Is Your Body a Wholly Presence?

The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality . . . we give thanks for the ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

At the recent MCC General Conference in Victoria, BC, Canada, Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache and Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos co-hosted a workshop, “Hooking Up: Frank Talk About Sex and Spirit.”

Rev. Dr. Thomas Bohache
Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache

Five panelists shared for about eight minutes each on particular topics. They were Rev. Miller Hoffman on sex talk and ministry to survivors of sexual abuse, Rev. Victoria Burson on issues that sex talk might raise in the black church setting, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline on aging and how we might talk sex cross-generationally, Rev. Kate Rowley Harford on how body imagery and shame impact sex talk, and Rev Dr. Edgard Francisco Danielsen-Morales on talking polyamory.

Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos
Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos

The workshop was well attended, discussion was lively, and there was considerable energy in the room. The session ended with Tom and Kharma leading the assemblage in the liturgy we reprint below (with permission of the author, Tom Bohache).

 

TOM
Source of Love
Savior of Wholeness
Sustainer of Passion

KHARMA
We thank you for this time of sharing, of questioning, of seeking.
Help us to live into all of who you have created us to be.

TOM
Teach us to expand our comfort zones and to deal gently with one another as we do so.
Hear us now as we offer our very selves to you.
The response is “Bless them, O God.”

KHARMA
We offer to you our sexualities.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our spirits.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our minds and our intellect.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our bodies in all their beauty and in all of what we see as flaws, in our abilities and our limitations.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our heads–our eyes with which we behold your creation, our noses through which we smell what arouses us, our ears with which we hear endearments and sighs and moans, our mouths with which we kiss and lick and bite and suck.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our hands and our feet, with which we seek out and caress objects of our delight.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our breasts and our buttocks, our nipples and our armpits.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our vaginas and clitorises and labia, our clits and cunts, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our penises and testicles, our cocks and balls, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our sex toys and our erotic costumes, our slings and our harnesses, our gels and our lubricants.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our lovemaking and our self-pleasuring.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you all of who we are, even as we are still discovering the fullness of who we are and are becoming in you.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
Now dismiss us with your blessing, God of Pleasure and Power. Carry us forth from this place to be all of who you have created us to be, and more.

To which your people say…AMEN!

Robin: This is not an ordinary liturgy. I can hear people commend Tom’s candor while saying there is no way they can share it during worship at their church.

revrobin2-023Of course, it contains terms we do not ordinarily use in church—not only clinical language for body parts but also “street language” as well. But is that all that is troubling? How often do we so clearly pray, and give thanks, for our bodies? And when was the last time we raised up our sexualities, our spirits, and our minds and intellect in prayer?

And maybe we are even surprised to pray to expand our comfort zones?

Admittedly, this liturgy was not offered on a Sunday morning, but instead was shared during a workshop where all participants knew the topic would be sex and sexuality as well as spirit and spirituality. It was a self-selected group.

I suspect most people present felt safe participating in the liturgy as a blessing on our time together and an encouragement to go forth and be as open as possible. Some of us, certainly me and several of my fellow panelists, even felt celebratory. How wonderful to speak this language in a religious setting!

However, I may be imaging this, but it seemed to be that I heard a few intakes of breath as we heard parts of the prayer (we did not have copies to read along), and it seemed to be that in a few instances the responding voices were softer. Although my eyes were closed, I had the sense several people left (of course, I could be wrong, and it could have been for other reasons).

disciplesonthejourney.org
disciplesonthejourney.org

I encourage you to read it aloud, not just read it silently. It would be even better if you could share the reading of it with another person, or persons, perhaps even so you could simply hear all the requests and then respond as suggested, “All: Bless them, O God.” Liturgy, like poetry, is meant to be spoken and heard to achieve its full impact and meaning. We need to hear this one especially, to be able to really feel it in our bodies.

love is free weheartit com
weheartit.com

If this liturgy feels beyond what you can use, can you adapt it, modify or eliminate some of the terms so you and your community can pray for our sexualities?  How far do you feel you could go? Could you name some sexualities and sexual practices? Could you go beyond different-sex sex (heterosexuality) and same-sex sex (homosexuality)? Could you mention polyamory (multiple-partner sex) or BDSM (known by many specific names, such as bondage/domination or sado-masochistic sex)? If you feel you can’t mention these non-mainstream sexualities, could you at least use a phrase, such as “all other ways of loving” that would acknowledge that they are options beyond hetero- and homo-sexuality? Would that be a way to begin engaging people? Would someone ask what you meant by that, and would you be comfortable giving examples?

