Love-Making As A Spiritual Practice

The submissions are coming in thick and fast at the moment for the What is a Spiritual Practice series.  I will probably post twice a day over the next couple of days in order to keep pace.  Wonderful reflections.  I love to read through each one before I post it and there are a number that I have found increasing my understanding of God and where God is at work in the world.  Another quote from Henri Nouwen’s The Genesee Diary that comes to mind as I grapple with the fact that God is indeed present in every part of life and of our world.

We can neither explain God nor his presence in history. As soon as we identify God with any specific event or situation, we play God and distort the truth.  We only can be faithful in our affirmation that God has not deserted us but calls us in the middle of all the unexplainable absurdities of life.

God is indeed present in the unexplainable absurdities of life.  God is also present in inexplicable ways in the activities of life we think we understand.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God because the love of God permeates all of life and all of creation.

This morning’s post comes from Mark Scandrette cofounder and executive Director of ReIMAGINE: A Center for Life Formation based in San Francisco and author of SOUL GRAFFITI: Making A Life in the Way of Jesus.

Love-Making As a Spiritual Practice

“Fire crackers like gun fire

Shatter the velvet silence of sweet release

with you in my arms.”

When I shared the poetic lines I wrote above with a group of friends, reactions were mixed. One friend nodded with the knowing relish of common experience. Others squirmed uncomfortably as what was spoken was too private or salacious.  Despite the fact that sexuality is central to what it means to be human and to be alive, so often it is a dimension of our lives that is fraught with conflicted feelings, secrecy, wounds or shame. Here are examples of common themes I hear in conversations among friends:

“We’ve never been able to talk about sex– I don’t think my spouse would understand what I need or want.”

“I stayed up all night twice this week looking at internet porn.”

“My partner and I haven’t had sex for almost a year. It brings up too much pain about my childhood trauma. ”

“I thought that if we got married, the same-sex attraction would go away.”

“I accidently made out with someone I just met at the party last weekend. We may have had too much to drink.”

“My spouse just caught me pursuing someone I met online. This has opened up the wounds and broken the trust we have tried to rebuild after the affair nine years ago. But I feel desperate for soul connection with someone.”

“I wonder why I haven’t found anyone to marry yet. I’m so hungry to share life with someone and experience intimacy. What’s wrong with me?”

The yearning to connect with another human being in whole person ecstasy is a sacred gift that is frankly overwhelming in its potency. And often it is the unspoken energy that is shaping our relationships with one another and our sense of belonging to God. It is a beautiful treasure that needs to be awakened, cultivated, disciplined and celebrated.

Knowing that our sexuality is a sacred gift, my wife and I have tried to be intentional about  our sexuality and love-making as a spiritual practice:

One of the ways that we do this is by talking about sex and our sexuality regularly outside the bedroom. Sometimes we talk about the mixed messages we got about sex in our families, or the guilt, shame or confusion we have felt about our sexual awakening and desires. We acknowledge that we are sexually broken. Most, if not all of us have wounds, guilt or repression about our sexuality to navigate. Knowing that the journey to healthy sexuality is often a winding road from adolescence throughout adulthood, we try to be deeply vulnerable and realistic– while offering each other grace and understanding. We think that rather than seeing our sexuality solely in terms of moral successes or failures, we are asking, “What are our next steps towards healthy God-conscious sexuality?” We also talk about the nuts and bolts of what works for us in the bedroom–the words and touches that make the other person feel attractive, beloved and aroused. And though it is sometimes embarrassing for our kids, we talk with them about the loveliness of a sexual relationship and the sacredness of sex between people who are committed to one another. And we try to normalize and celebrate their awakening desires to experience union and intimacy with another human being.

