Archive for Sex

Love

wpid-Photo-27-maj-2012-0943.jpgSo let’s talk about love. What could be easier, love is after all the foundation of the Christian faith right! Love is the cornerstone, Love is the air that we breath, all you need is love!

Then again for as long as humans have walked the earth we have tried to define love and make sense of why love is so essential to us even though we can’t really put our finger on how or why.

All we now is that love is addictive like a drug, love lifts us up where we belong, all you need is love.

But we also know that love drives us all a little mad, love makes us do crazy things. Love makes introverts extrovert and extroverts introvert, love makes shy people sing and love can cause any one to do the most extraordinary and outlandish things.

“Love is insanity”

True love

From the day we turn on our first Disney flick we are taught that there is something called true love, and if Disney are to be believed: “True love’s kiss” is the most potent magic ever conjured up by mankind.

But there is something else that the idea of true love conveys, leaving behind the childish notion of “one true love”, no the idea of true love tells us that there is such a thing as false love.

C.S. Lewis calls this need-love and give-love, the distinction being that need-love is a love that is given only because we need love, give-love on the other hand is given simply as is with no expectation of a returned love, or need for it.

When we say that god is love, this is what we mean, god who loves, unconditionally and without either restraint or limit. This is true love and so true love is more than a feeling and more than a decision and even more than an action, true love is an elevated state, it is being. But true love is not just being it is BEING, as in the ultimate being.

Now C.S. Lewis is quick to warn us that while god is love, love is not god because, Lewis says, when love is made god it turns perverted and demonic. I am not sure I agree, but I do know that need-love or ego-love as I prefer to call it when elevated to godhood turns a diabolical tyrant.

We all have traces of ego-love, but we must understand that ego-love is also a love and the true-love can be thought to build on top of it or, maybe its better if I put it this way, once ego love grows and transcends the boundary of ego it transmutes into true love. Now, here is the secret of expanding ego-love. Ego-love thinks that it grows by gripping tighter, by contracting and becoming more and more focussed and narrow, this is of course not true. The more exclusive and narrowly focussed ego-love gets, the more it suffocates the flame and eventually it will snuff it out. Ego-love expands and grows only by relaxing and letting go, by allowing air, space and freedom by transmuting need into free gift. This of course feels like death to the ego and therefore the ego will kick and scream and give you hell every step of the way.

The stages of love

So in our traditions holy scriptures we have a few very descriptions of love, in the Old Testament we have Dod, Ahava and Raya. In the New testament we have Eros, Storge & Phileo and Agape.

I am thinking that these different words for love embodies different stages, resonances or harmonies of love. I think maybe I need to already at the outset say that while this maps out a progression, an expansion of love it does not mean that any expression or stage of love is better or more loving than any other. I know at times it may sound like this and, I know I am at risk of contradicting myself, but I want to make it clear that love is love no matter how high or low the vibration.

First stage love

So let us travel this wave of love. We are human and at the start of the spectrum we find the flame of physical love, this is Eros or Dod. This vibration is part of both the biology and chemistry of the body. This is touch and feeling. This is pure and raw sexual energy.

While for us this feels like the strongest fire, a roaring flame, this is because it moves and is felt in the body, on our skin, in our muscles. It is also often the kind of love we are least comfortable with. This because we are conditioned to feel shame around this. We feel it all the same because eros is such a strong current that it completely overwhelms our senses and can therefore sometime even override the brain and our carefully constructed thought structures.

But because this vibration is bound in the body, so while it may be the strongest fire it is also the most contracted or perhaps restricted of the loves.

When Eros is in the infant state or ego state, it is a consuming fire that demands satisfaction. Not only is it need-love it can easily be characterised as GIVE-ME-love. it is desire that demands instant gratification and satisfaction. The hyper sexualisation of our society feeds on the infantile, ego driven aspect of eros.

When allowed to expand and grow eros by sheer vital force offers us a short cut to the divine. When we can allow eros freedom, space and expansion the roaring fire of eros will shoot the energies skyward, it will put us on an express elevator to the highest and most refined vibrations of love. We can make this expansion happen by practicing intense presence and awareness when we are physically connected or when we feel strong desire and then when we are totally ‘there’ we can ride this desire all the way to heaven. It also happens by transforming the need or desire to receive to become the need or desire to give. When eros is freed from the ego and given without demand or expectation it expands rapidly and takes us with it.

I think this is why the song urges us:

“Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love.” (Song of Songs 5.1)

Second stage love

As we journey on we find that as we climb the foothills of the mountain of love we have settlements. Here we find both Storge (affection), Phileo (friendship) and ahava (commitment) This is love of the heart but tempered and ruled by the borders of the mind.

We categorise our love into acquaintances, friends, family and we feel stronger or weaker affection depending on the connection. The flame of ahava is a much cooler but also a much more steady flame, it will keep us out of the dark and carry us safely along our journey. C.S. Lewis actually states that 9/10ths of all our joy in life is given us through Storge the warm affection we feel for our fellow humans.

