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Gaining God's View of Marital Beauty

Discussion in 'Singles (Only*)' started by Kirisutokyoo-shinja, Mar 14, 2011.

  1. Kirisutokyoo-shinja

    Kirisutokyoo-shinja Stage Ninja

    +87
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    This is the whole chapter - I thought more context would
    be appreciated, and perhaps also dispel certain thoughts
    running through the thread.

    I really do hope you enjoy this thoroughly as I have,
    and also are challenged, encouraged, and grow
    in sanctification as a result of reading this in conjunction
    with your relationship with God.
    _____________________________________________

    ELEVEN

    SEXUAL SAINTS

    Marital Sexuality Can Provide Spiritual Insights and Character Development



    Like all truly mystical things, love is rooted deeply and rightly in this world and this flesh.
    -Katherine Anne Porter

    Gifts of a loving Creator, our bodies are not barriers to grace. If we could truly accept this, then we would know God even in the ambiguous delights of our sexuality.
    -Evelyn and James Whitehead

    We find God in the Contact of our bodies, not just in the longing of our souls.
    -Evelyn and James Whitehead

    I was in junior high, walking toward a group of buddies, when my best friend at the time came out of the circle and stopped me.

    "No," he said. "You don't want this."
    "What are you talking about?" I asked, hurt that this guy, of all people, would spurn me.
    "This isn't for you."

    I learned later that my friend was keeping me from a book that was making the rounds at our school. It had something to do with sex-complete with pictures - and the dog-eared corners attested to its being quickly stashed in sock drawers and under mattresses in numbers adolescent-occupied homes.

    Most of us are introduced to sex in shameful ways. The viewing of "dirty" books or the experience of sexual abuse at the hands of an older person often usher us prematurely into the world of sexual knowledge. The natural result is that most of us have to overcome some deep-seated anxieties about sex. Many Christians don't see sex as a gift for which to be thankful, but as a guilt-ridden burden to be borne. And naturally, anything so intimately connected with guilt is difficult to view as a ladder to the holy.

    Some of this guilt - which psychologist Willard Gaylin calls "the guardian of our goodness" - is justified. When we stray outside God's perfect will, we should feel guilty. But guilt is not infallible, nor does it always turn itself off when it is no longer applicable.

    In spite of the uncomfortableness with which we approach sexuality, most married Christians know that sexual intimacy can produce moments of sheer transcendence - brief, sunset-like glimpses of eternity. On the underside of ecstasy we catch the shadow of a profound spiritual truth.

    Thus we are caught in the perplexity that sex often represents both the best and the worst moments of our lives. While sex may at times create moments that mark our deepest shame, it can also make us feel more alive than ever before.

    In this chapter, it is my desire to move past the harm and shame brought about by sex experienced outside the protecting walls of virtue, and examine how it is possible for this very fleshly experience to sharpen our spiritual sensitivities. If sex is going to turn us toward God and each other, it is vital that we examine it with Christian understanding. Christian spirituality serves us in at least three ways here: It teaches us the goodness of sex while reminding us that there are things that are more important than sex. It allows us to experience pleasure without making pleasure the idol of our existence. It teaches us that sex can certainly season our lives but also reminds us that sex will never fully nourish our souls.

    To begin to view sex in this positive sense, as a mirror of our desire and passion for God, the institution of marriage becomes all-important. If we think about sex only within the confines of marriage - thereby sanctifying it as God intended it - the analogy of sex leading us toward God may not seem so farfetched. To be sure, sex is abused within the marriage relationship as well, so let's take this a step further. Add in the notion - which we discussed earlier - that sex is to be used to serve our spouse, as well as the analogy that our restlessness for the sexual experience mirrors our restlessness for God, and the ability to use our sexuality as a spiritual aid may begin to make more sense.

    So, in order to benefit from the insights of this chapter, try to move past the hurt, shame, guilt, and angst that you associate with sex because of what you may have experienced, talked about, or seen depicted outside the marital relationship. Homosexuality, premarital sex, fantasy-laden masturbation, hard-core pornography - non of that constitutes "sex" as we're defining it here. Redefine sex as it was in Eden, as it was when Adam "knew" Eve and began to populate the world. Think of sex only in these terms, and then think of how God can reveal himself to you within your marriage through the gift of sexual pleasure.

    It might sound shocking, but it's true: God doesn't turn his eyes when a married couple goes to bed. It only stands to reason that we shouldn't turn our eyes from God when we share intimate moments with our spouse.

    Ambivalent Ancestors
    For centuries, Christian spiritual writers have viewed sexuality as problematic at best. The Christian church has delicately tiptoed around the essentiality of sex, attempting to rein in its power by regulating its tides - sometimes with almost comical effect:

    In the second century, Clement of Alexandria allowed unenjoyed and procreative sex only during twelve hours out of the twenty-four (at night), but by the Middle Ages, preposterous as it now seems, the Church forbade it forty days before the important festival of Christmas, forty days before and eight days after the more important festival of Easter, eight days after Pentecost, the eves of feast days, on Sundays in honor of the resurrection, on Wednesdays to call to mind the beginning of Lent, Fridays in memory of the crucifixion, during pregnancy and thirty days after birth (forty if the child is female), during menstruation, and five days before communion!

    This all adds up to 252 excluded days, not counting feast days. If there were thirty of those (a guess which may, in fact, be on the conservative side, there would then have been eighty-three remaining days in the year when (provided, of course, that the woman did not happen to be menstruating or pregnant or in the post-natal period, and provided that they intended procreation) couples could with the permission of the Church have indulged in (but not enjoyed) sexual intercourse!

    All this reminds me of the time my children and I were at the beach. The tide was coming in - and the kids had built a sand castle. For forty-five minutes we fought desperately to save the sand castle from the encroaching sea. We built large barriers around the castle and carried in large pieces of driftwood to serve as a block, but eventually, of course, the sea won and the sand castle was ruined.

    Trying to put so many burdensome restrictions (even within marriage) on such a powerful force as sexual expression is ultimately futile. It's like trying to hold back the sea. The desire to regulate marital sex comes, at least in part, from our fear of it. Common sense tells us that sex is necessary for the human race to continue - God's command to Adam that he "be fruitful and increase in number" (Genesis 1:28) was an explicit commandment to engage in sexual relations - but religious apprehension makes us think that the "most holy" amongst us will somehow shun its pleasure. This, tragically, would mean that only the least holy would actually raise children - which doesn't bode well for the faith of the next generation.

    This fear of sex prepared its assault early on, particularly in the interpretation of the obviously erotic Song of Songs. The clear implication of Origen's work (around A.D. 185-254) was that fleshly, intoxicating pleasure had no place in this world. Only "spiritual delights" counted for anything. Don Allender and Tremper Longman point out, "Origen interpreted the highly sensual Song of Songs in an allegorical, spiritual manner, doing to that book the same thing he did to his body when he took a knife and castrated himself."

    A century later, at the famous Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), certain radicals started suggesting that bishops must be celibate. A well-respected ascetic bishop, Paphnutius, opposed this suggestion vigorously, rightly arguing that "it was "chastity" for a man to "cohabit" with his wife." It was particularly significant that an ascetic bishop pledged to chastity had the wisdom to argue this position, as he clearly had nothing to gain from it. But Pahnutius was certainly the exception, and his opinion was soon buried by the weight of the famed church father Augustine (354-430).

    Augustine - who stamped Christian thought like few others - taught that sexual intercourse transmitted original sin, thereby (perhaps unintentionally but surely regrettably) entangling sin and sex for centuries to follow. As a result, the church often had a difficult time reconciling sanctity with a sexually active life. Mary Anne McPherson Oliver points out that very few canonized saints were married and that "none of these few were canonized as models for conjugal virtue."

    By the fourth century, Ambrose was calling marriage "honorable," but he tempered the compliment by calling chastity "more honorable." Institutionally there was still this sense in which sexual intercourse was "excused" provided it was participated in for the sake of procreation. All other sexual relations within marriage still constituted "venial" sin (excusable, but a black mark nonetheless).

    There were moments of enlightenment, however. There is evidence that in medieval times, priests would sometimes bless a newlywed couple in their bridal bed. Interestingly enough, the Puritans seemed unusually at ease when it came to embracing sexual pleasure. Richard Baxter wrote that husband and wife should "take delight" in the love and company and conversation of each other. He wrote, "Keep up your conjugal love in a constant heat and vigor." He added that spouses must not suffer their love "to grow luke-warm."

    But most gains were short-lived, relatively speaking. An ancient Sarum rite (on which the 1549 Anglican Prayer Book was based) had, since at least A.D. 1125, nuptial rites that included the words, "with my body I thee worship." This was rather bold and provocative for any period in the church, let alone the Middle Ages, so perhaps it is not surprising that these words were stricken from the Anglican Prayer Book in 1786.

    Reconciling sex and sanctity has never been fully accomplished up to this very day, though the Second Vatican Council relinquished somewhat the idea of married believers as second-class Christians. In a document titled, "The Call of the Whole Church to Holiness," the Roman Catholic Church "emphasizes that all God's people are called to the fullness of Christian sanctity, and that sanctity is available to all in and through their particular vocations."

    Even so, the few canonized saints in the twentieth century who had been in marriage relationships were, as Mary Anne McPherson Oliver observes, routinely martyrs or stigmatics, widows/foundresses of religious orders, and husbands who had left wife and family to become missionaries or hermits. These individuals were extolled in spite of being married, not because they exhibited an unusual commitment to holiness within marriage.

    Perhaps we can be charitable toward the ancients' (and our own) uneasiness with sex in part because few of us can deny the truth that, in one sense, "sex is a heavy burden that God has laid upon mankind."
    While it is beyond doubt that the Bible has a favorable and positive view of sex - witness the Song of Songs, for instance - biblical writers are also acutely aware of the sanre of sexual sin and our propensity to spoil the good gift God has given us.

    This human inclination is precisely why the institution of marriage is so crucial as we seek to navigate the sea of sexual desire. It is the only context in which sexuality becomes spiritually meaningful and helpful.
     
  2. Kirisutokyoo-shinja

    Kirisutokyoo-shinja Stage Ninja

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    Laying the Groundwork for Spiritually Meaningful Sex
    A Biblical View of Sexuality


    As in all things, proper theology even among "lay" Christians is vital if we are to adopt a fully biblical view of sexuality that will allow us to incorporate the experience of physical intimacy into a spiritually meaningful vision of faith. We Christians can learn a thing or two from the Jewish foundations of our faith.

    There are theological reasons why the Christian church has had more difficulty dealing with sexual activity than our Jewish ancestors. To the ancient Jew, nothing was more important than the preservation and purity of the family line. As the "chosen people," Jews viewed divorce in the case of barrenness as perfectly acceptable. Practically the worse thing you could do to a spouse was to deny him or her children, because progeny was how the unpolluted, God-chosen race would continue.

