The following is adapted from a short essay written for a course on Gender & Sexuality at Fuller’s School of Psychology, responding to the prompt, “Some say that spirituality and sexuality are ‘two sides of the same coin.’ Discuss.” You may first want to read the first post in this series.
According to theologian Stanley Grenz (1990), “[E]ros ought not be limited to genital sexual acts, but encompasses a broad range of human actions and desires, and it participates even in the religious dimension of life in the form of the desire to know and be known by God” (p. 8). Sexuality is thought to encompass a broader drive for intimacy which extends beyond sex to even decidedly non-sexual relationships, including our relationship with God. In fact, one Catholic book on marriage and sexuality claims that history’s great Christian mystics “in trying to describe that intimacy [with God], fall back on the language of marital love, of sexual intimacy. They are right to do so, and their language is not just a figure of speech.” They go on to explain that, “[t]he love that Mother Theresa feels for the people she cares for, the exultation she experiences in prayer, are not just metaphorically but really sexual, really nuptial, even though genital sex is not her way of enacting her love” (Gallagher, et al, 1995, p. 25).
With both of these statements I heartily disagree. While experiencing closeness to others, including God, is a powerful experience, it is different in nature from a sexual experience. The drive toward intimacy and transcendence, toward the “other,” can be best captured with this simpler, non-sexual language: we are relational beings. Being relational leaves room for sexual relationships and yet does not force sexual language on our non-sexual relationships. Our capacity for relationship with God and others is much larger than our capacity to be sexual, and hence to consider our spirituality and sexuality to be the same is short-sighted. In regular conversation, we distinguish between relationships of a sexual nature and non-sexual nature for a reason; so also should we distinguish between our sexuality and our relationship with God.
Grenz, S. J. (1990). Sexual Ethics: A Biblical Perspective. Dallas: Word.
Gallagher, C. A., Maloney, G. A., Rousseau, M. F., and Wilczak, P. F. (1985). Embodied in Love: Sacramental Spirituality and Sexual Intimacy- A New Catholic Guide to Marriage. New York: Crossroad.