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Intimacy and Sexual Wholeness
Intimacy and Sexual Wholeness

Eros and Agape  

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Creation testifies to the overflowing energy of God’s presence in our world. Our own generosity, our surprising ability to forgive, and our endless desire for more life all witness to this God-given energy [this eros] within us.  
—James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead, Holy Eros 

Richard Rohr considers expressions of love that exist in our passion for one another:  

Sexuality is a much broader mystery than its physical expression. It’s an inner drive—which some call eros—toward the other and beyond the small self. A commitment to celibacy doesn’t negate this pull to give oneself to another. And at the same time someone can be sexually active and totally self-absorbed, which is not eros at all, but merely “lustful.” 

Healthy intimate relationships take away our existential anxiety. Even without touch, true intimacy overcomes our feelings of separateness and insecurity: “I’m not attractive; I’m not important; I’m not …” is our desperate and disparate state. Once someone affirms that we’re lovable and enough for them, once we begin to deeply trust ourselves, then we discover that what we also desire is agape, or divine love. Agape is much more inclusive and all-embracing than eros. Yet agape builds on eros and even deepens eros because it hugely expands our sense of True Self. Agape love includes and transcends all other genuine loves. [1] 

Womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglas believes agape and human sexuality are connected:  

Agape is God’s love. It is an active love, the giving of oneself for the sake of justice and the building of an authentically human (loving) community. By perfectly manifesting agape, Jesus’ life and ministry … reinforce the understanding that to reflect the image of God is to do nothing less than nurture loving relationships….  

A positive embrace of human sexuality is critical to agape, and it is crucial for those who would radiate what it means to be created in the image of God. Human sexuality is what provides [us] with the capacity to enter into relationships with others. Sexuality is that dimension of humanity that urges relationship. Sexuality is a gift from God that, if properly appreciated, helps [people] to become more fully human by entering into loving relationships. [2]  

Douglas parallels God’s eros and our own: 

Human passion must be seen as more than lust or desire for sexual activity.… For me, passion … is that divine energy within human beings, the love of God, that compels them toward life-giving, life-producing, and life-affirming activity and relationships in regard to all of God’s creation. So while passion certainly encompasses the biological production of life, it means more than that. It is a powerful, creative dynamism. It is a glimpse of God’s perfect passion for life. Human passion is God’s passion bursting forth from the human being as an insatiable desire to foster life in all aspects of one’s living. Such an understanding and appreciation for human passion as a glimpse of God’s own passion demand an embrace of human sexuality. [3]  

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault, God as Us! The Sacred Feminine and the Sacred Masculine (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2011). Available as MP3 audio download.

[2] Kelly Brown Douglas, Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999), 115. 

[3] Douglas, Sexuality, 120. 

Image credit and inspiration: Nina Hill, untitled (detail), 2020, photo, Unsplash. Click here to enlarge image. The connective energy of human touch, entwining our hands and our hearts. We are not alone. 

Story from Our Community:  

Through the death of my lovely wife, I learned that I cannot cope with loss and overwhelming emotion alone. In my time of grief, I received support and love from others which tempered my isolation with a kind of precious intimacy I had not known before. After walking through this process, I’ve come to realize that when we emerge from experiencing grief and isolation, we are more prepared to support others as we walk through this communal darkness in our world today. —Mick H.  

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