Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Gift Of Human Sexual Desire

Over at ER's place, I'm being dissed for my alleged grumpiness because I admit my dislike for C. S. Lewis. One of my complaints stems from my refusal to accept his neo-Platonism in his approach to "love" in his book, The Four Loves. Of course, he isn't alone. Christian writings are filled to the brim with a disdain for human sexuality stretching back to the very beginnings; from St. Paul's writings to contemporary discussions on the alleged superiority of agape over eros, we are inundated with claims that it is far better to love at a certain distance than to actually enjoy the many fruits of our embodiedness (for lack of a better term, I'll just run with this neologism, if you don't mind).

This is an old conversation. In the recent past I have been quite clear in some general way my views on human sexuality. I think it is important to make an even more bold, perhaps bordering on heretical, statement. As I have become increasingly moved by the power and profundity of the banal and mundane, or at least what is called that by those who do not know better, I am increasingly moved by the thought that even the most base human actions are open to being revelatory moments. Whether it is brushing one's teeth, sitting in traffic, balancing a checkbook - these moments can be epiphanic should we be open to the possibility.

Now, lumping human sexuality in with such dull activities might seem at first blush to be a bit of what I call a category mistake. After all, we are dealing on the one hand with the regular tasks of living, and on the other with that strange and wonderful thing that two people share in the most intimate, guarded moments and places in their lives. Yet, I do not think the comparison inapt. Indeed, I think that we place far too much on sexual desire than it could possibly support in a rational consideration of it as a human phenomenon. After all, it is nothing more and nothing less than the result of evolution ensuring the continuation of the species in general, and my specific genetic material in particular. That the genders approach sex differently shouldn't be surprising, either. Their roles, the results of the sexual act differ.

Yet, leaving human sexuality at this most basic level is to make of it something so unremarkable as to be almost hum-drum. In fact, there is something transcendent about those most intimate moments we spend with that other person to whom we have opened our lives. They define "eternity" in a way that makes the word real. While careful not to overload it with too much baggage, I think it is unremarkable to note that this is not so much because the human sexual act is of itself transcendent; rather, through the intervention of a good God, these most base, animal moments in our lives can become a vehicle for understanding the power of powerlessness, the strength inherent in vulnerability, and what it means to truly surrender oneself to another. The moments are indeed fleeting. That doesn't mean they aren't real.

I would add, for the record, that the Bible celebrates the most sensual, erotic appreciation of one person for another, in the beautiful poem called "The Song of Songs". Chockablock with detailed references to the rapturous beauty of each body part of the object of desire, the poem shows that, in fact, the simplest, most basic part of human life is nonetheless abundant with moments not just of grace, but transcendent power. I once had a minister tell me that to change the book in to mere metaphor is to rob it of its power. "Retain the earthiness" was his advice, and I have always held on to that.

I should also add, again for whatever record exists, that I am not limiting myself here to the love and desire between a man and a woman. My experience, however is limited to that, but I would also say that same-sex desire is no different. I'm sure heads are exploding as they read that line, but what the hell.

Anyway, the United Methodist Church affirms that human sexuality is a gift from a good God, and who am I to take umbrage at such a claim?

Virtual Tin Cup

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