Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Between Us & Thee: Marital Intimacy and Divine Love


School of the Spirit: On Being a Spiritual Nurturer

Research Project

May, 2013


photo by Audry Deal-McEver


Lord if I ever needed someone, I need You
Lord if I ever needed someone I need You

To see me through the daytime
And through the long lonely night
To lead me through the darkness
And on into the light
To stand with me when I'm troubled
And help me through my strife
When times get so uncertain to turn to You
Turn to You in my young life

Lord if I ever needed someone, I need You
Lord if I ever needed someone I need You

Someone to hold onto
And keep me from all fear
Someone to be my guiding light
And keep me ever dear
To keep me from my selfishness
To keep me from my sorrow
To lead me on to givingness
So I can see a new tomorrow

Lord if I ever needed someone, I need You
Lord if I ever needed someone I need You

Someone to walk with
Oh someone to hold by the hand
Someone to talk with
Someone to understand, yeah, yeah
Oh, when I need You
Yeah, I need You very much
To open up my arms to You
Feel Your tender touch
To feel it and to keep it
To be right here in my soul
And care for it and keep it with me
Never to grow old


* * *
When I need you

Up until I began making a compilation CD for the man I was falling in love with who would a year later become my husband, I only understood this song in terms of relationship with the Divine. To me, the singer was literally beseeching God, “to be my guiding light and keep me ever dear.” The seed of my new relationship had been planted several years before when we began talking about our spiritual lives, first through our blogs and then in person at Quaker youth retreats. I found Mark to be a kindred spirit: someone whose relationship with God encouraged and edified me.

When Mark and I made the decision to begin dating, we had already spent many hours talking about God in our lives. Music is an important part of my spiritual practice so I wanted to share with him some of the songs that draw me closer to God. As I added this song, the lightbulb went off and I realized Van Morrison is singing about a longing for God and equally for a human relationship rooted in the spiritual but fully human and sensuous. I had dreamed of a union like this my entire adult life and was awed and humbled by the gift God was giving me.

* * *

Vulnerability

I believe that the main thing any of us wants in life is to be known for who we truly are. But for others to know us, we have to open and share our authentic selves. It would seem this is the easiest, really the natural thing to do: Be yourself. How difficult doing so really is. We all carry layers of conditioning that protect us from exposure that might lead to hurt. From family-of-origin stuff to junior high school bullying to romantic rejection to social pressure to conform. We want to be known but there are many risks in showing our inner selves and we all have the emotional scars to prove it. Safer to keep our true selves hidden but if we’re given the exact right conditions, we may let people very close to us get little glimpses. Some of us even find it safer to only share our innermost thoughts with strangers in random anonymous encounters than with those with whom we are closest.

The word intimate is derived from Latin and means “most within”. It would seem that the sexual, emotional, and daily familiarity of marriage would facilitate sharing our most within selves but this is often not the case. When we are married, the emotional stakes are higher and the pain upon rejection is much greater. Sharing aspects of our truest inner selves, whether sexual, emotional, or spiritual, with one another becomes far riskier because the consequences reflect on not only our ideas about ourselves but also our beliefs about our marriages. If I tell you I have this dream and you are unable to accept it because it conflicts with your perception of who I am and you respond negatively out of fear of change, not only do I feel rejected but I may also squelch the dream and deny that yearning. No, far safer to keep it to myself.

God calls us to intimacy. If our great desire is to have our true selves known by another human, how much more our yearning to be known by God. In order to be known by God, though, we must open ourselves to God. God, of course, already knows our truest selves. We try to conceal ourselves but our Divine Parent knows us to our very soul. We think we are hidden, but really we hide from ourselves. The painful part of opening to God is that we first have to open ourselves to our own observations and judgements about what we’ve pretended does not exist. We have to examine the things we allow to come between ourselves and God and doing so is often uncomfortable or even painful. Easier and safer to keep busy with the television on and a full schedule than to make the time and inner space for reflection and inner observation. But if we are to have a mature relationship with the Holy Spirit, a true relationship in which both parties are present and engaged, we have to allow God within ourselves and the only way to do that is to become vulnerable.

