Spiritual Gifts: Bodily Love

self reciprocating love triangleResearching my book, Secrets of Confession: Healing Power Across Traditions, led to a lot of conversations with a lot of people about their experiences of healing.  The conversations I appreciated most were those with recovering addicts, some of whom are now recovery counselors.  Maybe it is the brutal, unflinching honesty of people in recovery that grips me.  I spoke with one counselor whose practice is almost entirely composed of people with sex addictions.  She said the proliferation of smartphones and ubiquitous internet availability allow addicts to consume pornography in almost any setting, even during one-on-one business meetings.  I participated in Celebrate Recovery, a Twelve Step program for recovery from hurts, habits and hang ups, when I was researching the book.  Lest anyone assume pornography and sex addictions are the unique province of men, the number of women struggling with these issues was a real eye opener for me.

Human sexuality is a powerful gift, and it is a gift with which we serve God.  One of our deepest human desires is to know another and to be known deeply, as we truly are.  It is said God’s desire to be known was his impetus for creation, and that our desire to know and to be known is one way we’re made in God’s image.  To know another intimately by means of the whole body is how we experience the wholeness of love as embodied beings.  As Christians, it one of the ways we participate in the self-reciprocating triune love of the Holy Trinity.  And yet some of us fear intimacy.  We simultaneous crave closeness and fear being known as we truly are.  Those conflicting desires can distort our relationship to our own bodies and how we relate physically with others.   Perhaps the most distorted manifestation of these conflicting desires is anonymous sex—knowing without knowing.

An intense sexual desire unaccompanied by love or appreciation for the other as a whole being is lust, one of the seven deadly sins.  The obvious spiritual discipline of abstinence that brings the spiritual gift of bodily love into balance is chastity.  Perhaps less obvious is the spiritual discipline of engagement that can restore balance to this spiritual gift.  It is worship.  Praise through words, symbols and rituals gives honor to God.  Corporate worship is where we meet God as a body of believers.  Expecting everyone in the body to share the same preferences or ideas is like expecting every musician in a symphony to play the same instrument. It is precisely because of our differences and the tensions between us that coming together in worship is such a powerful spiritual phenomenon.  Worship reminds us it’s the differences—between people and between humans and God—that draw us into love.

Chastity, of course, is abstaining from sexual thoughts or actions.  It reminds us of the sanctity of knowing and being known by bodily means, and it also can deepen our appreciation of our partner.  Making space for this deeper understanding to coalesce only enhances our joy in and enjoyment of physical intimacy.

Blessed be
the beds that bring us down
to worship one another
in the night–
Never, oh never naked
enough
to know the
Being of the other                                  ~Lee Pieper

Join the conversation.  What’s your favorite love poem?

Copyright 2013 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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4 thoughts on “Spiritual Gifts: Bodily Love

  1. Well written, and I enjoyed your analogy of each of us being a single instrument in a symphony. But I disagree with a lot here, probably because I think that things we grapple with as human beings may not have anything to do with God — it’s all about our relationship with ourselves. I don’t think God cares if someone views porn or has sex outside of a committed relationship, but I think the relationship we have with ourselves — our self-respect, self-nurture, and mental health — may be negatively impacted. Thanks for making me thing about this a little harder, even if I don’t agree with it all.

    • Thanks a bunch for your comment, kd. Thoughtful, as always. I passionately believe that exchanging *different* ideas makes us all think harder about our own ideas, so many thanks to you for contributing yours. I have no doubt your thoughts resonate with many. If one finds the presence of God in all people, including oneself, then our ideas about self-respect, self-love and wholeness strike notes in harmony.

  2. Pingback: Spiritual Conditioning for a New Way | Across Traditions Blog

  3. In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). Dante’s definition was “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour”. In Jacob Bidermann’s medieval miracle play , Cenodoxus , pride is the deadliest of all the sins and leads directly to the damnation of the titulary famed Parisian doctor. In perhaps the best-known example, the story of Lucifer , pride (his desire to compete with God) was what caused his fall from Heaven, and his resultant transformation into Satan . In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the penitents were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs to induce feelings of humility.

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