    Jewish views about sex went beyond procreation. Ancient Jewish women were given three "fundamental rights": food, clothing, and the onah - sexual intercourse apart from the duty of procreation. A religion based on bloodlines can ill afford to look down on procreative activity.

    The ancient Jewish text The Holy Letter (written by Nahmanides in the thirteenth century) sees sex as a mystical experience of meeting with God: "through he act [of intercourse] they become partners with God in the act of creation. This is the mystery of what the sages said, "when a man unites with his wife in holiness, the Shekinah is between them in the mystery of man and woman." The breadth of this statement is sobering when you consider that the shekinah glory is the same presence experienced by Moses when God met with him face-to-face (see Exodus 24:15-18).

    In contrast to medieval Christian prohibitions, Nahmanides recommends that married couples regularly experience sexual intercourse on the Sabbath in celebration of their faith. The reason he could advocate this was his firm belief that everything God made - including the sexual organs and thus the sense of sexual touch - is good because God had declared it so (Genesis 1:31).

    With Christians, however, salvation is not about family blood but spiritual faith. Procreation is no longer the highest end; faith is. Thus if someone avoids a sexual union so that they can foster a deeper faith, they are frequently assumed to have chosen the "higher" way. But just because (in the Christian view) sex no longer services salvation or the propagation of God's kingdom on earth doesn't mean that sex has nothing to teach us in the way of sanctification (or growth in holiness). We can continue to believe that for the purpose of salvation faith takes precedence over procreation while still appreciating the Jewish aspect of seeking the shekinah glory in the marital bed.

    To use our sexuality as a spiritual discipline - to integrate our faith and flesh, so to speak - it is imperative that we become theologically grounded enough to incorporate into our thinking a Jewish view of sexuality. God made flesh, and wen God made flesh, he created some amazing sensations. While the male sexual organ has multiple functions, the female clitoris has just one - sexual pleasure. By design, God created a bodily organ that has no other purpose than to provide women with sexual ecstasy. This wasn't Satan's idea - it was God's. And God called every bit of his creation "very good" (Genesis 1:31).

    Betsy Ricucci has approached this issue from a feminine perspective: "Within the context of covenant love and mutal service, no amount of passion is excessive. Scripture says our sexual intimacy should be exhilarating (Proverbs 5:19, New American Standard Bible)... Believe it or not, we glorify God by cultivating a sexual desire for our husbands and by welcoming their sexual desire for us."

    If guilt rather than gratitude casts a shadow over your experience of sex, practice thanking God for what sex involves. For instance, a woman could pray, quite explicitly - but in all holiness - "God, thank you that it feels enticing when my husband caresses my breasts." Couples could even pray together, thanking God for the pleasure surrounding the act of marital consummation. This simple act of thanksgiving can sanctify an act that all-too-many Christians divorce from their spiritual life with God. The reason it feels good is because God designed it so.

    Once we evaluate the theological foundations on which we build our view of marital sex, we also need to examine our emotional attitudes. In this case, gratitude must replace guilt.

    Gratitude Must Replace Guilt
    In his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith, Harold Best tells the true storyof a young man who became heavily involved in a satanic cult. "This was no offhanded cult," Best writes, "but one of profoundly serious intention." The cult developed a sophisticated and elaborate liturgy focusing on the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach.

    The young man later became a Christian and started attending worship services at a local church. Eveyrthing went well until the church organist belted out a piece composed by Bach. The younger believer was overcome by fear and dread and fled the sanctuary.

    Best writes that Bach's work "represents some of the noblest music for Christian worship. To this young man, however, it was not noble at all, but rather epitomized all that was evil, horrible, and anti-Christian."

    Sex is that way for some Christians. past associations and guilt feelings have created severe spiritual roadblocks. While few would suggest that Bach's compositions are inherently evil, the young man felt that they were so because of how Bach's works had been abused in his past experience. In the same way, some Christians try hard not to believe that sex is inherently evil, but because of previous negative experiences, to them it certainly feels evil. The effects of these roadblocks can be lessened through a proper biblical understanding of sex, as well as through the practice of confession and repentance. If your history contains abuse, you may want to consider seeking counseling as a way to help you gain a new, and hopefully more favorable, perspective on sex.

    Sex cannot pay spiritual dividends if its currency is shrouded in unfounded and illegitimate guilt. Gratitude for God for this amazing experience is essential; otherwise, the poweful feelings associated with sex will lead us to focus on self.

    Ironically, the idolatry of sex and obsessive guilt over sex accomplish the same thing - they keep the focus on self, whether it be out of enjoyment or despair. Gratitude, on the other hand, turns our hearts toward God.

    It took me awhile to realize how I was inadvertently insulting God by my hesitation to accept the holiness of sex and pleasure. I don't have any problem imagining someone seeking God by enduring the pain of a fast. But what kind of God am I imagining if I can allow pain but not pleasure to reveal God's presence in my life? Instead of being suspicious of pleasure and the physical and spiritual intimacy that comes from being with my wife, I need to adopt an attitude of profound gratefulness and awe."

    Once we have reevaluated our theology and our emotional attitudes, we also need to reconsider our expectations - that is, what type of intimacy we are seeking.

    View Your Spouse as More Than a Lover

    The third step to becoming fully prepared to use sexuality as a spiritual discipline is to remember that in Christian marriage, husband and wife are more than lovers. They are brother and sister in Christ.

    During my engagement to Lisa, I gave her a poem titled "My Sister, His Bride," in which I talked about how the step we were taking toward marriage was so monumental in this world, but that there already existed an even more significant eternal bond between us that would actually outlive our status as husband and wife: brother and sister in Christ. There is a depth to this spiritual brother/sister relationship that is all too frequently left unexplored.

    Otto Piper explains it this way: "The believer who conducts his marriage as in the Lord will seek to make his marriage transcend mere sexuality by emphasizing his fellowship with God. Then the spouse is not only a sexual partner but also and above all a brother or sister in Christ. In this way the instinctive longing inherent in all love becomes real: our earthly lives are transmuted into lives with God."

    This means that while physical pleasure is good and acceptable, we mustn't reduce sex to a merely physical experience. It is about more - much more - than that. Sex speaks of spiritual realities far more profound than mere pleasure.

    When Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), our contemplations on the significance of sex take on an entirely new meaning. What a woman is allowing inside of her, what a man is willingly entering - in a Christian marriage, these are sanctified bodies; bodies in which God is present through his Holy Spirit; bodies coming together, celebrating, but in a spirit of reverence and holiness.

    If Paul tells us that a man is not to join himself to a prostitute because his body is a holy temple - that is, if we are to use such imagery to avoid sinning - can a Christian not use the same imagery to be drawn into God's presence in a unique way as he joins his body with his wife? Isn't he somehow entering God's temple - knocking on the door of shekinah glory - when he joins himself to a fellow believer? And isn't this a tacit encouragement to perhaps even think about God as your body is joined with your spouse?

    Otto Piper urges us to view the sex act as a physical picture of a deeper spiritual reality: "We have come together in [God], called by him, creating a family, serving him, he living in both of us, we now expressing, physically, the spiritual truth that he has created - we are no longer two, but one."

    The spiritual element of sex is a crucial aid to help men experience deliverance from sexual addictions. Whne sex is reduced to pleasure alone, no wife can possibly meet a husband's expectations. Pleasure, by nature, is ephemeral. It's fleeting. I read an article written by a Christian who had overcome a serious addiction to pornography, and he made it quite clear that he always needed a new magazine. Although he possessed enough naked pictures to wallpaper his house (more than he could possibly look at in the course of a day), he needed the thrill of getting new pictures of new women.

    A wife can't reinvent herself on a daily basis, so a man can't kick a passion for pornography by trying to turn his wife into a centerfold. He must search for, and find, something much different int he marital bed. He can seek the deeper (but oftentimes quieter) fulfillment of spiritually meaningful sex, looking for God and for Christian fellowship behind the pleasure - not running from the pleasure, to be sure, but not making an idol of that pleasure either.

    Remember, - every hunger that entices us in the flesh is an exploitation of a need that can be better met by God. The only context for godly sex is marital sex. Illicit sex is spiritual junk food - immediately sweet, but something that will poison our spiritual appetite until we crave that which will ultimately destroy us. Illicit sex will do nothing but diminish our sensitivity to holiness, righteousness, and God's presence in our lives.

    The deeply physical and fleshly experience of sex can be enjoyed without guilt, but there is an even deeper spiritual fulfillment inherent when a man and woman engage in sexual relations. Don't reduce sex to either a physical or spiritual experience. It is both - profoundly so.

    Now that we've examined our theology, our emotional attitudes, and our expectations regarding sex, we must become comfortable with the oftentimes fearful yearning inherent in sexual desire.
     
  3. Kirisutokyoo-shinja

    Kirisutokyoo-shinja Stage Ninja

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    Reconciling the Power of Sex
    Sex is not a physical need int he same way that food is - you can survive a lifetime without a single orgasm. But it is certainly a physiological drive. It is predictable, and it is physical as well as emotional. Most important, this physical desire - which feels like a need - that a man and woman have for each other is there by God's design. God put this "need" in us.

    How do we approach this sense of need from a Christian perspective? It might help if we see hidden in this analogy the sense of need that represents our longing for God - that we are incomplete without him and need to join ourselves to him anew. Thomas Hart observes that "our fascination with sex is closely related to our fascination with God."

    Sex cannot replace God. Sex will not suffice as a substitute for God. But a healthy look at sex can provide fruitful meditation on our need and desire for God - the sense of incompleteness followed by the joy and fulfillment made all the sweeter after finally giving ourselves to another.

    If there were no great need, the fulfillment would be less sweet. It is only when I am truly hungry that I fully appreciate a good meal. Passion is a fearful thing to some of us. The sense of longing reminds us that we are incomplete by ourselves, but the fact is that God made us incomplete. We need him; we need others.

    I remember reading the Song of Songs as a young man with great discomfort, in large part because I was terrified of ever wanting someone as desperately as those two lovers wanted each other. Such wanting, I knew even at a young age, can lead to tremendous pain, disillusionment, and grief.

    It is frightening to want God. What if he doesn't show up? It is even scarier to want another human. What if they spurn our advances or use our desire as a weapon against us?

    Here is the difficulty: There is no guarantee that our spouse will not use our desire against us. But while this provides a point of possible manipulation, it also provides an avenue of spiritual growth. We can use this sense of need as a way to grow as servants of each other. In a healthy Christian marriage in which both husband and wife lovingly seek to fulfill the sexual desires of each other, both can learn that God will minister to them as well. Just as Jesus uses the example (Matthew 7) of an earthly father who will not give his son a stone when he asks for bread - and encourages his followers to likewise trust God to give good gifts - so a man or woman may be able to open up their hearts to God when they experience how their spouse is generous in meeting their need for sexual expression.