The beauty of marriage is that through our relationship with our spouse, as we are ready, we learn how to move out of fear of self-disclosure and into trust and openness. Marriage has the potential to teach us how to unveil ourselves and share our most inner selves with another and in doing so, we also prepare ourselves to open to God.

For some, this occurs naturally as a result of much spiritual and emotional work. For others, it is a gradual process occurring in fits and starts as individuals change and grow. Others, though, find they have no choice but to share their authentic selves because a life in which one must keep one's true self protected and hidden has ceased to be meaningful (this is the root of mid-life crises, I think).

Being our true selves in our marriages means not hiding or running from the parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable. It means being willing to explore what works and what doesn’t. All relationships are about give and take. In marriage, this is true 24/7-for-the-rest-of-our-lives. In marriage we must find ways to meet the needs of another person without denying our own needs, not just the “lid up or lid down” type of questions (which are only a problem when they are symbolic of other, larger problems) but true needs. “When you do this, I feel this way. Would you please explore that with me?” or, “I don’t understand what you mean when you say that. I thought I did but I'm not sure. Could you tell me more?” Marriage should be the place where we can talk about our fears, problems, dreams, hopes, and fantasies. Our partner may not share them, may not even fully understand them but, in a truly intimate relationship, they accept us as we are without denying, censoring, or manipulating parts that make them uncomfortable. Because of this acceptance, we then have the freedom to explore ourselves openly, allowing us to grow emotionally and spiritually.

Sexuality, naturally, is the most intimate aspect of an intimate relationship: the facet most tender and risky. Couples may disagree more often about money or chores but sexual intimacy is the place where everything that each person brings to the relationship and everything that is created between them is realized. Cultural and religious conditioning, family of origin stuff, sexual history, mood, age, health, energy level and so many other things impact what happens between loving partners. True intimacy requires vulnerability which requires becoming aware of and then releasing layers of habit developed to protect our fragile egos. Trust in oneself is imperative as is a faith that what is on the other side of self-disclosure will be better than what happens with the masks on.

John Calvi, in his article Quakers, Sexuality, and Spirituality in the June 2004 issue of Friends Journal:

I think the most important similarity between [sexuality and spirituality] is the concept of surrender. By this, I don’t mean giving up. We have aspects of ourselves that long for something larger and greater than us. If you learn how to surrender in one realm, you can transfer that wisdom into other realms. If you know about surrendering to true love, then there’s the possibility that you can use that learning for surrender to deeper spiritual experience.
If you have done the surrender to deeper spiritual experience, you can use that learning for surrendering to true love. The latter is never an easy surrender because life hurts so much. Sometimes true love comes along—if it does come along, and it sometimes seems we have been waiting a long time, too long—but when it does come along, you have to ask yourself: “Can I unpack the bags? Take out all my disappointments, all my anxiety, and set them aside and really join with this other person?”

This is true of romantic love but it’s also true of more casual relationships. There are lots of different kinds of surrender, lots of ways of learning about this very important concept. When we learn surrender in one place, we can use it to surrender in another place.

I want to conclude with a description. It is this: I take a very tender part of myself and relax it completely. I find that I am able to surrender to something larger than just me. There are many different and amazing feelings and lots of sensation. It can become very exciting and exhausting. It concludes, I experience separation, and it’s just me again. I try to understand everything that’s happened. Now, my query to you is: am I describing surrender to the Holy Spirit in meeting for worship—or am I describing lovemaking? It might be that they are remarkably similar.

Authenticity

I’m thinking about sex here, specifically women’s sexuality. I dig the writer Anne Lamott. I love her honesty and the truths that she speaks. I read a new essay, “My Year on Match.com” by her on Salon.com recently which was brilliant and funny but this part made me sad:

I am skittish about relationships, as most of the marriages I’ve seen up close have been ruinous for one or both parties. In four-fifths of them, the men want to have sex way more often than the women do. I would say almost none of the women would care if they ever got laid again, even when they are in good marriages. They do it because the man wants to. They do it because it makes the men like them more, and feel close for a while, but mostly women love it because they get to check it off their to-do lists. It means they get a pass for a week or two, or a month. It is not on the women’s bucket lists. I’m sorry to have to tell you this.

