Academic Repression and Neoliberal Education: Resistance, Reclaiming, Organizing, and Black Lives Matter in Education (Peter Lang).