Rilke on the connection of spiritual and physical through sexuality
Well, lovely readers, I am back in California and getting back into regular life after my second and final session of training in spiritual direction.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the last three weeks of guest posts as much as I have! We will continue to have Five Questions on… every Friday for as long as we still have willing participants. Everyone is welcome, so please feel free to share your responses and add your voice to the conversation.
I had some grand ideas for launching back into regular posting here at HBTB, but I’m afraid I’ve suffered from technical difficulties (three laptops in three weeks!). For today, let’s enjoy this little snippet from the ever-wise Rainer Maria Rilke on the connection of the spiritual and the physical through experiencing our sexuality.
In the Fourth Letter of Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke writes:
We can recall that all beauty in animals and plants is a silent and enduring form of love and longing. We can see the animal just as we perceive the plant, patiently and willingly uniting, multiplying, and growing, not from physical desire, not from physical grief, rather from adapting to what has to be. That existing order transcends desire and grief and is mightier than will and resistance. The earth is full of this secret down to her smallest things. Oh, that we would only receive this secret more humbly, bear it more earnestly, endure it, and feel how awesomely difficult it is, rather than to take it lightly.
Oh, that we might hold in reverence our fertility, which is but one, even if it seems to be either spiritual or physical. Spiritual creativity originates from the physical. They are of the same essence — only spiritual creativity is a gentler, more blissful, and more enduring repetition of physical desire and satisfaction. The desire to be a creator, to give birth, to guide the growth process is nothing without its constant materialization in the world, nothing without the thousandfold consent of things and animals. Its enjoyment is so indescribably beautiful and rich only because it is filled with inherited memories of millions of instances of procreation and births. In one thought of procreation a thousand forgotten nights of love are resurrected and that thought is fulfilled in grandeur and sublimity…
Perhaps the sexes are more closely related than one would think. Perhaps the great renewal of the world will consist of this, that man and woman, freed of all confused feelings and desires, shall no longer seek each other as opposites, but simply as members of a family and neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to simply, earnestly, patiently, and jointly bear the heavy responsibility of sexuality that has been entrusted to them.
Thoughts? Questions? Reactions? Share in the comment box below.
Trust and Body Theology: what my husband taught me about God
I saw this tweet last week on Anne Lamott’s feed, and I got to thinking.
In grad school, I took a class called Marriage and Interpersonal Relationships in which the professor talked about how people at bottom have either struggles with shame or trust issues. Everyone has a little of both, but either shame or trust is the key component in why we think the way we think, why we act the way we act, and why we end up in the conflict cycles in relationships that we end up in.
After a lot of soul-searching (and a paper we had to write), I finally came to the conclusion that I am a trust-issue person. Somehow, being a shame-issue person seemed better or easier to admit, but when I finally realized the truth about my own woundedness, I began to take steps toward my healing.
I did a lot of work on myself after that, which took years. I remember something a close friend once said about the healing she experienced in her life (as a shame-issue person). She said that the final healing came from her husband.
That’s what I thought of when I read that tweet the other day. I thought about all the work I did to undo the learning I had learned growing up that no one was trustworthy and that I had to take care of everything myself. I thought about all the work I did to learn to do more than say the words with my mouth that God is trustworthy; I also had to believe it in my heart.
But at the end of the day, the final healing came from my relationship with my husband.
When I read that tweet, I thought about how I trust my husband implicitly and completely without the slightest twinge of doubt, suspicion, or jealousy. If he says he’s working late, I know that means he is. If he chats on Facebook with an old girlfriend, I know they really are just friends. I know because every single day since the day we met he has proven with his behavior that I can trust him. I know because even when some embarrassingly irrational fear emerged while we were dating, and I acted out, he said the words I needed him to say and behaved the way I needed him to behave to prove to me again that I can trust him. I know because if he could see the irrational, embarrassing side of me with all the woundedness still left unhealed and still want to date me and marry me and love me forever, he was worthy of my trust.
And it made me think about God, too, and how hard it is for me to trust God. It’s easy to love God, serve God, praise God. But trust? For some people, believing that God loves them, that they are love-able, is the hardest thing. For me, believing God is trustworthy (especially believing that I don’t have to earn it) is the hardest thing. I’ve been slowly healing from this great lie I believed for years, but the final healing came from my husband.
My aunt once said, famously, that sometimes we just want someone with skin on. Sometimes, no matter how many Bible verses we memorize or how much theology we learn about who God is and who we are, we just can’t accept the truth until we receive it from someone with skin on.
That is the beauty of the incarnation. God poured all of that majesty and might and holiness and completeness and divinity into one small, simple, ordinary human being. After everything we had learned, after all our God-encounters throughout history, we just couldn’t get it until we actually saw, felt, heard, and sat at the feet of someone with skin on.
That’s how we’re made.
If my husband — a fallible human being just like I am — can be this honest, this dependable, this trustworthy, then SURELY how much more so is the God we love and serve and praise?
I’m no fool. I don’t expect my husband to be perfect. I know he is not God. I know he will let me down, hurt me, disappoint me, and maybe even betray my trust in him one day. But through his physical presence in my life, I have been able to experience the truth about who God is. All the Bible verses in the world couldn’t do that.
That is body theology.
