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
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.

Spiritual Gifts: Sustenance

hungry We’re reaching pretty low in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs again this week with the spiritual gift of sustenance.  Literally, SUSTENANCE deals with necessities that support life:

1a: means of support, maintenance, or subsistence : living
b: food, provisions; also: nourishment
2a: the act of sustaining
b: a supplying or being supplied with the necessaries of life
3: something that gives support, endurance, or strength

Despite how highly evolved as a species we like to think we are, our lizard brains still crave what was scarce early in our evolution—sweets and fats.  Our hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands release chemical messengers commanding our bodies to eat as much as possible of this stuff when we find it and to store the energy for leaner times that are sure to come.

Lean times predominate for many people on this planet we all share.  Some don’t have enough to sustain life.  The number of children under 5 years old dying from malnutrition daily would fill seventeen 747 airplanes.  One airplane crash grabs headlines for weeks.  Teams of experts spare no expense finding the root cause to ensure it never happens again, but plane loads of toddlers  die hungry every day without so much as our notice.  Meanwhile, Americans eat enough extra calories every day to feed an additional 80 million people.  The problem for us in the US is brain chemistry maladapted to lean times that never come.

We can tip the spiritual gift of sustenance out of balance by sins of omission—ignoring others’ or our own needs—and by sins of commission—taking more than we need.  The obvious spiritual discipline of abstinence that counteracts gluttony, to use seven deadly sins language, is fasting.  Perhaps the best all-around spiritual practice for taming the will, fasting especially leads us to recognize our dependence on God.  We learn to see the great abundance set before us, and we can learn respect and moderation concerning all natural desires.  Fasting requires practice for proficiency, however.  A growling stomach, if one is unaccustomed to it, can hijack attention, and we can find ourselves spending every moment of our fast planning what we’ll eat when it’s over.  Many Lent observers abstain from a few favorite foods as more manageable reminders of how abundantly God sustains us.

The spiritual discipline of engagement that brings focus to the gift of sustenance is celebration.  Enjoyment of pleasure in conjunction with faith and confidence in God give us an opportunity to recognize our life and pleasure as gifts to us.  Jesus worked his first miracle at a celebration.  Engaging in celebration as a spiritual discipline is about fully enjoying simple things rather than extravagant consumption at the expense of others.  The point is to have some fun, for God’s sake!

Reaching higher in Maslow’s hierarchy, we have other needs—safety, belonging, love, respect, self-esteem—and God sustains us in many of these ways, too.   For today, though, let’s give thanks for food.

Join the conversation.  How do you balance your need for food with the needs of others?

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