Also, I did notice that there was no mention of gender here, except indirectly in the mention of body parts. And those body parts do not necessarily correspond to gender—there are transgender men (male-centered persons) with vaginas/cunts and transgender women (female-centered persons) with penises/cocks. I think it might be helpful to acknowledge some of this as well.

human-body-combinations_f wired com
wired.com

The liturgy is not about gender, of course, or race, but it might be useful to incorporate some language that recognizes that sexual practices are affected by communities of which we are a part, and even those from which we may be absent. The power of genderism and racism is real everywhere, including in the bedroom (or wherever we have sex).

Malachi and I are trying to open dialogue with religious people about sex, bodies and spirit, especially Christians because that is our context and the context in which we see such great resistance to sex talk–and certainly not only exploring but even admitting there is connection between our sexualities and spiritualities.

This liturgy makes that claim of connection by assuming it, and praying from that location without question or condition. That is why we asked Tom if we could publish it here. We believe it is a good place from which to start, if not in your whole church, then perhaps in a small group, or even just by yourself.

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

Think what God might do for you and the people in your community, even in your family, if you gave thanks every day for the genitals and/or the sexualities and/or the heads, eyes, ears, noses, etc., of all—naming them—and asked God’s blessing that all be used to promote love and peace, joy and harmony, growth and justice. And then maybe you will feel willing to risk sharing this with another, and another, and they too share, and over a time you have a community engaged in praying for real about our bodies, our sexualities, our embodied spiritualities.

That is a revolution, as it will be a revelation for many. And we will be better for it, better citizens and better worshippers, and perhaps most important, better children/beloveds of our God who never denies us love and gives us limitless ways to receive and share it.

Malachi:   Although I wasn’t able to attend MCC’s General Conference (and thus not able to attend the paneled discussion Robin referenced), I am grateful to have the opportunity to read and reflect on the liturgy presented.

Malachi GrennellThe truth is, it can be hard to fathom something like this being read in a place of public worship. It can be difficult to imagine people sitting in church, murmuring in unison, “Bless them, O God” as each call and offering is presented. Perhaps a child fussing in the background, someone waving a fan through this blistering summer heat, the rustle of clothes and a periodic cough punctuating an otherwise still sanctuary as we hear each affirmation and call to blessing and respond in kind.

Yeah, I can’t really picture it either.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We can’t picture such conversations, such language, such call-and-responses happening in our churches. It makes our skin itch a little. It’s uncomfortable, and we’re not even the ones saying the “hard” words. We’re just the ones responding, “Bless them, O God.”

It seems a bit…ostentatious, doesn’t it? And in fairness, the group with whom this was recited is a self-selected group, comprised of individuals who chose and consented to participate in a paneled discussion on sex and spirituality. They had a sense, perhaps, of what they were walking into and were (hopefully) mentally prepared for such conversations.

the2seasons.com
the2seasons.com

Liturgies like this remind me of the books we hide on the back of our bookshelves when our parents come to visit. Copies of “The Whole Lesbian Sex Book” get pushed under our beds, frantically trying to make the house presentable. Or perhaps that copy of “The Best Gay Erotica” is always hidden in the drawer of our bedside tables, taken out for a bit of “motivational” reading, and placed back in its hiding place.

We hide these liturgies. We read them, hear them, and feel a blush rise to our cheeks. “Did they really just say that?” we think. We want to put it away and not think too much about it (or, at least, not get caught thinking too much about it). It feels embarrassing and we’re not sure why. And we get so caught up on the language and the words, the audacity of saying such things in public that we often miss what is being said.

Celebrate our bodies. Celebrate the capacity for our bodies to feel pleasure. Some sexual, yes, but think of small, non-sexual bodily pleasures: getting a haircut, getting a massage, having a pedicure, giving a hug. Things that make us feel connected to one another. We give thanks for community, for being in shared worship space together. When we say, “We give thanks for this community of people,” we are not just talking about the people present but about our body’s capacity to experience joy.

buzzfeed.com
buzzfeed.com

That is the piece that I think we so often miss in our worship and liturgies. We are not only grateful for the opportunity to be in relationship with one another, but we are also happy for the experience in our bodies, the feelings of pleasure and excitement and joy when we connect with another person. That is part of the celebration! We feel good when we are connected in community. We feel good when we are connected with another person. We feel good when we have intimate encounters with one another, when we experience pleasure in our bodies. In the case of this liturgy, this call and response, this context, the focus is on the pleasure we experience as sexual beings. But even if this particular liturgy is not one that we would feel comfortable reading word-for-word in a worship setting, the broader meaning is an important step on the journey to full love, acceptance, and celebration of our sexual selves: the idea that we must celebrate ourselves, body, mind, and spirit.

