A chicken and an egg are lying in bed. The chicken is smoking a cigarette with a satisfied smile on its face and the egg is frowning and looking defeated. The egg mutters, to no-one in particular, “Well, I guess we answered THAT question!”
I guess they did. I want to begin by asking the question, “What comes first?” I mean, before I talk about sex, what comes first?
What framework or context can I put sex and intimacy into so that you see its enormous significance? It’s nothing less than your engagement with God; within, between and beyond. After centuries of religion taking God out of sex, I want to put your relationships back into a sacred threesome with God. I want to remind you that you are in a divine love triangle; you, your lover or friend and the holy. As Jack Cornfield said, “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.” Spiritual growth is learning intimacy with more and new things all the time.
I’m not speaking just about sex. I’m speaking about intimacy more generally. If you are like me, you have a circle of people you are intimate with, and you may have one person that you share a unique intimacy with. When you are young you imagine that sex is the goal of intimacy. As you grow older, you realize that sex is only the beginning. So what is intimacy?
My favorite description of spiritual intimacy comes from 14th century Sufi poet, Hafiz-
Because the Beautiful One I love lives inside of you,
I lean as close to your body with my words as I can-
And I think of you all the time, because the One I love goes with you
Wherever you go, Hafiz will always be near.
If you sat before me, wayfarer, with your aura bright from your many charms,
My lips could resist rushing to you and needing to befriend your blushed cheek,
But my eyes can no longer hide the wondrous fact of who you really are.
The Beautiful One whom I adore has pitched Her royal tent inside of you,
So I will always lean my heart as close to your soul as I can.
Intimacy is when you let your defenses down and feel authentic, open and highly trusting. It begins with yourself, being willing to embrace all your beautiful, crazy, exquisite humanity. It extends to a close circle of family and friends, being willing to strip your pretence away and stand in the fire of vulnerability together. It may find unique expression with one person, the one with whom you let your guard down most easily. It then finds its ultimate expression, divine presence ravishing body and soul, finally sending you out to be a lover of life.
Putting Sex and Intimacy Back in Church
A minister decided to do something a little different one Sunday morning. He said “Today, in church, I am going to say a single word and you are going to help me preach. Whatever single word I say, I want you to sing whatever hymn comes to your mind.
The pastor shouted out “CROSS.” Immediately the congregation started singing in unison, “Lift high the cross.”
The pastor hollered out “GRACE”. The congregation began to sing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.”
The pastor said “GREAT”. The congregation sang “How great thou art”
The pastor then said “SEX”. The congregation fell into total silence. Everyone was in shock. They all nervously began to look around at each other afraid to say anything. Then all of a sudden, way from in the back of the church, a little old 87 year old grandmother stood up and began to sing, “Memories…”
I’m not pointing any fingers here, but we all have our dry spells.
Unfortunately, sex and intimacy are distant memories in the church, even for 87 year olds. Soon after the time of Jesus, the heavy Greek influence on Christianity meant that sex was relegated to the margins of spirituality. Aristotle argued that only men were sexual. Women were just the carriers of men’s seed. The only purpose for sex was procreation and the only purpose in intimacy was to please men.
Well, Mardi Gras and Valentines Day have collided this year, the perfect storm of sensual celebrations. They remind us of the Jesus who let a woman massage his feet with her hair and some cannabis oil.(Luke 7;36-50) Yes, you heard me. Long flowing hair and a little Aunt Mary. There’s no hint of anything romantic in the story; just deep sensual intimacy. She massaged her own tears into his feet and they became one. Nothing else mattered in the moment. It was just the two of them, unselfconscious and open. The judgment of those who stood around glaring went unnoticed. They were lost in each other’s intimate embrace. The incredible thing about Jesus was not his healing power. It was his willingness to touch another person at their most vulnerable point with absolute acceptance. Maybe there is healing power in intimacy.
The most transformative lesson in the story is about forgiveness. Have you made mistakes in the past? Have you let others down and been betrayed yourself? Are you jaded for intimacy? Are you protecting yourself from being hurt and in the process missing opportunities for the beauty of intimacy? Here is the good news- because of your deep hurt, you have amazing capacity for love and forgiveness. Let your guard down with someone close this week. For Christ’s sake, take a risk and get intimate. It will be worth the risk.
God and Bodies
Last week I spoke about experiencing God as the whole which is greater than its parts, and yet the whole is also present as potential in each of the parts. Another analogy is that of waves in the ocean. The waves are never separate from the ocean. They have their own unique shape and force, but they never leave the ocean. It’s not so much that waves move. It’s more that waves are the way that the ocean moves and flows. Now here is the bridge. Think of the world as God’s body; all of it, every bit of it, is God’s body. Each of the parts carries the potential of the whole. Each carries the potential of wholeness. Intimacy is one part of life. Intimacy carries the potential for wholeness.
Let this thought sink deeply into your psyche. Your body is part of God, even the parts you wish were firmer or more toned- all part of God. The muffin tops and spare tires- God. The bingo wings and awning over the toy store- all part of God. You are the way that God moves in the world. You are divine rhythm. When you experience intimacy, you sway with holy sensuality. Your love making is the way that God experiences orgasmic pleasure. You are the way that God massages the world with kindness.