14+ Life Seasons We Balance
Balance is not a new concept. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll let Solomon do the honors:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.[a]
16 And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
17 I said to myself,
“God will bring into judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time to judge every deed.”
18 I also said to myself, “As for human beings, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath[b]; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
22 So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?
What season of life are you in? How do you find balance in this season of life?
Share your experience in the comment box below.
Reflections on Body Theology: 10 Lies I Believe about My Body
1) I’m not pretty.
2) Even with makeup, I’m not pretty.
3) I need to lose weight.
4) I have too much hair in the wrong places.
5) I am responsible for how men react to the way I look.
6) Dressing in clothes that aren’t baggy is immodest.
7) Showing my legs or arms is immodest.
8) I should be ashamed of myself for wanting to look pretty.
9) My husband is not really attracted to me.
10) I’m not feminine enough.
Reflections on Body Theology: 10 Things I Appreciate about My Sexuality
1) The way getting my period routinely reminds me of my ability to create a new human being inside my body
2) The ability to experience such unique pleasure and intimacy with another human being
3) The give-and-take involved in shared sexuality with another human being
4) The ability to emotionally bond with another human being through a physical act
5) How our sexual nature unites all humanity in basic human experience
6) How my sexual nature unites me with the sexual nature of Christ who took on human form to be with us
7) How sexual experience–like eating and drinking, hiking, or even bathing–can be at once physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual
8) How sexual experience–like contemplation–engages all my physical, emotional, and mental energy
9) The way sexual experience is both a release and a gain
10) The way sexual experience is creative in its possibility for new life–figuratively and literally
Forward Friday: Bathtub Spirituality
For today’s Forward Friday, and to wrap up our two-week foray through Flora Slosson Wuellner’s Prayer and Our Bodies, I thought we’d conclude with another of her suggested guided meditations for daily living.
I have always been a big proponent of what I like to call “bathtub spirituality,” in which some of my closest and most profound encounters with God have come while I was in the bathtub. Maybe I’ll write a whole post about it sometime, but for today, let’s experience prayer with our bodies through the daily act of…
How precious is thy steadfast love, O God!…They feast on the abundance of thy house, and thou givest them drink from the river of thy delights. For with thee is the fountain of life. — Psalm 36:7-9
Thou visitest the earth and waterest it, thou greatly enrichest it. — Psalm 65:9
As you drink the morning’s first water, as your body cleanses itself inwardly through elimination , and as you wash your outer body, become appreciatively aware of this refreshing, pleasurable cleansing. These are healthy, holy experiences and are meant (as with any act of holiness) to be enjoyed. Water on the body is an ancient, sacramental symbol of God’s love and healing flowing out to human beings and to all living things. Many people find that they pray best and most fully and can feel God’s response most clearly when in the shower!
Try this simple mediation next time you’re in the shower, and leave a comment in the box below to share how it went. Blessings on your bathtub!
A Confession and an Open Door
Any assault, manipulation, depersonalization of our earth is even more destructive to our humanity than is the depersonalization of our own bodies. – Wuellner, Prayer and Our Bodies
I have a confession to make. I’m not a very good activist. I’m not politically-minded, and I don’t enjoy creating or participating in demonstrations or rallies. I believe that issues of social justice and creation care are important and that, as a Christian, I should work for them. But I’m not good at it.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to explore Wuellner’s book with all of you, and I’ve enjoyed and resonated with every chapter…except this one.
Chapter 9: Prayer for the Body of the Earth
As she did in Chapter 8 with the human body and embodied community, Wuellner draws parallels between the human body and what she calls “the body of the earth.” She writes, “Our earth body, with its atmosphere, its water, its soil, its shrubs, trees, grass, animal life, is as much a bodily self as we are.”
Wuellner suggests that, as we often do with our own bodies, humankind has treated the earth with disdain and disgust: “At best, we have taken it for granted, used it, manipulated it. At worst, we have assaulted it, ravaged it, and, for immediate gain, destroyed many forms of its life with careless unconcern, poisoning its air, water, and soil.”
That sounds like a social activist‘s speech, doesn’t it? Next, we expect to hear some pithy catchphrase like “Save the Whales.”
But Wuellner takes a different tactic. As a professor, ordained minister, and trained spiritual director, Wuellner is much less interested in taking up The Cause and much more interested in a holistic discussion of bodily prayer–one that includes prayer for the earth that Genesis tells us God gave into our hands to maintain.
In fact, Wuellner suggests that part of the empowerment we feel when we experience healing is a desire toward creation care: “As we relate anew to our bodily selves, we begin to feel an urgency to relate anew to the body of our earth.” She takes a step further to suggest that the “earth itself, even as our bodies, needs our healing and prayer as much as we need its healing and prayer.”
Wuellner takes care to remind her readers that concern with the well-being of the earth is not a new concept in Christian history and theology. She quotes a reflection from Hildegard of Bingen:
Does not humanity know that God
is the world’s creator?
With nature’s help,
humankind can set into creation
all that is necessary and life sustaining.
An Open Door
Are you an advocate for social justice and creation care? Would you like to share your experience? I’d like to establish an open door, through which any of you lovely readers are welcome to step by way of writing a guest post that explores the service aspect of body theology. This is a standing offer, at least for the time being. If you’re interested, please send me your submission at email@example.com.
Not ready for a guest post? Drop me a line in the comments below to share your story.