This meeting focuses on the critical topic of sexuality. Perhaps framed differently than other theological discussions around the topic, this meeting aims not to execute a focus on the teaching of morality behind the physical act of sex, but rather is driven toward facilitating a deepened understanding of how sexuality may be imagined as an integrally related to our daily spiritual expressions. From this vantage point, the conversation of sexuality can be widened to encompass all the ways we channel a particular energy embedded in us- in our work, in our relationships, in our prayer, in our vocations that unfold in the most subtle and profound of moments. This meeting particularly builds upon previous meetings that speak to the inner longings that drive a divine restlessness placed in each and every person. The goal of this meeting is to facilitate a particular space for honest spiritual conversation to emerge in light of an expanding vision of a lived sexuality. This space may serve to be a beginning touchstone for continued dialogue.
Also note that this can be a potential topic of great sensitivity. Be mindful that members may be coming to the meeting with many different experiences. Some could be positive and some could have been very painful, such as abuse. It is imperative that this meeting be led in a way that makes no one feel pressured to share. Also, it may be helpful to remind the group of confidentiality to reinforce a sense of trust within the sacred space of the group. Lastly, it may also be helpful to have some resources on hand for anyone for whom this discussion brings up deeper challenges, pain, etc., like the counseling center phone number, the phone number for a support network or group, etc.
- Readings on sexuality (find below)
- A larger piece of poster paper and markers
Ask for the grace to deepen our sense of a God-given sexuality that draws us into communion with all of creation.
When was a time this week when you felt very aware of your body?
Introduce the topic and invite three different readers to read the below writings on sexuality. Encourage them to read slowly in order to allow all the parts to be grasped by the group.
Understanding Our Sexuality
“It is obvious that our brokenness is often most painfully experienced with respect to our sexuality. My own and my friends’ struggles make it clear how central our sexuality is to the way we think and feel about ourselves. Our sexuality reveals to us our enormous yearning for communion. The desires of our body—to be touched, embraced, and safely held—belong to the deepest longings of the heart and are very concrete signs of our search for oneness. It is precisely around this yearning for communion that we experience so much anguish. Our society is so fragmented, our family lives so sundered by physical and emotional distance, our friendships so sporadic, our intimacies so ‘in-between’ things and so often utilitarian, that there are few places where we can feel truly safe…The fragmentation and commercialization of our milieu makes it nearly impossible to find a place where our whole being—body, mind, and heart—can feel safe and protected…How can we respond to this brokenness?…” (from Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved)
TV, movies, friends, so many people suggest that “it’s just sex” – that sex is somehow not a big deal, simply pleasurable friction between two people. Most often, we seem to think of sex and sexuality in terms of personal morality, simply rights and wrongs. Whether our lived experiences fit with the teachings of our faith traditions or if we struggle to make choices amidst society’s glorification of sex or our own longings for intimacy. One thing is clear, though: sex matters. We are embodied souls and the wealth of our Christian heritage makes it clear that bodies and what we do with them is more than just physical. It is inextricably related to our spirituality, as well as our relationships and our participation in community.
Inspired by Margaret Farley’s book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics
Sexuality as Divine Fire
From Ronald Rolheiser’s Holy Longing, 3-11
“Spirituality concerns what we do with desire. It takes its roots in the eros inside of us and it is all about how we shape and discipline that eros… to offer a striking example of how spirituality is about how one handles his or her eros, let us compare the lives of three famous women: Mother Teresa, Janis Joplin, and Princess Diana.
We begin with Mother Teresa. Few of us would, I suspect, consider Mother Teresa an erotic woman. We think of her rather as a spiritual woman… Yet she was erotic because she was a dynamo of energy… She was a human bulldozer, an erotically driven woman. She was, however, a very disciplined woman, dedicated to God and the poor. Everyone considered her a saint… A saint is someone who can, precisely, channel powerful eros in a creative, life-giving way…Nobody disputes that Mother Teresa did just than, willed the one thing – God and the poor. She had a powerful energy, but it was a very disciplined one. Her firey eros was poured out for God and the poor. That – total dedication to everything to God and poort – was her signature, her spirituality. It made her what she was.
