Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spirituality and Sensuality

There is a fine line between living a spiritual and a sensual life. Clearly if God thought humanity was wholly awful the holy would not inhabit the profane as did Jesus. Further if the light were less than the darkness it would not be able to cast out light.
Jesus appears to have lived and loved being in this body despite the tendency of some to see only the 'suffering of the cross' rather than appreciate the childhood, work, friendships, weddings and suppers. Clearly most Christians 'believe' Jesus was 'celibate' but the fact remains 'erotica' and 'pornography' were not part of the 'tale'. The Essenes, the sect with which John the Baptist was thought to have been associated knew celibacy but the traditional Jewish wisdom said "a man without a woman is not a man'. It wasn't surprising to think that Jesus and Mary were 'romantically' attracted and perhaps were it not for the Romans the young carpenters son might have married and had children. However it would be wrong to think they had an illicit relationship as some have suggested. Jesus was truthful and would not have committed adultery and maintained the respect of his community. Indeed he said a person's 'thoughts' could be a sexual transgression in a day when only 'actions' were held to be accountable. Yet he did not talk about sex in detail.
His 'mission' in contrast to St. Paul's emphasized wholly different matters than the 'sexual'. St. Paul on the other hand and St. Peter actually argued over genital mutilation. The divisions in the 'church' were present from the earliest, not just with Judas. In the history of Christianity there have been those like the early church father Origen who castrated himself to avoid sexual thoughts. Women in contrast never were terribly discouraged from ribald thinking by the church. They were supposed to be fecund with their husbands but as to whether they physically enjoyed sex and sensuality was a different matter.
The church was full of gluttons. Fat ladies and fat old men were a part of all churches that I've ever been in and fat is the external expression of gluttony no diffent than bastards were an external expression of adultery. Yet this 'excess' of sensuality was tolerated as was 'avarice' .
Jesus spoke directly about the rich man not getting into heaven. Yet the church is full of wealthy people who don't see a need to give away their wealth yet might expect their gluttonous friend to forego a second helping. They certainly would frown on their neighbours mistress but would remain 'mum' if their wealth involved some 'shady' or 'clever' business practice. Jesus talked a lot more about material acquisition and fear than he did about sensuality.
Yet there was a long debate in the church whether Jesus was God, or half god half man, or whether his flesh was real flesh or sacred flesh. There's been those who rejected all 'pleasure' and 'scourged themselves' in the early Desert Father movements. Some spiritual people feel guilty about enjoying 'the taste of food'. They acknowledge they must eat but 'enjoying the taste' is unspiritual.
The same was true of sex, making babies was necessary and unavoidable but should one enjoy it. No doubt some of the quickness and lack of sensuality in the 'wham bang thank you ma'am' scenario came from this 'defecatory' approach to matters sensual. Spirituality is about matters of the sense but love appears distinguished from 'lust', enjoyment of a fine meal from hoarding food and stuffing twinkles in the wee hours of the night.
Addiction theories are principally concerned with what is 'healthy' and what is 'unhealthy' in behaviours where sensuality is so obsessively indulged as the spiritual is lost. C.S. Lewis cautioned us not to look for the Architect in the wall of the building. To this end a whole movement of Christian gentility and yuppies in the 30's to 90's felt the whole idea was 'balance' and 'moderation'. This 'middle road' approach was aimed at much as the hedonists and epicureans had countered the tenets of the stoics in their 'attitudes' to this 'world'. One was to be in the world but not of the world.
I listen to Christian shows and read Christian and spiritual writings and this is commonly at the centre of modern day discussion though often the participants seem unaware that such discussions predated Christ and were certainly a major concern in the church. The nature of Jesus is a whole area of study because clearly a half man, half god would make Jesus something akin to the Greek godmen half animal half human chimera creatures. Not at all what Jesus was, so what was he. And how can we become homo spiritus without losing 'homo sapiens' or are we indeed to leave the 'homo sapiens'behind. Why then would St. Francis refer to his body in old age affectionately as 'Brother Ass'.  There are those whose 'holiness' is a 'hot house' plant and they seem to have 'left this world' when I wonder what if God has given this world to us to live in as Adam and Eve but not to be lost in as the Tower of Babble story suggests. Certainly we don't want to be living as they did before Noah. But what was that?
 Redemption speaks to this as well. But the Spiritual and Sensual are not opposites as the some religionists would have us believe. In Celtic Christianity the world is "Gods Creation' as are we. But always in the background I see the beautiful picture by Rembrandt of the Prodigal Son. I wonder what picture Rembrandt would paint if there had been a Podigal Daughter story in the Bible.

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