Most of us live our entire life between eros, storge and phileo and we sort all our relations in these three categories. We use different labels of relation to organise, control and contract eros and storge by use of phileo, ahava and raya (friendship, commitment, companionship). When in the infant stage or ego stage this friendship and commitment comes with a long list of expectations and demands.

I’ll be friends with you as long as I am your best friend and you spend the most time with me. I’ll commit my life to you and I will follow you, as long as you commit the same to me. If I am to love you, you must first promise to love me and actually come to think of it, I want you to love only me.

These harmonies of love, friendship and marriage especially are socially constructed, they are loves of the mind and will and when in ego states they can be very harsh and demanding. But as social contracts they are also tempered with give and take attitude, it may be need-love but it also gives.

It is in this we play out all our little relational dramas, it is here we label each other and put shackles on one another. We do it all in the name of love, though our love has yet to mature grow up and show us that we knew nothing at all about true-love.

These social or mind loves can be more or less infused with heart, when they are they expand naturally, the more heart we pour in the more we realise that the labels and the rules of the mind are inadequate to capture the beauty and the subtlety of our love and so as ego-love gives up control, expectations and demands. When we can commit to another without demanding commitment back, when we realise that our best way of loving someone is to release them into the biggest freedom we can imagine, that’s when this harmony is transmuted from ego-love to true love.

Third stage love

So moving on from the ordered settlements in the foothills we are now reaching soaring heights, the highest vibration of love, agape or simply god. This third stage of love is the unconditional love, the unlimited, unrestricted love given without discrimination and expectation.

This true-love or god-love is the source of all, it is where we come from, it is the core of our being, it is what connects you and me and everyone else in the divine.

Agape or unconditional, divine love does not discriminate, it does not hold back, it gives freely to the deserving and undeserving alike. It is an ever flowing river of love poured into our tiny cups that consequently overflow the second we step into its currents.

When we enter into agape love it is no longer we who are loving but we are love, we have accessed that inner connection with the divine and with the other and we simply are. It cannot be held back or constricted. However there is an ego version of this love but it is all together counterfeit. On the ego-level it is portrayed by prayers for world peace or a fight to end world hunger, it is the ego-expressing all encompassing love by lumping people together in groups and wishing well-fare and well being upon them….. ‘heal the world’

However this ego-conterfeit never exists on the personal level it is always inpersonal. it is always directed over there. I think this counterfeit is what James is getting at when he says you cannot love god and hate your brother. While agape blurs out all boundaries and transgresses every social construction and while it also acts as the quantum force that holds us together as a people, as a planet, as a universe it also interacts on the most personal and intimate level. it liberates, sanctifies and heals both the giver and receiver. in fact as it blurs out the boundaries there is no more giving or receiving there is just being.

This agape is the initial aim of all the other loves, it is the goal and reach of them. It is the lure of all existence. All pleasure, all longing, all desire, all beauty points towards divine love. it is the origin of all and the final destination of all.

To live in love

So what do we do with this? How do we reach this final destination? How do we partake in divine-love?

I am glad you asked!

To start with we must affirm and allow for love in all it’s harmonies to be a part of our every day lives. We must nurture and mature our love, by practicing to bring awareness, focus to our love, by being present to it and to relax in it. We must practice letting go and expanding love, to give and give more freely, to give without expectation or condition. We must cultivate affection, generosity, fondness, friendship, companionship, desire. We must embrace more, kiss more make love more. And do so consciously with awareness and without holding anything back, without hiding who we are or what we are.

Be foolishly in love because love is all there is! (Rumi)

But hey wait a minute, will we not miss the point if we love each other so? Will we not make idols of each other and by that loose sight of god?

NO, WE WILL NOT!

When we love wholeheartedly, with an elevated mature love, that love is god. Since god lives in me and god lives in you when we embrace it is god embracing god and divine love flowing freely being realsed into our midst. Gos is love and divine love is god moving, being and manifesting.

When we can embody or incarnate such a love we will truly walk like the Nasarene and wherever we go the kingdom of god will be made manifest. It will turn all our concepts of proper and socially accepted upside down, it will be death for the ego and mortally uncomfortable for those who cling to it. It will bring ridicule and hatred from those who are consciously disconnecting from divine love or those trapped in ego-love. But it will empower us and set us free, it will be divine!

Love is not a theory

heart-love-you-are-here-Favim.com-266077We talk about love a lot, we say that: God is love! The scriptures say it over and over again, they even say that unless you are in love, saturated with love, bubbling over with love, you are not with god. And so we realise that love is necessary, it’s a fundamental part of our Christian faith and lives.

But among all this love talk, how much and how deeply do we actually love? Again in church we teach that love is a verb, love is action, love is giving to those in need. I agree with all of this but also realise that all those actions can be taken without love. It can be done for a myriad of different reasons some related to love and others not.

So among all this love talk and good deeds, I want to ask with the words of the profetess Fergie: Where is the love?

Love is not a theory, but it also is not an action. Love is a reality that we inhabit. Love is our origin, our home and our destiny. Love is what is at the core of our beings when we search for the divine, we find it in love. Love is not something we can accidentally fall in or out of, it is not something that is sparked by good looks or even a beautiful soul. LOVE IS! At the center of everything there is love and when we understand that we are all connected in and through this love, then we will understand that love is not what we feel, not what we think, not what we do, but what we are!

Only love is real!

So how do we enter this reality, or rather how do we wake up to this reality? We must practice love. We must practice slowing down and finding the depth and core of ourselves (so we can find that love within) and then we must reach out and touch the people around us, embrace them, cuddle them, kiss them, love them (so that they can be touched by love from without). And then we need to make love, lots of it, in all our conscious interaction each action should make love, generate love and grow love. Lets stop talking, start making love with ourselves and the people around us and watch the love grow exponentially!

Is god opposed to pleasure?

2009-03-07-Pleasure-centersIn recent conversations the topic of pleasure has come up time and time again. It seems that from a Christian point of view we are as a community ambivalent about god’s view on pleasure.

It seems that somewhere deep down we do believe that although god is good and want good things for us, we still have a hard time believing that god would want us to experience pleasure.

As I was thinking about this I ran across this jubilant ending of Psalm 16:

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I know that in the context of this psalm, it seems it is taking about the life after, the life after, death (As N.T. Wright would put it). However I cannot help but think that the path of life, must be something that happens, you know, in life!

What if gods wish for us actually was “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forever more”. How would that change your view of god, how would it change your view of self? How would it change your view of all those experiences that give pleasure?

It also seems to me that while we are ok with some forms of pleasure, we are dead scared of others. We are ok with the pleasure of reading a good book or seeing a great movie. We are ok with enjoying a good meal and to enjoy the buzz after a good workout. We are also ok with the pleasure of good company, as long as it is not wit the opposite sex, then it sadly becomes sinful or guilty pleasure.

I wonder what would happen if we, instead of feeling guilty for all kinds of bodily pleasure, started thanking god for it. What if we before we go into the bedroom (or whatever place we enjoy each other) with our significant other prayed a prayer of thankful blessing over the gifts we are about to receive (kinda like praying grace before a meal). What if we said grace before seeking pleasure on our own, be it from a book, from a movie, from a meal, or from our own hands? And what if we instead of walking around feeling guilty for having received the gift of pleasure, prayed prayers of thanks afterwards? How would this change our experience, our enjoyment?

What if we could affirm god as the creator of pleasure, who, according to scripture created the first humans “naked and not ashamed”. The god who created humans in god’s own image uniquely able to experience and give pleasure. What if we could affirm ourselves our bodies to be part of the glorious creation of god and that we are not only good creations but “very good” and that as god’s creations made to experience pleasure, also could affirm that pleasure also is “very good”?

Sexuality in the Song of Songs – Part 5: Conclusion and bibliography

song-of-songs-titleThe primary focus of the Song is the passion and the desire between the two lovers yet there seem to be something deeper underneath the surface. Rob Bell astutely asserts that: “You can’t talk about sexuality without talking about how we are made. And that will inevitably lead you to who made us. At some point you have to talk about God” (2007: 15) He goes on to say: “Sex. God. They’re connected. And they can’t be separated” (Bell 2007: 15) and then Bell asserts that: “sex is all of the ways we strive to reconnect with our world, with each other, and with God” (2007: 42). If this is true then more can be learned about life, about spirituality and about God through the Song, than merely how to handle our sexuality. John Toy suggests that the erotic is a dimension of God’s love, of Eros. He also suggests that erotic is so much more than sex and that we need to reinstate “eroticism as one of the ways to love God for what he gives us and so to love our neighbours” (Toy, 2007: 331).

It seems clear that the Song has a lot to offer into the biblical dialogue about human sexuality. The Song affirms and praises the physical enjoyment of human sexuality and maybe more importantly, it offers a corrective to the otherwise androcentric world view  offered in the biblical texts. Dietrich Bonhoeffer “has suggested that the Song is a superb articulation of ‘creation theology’, for it celebrates the unquestioned ‘goodness’ of creatureliness” (Brueggemann, 2003: 325), it does so by countering the fall if not directly as suggested by 7.10, then implicitly by it’s vivacious celebration of what it is to be a human and a sexual being. By this the Song also offers an important counterbalance to modern societies superficial view of sex, not by condemnation, but by redeeming erotic passion and human sexuality as deeply spiritual and deeply human. It does so without side stepping the difficulty and pain that is also associated with passionate love but by inviting the reader into an imaginative fantasy of risk filled passionate love where the reader may encounter not only what it means to be human but also what it means to be passionately loved by God.

Bibliography

2005 Spiritual formation bible – New revised standard version.
London: Hodder & Stoughton

Beckford, Robert
2008 Theology Beyond iIlusion – Exploring Contextual Theology. Lecture given at the William Booth College, London. 25 June 2008

Bell, Rob
2007 Sex God – Exploring the endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Brueggemann, Walter
2003 An Introduction to the Old Testament. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Prss

Eldredge, John
2001 Wild at Heart – Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Nashville: Nelson

Estes, Daniel J.
2005 Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic

Freed, Edwin D.
2001 The New Testament – A critical introduction. Belmont: Wadsworth

Hess, Richard S.
2005 Song of Songs. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic

Lewis, C.S.
1960 The Four Loves. London: Geoffrey Bles

Murphy, R. & Huwiler, E.
1999 New International Biblical Commentary – Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.
Carlisle: Pater Noster

Toy, John
2007 ‘God and Eroticism’ in Theology. Vol CX. No. 857 (2007) 323-331

Sexuality in the Song of Songs – Part 4: Sexual Ethics

Shulamite BrideIt should be very clear at this point that the Song is unashamedly and explicitly sexual. Describing the growing love and passion between two individuals. While It remains uncertain if they are married (what the Song has to say about marriage will be considered later in this essay) the Song clearly describes a passionate love affair or courtship. This love that they share is expressed openly and passionately as the two lovers take turns describing each other. Nowhere in this song is there even a hint of shame or sin induced guilt. Hess argues that this “positive theme of physical love contrasts with the persisting negative statements on adultery, promiscuity and the images of Israel as the unfaithful wife as found in the prophets” (2005: 33), he goes on to state that the imagery of a sexuality that is praised “counters the negative association of these things with sin as developed in the prophets” (Hess quoting Hunter, 2005: 33).

The absence of sinfulness and guilt does not mean that the song portrays human sexuality as problem free, there are a couple of darker episodes of the Song that seem to point out, as Rob Bell states in his book Sex God, that: “Love is risky” (2007: 94). Earlier in the same chapter Bell comments on this risk, it is, when in a relationship you give the other person power by allowing that person to accept or reject you (Bell, 2007: 89). And this is what we see happening in the Song 5.2-6 if you choose to read the surface narrative. First the man takes a risk, knocking on her door late at night and she rejects him, when she realises what she has done she changes her mind but to late he has left and Bell comments: “Now she is the one risking, searching, trying to find him. And coming up empty. The heart has tremendous capacity to love, and to ache. And that ache is universal” (Bell, 2007: 95).

If the Song is a positive statement on human sexuality it is even more affirming about female sexuality. This has led to an argument for female authorship. Fifty-three percent of the dialogue is given to the woman (Hess, 2005: 19) and some of the thoughts expressed in the song have been considered so feminine that they cannot possibly have been written by a man (Estes, 2005: 394). Whoever wrote these love poems did give the woman an unusual role not only as she gets to speak for herself but when she does she claims to have complete control of her own sexuality (Murphy, 1999: 242). This of course stands in stark contrast to most of the biblical narrative where women may be “seen but not heard” as Freed comments on Luke which is to be considered as one of the more feminist texts in the Christian canon (Freed, 2001: 170). “The song presents a view of male-female sexuality which is neither exploitative or hierarchic. Both man and woman act on their own initiative as well as in response to one another” (Murphy et al. 1999: 242). It has been suggested that the imagery where the woman is portrayed as “succulent fruit” stands in stark contrast against the otherwise passive imagery of woman in other bible narratives like Samson’s metaphor for intimacy in Judges 4.18 (Hess, 2005: 29). Hess goes on to argue that this “provides a counterpoint to the institutionalized patriarchalism of much of Israelite society” (Hess, 2005: 33)

This places the Shulammite woman in the Song in the same category as Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Uriah’s wife (Baatsheba) who are the only women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Eldredge, 2001: 190). These women are not soft spoken and demure, but rather women who stepped up and took matters into their own hands clearly in control like the Shulammite woman of the Song.

There is a striking resemblance to the story of Ruth, a narrative that is also part of the Megilloth who uses her own sexuality to secure a future for herself and her mother in law. Robert Beckford argues that the uncovering of Boaz feet is a euphemism and that Ruth, like the Shulammite woman, secure in her own sexuality, initiates a sexual encounter and seduces Boaz by uncovering not his feet but his manhood (Beckford 2008). Although Eldredge argues that Ruth and Boaz did not have sex that night, he states that: “There is no possible reading of that passage that is ‘safe’ or ‘nice.’ This is seduction pure and simple” (Eldredge, 2001: 190). The book of Ruth is just as the Song filled with “verbal sparring in which she [Ruth] employs subtle yet recognizable double entendres” (Brueggemann quoting Linafelt, 2003: 321).

As the Song promotes what seems to be at least equality, if not complete independence, for the woman it seems to point back to a time before the fall and the Song has been described as “an extended commentary on the very good spoken over creation, particularly the creation of humankind as male and female” (Murphy et al. 1999: 242). It has also been suggested, although it cannot be proven, that the phrase: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” (Song 7:10) stands as a counterpoint to Genesis 3.16: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Murphy et al. 1999: 242) This seems to suggest at least by implication that in the union between man and woman the goodness of Eden can be found.

On the topic whether this is within marriage or not, the Song stays silent. Brueggemann asserts that: “it is love of an innocent kind unrestrained by morality or even a suggestion of matrimonial context” (2003: 325). Although Hess argues that the passion of the Song sets it apart from other wisdom literature, but that there is an “emphasis on commitment that prevents a capitulation to promiscuity” (2005: 32) He goes on to link this emphasis links the Song to Prov 5.15-19 and states that “some six or seven explicit verbal images relate this passage to the Song and render explicit the theme of exclusive commitment that is assumed in the love poetry” (Hess, 2005: 32). Although some scholars argue that chapters 4-5 include a marriage ceremony, the text “does not explicitly relate sexuality to marriage and overall does not seem to insist that the appropriate expression of sexuality is necessarily limited to marriage. Neither does it claim that marriage is insignificant. Marriage is simply is not an overt concern in the text” (Murphy et al. 1999: 243).

Sexuality in the Song of Songs – Part 3: Symbols

newBefore looking at the Song’s message and theology, some of the Song’s symbols and images must be decoded. It is important to not get carried away in doing this. While the Song is rife with sensual images appealing to all five senses, it is easy to take this decoding too far and end up with something as subjective as the allegorical interpretation. It is important to remember that while there are a multitude of symbols and images layered in the Song they are not consistent and what symbolises one thing in one verse can symbolise something else in the next. It is therefore impossible to create one-one relationships between symbols and meanings. The Song is a collection of Poems and as such it tries to “communicate in language what is beyond language” (Estes quoting Landy, 2005: 401). Therefore a delicate touch is required not to destroy the beauty of the song with crude decoding and paraphrasing. The Song must be experienced and perhaps even felt (Estes quoting Exum and Bergant, 2005: 401) rather than simply read. Murphy suggests that: “the poet calls attention to the lovers’ imagination and, in so doing, invites the reader to imaginative activity as well” (Murphy et al. 1999: 222)

With that caveat in mind it is time to look at some of the images in the Song without intending to probe the depths of this text but rather to sample some of the imagery. The language of the song is filled with similes and metaphors. It is often compared to an Egyptian poetry form called a wasf, which is a list of physical features where the different aspects of the beloved are likened by different things, places or animals (cf. 4.1-7 and 7.1-4). The woman is described with a plethora of images describing her beauty.  The most common imagery is taken from nature, likening the woman to fruit, trees or animals, but some of the images are more imposing, like the use of tower and warlike imagery such as shields.

The poet shifts from image to image. For example in 7.7 where the woman is likened to a palm tree, and “then the speaker enters into his own metaphor, expressing his desire to climb the tree and gain access to its fruit” (Murphy et al. 1999: 222). Perhaps this shifting is most noticeable as: “metaphors keep shifting between the actual landscape, suffused with erotic associations, and the landscape of the body” (Murphy quoting Ariel and Chana Bloch, 1999: 225). For instance, it is unclear in 2.17, where the man is likened to “a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains”, whether the mountains in question correspond to literal mountains or to the woman’s breasts just as it is not clear whether this is an invitation to a sexual encounter or a request that the man goes away for the night thus preserving her chastity (Murphy et al. 1999: 261). Another passage with this kind of double entendre and layered images is the dream sequence described in chapter five. This passage is dripping with sexual overtones and the suggestive language offers all sorts of erotic imagery. However, the same passage can be read as a completely innocent literal sequence of events. This sequence uses the imagery of oil and myrrh dripping of the woman’s fingers possibly referring to the myrrh found in the “female’s ‘garden’ (4.14, 5.1) or her ‘mountain’ (4.6)” (Hess, 2005:173). Murphy states that: “all of this is in the realm of double entendre. Contrary to the claim of some interpreters, on a descriptive level the passage narrates the man’s visit to the woman’s house. Yet the language raises sexual associations with every line” (Murphy et al. 1999: 276). It seems that at every turn the poet is using evocative language to achieve this ‘double entendre’ and provoke the readers imagination to break out from traditional or religious thinking and to fully immerse and even loose themselves in this passionate erotic narrative.

Sexuality and the Song of Songs – part 2: Interpretation

song-of-songs-ii-1957-10Song of Songs have been read and interpreted in several different ways, the predominant interpretation is some form of allegorical interpretation (Estes, 2005: 396). Most scholars throughout history have approached the Song this way. Starting with Theogenes who interpreted the Song to be about the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. In this tradition great Christian theologians like Origen and Gregory of Nyssa have produced volumes of commentary on the Song. Later on both Calvin and Luther commented on the Song and chose an allegorical interpretation although they normally argued for literal interpretations of bible texts. This tradition still exists today where certain evangelicals choose this kind of reading when, interestingly, in all other instances they would defend a literal reading of any other bible text (Estes, 2005: 397).

There are obvious problems with an allegorical reading of any text, the most disturbing problem is how to decide what the allegory stands for, this is a highly subjective exercise and looking at the varied attempts at interpreting the Song allegorically shows that it has been made to allegorise any number of things.

Perhaps these theologians have opted for an allegorical approach only to avoid such explicit sexual language in their holy texts, but it seems that even as an allegory the clear sexual allusions in the Song are equally problematic as they “assign to God lustful inclinations that do not come readily to the thinking of conventional theology” (Brueggemann, 2003: 325). Brueggemann goes on to assert that: “if this text is theological disclosure, then it must be taken without weakening the force of passion or diminishing the delight that God takes in God’s beloved, either by moralism or by institutional constraints” (2003: 326)

However, Estes argues that, although the allegorical interpretations of the song has been the most common approach, “There has also been a long-standing commitment to its literal reading as a song about human love or to celebrate a human wedding” (Estes, 2005: 399).

In modern times a growing number of scholars are willing to approach the Song literally, this shift can to some degree be explained by a shift towards literary and rhetorical criticism. There has also been a shift towards historical criticism in which the Song has been compared to ancient Egyptian love poetry, this in turn has led to an understanding of  the song as a unified collection of love poems (Hess, 2005: 25, 27).

Brueggemann argues convincingly that it is not necessarily a case of choosing literal or allegorical but rather that the Song can be read as both (Brueggemann, 2003: 328), however, it is as a unified collection of love poetry about human passion and sexuality that this essay will try to establish what the Song has to offer into the Jewish and Christian canon and the extended Christian traditions.

Sexuality and the Song of Songs – part 1: Background

0596_song_of_songs_pThe Song of songs is a much debated and unique book in the Old Testament. It is near impossible to find consensus on any statement about the book except that it is unique. The book has no parallel in the rest of the Jewish or Christian Canon. It becomes difficult to assert anything about authorship, dating or even context with such a divided collegium of scholars to refer to. This essay will, however, try to avoid these debates and engage in the main debate of what if anything can the Song teach us about human sexuality and how does the Song stand in the dialogue, that is what does it have to say to other Old testament texts, to New Testament text and what does it have to say to the church of today about human sexuality and spirituality.

The Song of Songs is the first of the five scrolls called the Megilloth in the Hebrew Bible and it has been suggested that it was part of the last addition to the Jewish canon (Hess, 2005: 20). While many scholars have asked how the Song came to be canonised it seems that it has been settled into the canon with no room left for uncertainty by Rabbi Aquiba who stated that “all the ages are not worth the day on which Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies” (Hess, 2005: 20f). With this the Song was accepted into the Jewish canon (Hess, 2005: 21). Due to the inclusion into the Jewish canon it was also accepted as canon by the early Christians (Estes, 2005: 395) and Eusebius includes Song of Songs as Christian canon, in his Ecclesiastical History, as early as the second-century AD (Hess, 2005:21).

It seems that the general message of the Old Testament on the subject of sexuality is a negative and undermining, and especially, regarding feminine sexuality (Murphy et al. 1999: 242). This is especially evident in the Levitical law that regulates sexual conduct but does so only by that which it condemns and never with any positive statement. It also becomes very clear that as the Levitical law condemns specific sexual practices it also emphasises the uncleanness of women and judges women more harshly than men when it comes to sexual misconduct. The prophets also pas harsh judgement on human sexuality by condemning bad practice and never condoning positive examples.

It is into this negative view of sexuality that the Song speaks. Whatever interpretation is chosen, literal or allegorical, clearly the Song speaks in a positive and affirming way about sexuality generally, and especially about female sexuality as more than half of the verses in the Song are attributed to the woman. The woman is also portrayed as the initiating party as well as in clear ownership of her own sexuality (Song 8.12) which stands in stark contrast with the view of women in most biblical texts.

People are still having sex

I have been putting of writing this post for nearly a week now, I get both uneasy and angry just by thinking about it.

Stephen Court wrote the following in his blog the other day:

Evangelicals Encouraging Contraception for Singles?

http://t.co/w0Y29aLA It turns out that 80% of American Evangelicals are going to hell. That is, they admit to being involved in fornication (and intentional, habitual sin as implied by ‘being involved’ keeps you out of heaven). This is a ‘Christian’ application of the harm reduction fallacy (that we blogged on last week – scroll down or ‘find’ on the page).

So it it seems it is that simple, these Evangelicals who admit that they have sexual relations (although there is no mention whether these relationships are committed, loving relationships) are simply going to hell by Court's judgement. because they are intentionally involved in an activity that according to Stephen Court is a sin.

The sin in question (I am guessing) is fornication (Gr. porneia) another one of these words that are hard to define what they actually mean. In OT times this was an action that would mean somebody was unclean (until the evening) not condemned. The graver offence, that of adultery, that is actually dealt with in the ten commandments is not a sexual crime but that of wanting (coveting) or making designs to acquire somebody else's property, and as disturbing as it may be that women where considered property and that property law has become an integral part of our sexual ethics that is not what is discussed in this article.

