Sexuality and Spirituality

An Attempt at Integration for Sexual and Spiritual Health

Abstract: This paper attempts to show the relationship between sexuality and spirituality, and ways to attain profound union between husbands and wives. Incorporating spirituality with sexual behavior enhances the capacity for satisfaction and unity between the man and the woman. Bringing sexuality and spirituality together promotes harmony between the sexes and can result in a closer relationship with the Creator. The theme of unity between married couples and with God is proposed throughout. The purpose of the article is to show that profound blessing and true unity in marriage are powerfully promoted by adding the spiritual dimension to the physical relationship.

Introduction

The paper introduces two battlefields in the journey toward oneness in marriage: 1) the struggle against the inner evil of lust in the human heart, and 2) the struggle against extrinsic evil, a counterfeit spirit; corresponding remedies are presented. The deceiver, the evil one, is also a divider—he seeks to divide and conquer. Victory involves overcoming spiritual attacks by spiritual methods. Shame and fear also isolate and divide, hindering intimacy, which requires an absence of defensiveness and a willingness to be open with one’s spouse.

Marriage is being assaulted from several directions at once. Nevertheless, God made man and woman to enjoy a peaceful, edifying union of body, mind, and spirit capable of approaching, to a degree, the joyful unity of intellect, will, and desire experienced in the Godhead. To a certain extent, men and women can aspire to the holy, deeply satisfying union that the first man and woman enjoyed before the fall. Mystical union is presented as God’s inestimable gift when a couple invites him into their marriage.

One Flesh

“The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.”1 “Original innocence”2 refers to “the common beginning of man and woman” that involved “immunity from shame. …”3 This condition is further described as “… the original innocence of knowing,” a knowing without shame and “… a fullness of interpersonal communication…”4 promoting unity between the man and the woman. There were no hindrances to the man and woman knowing each other fully and unashamedly, no blocks to communication, no fear of judgment. Such knowledge in the state of original innocence was full and complete, existing on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels.

This unity, growing out of intimate knowledge between the man and the woman, reflected the unity in the Godhead. “The whole Old Testament is mainly concerned with revealing the truth about the oneness and unity of God … unity in communion,”5 a communion between and among the persons of the Trinity, most fully revealed in the New Testament. And God said, “Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves … so God created man in the image of Himself, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. …”6 Together, the male and female in communion are a physical sign representing the unity in the Triune God. “Man becomes the image of God, not so much in the moment of solitude, as in the moment of communion … sex is a surpassing of the limit of man’s solitude …” given to man as one result of God’s conclusion: “It is not good that the man should be alone.”7

So God intervenes, and the man is relieved, for he says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. Therefore a man … clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”8 In the “integration of what is masculine and what is feminine,”9 one can catch a glimpse of divine unity.

The Fall and Shame

God intervened on behalf of the man, yet his creations, the man and the woman, failing to communicate with their Maker, chose to seek knowledge in an illicit way. When the man and the woman ate the fruit of the tree “(T)he eyes of both were opened (and their hearts disunited); they realized that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together to make themselves loincloths,” hiding from each other, divided by shame.10 The wound of sin brought with it a breach, disunity in their relationship, the experience of vulnerability and woundedness, and the possibility of being wounded further, therefore, a need to cover up and self-protect. Shame and fear took “the place of absolute trust.”11 Shame, hitherto unknown to them, became a part of their emotional experience and relationship with each other. The sense of shame appears to be relative to the other human person, man to woman and woman to man. “Hence, the necessity of hiding before the other with one’s own body, with what determines one’s femininity or masculinity…” resulting in “a fundamental lack of trust” and loss of a sense of safety in each other’s presence.12

Shame is an isolating emotion, and divisive; it results in hiding: man from woman, woman from man, and both from God. Shame sets a limit on intimacy and on interpersonal communication, on knowing the other and revealing oneself; it is a boundary and a block to the open relationship originally enjoyed by the first man and woman before the fall. Shame hinders honest, genuine communication between the sexes, that is, “the (joy of the original) fullness of interpersonal communication (during which) man and woman are naked (not necessarily physically, or not only physically) and unashamed.”13

Shame results in separation from God and division within the person. “Shame is a symptom of man’s detachment from the love … that comes ‘from the Father’ and an attachment to ‘the love that is in the world,’ that is, lust.”14 “The original shame of the body (‘I am naked’)” leads to “the uneasiness of conscience connected with lust, threatening the integrity of the person”15 and a disunity within, between body and spirit. Lust brings with it a breach, “a difficulty of identification with one’s own body” and with the Creator.16 The original state of nakedness refers to that which is good in God’s eyes. In that state, the man and the woman could “see and know each other” in a deep, meaningful way.17 But sin brought about within them a “rupture and opposition between what is spiritual and what is sensual,”18 a disconnect, and, by extension, a breach including a lack of communication with each other and with God. MacKnee19 refers to “… the alienating shame and fear that accompanies sin and separates humans from both God and other humans.”

Shame, lust, and desire to control or dominate are related and opposed to the development of trust, so important in a close, personal relationship. Man “is ashamed, not so much of his body, as precisely of lust. He is ashamed of his body owing to lust. For the man, shame united with lust will become an impulse to dominate the woman” (‘He shall rule over you’).20 Lust involves an aggressive impulse to overcome the shame and fear through domination of the woman whose “desire shall be for your husband.”21 “The heart becomes a battlefield between love and lust,”22 and a power struggle ensues between the man and woman. “Control, especially for woman, and domination, especially for men, are the outward expressions of an inner woundedness.”23 His urge to dominate her is met with her attempt to control him, the classic battle of the sexes and “a collapse of the original relationship” of unity and trust.24 In this way, “shame (and fear) take the place of trust (and the fullness of communication) connected with original innocence in the relationship between the man and the woman.”25

A Struggle on Two Fronts

What remedy can be found to restore modern man and woman to a semblance of unity, trust, and openness, so freely enjoyed before the woundedness associated with sin? The problem lies, in part, within the human heart, the first battleground, where good can be found as well as evil, and it is the human heart that must be addressed. “Christ sees into the heart, into man’s inner self, the source of purity—but also of moral impurity. …”26 Christ addresses the issue directly: “If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”27 The comment is addressed to men and the male heart. The human heart can be impure and, thus, separated from God, whether male or female. But is a man’s heart more prone to lust, and, if so, why? Also, what is the remedy for lust in the man’s heart, which is where the sin begins?

Man and Lust

“If we’re going to fix this problem, it has to be done (firmly), that is, cut out any spiritually harmful practices. The act must be decisive: tear out, not taper off; sever; make it complete; for example, cancel some channels on cable TV; (put a block on computer pornographic sites); perform a definitive act so that God can get to the heart. Without severance, God can’t fix the heart, and the heart is the problem. God says, ‘If you want Me to fix the heart from where the problem emanates, then you must give Me no competition.’ Out of the heart come the issues of life, and when a person makes the decision to sever, he has said to God ‘You can have my heart.’”28

The following Scriptural anecdote can help to illuminate:

“It happened, late one afternoon, when David awoke from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing. …”29 It mattered not that the woman was the wife of one of David’s loyal soldiers. David’s desire insisted that he have her, and have her, he did. David saw her. How little it took for lust to gain the upper hand. Here was a man after God’s own heart,30 yet evil resided in his heart as well. The evil spirit of lust influenced David to commit murder by having the woman’s husband killed. In an attempt to hide one sin, David commits a still greater sin.

Sexual sin is no respecter of persons or gender. However, it does appear that men need to take spiritual leadership and more responsibility in this important area of human life. This statement is based, in significant part, on the following Scripture verses: “The woman said, ‘The serpent beguiled me and I ate.’”31 The man said, “‘The woman You gave to be with me (i.e., it’s God’s fault), she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’”32 Note that the man does not say that he was deceived, implying greater culpability. Further, from the New Testament: “The serpent deceived Eve by his cunning …”33 and, more directly, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived. …”34

Does this imply inequality between the sexes? No. It means that the man was given a responsibility that was not given to the woman, just as a woman can have a responsibility not shared with a man, for example, giving birth. A husband can be with his wife during childbirth, supporting her mentally and emotionally, but he cannot give birth to the child. That is the function and responsibility given only to the woman. Does that imply that the sexes are unequal? No more than does the spiritual responsibility given to the man to safeguard and protect his relationship with the opposite sex, starting from within his heart. Does this relieve the woman of responsibility in this area? Of course not. It simply means that the man is to lead in this area, and not leave decisions about sexual morality, as in the past, only, or primarily, up to the woman. Women were considered to be more responsible for maintaining sexual purity and to function “as the moral guardians of the home. …”35

Men were deluded by the prevailing and more permissive attitude granted to them in regard to sexual behavior. “He’s just sowing his wild oats,” implies that the male was ridding himself of that which would impede a later pure relationship. In fact, “wild oat sowing” is a euphemism for giving free rein to the evil spirit of lust, which slowly, imperceptibly, and surely exercises increasing control over the individual. When a man decides that he wants to turn away from lascivious behavior, he can find himself no longer able to easily do so. When a man turns from within his heart toward unifying love and away from divisive lust, the battle on another front has only begun. The following illustration depicting the second battleground attempts to shed some light on the struggle.

A young man was going through a difficult time. Though married, he was nevertheless addicted to pornography. His wife discovered this and was very distressed by it. For this, and other reasons she sought a trial separation and departed with their two young children. The experience of loss for the husband and father was excruciating. The separation broke his heart. He wanted to do something about his inner brokenness and his broken marriage. Not knowing what that might be, he was susceptible to depression and despair. He felt lost and forsaken. The Tempter came, whispering: “Well, there’s nothing left to live for. They’re not coming back. Why not end it right here?” Tempted and despairing, the young man did pray for death. He prayed for death, in part, because a duplicitous, divisive light, a spirit of lust, was going out of his life; this lesser, pleasure-inducing light is that of one who can disguise himself masterfully and that which the man now rejected. The light was fading because feeding the ravenous, insatiable beast, he knew, was no longer an option. He prayed to die, but the prayer went unanswered. After some time, like King David after the death of his child with Bathsheba, he arose, bathed, anointed himself, and said, “Why should I pray for death? The light was divisive, deceptive, and destructive—I reject it.”

The Divider changed tactics, aiming to prolong the rupture in the marital relationship: “Enjoy my presence once more, what can it hurt? Remember how it was? It can be that way again, so easily.” The Whisperer came again, tempting. Each time, there ensued a mighty struggle against the evil spirit. The young man went to his knees once more. The enemy was strong, stronger than himself, he knew. “How can I fight this battle on my knees,” he asked, “and with what weapons?”36 But the battle was joined. Eyes cleared, he saw the spirit, which could no longer control him.37 He began to be able to speak to the holy spirits, as well as his Creator. Tempting sensual delights, the deceptive light, gradually lost power over him as the true Light grew brighter within. “All of the delights … with which” he could once have been tempted now seemed to him “in comparison but as the nauseous attraction of a painted harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life is alive and even now at his door.”38 The lesser spirit was fast becoming a “useless tempter,” mocked by his own kind.39 And “The devil … that proud spirit … cannot endure to be mocked” (Thomas More).

The mental, emotional, and spiritual struggle on the second battleground was real and quite tangible. Each time, the outcome, in the man’s mind, was by no means assured. Inordinate desire arose within more than once, experienced as stronger than himself. He did not yet know the power of faith, though the God, who is One, resided deep within.

The evil one, that master of disguise and division, was not easily put off the scent of his prey. He shifted his approach to the human. Subtle tactics having failed, and knowing that violence was an ever-present danger at the man’s place of work in a maximum security setting, the divisive spirit incited those around him to spit at, punch, and otherwise threaten the human with bodily harm. A Satan worshipper said black masses against the man’s work and safety. This time, the spirit spewed venom at the man: “You are but a puny human, and I am no mere mortal. I am not going away. I pre-existed your conception, and I will be here long after you are gone. Resist and mock me, will you? Let’s see you try.”

C.S. Lewis40 quotes Screwtape, the demon, as referring to “the wholesome and realistic element of terror.” Terror represents “a new level of active animosity on Satan’s part, but equally typically represents a new level of intimacy (unity) with God, hence the attacks.” Satan is a “spiritual bully,” and terror is “a sign of his frustration and futility. The terror does temporarily frighten,” but it’s understood as “Satan’s pathetic attempt to scare a person away from God,”41 that is, to divide.

The evil one is a counterfeit spirit, the great imitator aping a spirit of unity, always with an intent to deceive. The young man went to the human root of his problem and the first battleground, his heart. He acted decisively to remove obstacles to the health of his marital relationship and his personal integrity. On the second battleground, he mightily resisted the divisive spirit, and the enemy fled. God allowed the element of terror in the man’s life to temper him. “God suffers the demon to rage against you that you may learn by trial the force of your strength” (St. John Chrysostom). The young man overcame, though this involved a great struggle. His wife was very pleased and returned with their children. The decisions and actions taken by this man impacted, not only his life, but the lives of others as well. There are far-reaching, positive, and powerful effects of persisting and fighting the battle on the side of One who gives men a free share in the victory.

Lust is a divisive spirit seeking to separate believers, and certainly spouses, from each other and from God. The spirit’s motto is “Divide and conquer.” Separation, loneliness, and discouragement are his instruments, lies and half-truths, his tools. The spirit of lust also seeks to block the attainment of unity within, an inner integrity. Inner integrity and union with one’s spouse contain the seeds of unity with God.

The lust which entered the world as a consequence of the fall is in direct conflict with the love given to humans by the Father. Lust speaks of control and domination, while love speaks of equality, communication, and unity. Man’s heart and mind is the battleground. Lust is an abscess in the heart. The remedy is to cut out of the heart that which, in the original state of innocence and integrity, was not part of it. How can man return to nakedness without shame? How can men and women be open with each other without fear or defensiveness? How can men and women enter into a relationship with the Father that knows no fear of judgment? The man in our illustration overcame by an act of obedience to his Creator, acknowledging the headship of Christ in his life, his relationships, and his heart, seeking unity and communication with God. Though he knew his free will would remain intact, “I give You my heart and sovereign reign over it” was the young man’s definitive, unifying prayer.

Unity and Integration

To integrate is to “form into a whole, to unite with something or someone else.”42 Chavez-Garcia and Helminiak argue that “the question of reconciling spirituality and sexuality is the question of achieving human integration. Since body, psyche, and spirit are not separable parts, but rather distinguishable factors in the human, in itself, human integration entails all three: bodily-sexual integration, psychological-emotional integration, and spiritual integration. Different perspectives on the same phenomenon, sexual and spiritual integration are necessary concomitants.”43 In confirmation, Wojtyla44 states that “without integration, marriage is an enormous risk. A man and a woman whose love has not begun to mature, has not established itself as a genuine (unifying bond between) persons, should not marry (or not yet), for they are not ready to undergo the test to which married life will subject them. This does not mean that their love must have reached full maturity at the moment of marriage, but only that it must be ripe enough for its continuing ripening, in and through marriage, in order to be ensured. Love cannot take the form of mere use, even if enjoyment is mutual and simultaneous. Instead, it finds its proper expression in the union of persons (emphasis added).

The integration of sexuality and spirituality appears to be an unusual (unattractive?) idea in the Western world. “In Western civilization, sexuality and spirituality have commonly been thought to be antagonistic. However, there exists the possibility of acknowledging and reconciling the two.”45 Chavez-Garcia and Helminiak argue that “sexuality and spirituality, not only are not antagonistic, but, on the contrary, are complementary, interdependent, and inseparable.”46 The implication seems to be that to make a connection between sexuality and spirituality would somehow diminish sexual pleasure. However, “The biblical laws against promiscuity and adultery are not prohibitions against pleasure; rather they point us toward deeper pleasures … within the unity and security of marriage. If the Bible advises restraint of human longings and passion, it is not because God forbids the pleasures humans were created to enjoy, but because God has better things in store—a more complete sexuality.”47 Furthermore, “In 1965, at the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church officially sanctioned a more affirming approach to human sexuality. Whereas, formerly procreation was considered the primary end of marriage, now the ‘unitive aspect’—sometimes called ‘re-creative’—is placed on a par with procreation.”48

Mystical Union

The following comments from married couples practicing spiritual sexuality depict some of their profound, mystical experiences: sexual encounters leading to a deep sense of oneness that extended to their Creator. For them, the marital union was a gateway to an intimate, deep encounter with God and each other. Christian couples experienced “holistic encounters”49 and “profound bonding with God” that “just happened; it was not the goal of the encounter”50 and involved “full body gratification as well as emotional and spiritual highs.”51 Further, “intimacy usually sneaks up on two people when they least expect it, startling both with its intensity. A husband and wife in a sacramental union are intended to share moments of intimacy such as this.”52

Contrary to the many ways that the gift has been misused and abused over the centuries up to, and including, the present time, sexuality was created by God as a sacred act intended to help remove barriers between spouses and lead to greater intimacy with him. God is vitally interested in the sexual health of the marital relationship. A healthy sexual relationship promotes mental, emotional, and spiritual health. There can be an experience of being specially chosen; the way God chooses us in His Beloved, the Christ.

Married couples seeking unity with each other and a connection with God in their marriage reported the following: “When the partners let go of their defenses to experience freely the fullness of intimacy, they felt overwhelmed and a flood of feelings poured from their inner depths. Expressions like ‘without fear, without intimidation, without guilt, without condemnation’ sum up spouses’ experience of connecting with God. Deep love, unified emotions, and elevated connection” were profound, meaningful experiences for these couples.53 During the moments of sexual and spiritual connection “a sense of complete oneness with their spouses was routinely experienced by the couples … often identified as ‘one flesh. …’”54 A husband “recounted his experience of union with his wife as ‘openness—without shame—to one another.’”55 Also present was a “sense of blessing and giftedness … a marked sense of being especially chosen” by one’s lover and by God. A husband stated it this way: “I had a sense that my wife is choosing me in the very ultimate, intimate act, and I am her choice of all the people in the world. It helps me understand how God chooses me.”56

There was “gratitude for being so deeply favored and blessed.”57 A wife said that she “felt reverence,” and the encounter was experienced as “pure, clean, holy, and sacramental. The sacredness and goodness of spiritual sexuality inspired reverent worship of God.”58 There was also a sense of “renewal, restoration…and relational healing.”59 One husband’s experiences helped him “realize my selfishness” and encouraged him to “acknowledge and serve my wife more.”60 Some felt energized. A wife described having “the energy of someone 20 years younger” than her 65 years of age.61

Sexual spirituality promotes a sense of gratitude in the marital partners toward each other and their Creator. The gift of the meeting of hearts, minds, and bodies is a profound blessing given to those couples who have committed their lives to each other and to enhancing the marital partnership. Thanksgiving among couples “was directed toward God for the gift of sexual intimacy, for help in overcoming intimacy barriers, and for blessing the relationship. The gift of connecting with one’s spouse was thankfully acknowledged. Praise for the meaningful experience and for the bond shared with their partners overwhelmed the couples.”62 For these couples, there was also “a deep sense of parity” or gender equality with the spouse … the experience confirmed that they were partners of the same worth and value.”63

MacKnee concludes that, “results demonstrate the kind of affirming love that God bestows”64 on his loved ones with an experience and expression of oneness reflecting the image of the Triune God. “God’s (unity in) plurality is a model for human intimacy.”65

Married couples reap benefits from the commitment they make to each other in expected and unexpected ways. MacKnee further concludes that “meaningful moments occurred after years of committed relationships. Profound potentials for sexual intimacy seem to be directly related to the amount of time devoted to developing trusting and open communication” (emphasis added), and “peak sexual union requires mutual trust in the security of a committed relationship with another person, just as spiritual union requires unquestioned trust in God.”66

Bilotta67 concurs, “We are thirsty to drink of the presence of the other and ultimately of the presence of the divine Other. Personal union with another can be an access to a deeper relationship with God.” Communication with one’s spouse and one’s Creator promotes that union on physical and spiritual levels. Beneath the sexual is the search for the spiritual. Chesterton put it strongly when he stated,  “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”68

Sexuality and spirituality need to be integrated so that one does not exclude the other. With regard to strong sexual desire as having a spiritual component, Kraft69 states, “Tucked within the clamor and confusion of genital feelings is the drive and desire to become whole with another person. Are we able to listen for the whisper (a quiet communication) of spiritual longing (our desire for unity) within our genital urges?”

Human beings need to develop “a unity between sex (body) and love (spirit).”70 Genital behavior that excludes sharing intimate aspects of oneself with another person or excludes commitment to the sexual partner involves a part masquerading as the whole. “Healthy people learn to experience the whole person partially revealed in genital behavior.” 71 It is the unifying quality of the spiritual component in sexuality that brings the other parts, the physical, affective, and cognitive, into the existing whole.

It is difficult to hear the whisper of spirituality, akin to “a still small voice,”72 in the loud and demanding nature of sexual desire. Kraft continues: “The yearning for union is the primary, but hidden, reason for any sexual activity. What the person unconsciously wants and needs is healthy communion. When we do not treat ourselves or others as whole persons, we block the spiritual dynamic of unity. Consequently, we can feel empty and incomplete. Although we may experience fleeting moments of being one with another or within ourselves, it quickly disappears. This momentary and counterfeit oneness causes progressive alienation and loneliness. To separate sex and love is to fragment ourselves. Sexuality is a gift and opportunity from God for both spiritual and psychological growth” and wholeness.73 The human person naturally desires to be free, peaceful and whole. She seeks a oneness of body, mind, heart, and spirit. Sexual desire, given its rightful place within the whole person, includes commitment to joining the physical and spiritual in a loving relationship. The result is peacefulness and harmony within the person and between sexual partners.

Physicality alone, defined as a “physical orientation at the expense of the mental, spiritual, or social,”74 is a limitation set by the physical boundaries of the body. The body is finite; but bringing Christian spirituality into the physical relationship enables the couple to “surpass the limits of eros,”75 or the limitations placed on the relationship by the physical, sexual drive alone. The “energies of desire”76 are at work as a “form of human love”77 when Christ is invited into this most intimate part of the marriage relationship. It is not as if God wants to have sex with the couple. That is absurd and profane. God is Spirit, and as such, it is he who provides the unique and profound spirit of unifying love in each for the other. The experience of love and oneness can be deepened and intensified by the activity of the Spirit in the marital relationship. (See Addendum A for ways to enhance the spiritual-sexual connection, and Addendum B for the benefits of spiritual sexuality).

A contrast and comparison of the divine design for marriage with a distorted view of male-female relations can be instructive:

Cultural Distortion

Divine Design

1)      The hook-up culture; little or no commitment; physicality is primary; the relationship is exclusive to the couple, i.e., the primary social unit, the family, is typically excluded. 1)      A friendship that involves inclusion of families and other friends; acknowledgement that a deeper connection potentially exists between the couple.
2)      The pornographic image, rather than the reality of an intimate sexual relationship; an objectifying of the human person; a distancing between self and other with control and manipulation of primary importance; dispensing with any need for communication and mutual understanding. 2)      Entering into a dynamic and, therefore, at times, unpredictable relationship with another person of equal worth and value; a repudiation, for the man, of a desire or attempt to dominate, and for the woman, a desire or attempt to control.
3)      The seeking of sexual satisfaction and an emotional connection, when married, outside of the marital union; a separation between the physical act and moral considerations; involvement in a deceptive act of betrayal, usually not considered as such. 3)      Attempting to join together the physical and spiritual aspects of the sexual act for the purposes of unification between spouses and procreation; a commitment to one’s spouse that excludes all others from knowing and being known sexually.

Conclusion

Shame and fear, introduced into the human condition immediately after the fall from grace, resulted in hiding and division, man from woman, and both from God. The union enjoyed by the man and the woman was severely impaired; communication was greatly diminished; a loving, trusting relationship with each other and their Creator was seriously disrupted. The consequences of woundedness caused by sin afflicts human beings to this time.

The human heart, referred to as the first battleground, is a place of good and evil. As such, it is prone to deception and external evil influence. The enemy of the soul is gratified when a married man, or any man, turns to satisfaction outside of the marital bond. When a man is doing so, he’ll experience no harassment from the enemy. However, when a man turns from lustful pursuit to communicate with his spouse and his Creator, the struggle on the second battleground ensues.

Spiritual warfare is primarily an interior battle. The sword of the Spirit, the word of God, is the mighty offensive weapon. The victory over all forms of evil was won on the Cross. Christ offers a free share in that victory to anyone who will add his efforts to God’s abundant grace.

Integrating sexuality and spirituality with the body as a vehicle of love includes imitating the unity found in the Triune God: three Persons, one will, one desire, perfect communication. A man and a woman can approach this unity by participating in spiritual sexuality.

 

Addendum A

The following contrasts each of the non-communicative practices on the left with its communicative antidote on the right, describing ways to encourage the sexual-spiritual connection. Passages are from the Jerusalem Bible:

1)      Self-will; ego; control; domination; manipulation. 1)      Endeavoring to emulate the unity of the three Persons in the Godhead: three Persons, one will. God made man in his image, “male and female He created them”78 and his image involves a common will.
2)      Unilateral behavior: each doing his/her own thing; avoiding prayer. 2)      Simply praying together in regard to all manner of issues that come before a married couple: finances, family and friends, children and parenting, faith and morals. Prayer that includes surrender to God’s holy will by both husband and wife decreases conflict, enhances their union, and promotes integrity for each. Unity in one area promotes unity in other areas.
3)      Holding onto resentment; retaliatory behavior. 3)      Practicing forgiveness: Forgiveness, like rock salt on ice, breaks down walls of anger that can arise between a couple and extend into the bedroom. “Don’t go to bed angry” is still a good principle to apply.
4)      Staying away from worship and the sacramental life of the Church. 4)      For Catholic couples: receiving Communion together as often as possible, and remaining close to the sacrament of reconciliation.
5)      Ignoring Holy Scripture; refusing to acknowledge or accept God’s word. 5)      Reading Scripture together, particularly Gen. 2:24—“… they become one body.” An excellent example of sexual praying is found in Tobit 6:18 and 8:6-9, when Tobias prays on their wedding night for himself and his bride, Sarah, according to instruction from the archangel, Raphael: “Before you sleep together, first stand up, both of you, and pray.” And so, Tobias prayed: “You are blessed, O God of our fathers; blessed too is your name forever. It was You who created Adam, You who created Eve, his wife. It was You who said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make him a helpmate like himself.’ And so, I do not take my sisterfor any lustful motive; I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to have pity on her and on me and bring us to old age together. And together they said, ‘Amen, Amen.’”Much of The Song of Songs is both spiritual and erotic. Chapter 3, verse 1: “On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart loves.” And chapter 4, verse 16: “Let my Beloved come into his garden, let Him taste its rarest fruits.”

John 17: 21,23—“May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us … may they be completely one.”

Ephesians 2:14,16,17—“God is the peace between us, and has made the two into one … to unite both in a single body and reconcile us with Him.”

Pray over and meditate on these Scripture verses together.

6)      Categorizing; departmentalizing; fearfulness; rigidity; refusal to integrate, or acknowledge God’s vital interest in encouraging a successful, satisfying marital union. 6)      Nelson79 refers to “sexual praying,” which “enlarges both our experience of God and of ourselves. We find new gratitude for the erotic desires we have felt and for their divine Source. We find relief in facing honestly our sexual anxieties and compulsions and find gratitude for a sexuality that is more wonderful and less fearful than we had sometimes experienced.” Gardella80 adds, “In a good Christian marriage, both husband and wife would know that intercourse is basically a spiritual act (that is, an act of union; a unifying act creating a bond). They would begin and end sex with prayer.”

Ann and Barry Ulanov81 add: “As we pray more, we listen to, and hear, more sides to our sexuality. God gives valuable clues to parts of ourselves we are struggling to accept and have others accept. Recognizing that our sexuality is more subtle and varied, both more masculine and more feminine than we thought, enlarges our understanding of the Source of those resources.” The Ulanovs further argue that “(all can be) brought to their prayers, and made more in their prayers, by their sexual desire;”82 “made more,” that is, deepened, broadened, identity expanded, and learning more what it means to be a man, to be a woman.

7)      Rejecting God as the author of the marital relationship. 7)      Generally, welcoming God more and more deeply into the marriage relationship and all parts of it. Praying, “Lord come fully into all of our relationship including the sexual part.”

Addendum B

The following again contrasts non-communicative practices or conditions on the left with communicative antidotes on the right to describe the benefits of connecting sexuality with Christian spirituality:

1)      Superficial relating; distancing; withdrawal. 1)      A closer, fuller, deeper, more meaningful relationship, and enhancement of interpersonal communication with one’s spouse.
2)      Spiritual stagnation; stunted spirituality; refusal to communicate. 2)      Growth in fellowship with God, one’s Creator, the Alpha and Omega, our Beginning and End.
3)      Lack of inner integrity; bifurcation of body and spirit; disunity within the person; inner conflict; unpeacefulness. 3)      Unification of personality; an internal oneness; unity of the physical and spiritual; inner peace as the battle between the flesh and the spirit is increasingly resolved by means of an integration of body, psyche (soul), and spirit.
4)      Shame and concealment; hiding from one’s spouse; alienation; isolation. 4)      “The absorption of shame by love. Shame is swallowed up by love, dissolved in it, so that the man and the woman are no longer ashamed to be sharing their experience of sexual values” and desire.83
5)      Seeking control or domination; primacy; one-upmanship. 5)      The enhancement of gender equality between the sexes.

 

———–

The author expresses his gratitude to Rev. J. Patrick Mohr, SJ, and Jared Pingleton, PsyD, for their reviews and fine recommendations.

