In October 1939, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a speech in which he famously likened Russia to a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, and then pondered over the likely key to understanding that country’s motivations. In Chapter 4 of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, Dan Brennan’s argument changes gear. It is as if he is approaching open country after having had to negotiate the civic roadblocks and pot-holes that Freud, Hollywood and an overly cautious evangelical approach have put in the way of a frank discussion of relations between the sexes. Or to follow Churchill, Brennan at last feels comfortable enough to suggest a key which might unlock the mysterious compulsion that exists within human beings to encounter or know (in all its rich shades of meaning) the opposite sex. That key, in Brennan’s own words, ‘a rich relational and theological concept’, is union. By union or oneness, he appears to mean a spiritual progression for humans in their relationships towards embodying the unity experienced by the Triune God.
Knowing that he is opening up a huge field for discussion, Brennan focuses on theology and scriptural interpretation to ground his arguments. He comes up with twelve reasons (if this seems dry, the reality is different) why the concept of sacred union should impact upon our understanding of gender relations. The Genesis story describes man and woman as made in the image of God, and their human spirituality and sexuality as ‘very good’. The new order in Christ ushers in new social possibilities in all relationships, and the brother-sister metaphor used by Paul sanctions healthy intimacy. Furthermore, the metaphors employed by Paul in his letters for the close solidarity of the Church are not segregated by sex, nor are the ‘one anothers’ of welcome, prayer, holy greeting and confession. Marriage is a human, rather than heavenly sacrament and points to a transcendental union. And attachment in friendship can be stronger than some familial bonds. The ‘breathtaking beauty’ of triune love celebrates the difference of persons, and if the role of women has historically been undervalued, it is still possible to uncover examples of female spiritual leadership in the Old and New Testaments, and most importantly there are feminine metaphors, as well as masculine, for God in Scripture. Lastly, there is the example of Jesus, whose close friendships with women prefigure the possibility of intimate but non-sexual association.