As corny or unromantic as it might sound, we schedule our times for love-making. For us the days of spontaneous eruptions of sexual desire diminished quickly with the onset of full-time jobs, children, and the other the responsibilities of adulthood.  The truth is that at the end of a fulfilling day of meaningful work, family and community life, we feel pretty tired and often wish for a few moments alone. Like our weekly dates,  we schedule love-making as a way to make it a value and priority in our lives. Sex can be a measure of the whole quality of a marriage. Scheduling special time for love-making each week is a way for us to take the temperature of our relationship. There is a lot that has to happen before we get to the bedroom. We need to be reconciled with one another. We need to be conscious of our words and tenderness throughout the day so that the other feels safe and open to intimate touch. We need to be relaxed, centered  and de-stressed in order to be fully present to one another between the sheets. The practices of exercise, healthy eating, dressing and cleaning the body are all ways that we  affirm that we are God’s temple– sacred, attractive and worthy of care. And our bodies are sacred temples that we invite one another to enter. The teachings of Jesus and the Disciple John suggest that the love and care we give to one another is as close as we can get to loving the God we cannot see. The attentive gaze into one another’s eyes, the tender touch and gentle words are tangible practices in the mysterious ways of the kingdom of love.

Whether a person is married or single, we can explore ways to be God-conscious in our sexuality.  I know a devout single woman who practices what she calls, “Sexy time” — a space where she chooses intentional practices that help her feel feminine, beautiful and in touch with her body in ways that affirms dignity and a sense of being beloved.  I believe there is a way for each of us to invite God into the earthy realism and beauty of our sexuality– to walk with us in the complexity and power of being created as sexual beings.


7 Responses

  1. I know a lot of people are resistant to the idea of scheduling sex, but if we can approach love-making as a worthwhile and life-affirming experience, then it should be worth making time for.

    Some of that resistance, I believe, is due to our discomfort with sex. If we are “swept away” by it, then we can take less ownership of it. Many people sit around complaining that they aren’t being overcome with desire, but that’s a sad waiting game. We need to create desire, and pursue it.

    I work with a lot of people to help them understand that they need to “choose desire” and oftentimes that means working through whatever obstacles are getting in the way of that.

  2. Amen, Mark! Thank you for opening up this conversation in the Spiritual Practices series.

    Jews consider having regular pleasurable sex with your wife a religious obligation and a mitzvah (a good deed fulfilling a commandment). The rabbis recommend at least once a week… and making love with your spouse on the Sabbath is a double mitzvah!

  3. Bowie,
    I have read about this too. I think that we have been more influenced by the Puritans in our attitudes towards sex than we realize and when we do not address this in positive and healthy ways it is not surprising that there are such unhealthy sexual expressions in our society

  4. Christine, I totally agree with your comment about the Puritan influence in Western Culture (Europe – not so much). Its interesting that eastern cultures see sex as a spiritual (meta-physical) conduit, that allows us to connect with our spirituality on a higher plain. The whole concept of temple prostitutes takes on new light when sex is seen as a spiritual connection as well as a physical one.

    I think the Puritans have robbed us Westerners of the awareness of how sex can be a spiritual practice.

  5. […] Love making as a spiritual practice. Not kidding. […]

  6. The Puritans and their later pietistic descendants definitely had issues with sex, pleasure and the human body (including even alcohol, dancing, visual arts, etc.).

    But I would add to this broader Western examples such as a single, unmarried clergy; some of the early church father’s quite unhealthy (even Neo-Platonic) views of the human body and sexuality; the massive influence of monasticism; St. Augustine wondering whether it was a sin for a Christian married to have sex if they could not concieve (due to old age for example); and so on.

    I really appreciate some of the desert fathers, Agustine was brilliant and we wouldn’t be having this conversation without monasticism, but broadly speaking these powerful cultural forces are ambivalent about sexuality, the human body. It’ s a complicated history but an often discouraging one.

    How can one maintain an orthodox Christian framework whilst also embracing earthiness, the goodness of creation, healthy pleasure, the Song of Songs (and not simply as grand spiritual metaphor), etc.?

  7. […] Love-making as a Spiritual Practice by Mark Scandrette […]

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