Sex and Christian Poetry
A poetry book review by Hugh Alan Smith
The Kisses of His Mouth
by Mary Elizabeth Lauzon
New Leaf Works, 1998, 72 pp, $12.00
Sex and Christian poetry just don't go together. Or do they? In The Kisses of His Mouth, a title extracted from the Biblical Song of Songs, Mary Elizabeth Lauzon demonstrates a fit that is natural and even holy.
The Calgary author, who has led therapeutic poetry writing workshops for recovering prostitutes, demonstrates a standard of excellence that breaks the boundaries between Christian and secular writing. When it appeared, Kisses was short listed for The Writers Guild of Alberta's Henry Kreisel Award (for best first book), no mean feat in the highly charged Alberta literary scene.
In one sense, this is a book for couples. Elsie Montgomery, president of InScribe Christian Writer's Fellowship, has recommended it as "...great reading with one's spouse." Poet Barbara Mitchell has praised the work as a collection of "...delightful and insightful poems of love, intimacy and romance."
Sexual fulfillment is one of the beautiful and fruitful rewards of marriage, but Christianity has a history of approaching the topic of romantic passion with shamefaced embarrassment. The language of eroticism has been hijacked by the secular world, and all too often turned to the expression of illicit pleasure and perversity. Kisses eloquently and passionately embraces the language of God's most intimate gift, and illuminates that gift in the vibrant light of holiness. For instance, in "The Lord Dresses the Wounds of His People", Mary Elizabeth writes,
Tatters of the immoral morals
we have worn
lie scattered at our feet
as we, freshly clad in joy,
touch the deepest purpose
Other poems, like "After the Kids Were in Bed", "Making Love", and "Exult", extol the pleasures of physical love.
But Kisses celebrates more than physical pleasure. As human love is often confused by selfishness, rejection, and guilt, so it is with our love for God. In three sections, the book takes the reader on a journey progressing from longing and separation, to imperfect human love, and finally to perfect communion.
Part one, "The Ungiven Kiss", expresses a yearning to escape isolation. Poems on the tragedy of love unprofessed ("My Greatest Mistake") and on the terrifying vulnerability of being open to love ("What Have I Done?") are juxtaposed to others like "Eve's Psalm", examining our post-Eden longing for God:
My love for you is a torment
Physical desire reflects the spirit's ache for God in a fallen world.
Part two, "The Fervent, Furtive, Barren Kiss", reveals a movement toward intimacy and fulfillment. Yet it is an imperfect, intimacy. We love, but with a love dulled by self-absorption and the limitations of mortal existence. In "Elective Surgery", compassionate love promises, "I would operate,/ eradicate from your lovely mind/ horrors, threats, isolation."
Yet such a promise is hollow, impossible, until one hears in the narrator's voice the echo of God's promise to heal those who would turn to Him. This promise becomes clear in "Only Then", a poem of conversion and the perfecting of human relationships through an acceptance of a higher love and purpose.
Only in part three, "The Hot Honeyed, Quenching, Enrapturing, Fruitful Kiss", when Christ becomes lover, is perfect fulfillment achieved. "Jesus..../ I am the woman you love./ And you have loved me/ in someone else's arms…"
Here lies the genius of Mary Elizabeth's work, but also the potential for controversy. Some will consider it blasphemous to hint at making love to one's Lord and Saviour. But to Lauzon physical intimacy is a metaphor for perfect spiritual union. And why not? Christ's own strongest metaphor for the church is that of a bride preparing for her bridegroom. Furthermore, many Biblical scholars have interpreted The erotic "Song of Solomon" as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and his believers.
Mary Elizabeth's poetry suggests that one's relationship with Jesus Christ should be unabashedly open and intensely intimate, fueled by a searing desire akin to the passion shared by sexual partners.
This startlingly fresh and vibrant work is the poetry of communion, between lovers, and with God. It speaks of the ecstasy of love—no guilt, no embarrassment, no holding back. When God is truly in the expression of all we do, in both the physical and spiritual realms—when we can freely accept the kisses of His mouth—only then does life become a rapturous reality.