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Center for Action and Contemplation


Monday, April 16, 2018

Gender and Sexuality: Week 1

Monday, April 16, 2018

In the Hebrew Scriptures, prior to the influence of the Platonic dualism that deemed body as bad and spirit as good, there is a much more integrated notion of the human being. The biblical writers believed that the divine breath, breathed into Adam and Eve, indwells the soul, mind, and body. Each of these are expressions of the divine Spirit.

The great example of this integration is the beautiful Song of Songs, which somehow was accepted into the officially recognized Scriptures. Over time, various Christian writers interpreted it as an allegory or a metaphor of God’s love for God’s people. It’s fine to read Song of Songs in this way, but the book is clearly, from beginning to end, unapologetic erotic poetry. Here is just a taste:

The Bride:
My Beloved is fresh and ruddy,
to be known among ten thousand.
His head is golden, purest gold,
his locks are palm fronds
and black as the raven. . . .
His lips are lilies,
distilling pure myrrh. . . . (5:10-13)

The Bridegroom:
How beautiful are your feet in their sandals,
O prince’s daughter!
The curve of your thighs is like the curve of a necklace,
work of a master hand.
Your navel is a bowl well rounded
with no lack of wine. . . .
Your two breasts are two fawns,
twins of a gazelle. . . .
How beautiful you are, how charming,
my love, my delight! (7:2-5)

This is the Bible—talking about lips and navels, delighting in human sensuality! Why did God let us get so excited about one another’s bodies and beauty? Could God be playing a trick on us, saying, “I’m going to create sexual attraction and arousal in you, but don’t you dare think, feel, or act upon it!” Of course not! That can’t be what God intended when God said over and over about Creation: “It is good! It is very good!” (see Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). How much harm we’ve caused by repressing and shaming this good and natural part of our being.

Father Ron Rolheiser offers a helpful definition of sexuality:

The word sex has a Latin root, the verb secare. In Latin, secare means “to cut off,” “to sever,” “to amputate,” “to disconnect from the whole.” To be sexed, therefore, literally means to be cut off from, to be severed from, to be amputated from the whole. . . .

We wake up in the world and in every cell of our being we ache, consciously and unconsciously, sensing that we are incomplete . . . aching at every level for a wholeness that, at some dark level, we know we have been separated from. [1]

And so we seek to rediscover our inherent wholeness through relationship and intimacy with others.

[1] Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality (Doubleday: 1999), 193-194.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Gate of the Temple: Spirituality & Sexuality, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1991, 2006, 2009), CD, MP3 download.

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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