    The truth is, without this physiological drive many couples would slowly drift apart. We are by nature selfish beings who hide from each other. Maintaining a steady pursuit toward and empathy for another human being goes against our sinful, egocentric bent. By creating a physical desire, God is inviting us to participate in the spiritual reality of learning to share, have fellowship with,a nd enter the life and soul of another human being in a profound way.

    The above thoughts are intended to legitimize the use of sexual expression as a tool of spiritual development. It would take an entire book to fully explore this subject, but in the next section we're going to consider a few representative examples of how a married couple might use aspects of their physical intimacy to grow spiritually.

    Spiritual Development Through Sexual Expression
    Bernard of Clarvaux (1090-1153) taught that carnal or earthly love is actually the first step in human experience that leads us to love God - sort of like in kindergarten where we learn to get along with others and sit behind a desk before the "real schooling" beings in first grade. He took this one step further when he suggested that, carnal as we are, our love for God in this life will fittingly have a carnal element. Certainly, as you read some of the testimonies of mystics, their unabashed love for God has this near-erotic element.

    Instead of running form this element of sexual expression, we can channel it in the proper direction. C.S. Lewis write, "Pleasures are shafts of the glory as it strikes our sensibility.... Make them channels of adoration." In this section, we seek to do just this - turn earthly marital pleasure (and challenges) into channels of holy adoration.

    Many books provide guidance on a variety of sexual positions and on ways to keep sex fresh. Here, I'd like to look at the spiritual side of sexuality, examining how we can be transformed spiritually through this very physical act. We'll do this by seeking to have our notion of beauty transformed; learning to give what we have; being called out of ourselves; learning to become passionate; and cultivating the art of celebration.

    Gaining God's View of Marital Beauty
    Marriage takes the raw force of sexuality and connects it with emotional intimacy, companionship, family responsibilities, and permanency of relationship. In doing so it provides a context that encourages spiritual growth by moving us to value character, virtue, and godliness over against an idealized physical form.

    To prepare for a part in a major motion-picture release in which nudity would be prevalent, an internationally famous actress spent up to five hours a day in a gym, working out with a personal trainer. All this would refine the body-enhancing surgery that had taken place earlier in her life. With enough time and money, and a professional hairdresser and makeup team, virtually any woman can "look good."

    I won't deny that one of the reasons I was first attracted to Lisa was because I thought she looked good. But what if looking good became Lisa's obsession? Does God think three hours a day in a gym, working feverishly against the realities of nature to preserve an adolescent stomach (with the hips of a mature woman and the breasts of a nursing mother), is a good and profitable use of time?

    Jesus' disciple Peter doesn't leave us to guess the answer. He says, quite explicitly, that women shouldn't focus on an external beauty that requires "outward adornment," but instead aspire after a beauty "of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight" (1 Peter 3:3-4).

    Notice that in their pursuit of beauty, wives are directed toward creating a beauty that is of great worth in God's sight. Husbands might focus on the wrong things, but Peter still urges wives to direct their lives toward' God's view of beauty. This instruction is crucial for a number of reasons.

    In C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape laments that Wormwood has allowed his man to get victory over sexual temptation. Screwtape's next step is this: "If we can't use his sexuality to make him unchaste we must try to use it for the promotion of a desirable marriage." Keep in mind here that "desirable" is from a demonic perspective, meaning "disastrous" from a Christian perspective. Referring to demonic hosts, Screwtape continues:

    "It is the business of these great masters to produce in every age a general misdirection of what may be called sexual "taste." This they do by working through the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses and advertisers who determine the fashionable type. The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely...

    As regards to the male taste we have varied a good deal. At one time we have directed it to the statuesque and aristocratic type of beauty, mixing men's vanity with their desires and encouraging the race to breed chiefly from the most arrogant and prodigal women. At another, we have selected an exaggeratedly feminine type, faint and languishing, so that folly and cowardice, and all the general falseness and littleness of mind which go with them, shall be at a premium...

    And that is not all. We have engineered a great increase in the license that society allows to the representation of the apparent nude (not the real nude) in art, and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach. It is all a fake, of course; the figures in the popular art are falsely drawn; the real women in bathing suits...are actually pinched in and propped up to make them appear firmer and more slender than nature allows a full-grown woman to be...As are sult we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist - making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible. What follows you can easily forecast!"

    The Christian duty of married men is to reverse this propensity and make the "role of the eye in sexuality' less important as we embrace the spiritual reality of what is taking place. Sight will always matter to men - that's how God wired us - but we can become mature in what we long to see. Appetites can be cultivated. Different cultures enjoy different foods because the inhabitants have eaten such foods all their lives. My kids would wrinkle their noses if my wife dropped rice in front of them for breakfast; in China, children would look askew at a bowl of Cheerios.

    The same principle holds true for taste in sexual desirability. Different eras appreciate different shapes in women because of whatever happens to be in fashion. While today's supermodels lean toward waifishness (with adult-sized breasts but adolescent stomachs and thighs), an old Sanskrit word (gajagamini) describing the ten-ideal of female beauty in ancient India is literally translated "woman who has the gait of an elephant." History has not come up withthe definitive beauty. The debate has never been resolved. What men and women obsess about, fantasize over, and concentrate on will shape what they desire. A godly marriage shapes our view of beauty to focus on internal qualities. The Holy Letter argues that when a man chooses a woman for her physical beauty alone, "the union is not for the sake of heaven." Beauty is wonderful, but it is not the only or even the highest value when we seek Christian marriage.

    A single woman is likely to face strong temptations to become the type of woman a man would want to marry - and that might very well compete with the type of woman who lives a responsible life before God. But single women know that men are attracted to a certain physical shape and so might be inclined to put more effort into changing physically than changing internally by growing in godliness. Marriage can set women free from this vain pursuit; once they are married, they can focus more intensely on the internal beauty that God finds so attractive.

