Friday, January 27, 2006

Spirituality & Sexuality

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He made our first father from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life so that he became a living being. Adam, the first man, was alone in Paradise. Only the plants and animals surrounded him. “It is not good for man to be alone,” said God, but none of the creatures in all of the creation was good enough for Adam, whom God had created in His own image.

God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. Then, He opened up one of Adam’s sides, removed a rib, and closed his side with flesh. From that rib God fashioned our first mother, Eve, to be Adam’s suitable compliment, the one to complete her husband. When Adam saw her for the first time, he exclaimed, “This one is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman’ because she was taken out of man.” Adam had found his wife, and she her husband. The Holy Scripture explains, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and they become one flesh.”

The act of becoming one flesh involves sexual union, the joining of two bodies, male and female, but the unity should be understood as more than just a physical act. The oneness between husband and wife is intended to be a complete unity that encompasses every aspect of their life together. It’s not just a bodily union, but the holy union of spirit, mind, will, and emotion, as well as body. Sex is designed as a physical expression of the intense mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy shared between a husband and wife every day of their lives.

Through the Holy Mystery of Marriage two independent beings are spiritually joined by our Creator in a holy, blessed relationship. Marriage is like a holy temple built from a man and woman by God himself. Within this temple the sacred act of sexual expression takes place, an ancient ritual that dates back to the beginning when God made our first parents and gave them the instructions to “be fruitful and multiply.” The use of sex outside of marriage is sacrilege, the rejection of true human nature as we were created to be, and the selfish and dishonorable misuse of a graceful, divine gift. Within the temple of marriage, however, sex is a pure, spiritual act of thanksgiving performed by two bound together by the Spirit in an enduring and pervasive unity.

Orthodox Christians should always treat sexual expression within marriage as a spiritual act of love. Our own self-centeredness and corrupted natures can pervert our understanding of sexuality, but the more we purify our hearts and grow in spiritual maturity the more we can comprehend the mystery of sexuality. If married couples sanctify (set apart for a holy use) thier sexuality by bringing it under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they can learn from their own sexual expression and use their sexuality for good.

Through the joining of their selves together, a husband and wife dive deeper into the knowledge of each other. This is not merely intellectual knowledge but knowledge learned through experience, an intimate knowledge that should reflect the depth of knowledge a husband and wife possess of each other’s mind, heart, and will. As with our knowledge of God, the knowledge that a man and woman joined in marriage gain about each other should fill their minds and also descend deep into their hearts to dwell.

Sexual expression can teach husband and wife about the selflessness of love. When a man loves his wife and expresses his genuine love through their sexual union, sex is a form of self-surrender, the giving of himself to the one who completes him for her benefit. The wife surrenders herself to her husband in the same way for his benefit. Their mutual service to the other should remind them both of the complete self-surrender marking their whole existence together. She is the physical extension of him, flesh of his flesh. He is part of her, as much as her own body. They join together, each losing the self in the lover through the blessed union. This unity exists long before their bodies meet in sexual union and begins even before the first romantic gaze or thought of the moment. Its genesis is found in the enduring love that permeates every aspect of their lives.

The unity enjoyed by husband and wife through sexual expression is joined by another mystery, the creation of a new life, a child given being through their union. The child is a separate person from his parents, yet he is part of them, finds his existence in their oneness, and comes through them into the world as a living soul who bears their image. God has not designed us with the capability to individually produce children independent of the opposite sex. We need each other to realize both the unity of sexual expression and the bringing forth of a new generation, two wonderful aspects of our human existence.

The spiritual ignorance and evil in our culture has resulted in a corrupted understanding of sexuality and hostility toward sexual wholeness. The Holy Scripture reveals to us that in ancient times our ancestors lost their knowledge of the true Creator God as their hearts became self-centered and darkened. When they forgot the identity of the true God, in whose image they had been made, they also lost the spiritual knowledge about their own identity as human beings. They fell into spiritual confusion, which resulted in sexual confusion. As men and women began creating gods and devising myths based on their own misunderstandings they also abandoned their natural relationships with each other, rejecting how God had designed them to be. All of the sexual sin in our culture finds its root in our loss of divine knowledge, real spirituality, and authentic love. As Orthodox Christians, may we keep the Faith, dedicating ourselves to holiness, purity, wholeness, and love, while rejecting everything that seeks to draw our hearts from God, who made us in His image and has shown us the way to be truly human, as He created us to be.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. (Icon from the IconoGraphics Colorworks Library, Used by permission.)