“We monks do not try to repress our sexual passions . . . Woe to those monks and nuns, who shovel into their subconscious their sexual passions. . . There is no spirituality in that. What happens, and what we aim at, is the transmutation of erotic energy from earthly attractions to God.” – Father Maximos quoted in The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos C. Markides
In the old pagan world, sex and religion were all tied up together. Temple prostitutes and depictions of group sex on ancient Hindu temple walls and all that. Christianity has too often taken the opposite tact – sex as being so unholy that for a while it was considered a sin even in the context of marriage by the Roman church. Which led to possibly the most dysfunctional set-up ever; putatively and sometimes actually celibate priests being told each time a parishioner had sex with their spouse. What could be the problem with that, eh? Although the actual rejection of sex by the Christian church has varied wildly from place to place and time to time, the reality is that a lot of people continue to see sex and God as inevitably belonging in two separate spheres of our lives. To the extent that God and sex intersect, it is in the parsing out of rules for sexual conduct. But when actual sex takes place, well if our guardian angels could please exit the room, that would be great. And surely God has the good manners to turn his head for a few minutes. Wouldn’t want to be caught in flagrante delicto by the creator of the universe. That would be too weird.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church which of course demands celibacy from their priests and nuns. I remember being told that when they had sexual urges, they would pray. I’m not sure if anyone specifically said it, but my understanding was that their prayers would be for the removal of these base urges so they could focus more totally on their relationship with God. I can’t say if I got that right, but I must say that the celibacy described in the quote above makes much more sense to me. If we really believe that God made us and he made us sexual beings and he declared this male-female union “very good”, then trying to escape from, reject or suppress our sexual urges hardly seems right.
After reading the quote above some time ago, I discussed it with my husband. He told me that the idea of bringing one’s sexual impulses to God in prayer for satisfaction rather than repression was common in the black churches he attended where single women struggling to remain chaste made up a good chunk of the congregation. And of course, many saints through the ages has spoken of union with God in pretty explicitly sexual terms. Perhaps this idea of bringing our sexual desires to God isn’t so weird as a lot of us might assume.
Now, as modern Christians we say that sex is good. God created sex. So let’s put that alongside another thing we say is true: a Christian is supposed to seek God first in all areas of their lives. Not merely follow God’s rules, but actually seek him. Which would seem to include in our sex lives. You’ve probably prayed about your children, your work, your marriage, finding a parking place near the door at the grocery store. Have you ever prayed for sexual satisfaction? Would you?
It occured to me after reading this quote and discussing it with my husband that this might also point to the meaning of Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in 1 Corinthians 7:5 – “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer”. That verse never made much sense to me. Unless you’re Sting and need a whole weekend to do the do, it doesn’t seem that sex would take up so much of your time that you couldn’t also find a few minutes for prayer. Why would you want or need to refrain from sex with your spouse in order to pray? Unless of course, this prayer was the married person’s chance to bring their sexual urges to God much like a monk or nun would.
As I thought about the matter further, I realized that if this practice of bringing our sexual selves to God as a means of creating a greater connection with Him would not only benefit our relationship with God, it would benefit our understanding of ourselves as sexual people. it could be a powerful means of allowing God to shape this part of ourselves much as he will shape our hearts in other ways. Which is something we need more than ever in our modern world where the majority of kids born to moms under 30 are now being born outside of marriage. And even further, what if we taught our kids that this – and not “just say no” or cold showers or purity rings – was the Christian way of handling sex in those times between when we become sexually mature people and when (or if) we get married? Could teaching them to bring that part of themselves to God and lean into him during those years rather than trying to ignore, control or repress their sexual urges be a huge benefit to them as well? A Catholic priest told me once that most people would rather talk with him about their sex lives than their prayer lives. Prayer is a very intimate, private thing. In fact, my experience is that praying together as a married couple – beyond the trite “God bless us and protect us and provide for us” praying that we’d do with a child – is incredibly uncomfortable and difficult. If your sexuality and your prayer life are wound up together, it seems unlikely that sharing sex with a stranger or person you don’t have a deep commitment to would be all that tempting. But when you did go to share it, how much more powerful and bonding would that be?
These are all relatively new ideas for me so I can’t report much about how well they would work in practice. Beyond that they served me well enough during the 7 months my husband and I were separated in the last year. But I have shared them with my oldest son who found them intriguing as well. Maybe you can ask him in 10 years if mixing God and sex and prayer all together is a good idea or not. So anyways, those are just some more of my upside down ideas. And now that you’ve read them, they are in your head as well! Have fun with it.