I’ve heard this same sentiment echoed by many women. Sex is a chore they must do to maintain harmony in their relationship. Sex is something they feel they should want but just don't. “Is that all there is?” seems to be the bewildered lament of younger women. “Been there, done that” the weary phrase of more mature ones.

Historically this has not been the case, as a recent article I read on Alternet.com by Alyssa Goldstein entitled “When Women Wanted Sex More” illustrates:

The Puritans believed that sexual desire was a normal and natural part of human life for both men and women (as long as it was heterosexual and confined to marriage), but that women wanted and needed sex more than men. A man could choose to give up sex with relatively little trouble, but for a woman to be so deprived would be much more difficult for her.

Jews believe so strongly this same thing that it is written into most Katubah (Jewish wedding contract) that the man has three obligations to his wife in marriage: Food, shelter, and sexual fulfillment. Neither spouse should deny sexual intimacy to the other but the greater emphasis is placed on the wife’s sexual needs because they were known to be stronger. In their book Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Jonathan Mark write:

The Talmud does not tell a woman when she should make love. Presumably she is always to be available, as she wishes, except when she is having her period. But men are told exactly how often they should make love, based on their professions. (italics mine)

So how did we go from understanding that women had such the stronger sex drive that their husbands had a religious command to make sweet love to his wife to the modern belief that men are the more sexually driven? How did we go from “...is is written that if a man is unemployed and has nothing to do, he must make love to his wife at least once a day. A laborer, presumably coming home exhausted, must make love to his wife at least twice a week...” to, “Not tonight dear, I have a headache”?

And I don't mean to imply that this problem rests only with women. Every so often a spate of articles will appear on-line citing the fact that men, too, fake orgasm. In a recent interview promoting his book Why Men Fake It, Dr. Abraham Morgentaler cited an on-line survey in which 31% of presumably young men admitted to faking it. He explained, “the reasons men fake it are actually pretty similar to the reasons that women fake it. . . . They’re kind of letting the other person know that they’ve done a good job.” Additionally, the statistics about the number of people in sexless marriages are staggering.

Modern life is stressful. Duh. I’m not implying that life was easier in the long ago what with pestilence and plagues and all that but I imagine that people were more connected to their bodies than we are today. We live in our heads, through our eyes and ears for the most part, and often ignore or are unaware of our bodies as anything more than vehicles to transport the to-do lists that are constantly being revised in our brains. We are disconnected from our muscles and bones and our work does not root our bodies in the world around us. When it is time for bed, we turn off the laptop and the TV, set the phone to silent and snuggle up next to our mate, exhausted. We remember with fondness the fire we felt for one another when our relationships were new but have difficulty mustering the energy to express any but warm affection for one another.

Women, especially, seem more disconnected from the pleasures our bodies hold. The things in our heads distract us from our ability to center into our senses and the delight of our physical selves. We need more time and energy to find the ember of our sexuality hidden under layers of other (decidedly unsexy) identities but time and energy are the very things most lacking. Often, for the sake of harmony, possibly guilt, but mostly because we genuinely love our mates, we kindle enough warmth to connect briefly with one another, expressing our love but not connecting with our true sexual nature.

What happens, though, when we go through the motions with one another is that we introduce falseness into our relationship. That's not to say that we should never go along with our beloved when he or she is in the mood and we're not quite there: We certainly should. We do ourselves and our marriages a terrible disservice, though, when we deny ourselves pleasure for expedience. When we forgo pleasure because we're tired and finding the way to connect with our sexuality is hard to do, we're saying that our marriage, and really we ourselves, are not worth the time and energy. When we don't share our true feelings with our spouse but instead go through the motions to keep the peace or, worse, avoid the potential for any sexual contact because it is awkward or disappointing, we're introducing inauthenticity into our marriages.

