“On the day of judgment, God will ask only one question: ‘Did you enjoy my world?'” -Ancient Jewish saying
“Like all truly mystical things, love is rooted deeply and rightfully in this world and this flesh.” -Katherine Anne Porter
It’s interesting to me that Passion is a marketing buzz word these days for everything from TV shows to cologne. Most of us want passion in our lives, and more of it, but few of us make the kinds of decisions that lead to passion.
Passion after all is first defined (by the dictionary!) as the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life. It is to care about something more than yourself and to find that this care might require all of yourself…including your body.
Sex for Dummies
A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran a fascinating front page article about a new development in the entertainment industry…the development is people watching video games. At first, you might not think that this is a big deal, because video games have been around for years, but the Times was covering a conference where thousands of people were gathering, not to play, but to watch professionals play video games.
It’s ironic that the Times ran this front page story, because just a few pages later, on the same day, Philosophy professor Richard Kearney wrote an op-ed piece about what our obsession with technology is doing to us.
Dr. Kearney noted that in his classes when he talks about the body and touch, sex will inevitably come up, but unlike generations in the past, today’s students aren’t having sex to be with a person, they are having sex with an anatomically correct husk.
I was a Singles minister for many years, and I grieve the hook-up culture that we’ve created. I know the kind of damage that it does to a person’s soul. But the real twist in Dr. Kearney’s observation is that he thinks it’s only a symptom of a greater problem. Today’s hook-up culture exists in large part because online dating and mating services like Match.com and Tinder allow people to share messages that signal their level of willingness to have sex, and under what conditions…all almost purely anonymously.
Sex, connecting with a real human being, in the most intimate of ways, is now mediated digitally, replacing the ancient community or the priest, Tinder doesn’t require you to pledge your life in submission to the good of the other and to fight for that person’s soul. It’s just asks you to swipe left.
But, and here is Dr. Kearney’s big observation:
What is often thought of as a “materialist” culture is arguably the most “immaterialist” culture imaginable — vicarious, by proxy, and often voyeuristic…[We] see everything at a distance but [it's] touched by nothing. Are we perhaps entering an age of “excarnation,” where we obsess about the body in increasingly disembodied ways? For if incarnation is the image become flesh, excarnation is flesh become image. Incarnation invests flesh; excarnation divests it.
It’s not that we are a materialistic culture, we are anything but that. Materialism is the idea that this world is all there is, but we’re not even paying attention to this world that much anymore.
Dr. Kearney goes on to state that in all actuality, pornography is, the flip side of [his interpretation of] Puritanism. Both require an alienation from flesh — one replacing it with the virtuous, the other with the virtual. Each is out of touch with the body.
Hot and Holy
Because contrary to popular belief, the Christian faith doesn’t discount this world or our bodies, in fact, it takes it all the more seriously because we believe that God entered into it.
In fact, and I can’t believe I’m about to write this sentence, Puritans were incredibly sexual, passionate people who did the hard work of channelling that energy toward only one person in their life.
One unfortunately named Puritan, Thomas Hooker wrote, “The man whose heart is endeared to the woman he loves, he dreams of her in the night, hath her in his eye and apprehension when he awakes, museth on her as he sits at table, walks with her when he travels and parlies with her in each place where he comes.” He adds:
“She lies in his Bosom, and his heart trusts in her, which forceth all to confess, that the stream of his affection, like a mighty current, runs with full tide and strength.”
Hallmark eat your heart out.
The problem with our society is that we can’t imagine sex like the Puritans. We can’t imagine a world where sexuality doesn’t produce something, where it’s not useful to be turned into a commodity for our self-esteem or money like prostitution or pornography and then sold to the highest bidder. (Today’s pornography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, and Netflix).
The biggest problem with pornography is that it divorces sex from the act of giving. Sex becomes all about experiencing, receiving, trying to understand the mystery…in a word, sex becomes a commodity to consume. But the Puritans talked about sex as benevolence to the other.
The Puritans took sex so seriously that if either spouse didn’t give “due benevolence” it could be grounds for church discipline! There is actually an example on record, where a husband was kicked out of fellowship with the church for “neglecting his wife” by not making love with her for a long period of time!
Because the Puritans knew that sex is a gift that you give and are given.
In her memoir Grace, the preacher Mary Cartledgehayes recounts her final year with her husband as he was dying of cancer. She writes about how they decided to savor every moment of life they had left together, and ultimately how they decided to make love every day until he died. Here’s how she talks about it:
To breathe, to laugh, to curse, to praise, to weep, to sit in the midst of perfect order, to stand in the center of perfect chaos, to bread bread, to eat three strawberries, to touch a piano’s keys, to kiss a lover’s skin, to birth, to baptize, to bless, to bury, to live , to die – either it is all holy or not of it is holy”
And then she closes her book with these words:
“And this is what I know. It is all holy.“