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Spirit and Sex 


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It is either no secret or the best kept secret that there is a deep connection between sex and spirit.  Mystics in virtually all religious traditions have cast the divine-human relationship in terms of marriage and romantic love.   The Bible, often assumed by many who don’t read it to be anti-sex and anti-body, is replete with stories, poems, and reflections on the relationship between sex and spirit.  Indeed the major idea in the Bible exists in its King James Title:  “The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments.”  That word “testament” means “covenant.”  And one of the chief images, if not indeed the major image, used in the prophets and psalms to describe the covenant between God and Israel is marriage.  

The core of that idea is that sexual experience is the human activity that most closely approximates the relationship of Creator and creation.

Little wonder!  It is the place where humans are most vulnerable, most naked, most on-the-line with each other.  It is the space where new life is created, bodily fluids with the stuff of life in them exchanged, the partnership of penetration and reception often played out.  


A Problem

Perhaps because sex is correctly perceived to be the most potent of all animal drives, primates seek in various ways to control it by means of power, proprietorship, and connecting it with access to food and safety.  There has grown up around human sexual behavior a collection of taboos, rules, myths, symbols, and rituals that seek to regulate sexual activity.  Most of this edifice works by triggering shame, guilt, and the fear of ostracism if sexual mores, as determined by a particular culture, are transgressed.  And the construct of controlling sexual expression in turn depends upon the invocation of super-authority, usually guarded by authorized personnel within religious systems.  All this effectively severs the very tie that spirit and sex enjoy at their profoundest depth.  All the laws, shibboleths, and taboos, however, are inadequate to stop sexual experience.  Rather, they drive it underground.  People keep doing things that are outside the permission of their society, and only by dint of courage, perseverance, or rationalization do they keep from breaking under the weight of shame, fear, and self-loathing.

The result is an intense suspicion on the part of many contemporary (that is, partly freed and somewhat conscious) people that “spiritual” has anything to do with sex, “spiritual” being understood to be the province of the very forces that control, oppress, and police sexual expression.  


Why We Need Jonathan’s Circle  

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Both men and women are in a quandary. How do we reconcile our powerful sex drives with the life of the spirit, which is often seen to be at odds with the flesh?  Men in particular are considered socially acceptable to the extent that they conform to standards that frequently and largely work against many of the things that men enjoy.  Major religious institutions in the West, for example, still hold to notions that permit sex only in heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong relationships; that sex for any reason other than procreation is sinful; that masturbation is forever and always wrong and impure;  that all pornography is degenerate; and that even sexual fantasies are soul-damaging.  

Jonathan’s Circle cuts across these issues by assuming that every man is both a spirit and a body, the two being interdependent and inseparable in earthly life.  We presume that each man has the right to nurture his spirit, and the responsibility to discern what kind of spiritual life he wishes to live.  We also provide the container in which men can unpack both the resonance and the dissonance between their spiritual lives and their various sexual experiences.  Jonathan’s Circle arises out of the conviction that it is possible to find freedom, joy, redemption, happiness, and wholeness through embracing every aspect of the human body, disciplining and shaping sexual practices and desires in ways that affirm a man’s deep values and his sense of selfhood, honoring his own integrity.

Joseph Kramer was in the Society of Jesus for more than ten years. He left when he was twenty-eight years old and is now the director of EroSpirit Research Institute and a researcher in the area of erotic spirituality.

“During my years as a Jesuit, the meaning and direction of my life was clear. My commitment was to be a man for others living in a community of men with similar commitments. My desire was to do God's will by following in the footsteps of Jesus. But after ten years, I finally acknowledged that my special way of loving and serving others involved not celibacy but the gift of my sexuality.

“As I stepped off the treadmill of religious life, I asked myself, "How much of what I value must I change?" Just because I was not called to be celibate, do I have to give up living in a community of men committed to justice-doing and love-making? Did the fact that I left the Jesuits mean that I no longer wished to do God's will or be in relationship to Jesus?

“It was important for me to acknowledge every aspect of religious life that was nourishing and meaningful for me. I didn't want to give anything up-except celibacy. So, as a gay man, I started looking for new forms of monasticism that celebrate physically the dear love of comrades. I have been amazed at where that journey has taken me. One lesson I have learned is "Just because you leave the priesthood or religious life does not mean that you have to relinquish one iota of your spirituality."

— Quoted in an article by Bob Barzan “Leaving the Priesthood," in White Crane Onlinehttp://whitecrane.typepad.com/, accessed through gaywisdom.org, August 11, 2014.

And just because you are a sexual man does not mean that you have to relinquish one iota of your spirituality.


      © Frank Dunn 2014