In order to have a truly intimate marriage, we have to be able to be honest with our partner. Disclosing these things can be risky and frightening but we must be vulnerable about our needs when things are not-so-good, as well as when we're feeling secure and want to expand our sexual repertoire. We need to be able to say to one another, “You know, I am happy to be with you tonight but I'm feeling tired and distracted. Can you be patient and help me to catch up to where you are?” Doing so may require some digging into ourselves to figure out what we are feeling and what that means in practical terms. Sharing in this way requires each partner to own responsibility for what happens; we can't simply rely on routine to get us through. It may feel awkward and uncomfortable to explicitly say things that are typically not spoken between spouses but in order for authentic intimacy to be achieved, it is imperative for us to learn to talk about the things that have the potential to either drive us apart or draw us closer together.

From Miguel A. De La Torre's book A Lily Among the Thorns: Imagining a New Christian Sexuality:

For some, having sex always with the same partner can become somewhat routine, predictable, if not repetitive. After the newness of physical passion starts to dwindle with the passage of time, we need not simply accept that sex goes from being red-hot to ho-hum. Great sex does not have to be perpetually linked to newer, younger, and hotter bodies, nor must the constant pursuit of new forms of pleasurable stimuli jade the enduring joy of sex. What makes sex great is not the act of obtaining physical gratification with and through another body, but the intimacy that comes with vulnerability. It is the intimacy created by two becoming one that enhances and heightens sexual pleasure, not the actual act of penetration. Through the process of revealing our inner self to our beloved, not only do we create intimacy, but we gain the power to heal our dysfunction by calming our deepest fears and satisfying our most intense yearnings. Even in the absence of penetration, whether due to illness, old age, or forced separation (such as war or imprisonment), sex can still remain great so long as it enhances intimacy.

I wonder, too, how often we go through the motions with God. Are our prayers cursory or rote? Is the time we spend with our spiritual communities more social than Spirit-filled? Do we make time for spiritual practice and if we do, are we really paying attention? Do we share our true selves with God? How do we establish more authenticity in our relationship with God? Are we willing to put the time and energy into our relationship with God that we do in our marriage?

Covenant Marriage

There's a lot of talk in mainstream evangelical Christianity about “Covenant Marriage” which is defined as a legally binding marriage commitment. Louisiana was the first state to approve Covenant Marriage as a state-sanctioned legal option. This definition is from the Louisiana Department of Health and Human Services website:

The couple who chooses to enter into a covenant marriage agrees to be bound by two significant provisions on obtaining a divorce or separation. These stipulations do not apply to other couples married in Louisiana:
  1. The couple legally agrees to seek marital counseling if problems develop during the marriage; and
  2. The couple can seek a divorce or legal separation for limited reasons only, as explained herein.
In order to enter into a covenant marriage, the couple must sign a Declaration of Intent that provides:
  1. A marriage agreement to live together as husband and wife forever;
  2. The parties have chosen each other carefully and disclosed to each other "everything which could adversely affect" the decision to marry;
  3. The parties have received premarital counseling;
  4. A commitment that if the parties experience marital difficulties they agree to make all reasonable efforts to preserve their marriage, including marital counseling; and
  5. The couple also must obtain premarital counseling from a priest, minister, rabbi or similar clergyman of any religious sect, or from a professional marriage counselor.

There are obviously many problems with creating a new legal category for marriage but I will only address one here: That of making something that should be divinely inspired between two people externally proscribed through social pressure.

Quaker theologian and recorded minister Lloyd Lee Wilson defines a covenant relationship this way: “A relationship initiated by God, to which we as human beings respond in faith.” In his book Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, he writes about covenant communities but his ideas also apply to relationships between individuals.

Friends understanding of the monthly meeting as covenant community is that in the Gospel Order, God is calling individuals to live in covenant with Him and through that covenant in community with one another. The covenant itself is stated by the writer of Hebrews as “in their minds I will plant my Laws, writing them on their hearts, and I shall never more call their sins to mind, or their offenses.” Most importantly, Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, as he is the only true mediator between God and human beings. Because of the covenant relationship we have with God through Christ we are enabled and equipped to live together as human beings in a way that witnesses to his relationship with us and serves as an outpost of the Kingdom of God on earth.

