I had two temporary jobs last fall, one in a kitchen with a girl whose per-sentence ratio of swear words to ordinary words was approximately 1:3. Once I got over the culture shock, I found it rather amusing to hear her talk, occasionally (in my head, not out loud) interpreting her turns of phrase literally, and philosophizing about them for my own enjoyment. In the other, a waitressing job, I worked with a woman who described herself as "happily practically married", which seemed to mean that she lived with a guy and mothered his kids but hadn't bothered with the marriage bit. Discussing her relationship one day, she asked if I'd ever been in one.
"No," I said. "I wanted to be a nun all my growing-up years, and then I was too sick to think about such things."
"Oh," she responded, lowering her voice. "So, are you a virgin then?"
I wondered how to respond. I could simply smile and say that was a very personal question and leave it at that. Or I could tell the truth, generally my preference.
I started to say "Yes, I am," but hesitated, and I am still ashamed of that hesitation.
You see, it had only recently come to my attention that a virgin in her late twenties, to most of the world these days, is seen as rather pathetic, even sad. It's evidence that you're not savvy enough, or pretty enough, or generally desirable enough to get a man to go to bed with you. And though I don't see it that way, I also don't like to be thought of as sad or pathetic, so I stalled.
The first time I heard the word "virgin" used in a derogatory fashion, I was first puzzled, then angry, and then bemused. I was raised in a culture--the wonderful subculture of mass-attending, confession-going, Chesterton-reading, truth-seeking Catholics--where virginity was, and is, revered. My desire to give my own maidenhood to God as a nun was seen as a beautiful thing. I was so set on it, from the age of nine until mental illness got in the way, that my friends all saw my entering religious life as a foregone conclusion, and I was never made to feel pathetic or sad for my ambition.
I've sometimes thought that, amidst all the hype about accepting different forms of sexual desire and lack thereof, something ought to be said for those who choose celibacy not because of, but in spite of their native desires. For those who remain virginal, not because they think sex is bad or sinful or degrading, but because they value it so highly.
Chastity, that wonderful and terrible act, isn't a matter of repressing oneself, or denying one's nature, or shutting down one's passions. It is taking one of the most beautiful things given to us in this life, recognizing and rejoicing in its beauty, then, because it is literally too beautiful to keep, making a gift of it to someone else. If anything, giving it back to God is an act of greater passion than giving it to another person. "Look," you say. "Here is the subject of poems and songs and stories, wars and betrayals and heroic deeds. But my love for You is greater than all those things, so here. Keep it."
Purity is not a negative thing. It is so positive that the only color that can come near to representing it is every color, shining together in one.
For those women to whom is given the grace of loving some other cracked and crumbling human being, who washes the dishes wrong and yells at the dog when he's angry and leaves his socks on the floor--blessed, blessed are you.
And for those girls who swear away their maidenhoods on the altar of the King of Kings, I'm so jealous of you, of your gift, your unhindered, passionate, transcendent love for Him who gave it you.
Pray for this bizarre, confused, unseeing world of ours. And pray for me.