Can Prayer Be Erotic?

By not entering into communication with God with our whole bodies, what are we missing in the conversation?

Robin:

I remember a time more than 20 years ago, when, as a striving doctoral student in systematic theology, I gave a paper at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. All I remember are comments from two more senior people in the academy. They both said, rather vehemently, that “desire” is not a theological category.

AAR logo_slideshowI was surprised. I did not make such a claim overtly in my paper. But as they spoke, it dawned on me that their analysis of what underlay my argument was correct, even though I thought they were wrong in their judgment. Desire is a theological category because desire is of God.

Let me quickly add this caveat: not everything we desire is godly, part of God’s desire for our lives, any more than everything we claim is love actually meets God’s understanding of love. But the activity and reality of desire are gifts from God.revrobin2-023

I will now fast forward to a time several weeks ago when I was enjoying an evening with nudist friends—a social group that gathers monthly for a party in a private home. I have met some lovely people through this group, including a young man who is becoming a dear friend.

The rules of the group preclude sexual activity—this is true of almost all nudist, or naturist, groups—and as one happily committed to monogamy in my marriage, I would not participate were it otherwise. And yet, I find desire.

The people, perhaps numbering 30, come in all shapes and sizes, colors, nationalities, and sexualities. I am not aware of transgender people, but I could be wrong. Certainly, all genders are welcome.

nude dinner groupSome of the body appearances are more appealing to me than others. I have my gay tilt toward the male ones, of course, but as nudists often say, all the bodies are beautiful, just as they are. And in some way or other, I desire connection with them all. Not sex, but desire.

Frankly, I find it easier to start connections with new people who are naked than with people who are clothed.  Naked people have removed a layer of protection, we’re more vulnerable. Vulnerable people make connections more easily.

Here’s where my theological point comes in: In my experience, God wants us to connect more—with God of course, but also with each other. That’s why I think naked bodies—the ones God gave us for which we eventually become responsible—are beautiful, powerful  expressions of the divine. Each human body is an image of God, and more than that, each is a means, an opportunity, to create connection.  I call this connectivity “eros.”

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde

Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde first introduced me to the erotic as something more than physical sex, calling it “an assertion of the lifeforce of women.”  I think that is true of male-identified persons, too. I know it is true of me.

Lorde also said “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire.”

At this party, I also witnessed a sign of eros. Several of the men, at various times in the evening, exhibited full or partial erections. I do not know precisely what they were feeling, but imagine they found some other body alluring, or perhaps something someone said or did gave them a charge, or perhaps they were just feeling happy. Who knows, maybe all of the above?

What I know is that such a beautiful sight touched me. I’ll admit they were good-looking men but my reaction was not so much about them, or even wanting them, as it was about me. What I felt, rather keenly, was my desire for an erection of my own.

Regular readers of this space know of my erectile dysfunction and issues related to my prescribed treatment of testosterone replacement therapy. Erections are not very common for me.

erectionsBut then, even when earlier I could more easily get hard, I never did except during sexual encounters or solo masturbation. For a long time, I carried shame about my small cock, and even as I worked at shedding that I still felt an erection was only for private times, only for having sex. I had bought into our culture’s view that bodies are mostly meant to be hidden, and certainly male bodies with visible erections.

But as I gazed upon these men I realized the truth of Lorde’s observation. I was experiencing myself—feeling my own embodiment in a deep way (partly through something I could not achieve then)—and experiencing strong feelings of desire, of connection, feelings that in that moment felt chaotic because I was being drawn simultaneously more deeply into myself and toward others.

I did not seek sex with them, or they with me, and yet I wanted to connect with them. I wanted to talk with them, I wanted to learn more about them in general as well as to learn more about what caused them to get hard in that moment.I wanted, and I still want, to see the world through their eros as well as my own.

I am not sure I am explaining this very well, because I think I am still trying to figure it out. But as I continue to reflect, I am coming to understand that my erotic feelings—certainly those I share with my husband, but also those I experience at other times by myself and with others, too, including in more common moments like feeling the sun on my body or the touch of soil as I dig in the garden or observing or participating in a moment of human connection or human/animal connection—are a form of prayer. Eros is for me embodied prayer, a prayer for connection with myself, with others, and with God.

upraised hands prayerI have read a number of articles and books about body prayer. None of them mention the genitals and anus. It is as if we cannot mention that part of God. But God will not be stopped or ignored.

The good news for me is that whether I get a really good erection ever again (and I’m working on it—more about that another time) or not, God continues to desire me and I God, and others, too.  I know I will continue to call out “O God, O God,” when I ejaculate (dry or wet) because God is in that moment of chaotic, exuberant joy. And I know I will continue to be blessed by my own eros and the eros of others—with and without obvious arousals, just by being open to, and desiring, each other, the world, and God.

Let us pray.

Malachi:


When I think about prayer, I have the quintessential image in my mind of someone kneeling by their bed, hands folded, head bowed, saying their prayers before bed. I must have gotten this image from pamphlets and movies because that’s never something that was a part of my life or experience growing up, nor is it something I really do now.

Thinking about prayer makes me think a little about worship, and how the image in my mind of worship is also very different than my physical experience of worship. The word “worship” brings to mind the image of being in church on a Sunday morning, perhaps hands raised, in celebration of God. And while I have worshiped that way at different

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points in my life, I don’t currently have a home church I am attending…but I certainly still worship.

I can’t help but think about the intention of these ideas- the intention of prayer and the intention of worship. To me, the intention, the purpose of worship is to celebrate: to celebrate a God who loves and cares for us, to celebrate that we are made in God’s image and that God is in each one of us. “The God in me recognizes and honors the God in you.” We can worship with our whole bodies. We can worship through dance and singing, through cooking and sharing conversation, through cultivating gardens and protesting, and yes, we can absolutely worship through sex. If our intention behind our actions is one of honoring and celebrating our creator, then I call that worship.

So what, then, could be said about prayer? I believe the intention of prayer is desire and connection: we want a shift in something in our own lives, or we want someone we care about to be lifted up, or we just want to put something out there, outside of ourselves, because it feels too big for us to carry alone. And if those actions we take outside of church that are done with intention of celebration can be worship, can’t those things done with the intention of desire and connection be a form of prayer?

It’s something I haven’t thought much about before, to be honest. I’ve certainly appreciated sex as an act of worship, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of it as a form of prayer. But it makes sense to me that

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prayer is something I have often felt disconnected from- I have a hard time, sometimes, sitting with my own desire. And I’ve learned to listen to those things that are mirrored disconnections in my life, because they are often related. If I am feeling disconnected from my own ability to name my desires, then prayer becomes that much more difficult because I’m not always sure what I am bringing to the conversation.

Prayer is, to me, an active conversation. It’s one in which we bring ourselves and our desires and lay them out honestly- both with ourselves and with God. I don’t think prayer requires us to know the answers- in fact, many times, I think we come to prayer because we don’t. But I do think that we have to have the awareness of what we want from ourselves, from one another, from God, to be able to name it in some capacity. It’s vulnerable. We may be saying, “I can’t do this alone.” We may be saying, “I need help and guidance.” I think about the times- particularly this most recent time- where I have struggled with my own sexual relationships, and how thinking of my own needs and desires as a form of prayer might have helped in those situations.

I also think of how many people will have sex following the death of a loved one. It’s often called an affirmation of life- in our grief of losing someone, we affirm that we are still living, still capable of feeling connected and good in our bodies. I wonder if that, too, can be thought of as prayer- raising up our grief, our desire for healing and wholeness and connection.

Prayer can also, of course, be celebratory, coming from a place of gratitude and thankfulness. Prayers of connection and reconnection.

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Prayer is hope. And worship and prayer are intrinsically intertwined, I think. We can act out of a place of celebration and desire simultaneously: celebration for what is and desire for what comes.

But prayer is, I think, a conversation we have with our whole bodies- not just with bowed heads, speaking words aloud or in our minds. That is absolutely a form of prayer, and a valid one, but I think we miss something of the conversation if that’s the only way we can envision prayer.

I think about conversations and communication styles. A vast majority of our communication is non-verbal: facial and body expressions are a crucial part of how many people communicate. By not entering into communication with God with our whole bodies, what are we missing in the conversation? What are we holding back by viewing prayer within such rigid parameters? How might we envision new ways of praying that include the use of our bodies, minds, and spirits- a conversations from our whole selves?

I know, for me, that I’m going to struggle with this idea for a while. I’m going to have to think about what it means to communicate my desires as an act of prayer. I’m going to have to think about what it means to have conversations with God with my whole body- to do so with intention and purpose, instead of thinking arbitrary thoughts toward God when it’s convenient for me. So I am thinking more about how to relate to and connect with the idea of prayer- one that fits with how I worship, rather than something I saw in a movie. I don’t have answers, but I do have a fervent desire to be more connected. And it seems desire is a good place to begin.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your desires? Do the sexual ones feel holy? Do you recognize any type of eros in your life? How do you experience sex as a force in your life that impacts your spirituality and your mental well-being, and how do those other aspects affect your sex? Can you imagine sex as prayer? Do you think God participates in your sexual life? Does your sexual life connect you with God? 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.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, March 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Solo Sex, Sacred Sex

. . . masturbation, or solo sex or self-pleasuring as it is also known, is a gift from God for the people of God . . . .

[Note: this blog post is focused on a sensitive topic; the images on the page are very mild, but there are links to two teaching sites that are more sexually open. Also, I want to acknowledge the editorial and content assistance generously provided by Malachi Grennnell, good friend and cherished colleague.]

Masturbation gets a bad rap.

Even though many people do it. Even though it is not illegal.

But it won’t get a bad rap here.

national masturbation month linkedin com
linkedin.com

Indeed, it is my view that masturbation, or solo sex or self-pleasuring as it is also known, is a gift from God for the people of God. As a Christian theologian, it seems clear to me that God delights in sexual pleasure, provided no one is injured. And as was stated last week in terms of partnered sex (see More Sex, Sacred Sex), Lent is a great time for single people, and others who choose to masturbate by themselves or with others, to engage in sacred self-pleasuring, meditative masturbation, not only for the joy of it and for feeling good about our bodies but also for the avenue of divine engagement and closeness it can provide. Engaging in sacred sex, partnered or alone, deepens our intimate relationship with ourselves, God, and others.

is masturbation a sin yurlystasyuk com
yurlystasyuk.com

As a society, however, embracing our solo sexuality as a method of communing with the Holy is barred by a series of sociological and religious ideological practices that have permeated our understanding of masturbation. So before we can move toward embracing solo sexuality as a meditative process, we need to dismantle some of the myths around masturbation:

  • Religious institutions frequently condemn masturbation as a practice.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians generally share the sentiment, although there is some more recent deviation from that perspective. Similarly, Islam generally teaches that masturbation is contrary to God. However, many mainstream Protestants have been reducing their condemnation (and some writers, theologians and ethicists now affirm the value of it).  Jews often refer to the biblical text in which Onan “spills his seed,” but other than the Orthodox, there is not an outright prohibition within Judaism. In short, many of the religious institutions rooted in more conservative theologies and worldviews tend to view masturbation in a negative light; however, many of the organizations that do are also rooted in the belief that the primary role of sex is to procreate. These two perspectives (masturbation is bad and sex is for procreation) also lend themselves easily to the condemnation of same-sex couples. The structure and framework of these practices tend to be rooted in self-shaming, and for those of us seeking to embrace the Holy through our sexual selves, there is very little in the teachings of these practices that is congruent with our lives. Why should we continue to maintain this ideology about masturbation when we have shrugged off similar teachings about partnered sex and relationship dynamics?

  • Masturbation leads to addiction.
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lifefocus-tv

In the past few years, another concern involving masturbation has arisen, namely easy access to online pornography which has for some led to addictive behavior–endless masturbation sessions online (either in terms of frequency or duration, or both). Clinicians have expressed concern as with other forms of addictive behavior but not all professional bodies have expressed it with the same degree of concern. It is important to note that addiction to porn is not the same thing as addiction to masturbation, nor does one necessarily lead to the other.

In addition, of course, addictive use of pornographic materials or masturbation does not, as is true in the case of any sexual or other behavioral or substance addictions, mean that either is bad in and of itself. As is the case with alcoholism, e.g., the problem is not the substance per se (pornography or masturbation), but rather the spiral of addiction itself.

In short, we can absolutely support healthy masturbation practices without supporting obsession or addiction.

  • Masturbation is just a means of achieving relief–to be over and done as fast as possible.
The Quickie  theshorthorn com
theshorthorn.com

Perhaps one of the most pervasive perspectives of this climate is the idea that our bodies are inherently “not good enough.” We are inundated with messages that teach us to be self-shaming: our weight, the size of our breasts or penises, how we express ourselves. With these repetitious messages that we are “not good enough,” it’s no wonder that we approach masturbation as a mechanical act, a necessary relief to be finished as fast as possible.

