thy rod and thy staff

It’ll tell you something about how my life is going lately when I tell you that on Friday my computer broke and then I went to a memorial service for someone almost young enough to be my daughter, almost. It’s been rough. But that doesn’t stop me noticing blog material!

At the service, we said Psalm 23. For those not familiar, here is the text:

The lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the lord for ever.

My first thought as I considered these words was actually, “Wow, it’d be nice if my dog felt like that about me.” Really, for a rescue dog the idea of having a house that you dwell in FOREVER is a big fucking deal.

I went so far as to imagine what it would be like on the other end of the leash, clipped to a collar, to follow and trust that yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Crikey. A tug on the leash, and I follow with absolute trust, without fear, without question. I would love for my dog to feel that way.

And of course my thoughts went from there to BDSM relationships. Please don’t take that the wrong way.

When I talk to students who are unfamiliar with the kink community, they tend to wonder if there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with a person who eroticizes pain or who enjoys being humiliated or who wants to be controlled. I’ve tried explaining it in a variety of ways, but I think the next time it comes up I’ll try using Psalm 23 to explain it. Like:

Who could fail to feel something compelling in the notion that you could be safe and loved FOREVER, and all you have to do is follow the source of the safety and love? All you have to do is submit to a will stronger than your own, and your cup will run over, you will not want for anything.

I mean, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” This might mean a physical correction or it might be plain old authority, but it definitely means something about how the ways you control me make me feel safer.

I’m convinced that a great deal of this dynamic has to do with attachment and our essential desire to connect deeply with other people. Because our experiences of sensation are contextual – what in one context might hurt in another context may arouse – we can put nearly any sensation in an erotic context and experience pleasure. And what could be more obvious as an erotic context than one where you’re asked, as the submissive, to abandon all control, relax into absolute trust (ie, turn off the brakes) and experience sensation? Or where you can allow yourself to tune in your partner and create a context SO erotic that even the burning sting of a whip or a paddle feels sexy, treading that precarious line between pleasure and pain, so attuned to your partner’s mind and body that you know exactly what to say and do?

Of course some students might feel, uh, a little uncomfortable with the comparison of a psalm to a kinky relationship.

My sister went to a memorial service on the same day – a different service. Her choir sang this, which I think is very nice: