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The difference between eroticism and ecstasy
Jesus is making our bodies right
On Sunday, I was talking about how Jesus is saving our bodies. How Jesus is “making our bodies right.” I don’t want to delve into what a “right” body is and what a “wrong” body is. I know that the term “right” may conjure that dichotomy for you, so let’s just drop it.
When I say “right,” I don’t mean right as opposed to wrong. I’m referring to this term in Greek: dikaiosune (δικαιοσύνη, decay-ah-soon-ay) which means righteousness, or justice, or rectification. You might say, “God is making all things just,” or “God is making all things righteous,” “God is redeeming all things.”
When I talk about bodies, I don’t want to talk about the forms of our bodies, as much. Because I do think that in discussing the physical attributes of our bodies we begin to assign meaning to those attributes, which I think actually undoes the righteousness that God is assigning to them. I don’t need to go into a long list here, but you can imagine how we value bodies: we value gender in different ways, which is often assigned to us by our bodies; we assign value to skin color; we assign value to weight and physique; we assign value to whether people are able-bodied or not. And so there is a lot of dehumanizing that happens when we think of our bodies at all. And I really do think that gets us off on the wrong foot. When we assign varying meanings to our bodies, we are dehumanizing ourselves, actually making ourselves less alive.
How we treat our bodies affects how we treat community and creation
Our bodies are sacred because they are our lives. If our bodies are not elemental to our lives, or one-in-the-same, there is significant consequence to that philosophy. And I think that that consequence actually expresses itself in our world today. Informed by Greek philosophers, we still think of our body and soul as separate. And so we might think, even as Christians, that our bodies are less important because that saving work of Jesus is actually about our souls.
There is theological consequence to this matter, in that it affects how we treat our bodies. There is eschatological consequence because it affects how we view the resurrection. But there is also an ethical consequence because it affects how we treat one another and even the very creation around us. If we are to be resurrected, so will the earth around us. Our future is embodied and so that leads us to care for both community and creation right now.
We have a corrupted way of seeing our bodies, though, perhaps in part due to that Greek dualism between our soul and body. Not just in our thoughts, but also our actions. We abuse our bodies, we abuse other people’s bodies; we end life, we destroy bodies. You can see this every day. Endless war, police violence, sexual assault. The list goes on and on. We don’t respect life. We don’t respect bodies. And to make it a little smaller, we might not listen to our bodies, we might not use our bodies; we might just treat them as less-than-frail as they are.
And so the culmination of Jesus’ life isn’t surprising. It ends in death. It ends in crucifixion. The powers see Jesus’ flesh as crucifiable. Jesus is so human, Jesus dies. And in his death, he not only saves us, but he endures everything that we endure and identifies with us. He is broken so that we are not. Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.
Purity and autonomy aren’t how we make our bodies right
The answer to the question of bodily justice isn’t just acting like we aren’t living together. It’s not leaving each other alone. It’s not never interacting. It’s not just being “autonomous.” The antidote to violence against our bodies isn’t never touching one another. It’s not fearing our bodies. The other side of being reckless with our bodies is seeing our bodies as a source of sin, instead of life. And that can lead to a very limited experience where we never learn to enjoy food, sex, dancing, all sorts of stuff that can lead to more life instead of life-diminishment and death. When we see our bodies as sources of sin, instead of abodes of God, we really are just slowly dying. We are moving from crucifiable bodies to ones that aren’t. We aren’t just graduating from our bodies into thin air. So for now, we aren’t going for a sterile environment. We can be both free and connected. We can actually use our bodies to deepen and further our lives, instead of being afraid of them.
Using our bodies in worship is one way to do this. I was moved on Sunday when Dan led us to sway back and forth as we proclaimed that The Storm Is Passing Over. His calls and our responses were magnetic and energetic. Wes led us similarly to worship with our whole bodies last week. We can experience ecstasy when we worship that way. Our spiritual lives should be emotional and ecstatic, and our intimacy should be highlighted.
I think our faith can be reduced to an intellectual activity. I’m afraid that we’ve sterilized it to the point of not using our bodies or our emotions at all when we worship. I’m not surprised that we do this because we kind of are beholden to Greek dualism, where our bodies and souls are separated; where we might think that our livelihood is just in our minds. I guess that would explain why so many urbane mainline churches have no movement in them during worship (and the disdain with which more emotional expressions of our faith receive from those who deem themselves “smarter”).
Sex and worship are linked
So I want us to be intimate and emotional in worship; I want it to be an ecstatic experience. But I actually think there is a danger to the other side of sterilized Christianity. Sensuality, eroticism, and sexuality often feel similar to what you experience as you let the Spirit take you over. And so sex and worship are very much linked, but they aren’t the same. The danger is that we mix them up and we start thinking that our sexual expressions can be worshipful because they are facsimiles of our emotions in worship. That praising God and experiencing an orgasm are so similar, we may confuse one for the other. Or we might confuse love between friends as sexual attraction. These things have connection, but they aren’t the same, and for the sake of our health, the health of community, it’s important that we don’t mix them up.
One of the reasons that Paul writes to the Corinthians to warn them against “sexual immorality” is because that church has confused the two. They had super spiritual members, that sort of thought they were above the law, and as such engaged in widening expressions of sexuality, some that were deliberately sinful and others distracting. The sexual immorality of Corinth shows us that the link between faith and sex exists, no matter how much the fundamentalists try to squash it.
But if we don’t express that ecstasy and intimacy are a part of Christian community, I think they rear themselves in ugly ways. And so we need to talk about how sex works in Christian community; but also how worship can be an experience of ecstasy too. And how Christians can have non-sexual intimacy with one another. This of course begins with dignifying each other’s body and honoring one another. If we don’t repent of the ways we are hellbent to diminish life and live into the fullness of Jesus’ saving work, we can walk down some negative paths. And that work is daily. It isn’t a matter of our character alone. Every day we see the best people we know do the worst things imaginable. Our job then is to be vigilant, especially men, because our intentionality matters as much as our character. These things are related, and I don’t want to sacrifice the power of our bodies for fear of misusing them or abusing others. But that starts with self-examination and interrogation.