May 28, 2010

Prayer and Sex

I have a prayerful friend with whom I sometimes talk about prayer and spiritual things. Recently she mentioned something that really fascinated me. She said that it was hard for her to understand what a man's prayer life could be like. For her, the experience of prayer and her relationship with God was so nuptial, so grounded in her femaleness and the maleness of Jesus Christ, that it was hard for her to imagine the prayer life of a male Christian.

Certainly there is something deeply feminine about all of Christian spirituality. The Church is the bride of Christ, after all, the abiding sign and fruit of the marriage of humanity and God, of earth and heaven, accomplished in the Incarnation of the Word. Authentic Christian spirituality is always ordered to mission, and in this sense Christian spirituality is always Marian in nature: we are called to consent to the Holy Spirit's conception of the Word of God within us, which we then nurture and bear to the world. Nevertheless, we can't push the femininity of Christian spirituality and discipleship in absolute terms; the Church is also the Body of Christ, acting in persona Christi, served by priests who minister in persona Christi capitis. So perhaps it's a classic 'both/and.'

Grace builds on nature. Since our sexuality is a constitutive part of our nature, we can expect our graced and prayerful selves to be expressions of who we are as sexual beings. What is our sexuality, in spiritual terms? It is the part of the person that drives thought, affection, and body out of the self in the quest for creative and supportive bond with another. It is the drive, at the heart of our being, to live in a bond of mutual generativity. In this sense our sexuality is the means by which we come to the clearest expression of how we are as creatures made in the image and likeness of the infinitely mutual and generative Trinity.

This is the sense in which deep prayer becomes a sexual relationship with God. Not that it's a genital relationship, and not necessarily an erotic one, but a sexual relationship nonetheless because it derives from the sexuality of the person who seeks a supportive, creative, mutually generative bond with God.


Dan Lower said...

What does "in persona Christi capitis" mean?

Unknown said...

Great post, brother! Awesome food for thought!

I was thinking about a similar thing during my time in California. Basically, our faith, especially as Franciscans is that 'it's all about the relationship'. The idea of union is expressed both in sexual relationships (two becoming one) but also in the Eucharist. From my reflections, it seems that the idea of physical union takes on a different dynamic when it is Christocentric; Eucharist becomes our true union of body and soul to Christ, and sexuality and thus our physical/sexual expression takes on a different dynamic when we consider our relationship with God, especially as "God is Spirit" (John's Gospel).

In this way, I suppose, our chastity and celibacy allows us to enter into a complete spousal relationship with God. Our sexual union takes on a different dynamic precisely because it is centered on God.

Anyway, that is just a little sketch of what I was musing about!

Brother Charles said...

in persona Christi capitis is a phrase sometimes used to describe the ministry of the ordained, "in the person of Christ the Head."

Mark D. said...

Ah, this is why men usually don't pray as much as women or go to church as much as women. There is a profound sense in which the soul is "feminine" -- anima -- that it is difficult for men, for the most part, to really develop the kind of relationship with God that women have. Men have to renounce a very definite part of their nature to make it happen (analogous to celibacy in that way, I think) -- and most men aren't going to really be comfortable doing that (just like that vast majority of men are not able to embrace celibacy).

Rachel said...

I also have a hard time imagining how men relate to God. It's strange to think that God would create the sexes such that one sex has a harder time praying. But clearly Mark in Spokane is right that Christian women go to church more and pray more than Christian men.

Anyone read the poems of St. John of the Cross? There's a feminine passionate yielding quality to them; I really love them.

By the way, I don't know if celibacy is any easier for women than for men, not because they have to sacrifice sex but because they have to sacrifice the loving supportive relationship they might have in marriage. Most women long for that.

Author Greg said...

Wow. The question speaks to me, nay, verily shouts at me, about the shift in focus toward the flesh body and away from the spirit.

The flesh body is a temporary vehicle that grabs so much of our attention that it tends to sink our spiritual nature into the mud.

I have just been reading passages from Origen who grapples ably with the separate nature of flesh and spirit. Perhaps we have too few such discussions in this age.

Not only is God spirit but we, too, when we leave this body behind, are spirit and it is here we find union and communion.

But we need not wait, as our essential nature as spirit exists here and now and it is through this essential nature as spirit, not through our nature as flesh, that we meet God in prayer.

When we truly rise up in prayer to meet Him, we might ask, Body? What body?

Don said...

Interesting comments and one more from me. I think Christianity and specifically my own experience of Roman Catholicism can be very feminine. The Mother church, Marian devotion and the Rosary both smack of the feminine spirit. So too does the Holy Spirit. Just last week at Mass, the Friars had placed a picture of the Ruach in front of the altar. I love the picture because it portrays the feminine image of God breathing life into the world. It could easily be the incarnation itself which is of course a very feminine image. Well, those are my thoughts.

Judy said...

This sounds vaguely familiar! Having read John Michael Talbot's "The Lover and the Beloved," I found a man with a highly feminine perspective. I could really relate to him. Another writer who is really "visceral" is Alphonsus Liguori. His writing is so passionate and filled with emotion. Uh, isn't that sometimes looked upon as a feminine quality?
Well, there is another man who really shows his feminine side in his writing. H-m-m-m! I wonder if I would find a masculine side in the writings of a female?