    This is not to suggest that either men or women should shun the care of their physical bodies and become unfit. Keeping in good shape is a gift we can give to our spouse. But so is the grace of acceptance - particularly on the part of husbands - in recognition that age and (in the case of women) childbearing eventually reshape every individual body. Marriage helps to move men from an obsession over bodies "that do not exist" into a reconsideration of priorities and values.

    For instance, marriage calls us to redirect our desires to be focused on one woman or one man in particular rather than on society's view of attractive women or men in general. We men are married to women whose bodies we know intimately. And out of these bodies, our own children have been born. God gives us each other's bodies as gifts in which to delight. But in receiving our gift, we must not covet another's.

    On the day I was married, I began praying, "Lord, help me to define beauty by Lisa's body. Shape my desires so that I am attracted only to her." I knew from the book of Proverbs that I was to take delight inmy wife, not in women in general. The writer says, "May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer - may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?" (Proverbs 5:18-20).

    I cannot fully explain this without embarrassing my wife, so I'm going to speak generally. God has answered my prayer. The physical characteristics that distinguish my wife are the characteristics that I generally find most attractive in other women.

    But just as important is a wife who works on internal beauty, who makes the pursuit of sanctification an even greater pursuit than wanting to fit into a size-four dress. This is a beauty that never goes out of style.

    Married sexuality helps form us spiritually by shaping the priorities of what we value and hold in high esteem. Many of us don't realize how truly shallow this world and its values really are. A young man or woman can become ridiculously wealthy and incredibly famous - regardless of whether they are are person of character, high morals, or exemplary wisdom - if they're willing to disrobe in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. The net effect is that many people who aren't able to display one particular body type feel devalued.

    I'm convinced that, with God's Spirit within us, we can become enamored with the things that enamor God. By denying myself errant appetites and by meditating and feeding on the right things - including being "captivated" by my wife's love - I will train myself to desire only what is proper to be desired. This doesn't mean I can't appreciate another person's beauty. It does mean I can appreciate without obsessing. I can see without wanting to enter into a sexually or emotionally inappropriate relationship.

    Maturity demands that we adopt this view. Evelyn and James Whitehead put it so simply and powerfully: "When the body is love's only abode, change becomes an enemy." From a Christian perspective, change is not an enemy, but it is, in fact, the purpose of marriage - assuming that the change we desire is to become more holy. If my acceptance of my wife is based only on my feelings about her outward appearance rather than on her inner qualities, time will slowly but surely erode my affection.

    Those who live only for sexual pleasure and stimulation know only a very limited life -and probably experience a high degree of frustration as time inevitably takes its toll on their aging bodies. Those who find meaning and fulfillment not just in sexuality but in parenting their children, serving God, engaging in a consistent prayer life, and living virtuously have a much broader base from which to enjoy life. A thoughtful and godly marriage will move us in this direction."
     
  4. Kirisutokyoo-shinja

    Kirisutokyoo-shinja Stage Ninja

    +87
    Christian
    Single
    Give What You Have

    Do you remember the first time you saw your spouse naked? Some good friends of mine tried to "ease into it" on their wedding night. They decided to take a shower together, with the lights out. Unfortunately, the tub began to overflow. It was dark, remember, so they couldn't figure out what was going on with this unfamiliar hotel bathtub drain. Much to their chagrin, they were forced to turn on the lights and start mopping up in the nude. Their "twilight transition" turned into a spotlight extravaganza!

    It is one thing to stand naked and relatively trim in front of your partner in your early twenties. But what about in your late thirties, forties, or sixties? What about after the wife has given birth to a child (or two or three), and the husband's metabolism has slowed down, depositing "love handles" around his waist?

    Continue to give your body to your spouse even when you believe it constitutes "damaged goods" can be tremendously rewarding spiritually. It engenders humility, service, and an other-centered focus, as well as hammering hom ea very powerful spiritual principle: Give what you have.

    There are many times in which we are called to keep serving God even though we know that the situation is less than ideal maybe we want to share the gospel with a neighbor, but we just don't think we're smart enough or what we know the Bible we enough. Or perhaps we hear about a worthwhile charity and wish we could give thousands of dollars, all the while knowing it will be difficult to come up with even a twenty-dollar bill.

    Marriage teaches us to give what we have. God has given us one body. He has commanded our spouse to delight in that one body - and that body alone. If we withhold from our spouse our body, it becomes an absolute denial. We may not think it is a perfect body, but it is the only body we have to give.

    By no means am I suggesting that it is easy to give, but I am saying it is worthwhile to give. It is rewarding to say, "I'm willing to give you my best, even if I don't think my best is all that great." That kind of commitment reminds me of Peter, who told the Jerusalem beggar, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6)

    So many people fail to give God or others anything simply because they can't give everything. Learn to take small steps of obedience toward God - offering what you have, with all its blemishes and limitations - by offering what you have to your spouse.

    Calling Us Out of Ourselves

    One of the most perplexing problems for me when considering Christian spirituality has been admitting how much we are affected by chemistry. It is sobering to see someone virtually cured from serious disorders through a readjustment of their chemical imbalance.

    Scientists have shown that men become more nurturing as they age and as their testosterone level decreases, and older women often become more ambitious as estrogen levels go through adjustments. As hormones play less of a role, the sex differences begin to blur somewhat (but are never entirely eclipsed).

