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Bearing the Mystery of God

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Gender and Sexuality: Week 1

Bearing the Mystery of God
Sunday, April 15, 2018

In the image of God they were created, male and female God created them. —Genesis 1:27

As we explored the past two weeks, human bodies are sacred images or incarnations of God. Yes, this includes our gender and sexuality. What makes anything “sacred” anyway? As we’ve been exploring in this year’s meditations, the Franciscan tradition has always held that God created unique incarnations of the Eternal Mystery, imparting a sacred imprint in all of creation. Our task isn’t to define what’s sacred, but to expand our perception to recognize God’s indwelling presence throughout the entire universe.

Jesus is the great synthesis, the icon of the whole mystery—all at once. “In his body lives the fullness of divinity, and in him you too find your own fulfillment” (Colossians 2:9, JB). Despite this, Christianity has relegated the body to a shadowy realm, as evidenced by sexual repression and obsession, pollution of the earth, excessive consumerism, obesity, addiction, and anorexia.

We are clearly not very at home in our bodies, yet Jesus came to show us that we can and must trust our human, and thus body-based, experience. The material world is the privileged place for the divine encounter. Many of us seek “higher states of consciousness” and moral perfectionism, while Jesus simply comes “and lives among us.” The Gospels don’t tell us about Jesus’ sexuality, but knowing that he was fully human, I can only trust that he experienced desire, arousal, and sensuality like the rest of us.

You might be thinking: “This is dangerous stuff! What if it is all wrong? Where might this lead us? How do I know that this is not another excuse for narcissism and hurting people?” All of which is possible. As the old Latin saying goes, corruptio optimi pessima (“The corruption of the best is the worst of all”). But that does not mean we should deny what could be the best.

The present sexual climate is the result of not finding an integrated and healing sexual ethic. “Don’t do it” is not of itself wisdom, although it may be a necessary boundary for teenagers. Now we need to discover a truly positive theology of sexuality, intimacy, and consent.

Yes, sexuality can be dangerous, but so is the Gospel itself. Just as we have often domesticated the Gospel to make it into a means of social order and control, so we have avoided the scandal of the Incarnation to avoid God in most dangerous disguise: this material world.

If you think we are moving far from orthodoxy here, just look at that perennial touchstone of orthodoxy, the Eucharist. “The Body of Christ,” we say as we place the bread in the hands or mouths of believers. We do not say, as we might expect, “spirit of Christ.” This sacramental act is intentionally shocking, sexual, oral, mystical, and momentous. We are physically taking another person inside of ourselves to experience divine union! Only after thousands of “communions” does its truth dawn on us, and the mystery of God’s incarnation in Christ then consciously continues on this earth. We bear the mystery of God through embodiment.

Unfortunately, the Church’s shaming of body and sex has shut down many people’s longing for and experience of intimacy with each other and God. So, over the next two weeks I’ll explore gender and sexuality, attempting to reclaim a healthy, whole understanding of our embodied selves.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 138-142.

Image credit: Study for the Libyan Sibyl (detail), Michelangelo Buonarotti, ca. 1510-11. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The body is a sacrament . . . a visible sign of invisible grace. . . . All our inner life and intimacy of soul longs to find an outer mirror. It longs for a form in which it can be seen, felt, and touched. The body is the mirror where the secret world of the soul comes to expression. . . . The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. —John O’Donohue
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