Oh my, oh my, oh my…
I have returned to reading the poems of religious mystics during my morning meditation time. This is the second time I have committed ten months to reading these poems from both East and West. Right now I am under the magic spell of St. Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth century mystic who has probably captured the attention of more hungry spiritual seekers than any other Christian mystic.
I say that I am under her spell as her writing is absolutely steamy. The last five poems have focused on desire, the sensual enjoyment of God, being tickled by God, and the teasing question, “How do we make love to God.” I can’t even write about the fifth poem without worrying about the sex police filling my inbox. Let’s just say that she refers to the “warm places” and she isn’t talking about a tropical island!
I am struck by how much we talk of faith, hope and love in the church while the mystics lean more on the words of desire, yearning, want, passion and attraction. The first emphasizes deep spiritual qualities while the latter utilizes the language of sensuality and sexuality.
I sometimes wonder how we missed this whole part of our tradition. Very rarely do I hear a preacher offer a good, juicy sermon from the Songs of Songs with God portrayed as a passionate lover. In fact, if anything we tend to neutralize the language of sexuality. In Genesis we prefer to say that Adam “knew” his wife, but the R-rated version is much more graphic and true to life.
I wonder if we are still suffering the effects of the dangerous duality often attributed to the Apostle Paul where spirit is good and flesh is bad. We are a funny society where sexuality is often cheapened in the theater and avoided in the church. Where is the healthy medium where sexuality and the yearning for another human being is seen as a sacred gift from God? Why do we seem to only have two alternatives—a sexual culture where anything goes and a religious culture where nothing goes, unless you just can’t help it.
I noticed my language changing a few years ago when I was writing about my experience of cycling. One day I surprised myself and wrote, “Cycling for me is how I make love to the Earth. It is where I get to enjoy her contours and let my wheels drift lazily around her curves.” I had a consultant who was helping me shape my blog presence and when I shared this with her she turned red in the face and said, “I don’t think your audience is ready for that!” She was probably right. But the truth is my spiritual language has shifted in recent years. More and more I talk about “my love affair with God” and less about my moral obligation to love God and others.
I would hate to see the day when the church only became a safe place for religious mystics. I am not advocating that the church abandon its orthodoxy and replace it with the experiential faith of the mystics. But I wonder if our churches desperately need to make room for both. I wonder if those who come to church to have their faith, hope and love deepened need to make room also for those who speak the spiritual language of desire, yearning, passion and attraction. Some people love God. Others are in love with God.
There is a reason that St. Teresa of Avila may be the most read Christian mystic in America.
As I read the fifth poem in a row of St. Teresa of Avila speaking of God in terms usually reserved for R-rated movies I wondered, “Why is this so taboo in the church? What is it about our sensual desires that makes us feel less than spiritual? Why is the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) avoided in Christian preaching? Why did God create us as sexual beings and then ordered us not to talk about it.”
What would happen if we, like St. Teresa, daydreamed about making love to God?
Would our sacred encounter give birth to something completely new?
Oooh…did I really write all that in a church blog!
Oh my, oh my, oh my…
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades