Grace to you
Last week we listened to the beautiful, sensual and erotic literature of Song of Songs. We heard the strong voice of a woman passionately sing of her sexual desires. There is no shame or judgement in her voice. She sings with joy and delight. This front-of-stage location of a woman’s voice is unprecedented in the whole of scripture.
A literal reading of Song of Songs affirms human sexuality as God’s life-giving and life-fulfilling gift. By refusing to take the Song of Songs literally, biblical interpreters fail to affirm the flesh as good and perpetuate the false belief that bodily pleasure is wrong or at least less spiritual. Sexuality divorced from spirituality results in our spirituality being less likely to shape our sexuality. When this occurs, sex as gift, gives way to sex as performance, conquest and commodity.
Sadly the church has been more focused on regulating sexuality than celebrating sexuality. Fear and anxiety, denial and repression have determined the bulk of religious discussions on sexuality. This is more hurtful than helpful, and in this area of our lives people already carry too many wounds. As Jo Ind writes in Memories of Bliss: “We are all wounded. We are all vulnerable in matters of the groin.” For some of us it is also the area we have wounded others most acutely.
To regulate more than to celebrate is like an artist focusing more on the frame surrounding a painting than on the painting itself. This is both odd and unnecessary, for if we are moved by a painting’s priceless beauty, we will know it needs a special frame to hold it and with delight rather than duty we will seek one out.
The poet Marge Piercy in her poem, The Seven of Pentacles invites us to: “Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses. Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.” If we are going to learn to “make love that is loving” we first need to embrace our sexuality as the magnificent mysterious and glorious gift that it is, as Jo Ind does in telling her lover: “Yes you may bow down before my awesome, mysterious body and my clear, original mind; you may honour my story, be tender with my wounds, cherish my yearnings and unspoken dreams; you may pay homage to my magical juicings and pungent smells, the secret caverns and magnificent connections of my resplendent sexuality.”
Secondly we need to adopt a new sexual ethic. I support the statement from the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing that declares: “Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent and pleasure. Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status or sexual orientation.”
By embracing our own sexuality and adopting a new sexual ethic we will “make love that is loving”. In this we will also honour the woman in Song of Songs – too long denied and dismissed. Yet she refused to be silenced over the centuries – singing with firey joy and delicious delight, ever hoping we will hear her unashamed voice and join her in singing the chorus with our own God-given sexuality.