Looking at Janis Joplin, the rock start who died from an overdose of life at age twenty-seven, few would consider her a very spiritual woman. Yet, she was one. People think of her as the opposite of Mother Teresa, erotic, but not spiritual. Yet Janis Joplin was not so different from Mother Teresa, at least not in the raw makeup and character. She was also an exceptional woman, a person of fiery eros, a great lover, a person with a rare energy. Unlike Mother Teresa, however, Janis Joplin could not will the one thing. She willed many things. Her great energy went out in all directions and eventually created an excess and a tiredness that led to an early death. But those activities – a total giving over to creativity, performance, drugs, booze, sex, coupled with the neglect of normal rest – were her spirituality. It was her signature. It was how she channeled her eros…
Most of us, I suspect, are a bit like Princess Diana – half-Mother Teresa, half Janis Joplin… Princess Diana is held up as a person who is both, erotic and spiritual. That is rare, given how spirituality is commonly understood. Usually we see a person as one or the other, but not as both, erotic and spiritual… Spirituality is about how we channel our eros. In Princess Diana’s attempts to do this, we see something most of us can identify with, a tremendous complexity, a painful struggle for choice and commitment, and an oh-so-human combination of sins and virtues. Spirituality is what we do with the spirit that is within us. So, for Princess Diana, her spirituality was both the commitment to the poor and the Mediterranean vacations… Hers, we can see, was a mixed road… she chose some things that left her more integrated in body and soul and others which tore at her body and soul. Such is spirituality. It is about integration and disintegration, about making the choices that Princess Diana had to make and living with what that does to us.”
Take a few moments after the readings to allow the group to sit with what they heard. Invite them in silence to reflect on the following questions in light of their own understanding of sexuality:
- What stands out from the readings?
- What resonated with you in your own experience of sexuality?
- What challenged you?
- Any new ideas or themes present?
- Where does God seem to be emerging?
After about 5-10 minutes, invite members to write on a larger piece of poster paper at the center of the circle. Invite them to write down one or more of the following:
- Words, phrases, or images that remain with them after their reflection
- Emerging questions about sexuality
- Additional themes or images that delineate sexuality for them
Invite the group to look upon the group’s compilation. The conversation may be elicited in various ways:
- Ask members to identify what they see. What is being spoken about sexuality?
- If there are commonalities, it may be helpful to highlight these as the beginning of the conversation and ask members why they chose to articulate these themes
- Go around the group and have members describe what they wrote or drew and what moved them to do so.
Allow the conversation to flow naturally. If this proves to be a challenge invite members to speak about their familial, cultural, church, etc. understanding of sexuality. In addition: How might a spiritually rooted understanding of sexuality re-shape a purely moralistic view? How might this enhance or challenge our understanding of both spirituality and sexuality?
- How have you been feeling throughout the meeting? Comfortable? Anxious? Curious?
- What is remaining with you at the end of this meeting? What are you walking away with?
- What is one theme or area of our conversation that you would like to return to after this meeting—either individually or as a group?
Engage a physical type of prayer to connect your bodies with the expression of your spirit- consider utilizing Tai Chi, yoga, breathing exercises, dancing or any other kind of physical or active expression. If this type of prayer is not able to be done for your meeting than perhaps encourage group members to be mindful of doing it in their week.
“Our vocation calls us to live this spirituality, which opens and disposes us to whatever God wishes in each concrete situation of our daily life.” (CLC-USA General Principles #5)
“By (this kind of) consolation I mean that which occurs when some interior motion is caused within the soul through which it comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord. As a result it can love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but only in the Creator of them all.” (Spiritual Exercises, Rules for Discernment)
“The Exercises are, above all, a time for intimate contact between God and the retreatant…For in a retreat we do not find knowledge satisfying us but rather deep down tastes and feelings that sensitize us to what really matters.” (Spiritual Exercises )
“O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you.” Psalm 38:9
“So that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him— though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:24-28
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine. Your oils have a pleasing fragrance. Your name is like purified oil. Therefore the maidens love you. Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers.” Songs of Songs 1:2-4