  1. Gn 2:25 (NAB). Scripture references are from Revised Standard Version (RSV); New American Bible (NAB); Jerusalem Bible (JB); and New King James Version (NKJV). With each Scripture verse selection, the author has chosen the wording which best fits within the context of this paper. About references generally: The author has attempted to provide a balance for those of the Protestant and Catholic faiths. There are 19 references to Chuck M. MacKnee, an evangelical and professor at Trinity Western University, which is associated with the Evangelical Free Church of Canada, and 16 references to Pope John Paul II of the Catholic Church. The other works and authors were selected without regard for their particular faith. References were always selected on the basis of relevance and support for the main thesis: union in marriage based on a dynamic relationship with the Creator.
  2. Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, Boston, Pauline Books and Media, (1997), 67.
  3. ibid, 67.
  4. ibid, 56.
  5. ibid, 450.
  6. Gen. 1:26-27 (JB).
  7. Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body, 46, 50; Gen. 2:18 (JB).
  8. Gen. 2:23-24 (RSV, SCE).
  9. Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body, 451.
  10. Gn 3:7 (JB).
  11. Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body, 120.
  12. ibid, 119.
  13. ibid, 56-57.
  14. ibid, 119; 1 John 2:15-17 (NAB).
  15. ibid, 115.
  16. ibid, 119.
  17. ibid, 57.
  18. ibid, 57.
  19. Chuck M. MacKnee, “Profound Sexual and Spiritual Encounters among Practicing Christians: A Phenomenological Analysis,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, Vol. 30, No. 3 (2002), 242.
  20. Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body, 116, 123.
  21. Gn 3:16 (RSV, SCE).
  22. Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body, 126.
  23. John LaBriola, Onward Catholic Soldier, United States: Luke 1:38 Publishing, (2008), 75.
  24. Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body, 119.
  25. ibid, 120.
  26. ibid, 177.
  27. Mt 5:28 (JB).
  28. Tony Evans and The Urban Alternative, Keeping Sex Sacred: Exodus 20:14 (DVD), Dallas, Texas; 2006.
  29. 2 Sm 11:1, 2 (RSV, SCE).
  30. 1 Sm 13:14; 16:7 (RSV, SCE).
  31. Gn 3:13 (RSV, SCE).
  32. Gn 3:12 (RSV, SCE).
  33. 2 Cor 11:3 (RSV, SCE).
  34. 1 Tm 2:14 (RSV, SCE).
  35. Regina Coll, “Toward a Holistic Approach to Human Sexuality,” Religious Education, Vol. 84, No.2 (1989), 266.
  36. Eph 6:10-18 (JB).
  37. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, New York: Harper Collins, Inc. (1942), 171.
  38. ibid, 174-175.
  39. ibid, 175.
  40. ibid, 187.
  41. J. LaBriola, 65-66.
  42. Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, Springfield, MA: G&C Merriam Co. (1972), 439.
  43. S. Chavez-Garcia & D. A. Helminiak, “Sexuality and Spirituality: Friends, Not Foes,” The Journal of Pastoral Care, Vol. 39, No. 2 (1985), 159.
  44. Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., (1981), 126, 215-16.
  45. S. Chavez-Garcia & D. A. Helminiak, 151.
  46. ibid.
  47. C. MacKnee, “Profound Sexual and Spiritual Encounters,” 243.
  48. Austin Flannery (Ed.), Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Articles 49 and 50; Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Document, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press (1975), 952-54; quoted in Chavez-Garcia & Helminiak, 155.
  49. C. MacKnee, “Profound Sexual and Spiritual Encounters,” 241.
  50. ibid.
  51. ibid.
  52. Anne, A Lay Apostle, Lessons in Love, Justice, Illinois: Direction for Our Times, (2010), 81.
  53. C. MacKnee, “Profound Sexual and Spiritual Encounters,” 238.
  54. ibid.
  55. ibid.
  56. ibid, 239.
  57. ibid.
  58. ibid.
  59. ibid.
  60. ibid, 240.
  61. ibid.
  62. ibid.
  63. ibid.
  64. ibid, 241.
  65. ibid, 242.
  66. ibid.
  67. Vincent M. Bilotta, “Sexual Emergence as an Access to the Spiritual Life,” Studies in Formative Spirituality, Whitlinsville, MA: Formation Consultation Services, Inc., (1989, Rev 2004), No. 2, 14, 20.
  68. J. LaBriola, 74.
  69. William Kraft, Whole and Holy Sexuality, St. Meinrad, Indiana: Abbey Press (1989), 96.
  70. ibid, 95.
  71. ibid, 91.
  72. 1Kgs, 19:12.
  73. William Kraft, Whole and Holy Sexuality, 101-02.
  74. Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 638.
  75. Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body, 373.
  76. ibid, 374.
  77. ibid.
  78. Gn 1:27 (JB).
  79. James B. Nelson, The Intimate Connection, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, (1988), 117.
  80. Peter Gardella, Innocent Ecstasy, Oxford: Oxford University Press (1989), 96.
  81. Ann and Barry Ulanov, Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer, Atlanta: John Knox Press (1982), 74-75.
  82. ibid, 83.
  83. K. Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 181.
About Patrick F. Cioni

Patrick F. Cioni is a licensed professional counselor and approved clinical supervisor in private practice located in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His work includes individual, marital, and family counseling. His previous publications have focused on forgiveness in the treatment of difficult emotions, including chronic anger. The author can be reached at: pfcioni@verizon.net.

Comments

  1. Tom McGuire says:

    The article is helpful, especially the addendum at the end. What I found lacking is more attention to the cultural and economic aspects of life that deeply impact the intimacy of married couples. The religious culture that is referred to has entrenched a sense of shame that is not easy to even recognize. On the other hand, shame is so ignored by some that it has no apparent impact on sexual behavior. The economic factors of maintaining a standard of living and raising children cannot be ignored in the discussion of sexuality and spirituality. Finally, I was disappointed that there was little discussion of the role of sexual pleasure or the erotic aspect of love. Just some thoughts after reading what was a very thoughtful article.