In other communities of which we are a part, we choose to be in a relationship with the members of the community . . . In the covenant community [marriage], we choose to be in relationship with God, and God gives us to one another and to the community. Our primary bond is to God, which makes the community [marriage] itself resilient and capable of great healing. The crisis and interpersonal failures which could destroy a human community [marriage] become, in the covenant community [marriage], opportunities for the love of God to heal and reconcile us to one another, and for the community [marriage] to witness about God's healing and presence to the world.

photo by Audry Deal-McEver
In a true covenant marriage, the first relationship is with God who then provides or strengthens our relationship with our beloved spouse so that our marriage is a reflection of our love for God and God's love for us. In the legally defined idea of covenant marriage, the first relationship is with a community which dictates the beliefs and goals a couple should aspire to in relation to God. This is a thwarting of how God calls us to union.

God seeks us and invites us into relationship (knocks at the doors of our hearts, if you will). We slowly learn to hear and respond. As the relationship develops, we become more responsible for maintaining it. We must make time to spend in prayer, communion, listening and waiting. We grow in faith and learn to submit ourselves, seeking God's will for us. This submission is vulnerability; we are learning to open ourselves to Christ. When we are living in harmony with God's will, the facets of our lives fall into place so that we want to live for God and the things we had previously allowed to come between us and God become less important.

When marriage partners have prepared themselves, when they live in God's will as individuals and as a couple, God blesses them with a deepening of their relationship. What better gift than to share a love encouraged by God?

Jewish tradition considers marriage to be the foundational spiritual relationship upon which all of society is built. From the page Marriage on the website Jewish Life Cycle:

The degree of holiness that Judaism ascribes to marriage is attested by the tradition that God can be present in the marriage partnership. "When husband and wife are worthy, the Divine Presence abides with them." The idea that the bond of marriage is sacred and eternal, a reflection of the berit [covenant] between God and the people Israel, goes back to the Bible, particularly to the prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea. . . . Consequently of all the joyous occasions of Judaism, the heartiest Mazal Tov is reserved for the wedding.

To the Jewish imagination, the wedding is a prototypical act of creation. The Zohar, the great book of Jewish mysticism, states, "God creates new worlds constantly. In what way? By causing marriages to take place." The wedding is the premiere life-cycle event. Although the core of the ritual is simplicity itself, the customs, symbols and rituals associated with Jewish weddings spill over into more than a year's worth of celebration and joy. . . . Reb Nachman of Bratslav, a 17th century Hasidic master, is credited with a wonderful story on this subject:

A group of people who have been to a wedding are walking home when one says, "That was a beautiful wedding. The food was out of this world." One of her companions says, "It was a great wedding. The band was terrific." A third friend chimes in, "I never had more fun at a wedding. I got to talk to people I hadn't seen in years." But Reb Nachman, who overhears this conversation, says, "Those people weren't really at a wedding." Then a fourth person joins the group and says, "Isn't it wonderful that those two people found each other!" At that Reb Nachman says, "Now that person was at a wedding!"

Marriage is symbolically sacred, bringing two people together and making them one. When both partners also have an abiding relationship with God, their marriage becomes something even greater than the union of two individuals: With God, a marriage can become a shelter and a blessing for all those whose lives are touched by the couple.


* * *
Clover

Mark and I began dating short months after we each experienced cataclysmic changes in our lives. We both lost 20 year marriages: Him through the death of his first wife and me through divorce. Being with him felt holy, erotic, and comfortable in equal measures. From the first moment we talked together as unmarried people, it was as if God had brought us together. We prayed often, trying to remain open to any hints from God that the delight we found in the other was getting in the way of God’s will for us. One day I walked an outdoor labyrinth in deep prayer, asking God to guide us so we did not put our growing love for one another and the pleasure we found together ahead of our faithfulness. As I looked down, I noticed a clover and was given the insight that our union is not between the two of us but is, like the clover, in three equal parts: Mark, me, and the Holy Spirit.


