Sex as a Spiritual Practice?

I wish it wasn’t so easy to be sexually broken.

For so many reasons we struggle to embrace our sexuality, don’t we? To give and receive fully. To engage our whole physical, emotional, and spiritual selves—and our partners do as well. On every level, sex gets messy.

So there’s no better place to talk about sex than in the Mudroom. Its “a place for the stories emerging in the midst of the mess, right? There’s nothing that gets to the mess of our dreams, hopes, fears, insecurities, and vulnerabilities quite like sex. So let’s do it. Let’s talk about sex right here, in this space.

I’ve sat around the kitchen with close girlfriends, and the stories come out. Some of us were abused, coerced, or raped. Some were taught our only value was in sex appeal. Others were taught that sex, even our female bodies themselves, are shameful and should be hidden, never displayed, never discussed. Too many of us are fed up with feeling objectified and unseen. Many are tired and exhausted, too overwhelmed by life to even remember sex most of the time. Others are demoralized by infertility, or terrified of another pregnancy. Others are single, wondering what having a sexual body means for them.

This messy, mudroom place seems like the sort of vulnerable, fragile, powerful spot where God shows up, and forms us, piece by messy piece.

In my book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline I insist that God’s work in the world—and His delight in Creation—has always been physical. God formed the creatures (including us and our bodies!) from the dirt of the ground, by hand. He invented our physical beings (including breasts and wombs and sexuality!) and called it good. He gave us to each other joyfully, and invited us, commanded us, to be fruitful and multiply.

As if to drive His point home, when God communicated most directly to us, He did so by becoming a person. Taking on a body. Becoming a baby in a woman’s uterus! Then living, day by day, growing into a fully adult man. He became one of us. Our human bodies aren’t beneath Him in any sense.

Yet we’re still trying to hide our bodies with their needs, cycles, functions, and fluids. We’re so often ashamed, told that to be pure enough to approach God we must put all this physical stuff aside. Like He’d be grossed out if he realized that we’re still embodied.

But I’m convinced that for all the mess and brokenness, sex is good and beautiful—especially in God’s eyes. I’m convinced that He invites us not only to participate (in healthy, appropriate ways) but to do so as a spiritual practice. I’m convinced that God sees sex as lovely—not a necessary evil.

What does that look like, though, for us reallife women?

First, if you feel sexually belittled, demanded of, coerced, or abused—please find a safe person and tell them the truth. Sexual wounds can be the hardest to heal, and you deserve wholeness and respect. There is a way out.

Second, reflect honestly on how sex is messy for you. What past experiences have broken you? Do you feel compelled to be either overly sexual or sexless? Allow yourself to be honest with where you’re really at.

Then, consider God’s perspective. Imagine Him inventing the female body with its magical curves, ability to attract a partner, capacity to create a new person. None of this is sinful or shameful. All of it was formed on purpose, with great joy. He doesn’t hide from you, or your body, or your feelings. He delights in it all.

The goal of spiritual practice is to move us towards God, towards fullness. Like a journey along a path we get lost and turned around, but step by step we move forward; the practices are the steps we take, what keep us on track. Practices fill our minds and bodies with the reality of God’s presence.

I’m convinced that healthy, respectful sex can be a spiritual practice. Enjoying our bodies—and our partners’ bodiesis a fundamental way to rejoice in God’s good, physical creation. We serve another person, giving generously, pouring ourselves out for him. At the same time, we allow him to serve us. We receive generously, we let go of control, release into vulnerability, and accept. And in marriage, sex is an expression of covenant: young or old, sick or healthy, for better or for worse, we know and love inside a deep and proudly spiritual pledge.

Emotionally, spiritually, physical, we let go of our defenses and allow someone else to see past the façade, move past the walls. We create a connection on even a biological and neurological level, a connection that builds a home for ourselves and our partner. This is knowing. This is being known.

And sometimes, miracle of miracle, we create a new person; a tiny, vulnerable new life.

This place is so physical—and it is emotional, and spiritual. And it is powerful. It can break usand it can heal.

God is in this place with us, sister. In the pain, He weeps with us. And in the joy and pleasure, He is smiling.

Catherine McNiel
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