    Our sexuality is indelibly connected with bodily urges that are chemical in nature. I can abstain for quite some time, but abstinence changes in nature as time builds. I don't always like the fact that a spiritual struggle has such a physical relief, but it's the way God made me - and you.

    There's another way of looking at this, however. Sex may be God's way of calling us to connect with each other. This need for physical expression will sometimes literally force us to work through and resolve emotional and spiritual conflict. This is where a biblical view of divorce and remarriage is essential. Too many Christians enter the process of divorce assuming they can automatically remarry as soon as the divorce papers are finalized. But let's say we were to accept the biblical view (and our civil laws and church leaders were to support this), which would in most cases declare something like this: "You may opt for a divorce, but you cannot ever engage in sex again with anyone else for the rest of your life." Most, if not all, of the men would find or create a way to be reconciled. They would not choose celibacy.

    I remember talking frankly to two Christian men once about the ideals of Christian marriage. I cracked them up when I freely confessed,

    "You bet I've swallowed arguments because I wanted something from my wife later that night." They both admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that they too had done the same thing. I'm not proud of the fact that I'm less willing to stand up for my beliefs when I feel "the urge" - and I particularly don't like the fact that what feels like a physical need directs my spiritual attitudes - but I can learn to use that physical need for spiritual benefit.

    Let me put this succinctly: We can learn to use the sex drive to groom our character. Out of a need to be intimate with their wives, husbands may learn to show tenderness and empathy. Wives may use physical intimacy to help capture their husbands' interest emotionally. Emotionally. Idealistically, we would seek opportunities to grow because that's what we're called to do as Christians. Realistically, it doesn't hurt to have such a physical need pushing us in that same direction of growing in character.

    Remember, we are fallen saints. God has redeemed us, to be sure, but all of us are still mired in sin. Our sanctification will never be perfect this side of heaven. Something as important as preserving marriage - especially in the earlier years when the kids are small and stability is supremely important - can't be left merely to altruistic motives.

    The sex drive literally calls us out of ourselves and into another. Provided that the "other" is our spouse, this is a fruitful exercise. It reinforces the "falling forward" concept we talked about in chapter 9. As we are called out of ourselves, we nurture interdependence and fellowship, two very valuable Christian practices.

    The Price of Passion

    From the record of King David's life and his psalms, it is clear that he was an unusually passionate man. When Nathan the prophet tells the story of a wealthy man who stole a poor man's only lamb, David is incensed.
    "The man who did this deserves to die!" (2 Samuel 12:5), he rails, not realizing that Nathan is talking about him. And when David writes of his passion for God, he does so with an almost unparalleled fever of emotion - "My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psalm 63:1).

    There is no doubt that David's passion occasionally got him into trouble - the story of Bathsheba is well-known - but nowhere in Scripture are we told to go to the other extreme and choose a passionless existence. In fact, we are told in the book of Revelation that God would rather have us hot or cold, anything but the putrid "luke-warm" (Revelation 3:16).

    The German philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that our passions tune us into the world. Tune us into the world... Think about that for a moment. A sexually fulfilled and active wife radiates a certain energy. A man who is sexually satisfied with his wife exudes a sense of well-being. Passion is a very healthy thing.

    Just as love expands us, so passion can as well. Passion is not meted out, decreasing every time it is expressed. In fact, the opposite is often the case - the more passionate we become about one thing, the more passionate we tend to become about many other things. A man who is passionate about his wife can be passionate about justice, about God's kingdom, about his own children, about the environment. On the flip side, if he is facing serious sexual problems within his marriage, a feeling of frustration and a certain despondency is liable to settle like a cloud over his work, his faith, and his fellowship. He is likely to become selfishly preoccupied and self-absorbed.

    "Stoicism" has never been a Christian philosophy. If truth be told, we serve a passionate God who feels deeply.

    Our passions are what make us come alive. The apathetic person is a pathetic person. While we often fear our passions because they can carry us into an affair, a fight, or some other destructive behavior, the solution is not living a less passionate life but in finding the right things to be passionate about.

    The history expressed in the Bible and in the two thousand years of Christian experience attest to the fact that Christian spirituality is largely about maintaining our thirst and passion for God and his purposes in this world. Admittedly, at times our passions can lead us astray, but Christian marriage teaches us to manage these passions, like the dam keepers in Washington state. You can hardly drive a hundred miles on the western side of Washington without coming across a dam of some type, so my family is familiar with the process. Sometimes dam managers opt to let the water flow rather freely; other times they hold it down to a trickle.

    That's what marriage teaches us to do. Sometimes it is healthy and good to let marital passions run free, even if we fear that we are almost crossing the line over into lust. Some people make the mistake of believing that because they have been burned by their passion and their sexual hunger, the antidote is to completely cut it off. They do to sex what an anorexic does to food: I don't want to overeat and become fat, so I won't eat at all. This isn't a healthy attitude - it's a demented one.

    The healthy life is a life of saying yes and no. I travel quite a bit, so there are many times that my wife and I must fast from sexual expression. Couples with young kids, particularly babies soon learn that they can no longer express themselves sexually whenever they get the inclination. At other seasons, our spouse may be ill or worn-out, and it would be unkind to place sexual expectations on them. In such situations, sexual fasting is appropriate and necessary.

    But times of "feasting" are also necessary. In fact, every no we say to sex should be placed in context of a corresponding yes:

    "To fast from sexual contact because eros is evil is not a Christian discipline but an unholy and unhealthy flight from creation. The no of fasting is fruitful only if we have some deeply valued yeses in our life. The arduous discipline of fasting complements our feasting: we need something to fast for. Without some compelling values to pursue and defend, we have no reason to hold back any stirring or impulse."