* * *
Union

The couple, too, are blessed by the openness and sanctity of living together for God. Intimacy, especially sexual intimacy, is a gift given to us by our Maker. God wants us to be drawn together, to take pleasure in loving one another. On the Kosher Sex website, the article The Idea of Holiness says this:

Jewish tradition contains the powerful statement, "In the world to come, a man will have to account for every legitimate pleasure which he has denied himself." Sex is viewed as a vital part of God's creation; it is good, and meant to be enjoyed. However, while modern secular culture emphasizes a hedonistic approach to sex, pleasure in Judaism is intimately tied to the commandment "mitzva"--to a higher purpose. The Torah views certain sexual encounters as detracting from holiness and others as enhancing sexual relations. Only humans can elevate the sexual act above the biological level, thereby bringing to it a spiritual quality.

From the article Marital Intimacy by Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman on the website Nishmat: Women's Health & Halachel:

The Torah does not subscribe to the notion of an irreconcilable struggle between the physical and the spiritual, and is, in fact, unequivocal in its rejection of this philosophy. On the contrary, the Torah maintains that, if used properly, the physical becomes an indispensable aid in achieving spiritual greatness. This is accomplished in two ways: First, physical activity is much more effective at impressing an idea into the soul than intellectual contemplation alone could be. Almost every mitzvah [commandment] involves using some element of the physical world to serve God. Our job is to take the gifts of this world and elevate them to the heights of holiness. The Shabbat, for example, is sanctified over a cup of wine - words alone will not suffice.

Second, the Torah views the enjoyment of physical pleasure as desirable, since each pleasure provides an opportunity to feel and express gratitude to the One who created and provided this enjoyment.

The Torah's view of pleasure differs dramatically from that prevalent in Western society. Western society prizes pleasure and directs much of its energy, imagination, and resources to its pursuit. Obligations and responsibilities are viewed as the price one must sometimes pay for pleasure.

The Torah also values pleasure – but with a significant difference. Duties and responsibilities are not the inevitable "cost" of pleasure. Rather, pleasure is a welcome by-product that accompanies the proper fulfillment of many of our God-given obligations. In such instances, pleasure introduces a duty (in fact, an opportunity) to feel and express gratitude to the Giver of all pleasures. But pleasure is not primary – our responsibilities to God are.

The Torah's view of sexuality is a perfect illustration of the general Torah attitude toward the physical world and its pleasures. Physical relations between a husband and wife are meant to be pleasurable. Having marital relations is a fulfillment of two separate mitzvot –pru ur'vu (procreation) and onah (marital intimacy itself).

Pru ur'vu and Onah are the paradigm mitzvot because they reflect the uniquely Jewish approach to sanctifying the physical world through mitzvah observance. These mitzvot are the most dramatic examples of the phenomenon of elevating the physical world to the heights of the spiritual in that the element of the physical world which these mitzvot allow is the one most susceptible to abuse and lack of sanctity.

The term for this most intimate relationship between a couple is "devek" (lit., union, attachment). The Torah commands: "Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and cling ("davak") to his wife" (Bereshit 2:24). Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki] states that pleasure produces devek (Sanhedrin 58a,b). In the Torah view, the pleasure of marital intimacy serves the positive function of maximizing the attachment between husband and wife.

The Ramban's [Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman] commentary on davak (Bereshit 2:24) emphasizes that marriage will cause an emotional, not just physical, union between husband and wife. The desire to enhance emotional closeness accounts for the halacha's [body of Jewish religious law] disapproval of certain behaviors such as thinking about another when having relations with one's spouse, having relations when one is drunk, or having relations without mutual consent. In these situations, physical pleasure has been divested of the emotional component which would produce devek. That is exactly what the Torah does not want.

On the other hand, sexual sanctity, transforming the experience from a physical act of sexual self-gratification to a spiritual act of selfless concern and consideration, is best obtained through maximizing the pleasure of one's spouse during intimacy.

