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Center for Action and Contemplation

Union: The Foundation and Goal

Monday, April 23, 2018

Gender and Sexuality: Week 2

Union: The Foundation and Goal
Monday, April 23, 2018

We two being one, are it. –John Donne [1]

Even as we acknowledge the sacredness of gender and sex, we also need to realize that there’s something deeper than our gender, anatomy, or physical passion: our ontological self, who we are forever in Christ. As Paul courageously puts it, “There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Those who have already begun to experience their divine union will usually find it very easy to be compassionate toward people who are not like them because they know they share the same essential self that is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

For all of the beauty and power of sexuality, it is still under the rubric of the floating or passing self, rather than the Self eternally anchored in God. I believe our gender is going to pass away when we do. I think that’s what Jesus is referring to when he says, “The children of this world take wives and husbands . . . but in heaven there will be no marriage or giving in marriage” (see all of Luke 20:34-37). Our personality and physicality are gates to the temple—the place of union. We often confuse the gates of embodiment with the temple itself. In the end, there is only universal love where “God will be God in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Both sexuality and gender are mysteries much broader than genitality and intercourse. It is an inner drive toward the other and beyond the small self, which some call eros. Someone can be celibate and still experience this pull to give oneself to another. Someone can be genital and be totally self-absorbed, which is not eros at all, but “lustful.”

A good intimate relationship takes away our existential anxiety. Even without any touching, true intimacy overcomes our feeling of separateness: “I’m not attractive; I’m not believable; I’m not credible; I’m not. . . .” is our desperate and disparate state. Once someone affirms that we’re lovable, that we’re even enough for them, and once we begin to deeply trust ourselves, then we can enter the gates of the temple and discover what we also desire, which is agape, or divine love. Agape is much more inclusive and all-embracing than eros. But agape builds on eros and even deepens eros because it hugely expands our sense of “Self.” Agape love transcends and includes all other true loves.

Spirituality and sexuality are two sides of one coin. They’re both a gift. One without the other might be mistrusted. But together they give us the capacity, not just to make love to another person, but to make love to God, no matter which relationship comes first. Sexuality and spirituality emerge from the same foundation and have the same goal: universal love.

[1] John Donne, “The Canonization,” The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne, ed. Charles M. Coffin (Modern Library: 1994), 14.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, God As Us! The Sacred Feminine and the Sacred Masculine, discs 1-3, 5, and 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2011), DVDCDMP3 download.

Image credit: Study of a Boy Turning His Head (detail), Jacopo Pontormo, c. 1529, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If Jesus shows us what the completed human being looks like in male form, Mary Magdalene models it for us in its female version; together they become the Christosophia, the androgynous archetype of human wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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