The Bible’s “Sex Issue”

Vue Weekly’s "sex issue" which my wife and I read, ahem, discreetly, over lunch at Sherlock Holmes last Sunday got me thinking about the Bible’s "sex issue". That is, the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon. It’s the one book in the Bible we Christians have long been embarrassed by. Not too embarrassed by the mayhem in say, Judges, just the erotic poetry of the Song. And apparently there was, over the years, efforts to remove it from the Bible.

But taking the Song of Songs out of the Bible would be like plucking the cherry of the sundae, like scraping the meringue of the lemon meringue pie, like going to a comedy club where they ban all laughter and well…you get the picture… like taking sex out of marriage.

God bless our ancient Hebrew mentors who loved to live in their bodies, understood that denying our sensuality and sexuality would be denying the very thing that draws us and links us to God. Our spirituality has everything to do with our desire, our passion, our energy.

The Song, taken on its own as a celebration of sexuality already earns its place in Holy Scripture. But seen as well as imagery of God’s love for us and our potential love for God it becomes possibly one of the "holiest books" in scripture. It becomes a burning fire. That’s hot.

Yes, God’s love for us is paternal, maternal and fraternal but perhaps until we understand that his love for us, her desire for us, is ravishing, is all consuming, is penetrating, out of control to the point where we commingle, as the NT says live inside one another, we will only be able to love in a truncated way.

In the act(s) of sexual love we are most free, vulnerable, open, we give and receive in ways that go beyond concepts and thought, in ways that even halt time. In the sexual act we gain an existential understanding of love. (By the way I do believe that this kind of existential understanding of love can be gained by our celibate brothers and sisters which only serves to strengthen the notion that celibacy is a unique gift.)

The eroticism in the Song is not a fallen form of love. It is who we are, sensual, erotic, passionate.

The preaching I heard growing up made me feel guilty about desires and pleasures. And of course the Song of Songs was avoided. It was hardly ever referred to and when it was it was always spiritualized so as to sterilize it beyond recognition. This I think was a Platonist attempt to regain for it a purity it certainly didn’t need because it already was pure. It was thought, I suppose, that this way of treating the Song would keep our passions in check, keep them underground so that we would be kept safe from pleasure which equalled sin.

Sebastian Moore, a Benedictine priest turns this conventional view of sin on its ear when he says, “Sin stems from a lack of desire for pleasure.”

Before dismissing Dom Moore we need to think about what he is saying. The Song of Songs is passionate, erotic, full of life and love and desire. It not only frees us, but beckons us to become participants and partaker’s of a love life with God.

When life beckons to us like a lover do we embrace it or do we retreat? Or do we even allow life to beckon to us this way?

We fear the Song’s passion and its eroticism because we see it through the squandered sexuality of the blue screen. The Song, if read aright, is an antidote to trivialized, loveless, passionless, (essentially inhuman) sexuality. It is capable of reorienting our desire for another, therefore of God. Our desires and yes, our desire for pleasure is God’s calling card.

Jesus came so that we could have life abundantly. He came not as an ethereal presence but robed with flesh and longing.

When we see our sexuality as apart from and inferior to our spirituality, we are setting up a distinction that God doesn’t make. When we see procreation as apart from and inferior to prayer we fall into the Gnostic heresy that says the (pure) spirit needs to be freed from flesh which is the house of evil. Perhaps in this case we are still in need of emancipation from the debilitating dualism of a Greek/Western world view.

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  1. I’d be interested in hearing more about your thoughts on the Greek/Western worldview at some point. I know that we live with a dualism lens that has “blinded” us – a lens which I believe keeps us from knowing God rather than embracing him in the deep way that you’ve described. By the way, I agree with your understanding of the Song of Songs…

  2. Go Steve!

    I’ve soooo often felt the distinction between body and spirit to be an artificial one, and feel most connected to God, and most spiritually alive, when I connect to other human beings in very human ways — over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or a meal, through a touch, the sharing of thought, desire, pain, hope, joy….all the ordinary things that make up our lives everyday. I think it’s true that God lives in the spaces between us and in us, and that the spiritual can’t be separated from our skin and bones. And I’m so tired of sterile, asexual, theoretical, cerebral, incomplete spirituality.

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