    In other words, abstinence is not a cul-de-sac or dead end; it is a long on-ramp. My denial of sexual expression when I'm apart from my wife is empowered by what the future holds when I get home. I am not truly saying no, but rather, wait. Rather than being a complete denial, it is a channeling of desire into the proper place. Sexual abstinence for singles (who are not called to celibacy) has the same nature. Teens are urged to wait because by doing so their future marital relations will be all the sweeter. Faithfulness seasons the marital bed in many delightful and profound ways.

    I don't want to overspiritualize this. We don't always have to think "spiritual" thoughts when we are enjoying conjugal relations. Passions call us to enter fully into life. Passion is at the heart of the Sabbath commandment, which has two sides: Six days you shall work - engage yourself vigorously - and the seventh day you shall rest. Work hard, then reset well. Both are necessary for a meaningful life. At times, sex will have distinctly spiritual overtones; at other times, it will be a celebration of physical pleasure. Both are holy within marriage.

    The bottom line is this: Passion and engagement are extremely important. They should be cultivated in marriage and brought to bear on all of life.

    Celebration

    I tend to be overly serious in my faith, and so I was greatly challenged when I came across an old book written by Elton Trueblood titled The Humor of Christ. Trueblood writes, "Any alleged Christianity which fails to express itself in gaiety, at some point, is clearly spurious." He has plenty of biblical support to back this up. There were at least three major feasts prescribed in the Old Testament - Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles - as well as many other religious celebrations (see Leviticus 23; Numbers 28, 29). These could be elaborate affairs. The Feast of Tabernacles, for example, involved a seven-day feast in which the Israelites were commanded to rejoice and forbidden to mourn.

    The fact is, God is worthy of infinite celebration. Jesus said at one point that if the crowds had not broken forth in praise, the very stones would have cried out (see Luke 19:40). God forbid that we would get shown up by a bunch of rocks!

    I have to constantly break out of my "serious" rut. That's just my nature. I tend to view celebration as "flighty" or less reverent - but that's a personal prejudice I'm trying to overcome.

    Marital sexuality provides a unique context for celebration. Naked in each other's arms, it doesn't matter if you have a portfolio worth a million dollars or if you're struggling with the realities of a negative net worth. You could be lying in a luxurious bed on the top floor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel or enjoying a night away from the kids at a Motel 6. You could be delighting in a honeymoon as you celebrate life in your twenties or thirties, or renewing your passion as you celebrate life in your sixties or seventies. Regardless of your station or status in life, you're celebrating a deeply human dance, a transcendent experience created by no less a preeminent mind than that of Almighty God himself.

    There is a time to fast. There is a time to "take up our cross daily." There is a time to be "seasoned with fire." But there is also a time to be virtually transported to another world through the intimate sharing and exploration of our spouse's body.

    Some of us need to be reminded to celebrate with Zeal. Others of us need to be reminded that there is a place for thoughtful sobriety, quiet reverence, and deliberate duty. The marriage relationship makes available to us a full, responsive, and responsible human experience - assuming responsibility, to be sure, but along with that responsibility relishing the very real and earthy pleasure of sexual activity, an intense celebration that gently reminds us of the heavenly existence that awaits all God's children.
     
  5. Kirisutokyoo-shinja

    Kirisutokyoo-shinja Stage Ninja

    +87
    Christian
    Single
    Beyond Touch

    It may take some couples many months to be comfortable viewing their sexual intimacy as a form of spiritual expression, faith, and maturity. Unfortunately, while Christians should be leading the way in this regard, adherents of other faiths have preceded us on a popular level. There are numerous books today that seek to integrate eastern philosophy and Tantric spirituality with sexuality, but in most cases these books use spirituality to heighten physical sensations. We are suggesting precisely the opposite - that the physical sensations can heighten our spiritual sensitivities. The Christian worldview doesn't disparage the physical; it embraces it. But in doing so, it reminds us that there are higher values than physical pleasure - that this world is passing away, and true joy and fulfillment can only be found in a relationship with God and in holy fellowship with his children.

    To fully embrace marital sexuality and all that God designed it for, couples must bring their Christianity into bed and break down the wall between their physical and spiritual intimacy. Donald Goergan writes, "The dichotomy between sexuality and spirituality and between celibacy and marriage is destructive and inappropriate. Integration lies in seeing how we can be both sexual and spiritual simultaneously and in seeing that choosing one way of life does not imply the inferiority of the other."

    Sex is about physical touch, to be sure, but it is about far more than physical touch. It is about what is going on inside us. Developing a fulfilling sex life means I concern myself more with bringing generosity and service to bed than with bringing washboard abdomens. It means I see my wife as a holy temple of God, not just a tantalizing human body. It even means that sex becomes a form of physical prayer - a picture of a heavenly intimacy that rivals the shekinah glory of old.

    Our God, who is spirit (John 4:24), can be found behind the very physical panting, sweating, and pleasurable entangling of limbs and body parts. He doesn't turn away. He wants us to run into sex, but to do so with his presence, priorities, and virtues marking our pursuit. If we experience sex in this way, we will be transformed in the marriage bed every bit as much as we are transformed on our knees in prayer.

    Excerpt from -
    Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?
    [Kindle Edition]
    by Gary Thomas
     
  6. Supplanter

    Supplanter There is no charge for awesomeness.

    +311
    Word of Faith
    Married
    I decided to pick this book up yesterday as someone else reccommended it and I am about to get married.
     
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