Now let this thought sink in. Your emotions are also part of God. You are the way that God feels and desires and expresses sensuality. The Sufi Hafiz said, “Every desire of your body is holy; Every desire of your body is Holy.”
Stop pretending your desires are not there. Your desires are holy. Not every one of them needs to be acted on, but every one of your desires needs to be taken seriously and reflected on.
Before the ancient Greeks separated bodies from souls and Christianity institutionalized this separation, it was common for religions to see human intimacy as a symbol of God dwelling in human life. Maybe Hinduism offered the clearest expression of divine ecstasy. But Hebrew culture also had a beautiful expression of this in the Song of Solomon. The songs are a love poem between a man and a woman, but with the symbolism of divine union running through it. It says in Song of Solomon 8;6, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for intimacy is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.”
It’s a beautiful description of intimacy. In Hebrew culture, they avoided saying the holy name. So instead they used expressive adjectives like “raging” and “fierce passion”. Intimacy has many faces. It can be soft and yielding, gentle and receptive, like water and it can also be fierce and passionate like fire. Each of us has both extremes within us, and we often partner with people to complement those qualities in each other and create a whole.
Jerry Seinfeld had a nice description of fire and the difference between men and women. “Seems to me the basic conflict between men and women, sexually, is that men are like firemen. To men, sex is an emergency, and no matter what we’re doing we can be ready in two minutes. Women, on the other hand, are like fire. They’re very exciting, but the conditions have to be exactly right for it to occur.”
People are different. That’s what keeps things interesting. Just don’t imagine that difference equals separateness. We are each waves in the ocean of our shared intimacy, each wave unique and different but rocking and swaying to the rhythm of one ocean.
Gender and Intimacy
A recent survey showed that during their lives, an average man has sex with 7.3 different women, while an average woman has sex with 2.9 different men.
Maybe Billy Crystal had the harsh truth when he said, “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.” Is that fair? Maybe Darwin had it right and men have an evolutionary drive to spread their genes, while women have an evolutionary instinct to take care of the brood. Or maybe not. But hang on. Something doesn’t add up with the numbers. The numbers for men and women should be the same. Is there another explanation? People lie! Men exaggerate their exploits and women understate their intimate activity. Both are covering up the shadows of repressed sexuality.
How do you experience intimacy and difference? I’ve got a theory. It’s a generalization and likely to get me in trouble. But here goes anyway. What’s the worst thing that can happen?
My theory is that men need intimacy to empty ourselves of desire, and women need intimacy to fill yourselves up with new connections. That’s why generally speaking, men fall asleep after sex and women like to talk. Speaking personally, I can’t string two words together. Meg is ready to have a deep and meaningful conversation. She can talk all night, and I look like I’ve had a stroke.
Gender matters. We are equal, but we aren’t the same. Men generally fall in love with our eyes. Women generally fall in your love with your ears. Men and women are different. Understand differences. Avoid judgments. Make difference a strength. Work out what aspects of gender you want to stretch beyond and what aspects you want to accept.
You are a whole person, with nothing lacking. Just don’t confuse wholeness with perfection. Get intimate with your own imperfection and then you will be ready for intimacy with others. Practice intimacy with others and you will be doing your part in healing the world.
Lets Talk About Sex
There was a guy who named his dog “Sex”. Most people go for rover or spot. This guy went for Sex. He went to the City Hall to renew his dog license, told the clerk that he would like a license for Sex. The clerk said, “I’d like to have one too.” Then he said, “You don’t understand. I’ve had Sex since I was nine years old.” The clerk said, “You must have been quite a kid!”
When he got married and went on his honeymoon, he took the dog with him. He told the concierge that he wanted one room for he and his wife and a separate room for Sex. The concierge said, “Every room in the place is for sex.” He said, “You don’t understand. Sex keeps me awake at night.” The concierge said, “Me too.”
When he separated from his wife, they went to court to fight for custody of the dog. He said, “Your Honor, I had Sex before I was married.” The judge said, “Me too.” Then he told the judge that after he was married, Sex left him. The judge said, “Me too.”
Sex ran away. He spent hours looking around town for him. A cop came over and asked, “What are you doing in the alley at 4 o’clock in the morning?” He said, “I’m looking for Sex.”
His case comes up Friday.
When he decided to remarry, he told the minister that he would like to have Sex at the wedding. The minister told him to wait until after the wedding was over. He said, “But Sex has played a big part in my life and my whole world revolves around Sex.” The minister said he didn’t want to hear about his personal life and would not marry them in his church. The guy told him everyone would enjoy having Sex at the wedding. Their family is barred from the church.
Sex is not barred at this church, at least talking about sex is not barred. On the contrary, it is encouraged. Lets break down some inhibitions to talk about one of the most important and soulful parts of life.
If it’s true that women on average think about sex several times a month, and men, well…….every 52 seconds, then lets talk about what’s on our minds.
I end with the beautiful image from the story of Jesus and his sensual, massaging Rapunzel. Let your hair down in some new way this week. Do something romantic. Trust yourself. Open up to a friend. Let down your hair and climb the golden stairs to intimacy. Deepen your connection to those you love, forgive all that is imperfect, and let your experiences which are many lead you to love greatly. Namaste.
For Further Reflection -
How do you define intimacy?
What does it mean to you to be intimate with all things?
How do you explain the differences between genders?
What other issues related to intimacy would you like to see discussed?