So on that shaky ground Steven Court is announcing that 80% of American Evangelicals are going to hell. It never ceases to amaze me how fixated the evangelical church is on sexuality (The lady does protest to much) . I wonder how many of the American evangelicals are intentionally and habitually over eating or intentionally and habitually sponsoring slavery, human trafficking and other injustices just by their comfortable life styles. Sure you could argue that some of this is not intentional but as a Christian in this day and age I think claiming ignorance about justice issues is a bit naive and lazy. Not to mention all the Christians gossiping and hating each other within their churches or denominations and that is narrowing the scope not to include the hatred and bigotry towards LGBTQ persons or persons of other faiths.

Following this logic not only are all evangelical Christians (with maybe some few shining examples) going to hell but the rest of the world and all other Christians with it.

I am reminded of the old 'Judge not lest ye be judged'. I am also thinking that sex education, even for Christian single are of the utmost importance. I have said it before and I feel the need to say it again: THIS IS SOMETHING WE NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT!

When I as a young single Christian asked questions about sex to my Pastor I was told: Patrik, don't ask me to bless your perversions. And with that the conversation was closed for all times. The only ones who would receive any kind of sex ed in church where married couples and that consisted of, you need to do it and when you do god will bless it (best case scenario, although I do have a friend who was told to open the windows during intercourse so the demons could fly out) then the course would move on to how it was important to spend time together, light candles and work on keeping the romance alive (and yes I agree that this is important, but it is not sex ed).

I wonder is it really our job as Pastors and fellow Christians to add a new law to our friends and church membership, surely our job is to encourage people to seek god and listen to the voice of the spirit in any and all relations whether sexual or not whether within marriage or not?

To quote the song “People are still having sex”, and they will no matter what rules, judgement and/or condemnation we spew from the pew. Everybody (unless asexual) have sexual drives and will on occation act on these especially young singles. It really does not matter if we consider this part of our brokeness as a result of the fall or as a blessing and a part of our original glory, we still have to face the fact that this is a core issue and if we want to be a part of peoples lives we need to accept the fact that they are sexual beings with active sexualities (and this applies whether or not they are actually having intercourse at this time in their lives).

I would rather they had safer sex with their heads screwed on and informed consent on all sides rather than headless secret sex that leave them just screwed with broken lives, relations, hopes and dreams.

The big masturbation post

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Not so long ago I sat in a room with a group of young Christians, no longer teenagers but rather young adults. We where talking about the bible and Jesus. Was it possible that Jesus could have sinned and what does it mean that Jesus felt every human emotion, did he then lust? Masturbate?

The disgust that went through the room at this point was palpable and when I put my foot down and said “Masturbation is not a sin”, I was met with “Well then we may as well go of and masturbate and sleep with anyone we want!”

This immediate jump to the slippery slope argument (which in it self is a fallacy whenever used) prompted a further discussion that in turn prompted this post.

In Christian circles today it seems that masturbation, while both natural and a part of the teenagers discovery of his or her own body, is even more stigmatised than sex. It is somehow even more shameful to touch yourself than to have someone else do it. Why is this? Where does it come from? What does the bible say about masturbation and how does that sync with the churches traditional teaching on the subject? What does science and society say?

Let’s consider a few different voices on this issue.

It is beyond contestation that both psychology, anthropology and medical science say that masturbation is a healthy way for young persons to discover their bodies and come to terms with their sexuality. Furthermore, sex-councellors worldwide would advice men with longevity issues to learn control by practicing on their own.

Science also tells us that the resulting orgasm is beneficial for our health in many ways. Consider the following scientific findings as presented in the book Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan:

men who had ejaculated more than five times per week between the ages of twenty and fifty were one-third less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life.

daily ejaculation dramatically reduced DNA damage to men’s sperm cells, thereby increasing male fertility—quite the opposite of the conventional wisdom.

Frequent orgasm is associated with better cardiac health as well. A study conducted at the University of Bristol and Queen’s University of Belfast found that men who have three or more orgasms per week are 50 percent less likely to die from coronary heart disease.

These are just a tidbit of information on what ejaculation and orgasm does for a man. For women there are a lot less research available (go figure) but here is one slightly off topic remark from the same book:

women who do not use condoms are less likely to suffer from depression than either women who do use condoms or who are not sexually active

So women who are sexually active are less likely to suffer from depression. On this note it is also interesting to recognise that one of the oldest documented pathologies is said to be female hysteria and the medical treatment was massage of the vulva, that is masturbation and orgasm. What may be even more shocking for some is that doctors around the world administered this treatment to women with an increased libido well into the 20th century and women lined up for the cure!

On a slightly less scholarly note, the book the 4 hour body has the following to say:

Nina emphasized, a woman has to be comfortable masturbating. “If she doesn’t masturbate regularly, she’ll be more trouble, baggage-wise, than it’s worth, unless you get off on being the fixer.”

While this sounds a bit of the cuff and misogynistic, science does tell us that body pleasure lowers aggression.

“deprivation of body pleasure throughout life—but particularly during the formative periods of infancy, childhood, and adolescence—is very closely related to the amount of warfare and interpersonal violence.” (also from Sex at Dawn)

Therefore we are told by the scientific corner to just chill out and not to be so uptight when it comes to these issues.

A reasonable relaxation of moralistic social codes making sexual satisfaction more easily available would also make it less problematic. (also from Sex at Dawn)

Hang on what about the Bible doesn’t the bible forbid masturbation? Well, thank you for asking, the short answer is no. The bible actually has no teaching on masturbation. The most cited passages are the story of Onan and a few remarks of Paul.

Let’s start with Onan. He married his dead brothers wife Tamar as the law instructed him but when the time came to consummate the marriage he practiced coitus interrupts (he pulled it out and spilled his seed on the ground) so that he would not give a child to his dead brothers wife that would not be considered his own, again according to Jewish law). Onan was then killed by god for not adhering to the Mosaic law. This story has nothing to do with masturbation and the fact that Onan’s name has become synonymous with masturbation in many languages in an attempt of controlling peoples sexuality is a serious abuse of scripture and power.

In Pauls first letter to Corinth there is a passage where Paul condemns a whole row of sexual deviations. Non of which are easily understood or translated the words used are porneo, malokos, and arsenokoites non of these words have anything to do with masturbation. Feel free to read my other commentary on these words here.

And even if Paul’s words had included masturbation, which they do not, I have to echo the sentiment of Marcus Borg in his fantastic novel “Putting Away Childish Things“: What if Paul was wrong? It sounds heretical, I know, but consider the fact that misinformation has been the norm on sexuality related facts throughout our known history. It was common to believe for example that masturbation caused both seizures, blindness and madness. Why is it that we assume that Paul to be an authority on every issue on the planet?

What we have left to consider is Jesus strong words on adultery: A man who looks upon a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her. If we assume that these are indeed the words of Jesus and that he recommends putting out our eyes to avoid it then every man I know should go blind immediately. For some men (I talk less about women simply because I have no experience in being one and do not presume to have an inkling on how female sexuality works) it may be that the act of masturbation preserves their fidelity and therefore their marriage.

It is interesting to note that hip youth ministers within the free churches will often be heard stating that masturbating together with your spouse can be a beautiful thing and part of a couples normal sex life. While this is a nice softening of the stigmatising view of masturbation it still leaves the ones in need of liberation, that is teenagers, sorely bound by shame and guilt.

Now let’s for a second consider how the bible supports and encourages sexuality and then maybe using the same inferring as the negative case is built on propose a more positive approach to sexuality and the topic at hand, masturbation.

First let’s again look at Adam and Eve or mythical hunter gatherer ancestors who lived in Eden, Naked and not ashamed. Right there is the first clue that sexuality understood correctly should not be a source of shame but rather a source of joy.

Moving on rapidly then to the song of songs (there are other more obvious examples in other OT narratives but it quickly gets oh so provocative and complicated to get into those) where unmarried sexuality is if not celebrated then simply a fact. The poetry in the Song is simply “not concerned” with the marital status of the young lovers.

From the song we can find a positive body image in regard to the young lovers genitalia and an exuberant celebration of their passionate sexuality. The following verses are from the CEB.

I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride!
I have gathered my myrrh and my spices.
I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey;
I have drunk my wine and my milk.
Eat, dear friends!
Drink and get drunk on love!

Here the lover has come to his garden, this garden was of course earlier the womans garden dripping with myrrh and spices sweeter than honey. We must understand that every word in the song is dripping with double entendre and the metaphors switch quickly as to leave you dizzy, the Song is probably more to be inhaled and experienced than read and understood.

Keeping the images of a garden dripping with myrrh lets move to the young womans bed room a few verses later.

“I have taken off my tunic—
why should I put it on again?
I have bathed my feet—
why should I get them dirty?”
 My love put his hand in through the latch hole,
and my body ached for him.
 I rose; I went to open for my love,
and my hands dripped myrrh,
my fingers, liquid myrrh,
over the handles of the lock.

Why is she naked in bed? Why is her hands dripping with myrrh? And let’s not even try to decipher the image of the hand through the latch hole ….

It seems to me that the bible is as capable of creating a positive and healthy image of both sexuality and the exploring of the same as it is in creating a misogynistic damaging and controlling one.

Fr. Richard Rohr makes an interesting comment about women being saved through childbirth, where he states that in childbirth women get the upper hand on the men as they are forced into body knowledge and self discovery through childbirth he also suggests that this is why male initiation rites often include arduous challenges and painful quests that will force the young man to get to know his body.

There is a certain composure and authority to a human being that is completely comfortable in his or her own body. There is a self awareness and confidence that only comes to those who know the ins and outs and limits of their own bodies. I suggest that a healthy exploration of ones sexuality, where masturbation is a part of that exploration, may help grant such body knowledge.

In conclusion I must also add that the gnostic notion of separating spirit and body, where the spirit is good and the body evil is one of those unspoken meta-narratives that derive from greek (Plato) philosophy hat stand in our way of a more holistic and healthy view of our own bodies. Those who desperately cling to it may benefit from stepping out of the spiritual and getting their hands dirty or as the case may be oily.

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