Holy Sexuality

from chapter nine of Rolheiser, "The Holy Longing"


“The Greek philosophers used to say that we are fired into life with a madness that comes from the gods and that this energy is the root of all love, hate, creativity, joy and sadness. A Christian should agree with that, then add that God put that great power, sexuality, within us so that, ultimately, we might also create life and, like God, look upon what we have helped create, overflow with a joy that breaks the very casings of our selfishness, and say: “It is good, indeed, it is very good!” A mature sexuality is when a person looks at what he or she has helped create, swells in a delight that breaks the person of his or her selfishness, and feels as God feels when God looks at creation.

“For this reason sexuallity lies at the center of the spiritual life. A healthy sexuality is the single most powerful vehicle there is to lead us to selflessness and joy, just as unhealthy sexuality helps constellate selfishness and unhappiness as does nothing else. We will be happy in this life, depending upon whether or not we have a healthy sexuality.

“One of the fundamental tasks of spirituality, therefore, is to help us to understand and channel our sexuality correctly. This is no easy task. Sexuality is such a powerful fire that it is not always easy to channel in life-giving ways…”

“How should sexuality be understood?"

1. sexuality as an understanding of separateness
2. sexuality vs genitality
3. a Christian definition of sexuality
4. non-negotiable principles

1. sexuality as an awareness of having been cut off

To understand the meaning of sexuality, one must begin with its definition. The word sex has a Latin root, the verb secare. In Latin, secare means literally “to cut off,” “to sever,” “to amputate,” “to disconnect from the whole.” To be sexed, therefore, literally means to be cut off, to be severed from the whole… Were you to take a chain saw and go to a tree and cut off one of its branches, you would have “sexed” that branch… It would know in its every cell that if it wants to continue living and especially if it wants to produce flowers and bear fruit, it must somehow reconnect itself to the tree. That is precisely how we wake up in the world… and this is experienced as exceedingly painful– an aching loneliness, an irrational longing, a madness from the gods (as the Greeks put it). But this madness is also a great energy.. the energy that drives everything else, body and spirit. If this is true, then sexuality is more than.. having sex and we must distinguish between sexuality and genitality.

2. Sexuality versus genitality

Sexuality is an all encompassing energy inside of us… It is the drive for love, communion, community, friendship, family, affection, wholeness, consummation, creativity, self-perpetuation, immorality, joy, delight, humor and self-transcendence. It is not good to be alone. When God said this about Adam at the dawn of creation, God meant it about every man, woman, child, animal, insect, plant, atom and molecule in the universe.

Genitality, having sex, is onloy one aspect of that larger reality of secuality, albeit a very important one. Genitality is particularized, physical consummation, a certain privileged constellation of many of the energies that are containe within our wider erotic energies in one bodily encounter with another pseron which we commonly term making love…

Sex is a wide energy and we are healthily sexual when we have love, community, communion, family, friendship, affection, creativity, .. etc. Sexuality is as much about having friends as it is about having lovers. It is painful to sleep alone but perhaps is is even more painful to sleep alone when you are not sleeping alone.

The ancient Greek philosophers gave us the word eros. For them it meant much more thatn it does for us today. Generally we understand it to mean mainly sexual attraction. For the Greeks, eros was a reality with six interpenetrating dimensions. It referred, at one and the same time, to ludens (love’s playfulness, teasing, and humor); erotic attraction (sexual attractiveness and the desire to have sex); mania (obsessiveness, falling in love, romance); pragma (sensible arrangement in view of family life, home, and community); philia (friendship0; and agape (altruism, selflessness, sacrifice). Unlike us, the ancient Greeks did not ask one aspect of love to carry all the others.

3. a Christian definition of sexuality

All these hungers culminate in one thing: they want to make us co-creators with God . . mothers and fathers, artisans and creators, big brothers and big sisters, nurses and healers, teachers and consolers, famers and producers, adminstrators and community builders .. co-responsible with God for the planet, standing with God and smiling at and blessing the world. Given that definition, we see that sexuality in its mature bloom does not necessarily look like the love scenes in a Hollywood movie. What does sexuality in its full bloom look like?

  • when we see a young mother beaming with delight at her child.. all selfishness within her has given way to joy..
  • when you see a grandfather so proud of his grandson who has just received his diploma
  • when you see an artist, after long frustration, look with satisfaction on a work she has completed
  • when you see someone throw back his or her head in genuine laughter, caught off guard by the surprise of joy
  • when you see an elderly woman, who never having been married, nor having ever had a child, nor ever experienced genitality, but selflessly serving others
  • when you see a community gathered around a grave, making peace with tragedy and consoling each other so that life can go on
  • when you see an elderly husband and wife who after half a century of marriage have made such peace with each other that they are content simply sharing their presence
  • when you see any person — man, woman, or child — who in a moment of service, affection, love or friendship, creavity, joy or compassion, for that moment so caught up in what is beyond him or her that for that moment their separateness is overcome
  • when you see God, having just created the earth, look down and say “it is good.”

Sexuality is not about finding a lover or a friend, it is about overcoming separateness by giving life and blessing it.


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• © 2005-2008 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated in May, 2008