We are not taught to celebrate our bodies, but to hide and shame them. We are taught that there is something wrong with us, even down to how we manage our pubic hair (discussions around shaving/trimming/managing pubic hair is perhaps one of the most intrinsic ways that we feel shame around these ideas that our bodies are “not good enough”).

naked praying man frank-answers com
frank-answers.com

Masturbation as a meditative practice can help to combat the idea that we are inherently flawed. While we are bombarded daily with impossible images and ideals of the perfect bodies, we must learn to combat these social messages with nurturing care to the body we were given. Practicing masturbation as a means of embracing our bodies (which were created in the image of God) is one of the most powerful ways we can learn to love ourselves. And it is important to state that loving ourselves, children of God, is a way of honoring God.

So how can solo sex or self-pleasuring or masturbation–or “jacking off” or “jilling off,” depending on gender–help us deepen our spiritual lives? Learning a little about two teachers of masturbation may help us answer this question.

naked praying woman lowbird com
lowbird.com

Betty Dodson, Ph.D., is the “Masturbation Maven” of our time. She single-handedly helped women in the earlier heady days of feminism, and even now, to learn to love their bodies through self-pleasuring. Her classic text is Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving. She really brought the clitoris, and its pleasuring, into the light of day for untold numbers of women. And, as she says, in the process, she freed many women to finally have real orgasms through heterosexual intercourse. No more faking it, thanks to Betty. Later in her career, she even led masturbation sessions for men.

Betty Dodson eventbrite com
Betty Dodson eventbrite.com

Dodson, now 86 and still teaching, writes of her experience of bringing together her practice of Transcendental Meditation and masturbation (activities that were part of her daily routine) when she was too busy to do each by itself. She switched from two twenty-minute TM sessions, one morning and one evening, to one forty-minute session of meditation with her vibrator (Betty is very big on vibrators, even encouraging men to try them on their penises), a practice that regularly led her to orgasm. She realized she felt “harmony between my body and my mind,” centered in her body and relaxed in her mind.

If you want to learn more about, or from, Betty Dodson–which I encourage for women, and men, too–click here for her website, where you will find all sorts of resources, some for free and others not, but all honest and sex-positive and caring. Please note that Betty does not hide body parts–her own and those of others. There is no shame here, so be prepared to see, e.g, a celebration of the clitoris, and hear frank talk about sex.

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Bruce Grether prweb.com

More recently, she has a colleague on the male side of things, Bruce Grether. Since 1995, he has been “a male masturbation activist and teacher,” showing us, according to Joseph Kramer (another renowned teacher of sexual energy and pleasure, and the founder of the Body Electric School), “that the sustained sexual arousal produced from mindful masturbation gives us access to the magic deep within our hearts.” (click here to visit his website, Erotic Engineering). A note here, too. You will find lots of naked men on this site, mostly masturbating–and as with Betty’s site, lots of informed discussion about sexuality (Bruce is himself often, though not always, clothed).

Mindful masturbation, according to Grether, opens us to “limitless possibilities for bliss you can give yourself.” And masturbation, according to both Dodson and Grether, does not have to be a solo activity. Couples and lovers can share, and even groups. Older people, coupled and single, who may be experiencing less than the optimal functioning of earlier years, often find masturbation a very positive experience.

divine skies  icr.org
icr.org

One key element of mindful masturbation for men, according to Grether, is to not focus on ejaculation. This is not a race, but a process of self-pleasuring. Experienced practitioners can have many orgasms without ejaculation (did you know men can have “dry orgasms?). You might think of these as moments of divine revelation or connection–exquisite sensations taking over your body, then ebbing, and perhaps returning later after more stroking. Dodson, like all experts on female sexuality, stresses women’s ability for orgasmic release in waves–and both Grether and Dodson encourage staying with, enjoying and even learning from, all the feelings of pleasure.

So, what to do? Here are some suggestions for what is essentially a masturbatory meditation ritual/session. Here I am using my word “God” to stand for whatever greater or spiritual power you may identify in your life.

