Sexuality and spirituality: When all is one | October 27

This is Part 4 of a 4 week series on Healthy Sexuality

Week 1: Our bodies – God’s image

Week 2: (Pro)Creative intimacy

Week 3: Healthy sex: Drawing the line(s)


Texts: John 17, 1 John 4, Revelation 21,22

Speaker: Joel Miller

There’s a beautiful scene in the movie “The Motorcycle Diaries.”  It takes place in a small hut of a leper colony in Peru, along the banks of the Amazon River.  The film is about the young Che Guevara in his early twenties when he was a medical student, before he became a revolutionary.  The story is based on the journal he kept on this trek he and his friend took up through South America.  One of the dynamics of the film is that the more he encounters the people of the land, their struggles, the more impassioned he becomes on their behalf.  This scene is a tender moment after he has been informed that a young woman, Silvia, is refusing to get a surgery that would save her life.  He finds Sylvia in the small hut, sits beside her bed, and begins talking with her.  She tells him that life is too much pain and she wants to be done with it.  During their conversation it’s clear that he’s having trouble breathing well.  She asks him what’s wrong.  He says, “I was born with bad lungs.”  Sylvia pauses, then says: “Is that why you’re a doctor?  Because you’re sick?”  He smiles and says maybe so.  The patient diagnoses the doctor’s inner motivations, and they continue their conversation, a human connection having been made.  Later we see Silvia getting her needed surgery.

Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen called this dynamic the wounded healer.  The healer is herself/himself wounded, and out of their own brokenness and vulnerability, becomes an agent of healing for others.

So, personally, if someone were to ask me, “Is that why you’re a pastor, because you struggle with your faith?” I think I would have to smile and say maybe so.

When it comes to our sexuality, we all must live with some kind of wound.  This could be through a particular experience or relationship.  But even without a specific occasion of trauma or pain, the very reality of what it means to be sexual carries a certain kind of woundedness.

The etymology of our word sex isn’t entirely clear, but it’s likely traceable to the Latin word secare, which means “to sever,” also related to sectio, “to divide” like our way of talking about a section of something as opposed to the whole.  Being sexual presupposes a prior severing that we have all undergone, a disconnection from the whole.  Being divided, cut off from the larger relational network of life.

We could picture this biblically, back to Genesis, chapter 2.  Adam, the original human, has a rib over his heart ripped out of him in order to form a human partner.  Being in relationship for Adam first of all involves the pain of loss, like part of himself is now outside his body, separate, walking around on its own free will.  The primal wound of our humanity.

We could also picture this in an evolutionary way.  To the best of our knowledge so far, everything that is was once, in the beginning, packed together in a solitary point.  Since then that initial unity has exploded, expanded, and splintered into fragments.  These fragments find each other and form planets, stars, and galaxies separated by light years of space, and, somewhere in all that, humanity, still carrying with us in the cells and atoms of our body that distant memory of unity and oneness.

Etymology, Scripture, and Cosmology all paint the same picture.

Sex is a wonderful gift, a Divine gift, but it is a gift that comes with a powerful effect: a wound; an ache for reunion, desire for the coming together of the separate.  And, for better or for worse, it’s a gift that doesn’t come with a receipt.  So we can’t decide we don’t want it and take it back to the store to exchange for something with less warning labels.  We are sexual beings and part of what this means is that we wake up with that ancient fire burning in our bones – a fragment searching for other fragments with which to unite.

One person asks another, “Is that why you’re sexual, because you’re disconnected?”  Maybe so.  Yes.

Hymn: Human and Holy

When we understand sexuality in this way it starts sounding a whole lot like spirituality.  Spirituality has the same drive toward connectedness, toward wholeness, toward union with Creator and creation.  Directing our longings and energy toward its Source.

In what Jews would consider to be something like their confession of faith, Deuteronomy 6:4 records “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”  That’s one of the big differences between us and God.  We are many, we are separate, but God is One.  In God there is no separateness.  There is no division, nothing is severed or cut off.  In God all things hold together.  All things belong.  All things have a place.  Hear O Israel, Listen up people, the Lord is One.”

In John’s Gospel, Jesus prays for his disciples and the followers who will come after them.  He says, “(I pray) that they may be one.  As you, Abba, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (John 17:21-23).

The spiritual movement into which Jesus invites is the overcoming of separateness that happens when we enter into the Oneness that is God.  Not by achieving some feat, but by receiving this gift.  “I in them and you in me.”  Getting tangled up together and bound up in the life of God.

