The important thing to remember is that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. We first read of this concept in one of Stephen Covey’s books 25 years ago. The concept, however, is very old in some religious and philosophic schools of thought.
Several months back, I had some email correspondence with a Catholic priest (whose writings appear in numerous diocesan newspapers) on the topic of the Catholic Church’s views or “teachings” on married sexuality. The catalyst for me initiating the email interaction was something he wrote about sex in one of his articles. I pointed out the long history of the Church’s sexual pessimism (due to the influence of ancient pagan schools of thought) and how unpopular the Church’s attitude towards the marriage bed is with married Catholics. Rather surprisingly, the priest agreed with several of the points I had made in my email to him. He said that Christianity had failed to develop a spirituality of sex. He did go on to say in his reply to me that he thought the traditional Christian view of sex was better than what Islam and Marxism (see the writings of Engels) have to say on sexuality. But, he concluded that that was not saying much in support for the traditional Christian view of married sexuality.
I think the Church has a hard time with developing a spirituality of sex precisely because it ignores that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Sex has been (and still is) viewed by many Church men as being base, carnal, “lustful” and thus – dirty. Such a negative view leads one to question: what can sex have to do with the spiritual? Indeed, the Church’s thinking appears to have been that being sexual within marriage is an impediment to making much progress in being spiritual.
(A few words about lust are appropriate here. Regrettably, over the centuries, the meaning of lust has been stretched and now lust serves as a catch-all for anything related to sex in the minds of some Catholics. Lust is not sexual arousal, nor is it sexual desire, nor is it even sexual ardor and passion. Lust, which Christ condemned, involves covetousness. Lust, if unchecked, can lead a person to sexual sin such as fornication, adultery, even rape. Even today, we read in some Catholic periodicals of condemnations of lust when what is actually being condemned is not lust. (See our earlier essay (in February 2016) about purity not requiring the complete desexualization of the individual.) There is a real danger when those who make the rules on sexuality are very far removed from the lived experiences of the married laity. But, I digress.)
Sexual lovemaking is one of the most human things we do or can do. The emotions and the mind are intimately involved in our lovemaking. Sex is not merely physical for us human beings. And, no, sex is not just for making babies.
We are spiritual beings whose consciousness resides in a physical vehicle of consciousness, the body, for the duration of our time on Earth. Being on this physical plane of existence in this world, we experience and express ourselves through and with our bodies. Thus, our lovemaking is spiritual in addition to being physical.
When the spouses make love, they are expressing not just a physical, sexual love for each other, not merely a hunger of genitals for genitals, but they are also expressing and experiencing their spiritual love for each other.
We think it is possible for a Christian spirituality of sex to be developed and described more fully, and we leave that to others to pursue. We think that this spirituality of sex can be worked out in charity and with a goal to doing justice to the dignity of married persons. This will require those who take up the task to leave long-held biases behind. Time will tell if this can be achieved, but a more positive, constructive and mature approach to married sexuality is long over due in Christianity – both Catholic and Protestant.
other related thoughts
We do not think that being sexual within one’s loving marriage is necessarily an impediment to being spiritual or to making spiritual progress.
When it comes to sex, it is probably wise to avoid the extremes. Do not make a false god out of sexual pleasure and intimacy. As well, do not make an idol out of human reproduction (procreation).
Attempts have been made by Church authorities over the centuries to desexualize the faithful, but we think these have been both misguided and harmful. Asceticism does not work for everyone.
Yes, there are boundaries. There is a need for sexual morality to protect us humans from our self-destructive tendencies. But, these boundaries ought not be made needlessly narrow or restrictive by Church authorities desiring to control us by controlling our sexuality. As regards the rules governing married sexuality, it does appear that the Catholic Church demands more than God requires. We oppose attempts at unduly restricting the range of expression of this sexual love in the marriage bed.
In the Vedic philosophy of India, people are warned about the risk of sex leading a person to identifying too closely with the body and thus forgetting one’s ultimate spiritual nature. Sex can keep one at a bodily level of consciousness and make it more difficult to achieve a spiritual level of consciousness. Yes, there is always that risk, but an individual can be on guard against becoming obsessed with sex. As well, the ascetic renunciation of all things sensual is not possible, not workable for most people. In fact, the constant effort to fight against the need for sex wastes much energy and proves a bigger distraction than working for a mutually satisfying and fulfilling sexuality with one’s spouse.
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