  • daily meditation 99u com
    99u.com

    Pray. Ask God to help you set aside a time and place to make love with and to yourself. Commit to setting aside this time–an hour or more if you can, to start with, but less if you are unsure (but not less than 20 minutes if at all possible). Try to set aside time at least several times a week–and more if possible. If scheduling is important, set a timer so you can be sure you go the full time but also stop when you need to for the rest of your life. Daily masturbatory meditation–morning or evening–would be ideal. This can feel strange, doing a new thing that contradicts much you may have been taught, so take time to breathe, to ask God to guide and protect you. The big thing here is to let God be with you, or more accurately because God already is, to let yourself be with God.

  • Find a space where you feel safe, comfortable (a good temperature for nakedness), and will not be disturbed. Light a candle if you wish. You might want music, but then it might distract your meditation–you will learn what works for you. Ask God to bless the space and your time together (you and God, and others if present).
  • candlelight freegreatpicture net
    freegreatpicture.net

    Pray. Ask God to help you take off all your clothes, one article at a time. Make a ritual out of getting undressed. Take a moment to smell the article of clothing, give thanks for its protection of your body. Touch yourself in the area where you removed an article of clothing as one way of getting closer to your body. Celebrate each area as your remove the layers. When you are naked, ask God to guide your hands to touch yourself all over, slowly, lovingly. Don’t rush this. Linger wherever you wish. Doing this in front of a mirror can be very enriching, but it is not necessary. What is important is that you allow yourself to enjoy the process, enjoy your body. Again, this may tap into issues of body shame–about specific body parts or your whole body–so breathe, ask God to help you see your body as God sees it, a divine creation of beauty and joy.

  • naked woman from back istockphoto com
    istockphoto.com

    A key to this process is breathing. So now that you are naked and more comfortable, sit quietly, eyes closed, and breathe. If you wish, you can visualize parts of your body and give thanks for their gifts to you. Breathe from the gut as much as possible. This helps energize your genital area.

  • Think of a mantra you want to use to help you stay focused on your embodied spiritual energy, and begin to say it. Repeating a word or phrase with each touching, or at least each time you find yourself moving toward a climax, keeps you grounded. Some people use a word, “love,” or “joy.” Others may use a phrase. “God is good, all the time” is one possibility. In my meditation, I am partial to a phrase from Franciscan writer Richard Rohr, “Astonish me with Your love!” Using the mantra helps you stay grounded in a meditative state. I also encourage you to listen for God, who may use this time to say something important and loving to you. Leave some space for God to “speak.”
  • Touch your pleasure organ–your clitoris or penis–and gently rub it. Feel the sensation. Just hold it for a while, too. Breathe. Then more rubbing/stroking, remembering to repeat your mantra, too. Also, touch around the organ, enjoy the neighborhood!
  • relax everthingandnothing com
    everythingandnothing.com

    Just stay with this as long as you can, not rushing, letting feelings of pleasure move through you. Touch yourself all over. Touch your penis or clitoris in different ways, rub them in different ways. The two websites mentioned above have many resources for techniques, ways of touching yourself to maximize sensation.

  • Of course, be open to orgasm and ejaculation but try not to rush it. Again, this can feel strange, since so many of us have been taught to release tension as quickly as we can. This is not about tension release, although that will happen, so much as it is about consciousness, God-consciousness for you. Try to ride the wave(s) of pleasure and feel yourself go deeper into ….. what? yourself, God, your soul, Holy Spirit–all of the above most likely.
  • Whatever happens, thank God!!!

I have laid out a pretty simple process. But I suspect for many, probably most, it will not be easy. We have issues to overcome, body- and sex-negativity that pervades our culture. So be gentle with yourself. Take your time, do this in stages if you have to, taking one or more sessions just to set the mood and get undressed and touch yourself a little. There is not a right way to do any of this, and you have the rest of your life to develop your own practice and style.

Keeping a holy Lent kingofpeace org
kingofpeace.org

This practice does not need to be limited to Lent; in fact, I hope you let it become a continuing part of your life. However, in Lent, when we have so often been told to give something up, perhaps you can choose to give up hurried, shame-based, masturbation for deeper self-loving that celebrates God and the body you have from God. That would be a new way of living to celebrate at Easter, or if you are Jewish, at Passover!

The key is to stay open to the endless possibilities, not only of pleasure but also of other forms of divine presence and revelation. Remember, pleasuring your body pleases, pleasures, God, too. In your shared pleasuring, you and the divine grow more united, more loving, more whole. And that will help you the rest of your day, the rest of your life, be filled with more positive energy—good for you and for the world.

Enjoy solo sex, sacred sex, today!