This is from John’s gospels, and of all the New Testament writers, John has a unique way of talking about overcoming this separateness.  Our dualisms of body and soul, earth and heaven, physical and spiritual, are consistently undermined.  John’s is the Gospel of the Word becoming flesh, of incarnation, of celebrating God in the fleshy creatureliness of Jesus.  John refuses to allow us to believe that we can love God without loving our neighbor.  That we can somehow have a vertical relationship with God without having a horizontal relationship with brothers and sisters.  They must be held together.

Sometimes I wonder if John speaks this way because of his own bond with Jesus.  We get a glimpse of this closeness during the last supper when the companions are reclining around the table.  In John’s telling, there’s a moment in the meal when John, referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” leans back onto Jesus to ask him a question.  The literal translation is that he asked the question “while leaning on Jesus’ chest” (John 13:25).  The KJV says that he was “lying on Jesus’ breast.”  It’s one of the more intimate snapshots we get of a disciple relating with Jesus.

Imagine yourself leaning back and resting your head on Jesus’ chest, relaxing into that.  Having a conversation, feeling your head rise and fall with every breath Jesus takes, feeling your own body pulse with every word that rises up from his diaphragm, passes over his vocal chords, vibrating the chest cavity.  Tell me that wouldn’t affect your theology.  John is said to have heard the heartbeat of God.

There is this persistent idea within Christian spirituality that we have to escape the body to find God.  John would like us to know that it is through the body, through incarnation, through our senses of touch, and smell, and sound, and sight, and taste, that we come to know God, that our separateness begins to be overcome.

Hymn: Human and Holy

If spirituality is about overcoming our separateness and sexuality is about overcoming our separateness, then what do we with each one will continually affect the other.  They both share that impulse toward oneness.  And if sexuality is about overcoming our separateness, we are reminded again that we are wounded healers.

It’s one thing for a doctor to learn the steps of a medical procedure that will help someone heal.  It’s another thing when two people – each with their own limitations and hurts – come together and dare to walk down the road toward emotional and physical intimacy.  To love not just people, but this person.  To love not just bodies, but this body.  Because they almost immediately start hurting each other.  Projecting one’s ideals onto the other and falling in love with those rather than the other themselves.  Misunderstandings.  Counting on the other person to know what we need when we ourselves barely have a clue what we actually need.  I hear this can happen.  It’s a wonder this ever works out at all.  And sometimes it doesn’t.

But sometimes both partners are able to recognize their own woundedness, their longing for connection, and, somehow, from that place of vulnerability, deeper connection happens.  And intimacy grows.  And sexuality becomes a means by which we give and receive, learn and teach, heal and grow.

The climax of orgasm can be an experience of being most in our bodies while simultaneously transcending the boundary that is our body.

But sex is just one expression of sexuality.  The drive within sexual energy is to draw together.  To affirm individuality even as we transcend it. To form bonds.  To strengthen the web of relationships.  To build up friendship, to build up kinship, build up a neighborhood, build up community.  For fragments to find each other, and, within that gravitational goodness, to create something the universe has never before seen.  To walk further into the oneness of God in which difference is honored even as separateness is overcome.  The oneness which Jesus modeled and for which he prayed.  We do this not as those who have arrived at some higher spiritual plane of perpetual bliss, but as wounded healers.

So we arrive at the end of this Healthy Sexuality series.  We have spoken of the goodness of the body.  We have spoken of the creative power of intimacy in all our relationships.  We have spoken of lines that have been imposed on us in unhelpful ways, and lines that create healthy boundaries that protect and empower.  And we have spoken about the integration of the sexual and the spiritual, the earthly and the heavenly.  We have heard personal reflections, and will hear one more.  We have eaten bread, fruit, and chocolate, and have saved the dessert for last.  A bonus cookie Sunday.

We’ll allow scripture to offer the final image.  The surprise ending of the Bible, another of the writings of John, the book of Revelation, is that rather than people going to heaven, heaven comes down to people.  The vision of the new heavens and the new earth, the redemption of the world, is a coming together of all of these fragments.  God makes God’s home among us, sets up camp right in downtown New Jerusalem.  When searching for a metaphor of what the divine/human relationship can be like, we are given that of the wedding feast.  Union, bonds of relationship, two becoming one.

Our embodied humanity, and within that our sexuality, propels us toward the great wedding banquet.

Let the party begin.

Hymn: Human and Holy