Gershon Winkler in Sacred Secrets: The Sanctity of Sex in Jewish Law and Lore says this:

Judaism considers sexual desire and intercourse as very essential to the process of spiritual unfolding and evolving.

Both ancient and medieval kabbalistic teachings reflect this paradoxical relationship between sex and spirituality, that the very selfsame urge that distracts you from matters of the spirit is the very selfsame urge that you need to pay attention to in order to engage matters of the spirit. Basically, it boils down to this: Whether sex brings you closer to your spirituality or diverts your attention from your spirituality depends on what kind of consciousness and intention you choose to invoke in the course of lusting and lovemaking. The great masters were not removed from their sexuality because of their saintliness. On the contrary, the more spiritually evolved you are, the rabbis taught, the more sexually evolved you are.

Intention

Mark and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary and the second anniversary of our first date last weekend. We joke that we started on our honeymoon two years ago and we don't see any signs that it will end anytime soon. As joyfully in love as we still feel, we sometimes struggle with communication, not so much between us as within our individual selves. There are times when figuring out what's going on inside takes some exploration to uncover. Finding the words to share insights can be equally challenging and often requires a great deal of vulnerability and trust. Each time we work through a personal insight that has impact on our relationship, we are drawn closer together.

The pleasures and opportunities for inner growth that happen between us, however, often eclipse our intention to live our lives centered in Christ. Rather than turning to God in prayer, we talk with one another.

The passage from the Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman article on Marital Intimacy quoted above speaks to my condition: “...pleasure is a welcome by-product that accompanies the proper fulfillment of many of our God-given obligations. In such instances, pleasure introduces a duty (in fact, an opportunity) to feel and express gratitude to the Giver of all pleasures. But pleasure is not primary – our responsibilities to God are.” When Mark and I were first together, this was exactly how it felt to me; we had both been faithful to God and we were given this amazing gift as a blessing for our faithfulness. The gift, however, rather than increasing awareness of our responsibility to God, has drawn us away. 1 Corinthians 7 verses 32-35 (NRSV) says:

I want you to be free from anxieties [carefulness/
complications/concerns in various translations]. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.

Given that Paul said this, I get the feeling that God is understanding of this distraction. Nevertheless, our first duty is to our Creator. As Winkler said in the above quote, “ Whether sex brings you closer to your spirituality or diverts your attention from your spirituality depends on what kind of consciousness and intention you choose to invoke . . . “.

Peter Blood, in the article In the Presence of God and These Our Friends: Embodiment, Sex & Our Life in God on the website, Quakersong.org says:

Is there a conflict between giving my whole heart to God and giving my whole heart to my human partner? Jesus says that the two great commandments are to love God with all your heart and all your soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. This certainly implies that these two commandments are not in competition. In loving my partner I give bodily expression to my love for the infinite Spirit. My faithfulness to God will continually guide m[e] in new ways to love my partner without limits. I suspect if I experience a conflict between love of God and love of my partner, then I have not gone deep enough in discovering how to love in either or both of these core relationships in my life.

This leads me back to where I started with this prayer:


Lord if I ever needed someone, I need You
Lord if I ever needed someone I need You

Someone to hold onto
And keep me from all fear
Someone to be my guiding light
And keep me ever dear
To keep me from my selfishness
To keep me from my sorrow
To lead me on to givingness
So I can see a new tomorrow

I pray, Mark and I pray, that God will use us as a guiding light for one another. We pray to be kept dear and to be kept from our selfishness. With God's help we will be led to givingness so we can, with our covenant community, create in this world a new tomorrow.

photo by Mary Linda McKinney


2 comments:

John Mott said...

Wonderful, Linda! I actually think that the worship of ideas is where we get off track and keep us from living wholly (and holy). I don't think there is separation from love of a person and love of the divine. Our rational minds, wonderful and essential tools that they are however, sometimes decide that our thoughts and ideas are the world instead of part of the world and we forget that the silence can speak.

Ashley W said...

Thanks for sharing this! It is lovely--thoughtful and engaging. If these research projects were the only thing to come out of the School of the Spirit, that alone would be amazing. I am glad that there is so much more.