So how do we translate this liturgy in a way that is more appropriate for a worship setting (as opposed to a workshop where sex is specifically the focus)? We are capable of celebrating our bodies as the vessels through which we do God’s work. We can celebrate our hands and feet, our eyes and ears and lips and tongues, our backs and legs, our genitals and buttocks, our shoulders and armpits, our noses and stomachs. When folded into the entirety of celebrating our bodies, those words which blatantly speak to sexuality are incorporated as part of our bodies: not omitted, but not the focus, either.

pinterest
pinterest

We can celebrate our minds: creative and logical, thoughtful and contemplative, erotic and playful, analytical and relaxed.

We can celebrate our spirituality: encompassing and vibrant, the ethos and eros of our being, present in our every word and action.

We celebrate the totality of who we are- not focusing on one aspect, but not ignoring any aspects either. Our sexuality, while vital and crucial to who we are, while important to celebrate in and of itself, is all too often wrapped up in a lack of capacity to celebrate ourselves outright.

It goes beyond simply celebrating these aspects of self in the abstraction, though. It also calls us into conscious awareness of each part of ourselves as we give thanks and celebrate our bodies. Take a moment in reading to focus awareness on each body part. Focus on your feet for a moment, and take the time to be consciously aware of how they feel. Are they tired from working? Are the strong? Numb from poor circulation? How about your legs? Your arms? Your genitals? Your ears? How does each aspect of your body feel as you give thanks and celebrate it? And then, as a unit, the different pieces working together: how does your body feel?

You can do the same with your mind. Are you anxious? Distracted? Calm? Struggling with mental health? Quiet and focused? How is your connection between your mind and your body? (E.g. is your mind racing but your body is still? Or are they reflections of one another; calm mind, calm body?)

newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com
newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com

And the spirit… how is your spirit? Is it aching or joyful (or both)? Weary or rejuvenated?

We cannot simply give thanks for these aspects of who we are in abstraction. This liturgy (and ones like it) call us to be fully, wholly present in our bodies, minds, and spirits as we celebrate and give thanks- not just for each individual piece, but for ourselves as an integrated whole.

We are all- each of us- made in the image of God. The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality, and we give thanks for the many ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits. Thanks be to God!

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? How do you feel about liturgies focused on bodies, on sex? What are some ways we can help open the dialogue about sex and spirituality through worship and small groups? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.

 

Author: Robin Gorsline

Robin is a poet (claiming this later in life) and Queer Theologian--reflecting a soul of hope and faith and joy and justice/shalom. He is happily married to Dr. Jonathan Lebolt (20 years and counting), the proud parent of three glorious daughters (and grateful to two wonderful sons-in- law and a new one soon!), and the very proud "Papa" to Juna (6) and Annie (3).

2 thoughts on “Is Your Body a Wholly Presence?”

  1. Very interesting article. Two observations. First, the language of sexuality and the body does have a private dimension. John O’Donahue comments in one place that the soul likes a certain amount of privacy. That might be something we keep in mind when we are talking about public worship. Privacy is not the same as shame, nor is all privacy shame-driven. Second, bringing explicit thanksgivings for the body and bodily functions into the liturgy of the Church is, to my mind, a perfectly natural and healthy thing. Like many things that are outside the worldview and frame of experience of worshipers, such as experimental music for example, explicit language about sex does not have to be tried on Sunday mornings or by the entire congregation in order to be tried at all. Small groups, occasional liturgies, retreats, focused quiet days are some of the places where such things can be used, perhaps with greater effectiveness than in a liturgical space where by its nature people of all levels of experience are, or ought to be, welcome. Of course, the real liturgical challenge, in my opinion would be to have such liturgies grow organically out of the people’s lives, rather than composed by clergy and other experts and then laid upon the assembly. Working with small groups of people, some of whom have skill at using and shaping liturgical language (a true art, different from other kinds of writing) could be quite rewarding as they work to articulate honest prayer.

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  2. Thank you, Frank. Interesting, apt observation about privacy. O’Donahue makes a good point. It is also true I think that arguments for privacy have been, are, used to induce shame sometimes.

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