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.

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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.

Intimacy Whiplash

Explore non-monogamy in action with Malachi as he talks about both the importance of connection and radical intimacy as well as the need for self-care

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nEvery so often, I am afforded the incredible opportunity to appreciate how magnificent and blessed my life is- the capacity to see the image of God in others, as well as catch glimpses within myself. This past week provided such an opportunity, and I want to take this time to share a bit about it- as well as some of the impact it has had on me in the aftermath.

I have referenced FetLife at other points in this blog, but for those who are unfamiliar with the site, it is basically Facebook for kinky individuals. It provides an opportunity to connect with other people, learn about local events, and share, read, and witness other people’s experiences through photos, videos, and writing.

I do a fair amount of writing on FetLife- some erotic writing, some writing about my journey, thoughts, and experiences. This past week, I stumbled upon a prolific writer who posted some things about power dynamics that resonated with me, and I messaged him to let him know that his writing had had an impact and to ask his permission to link his writing in a piece I was doing exploring some of my own thoughts. This began a back-and-forth public dialogue between the two of us, each writing inspiring a new piece by the other, and so forth, over the course of four or five days. We wrote about vulnerability and the process of writing, about transparency and fear, about how we relate to ourselves and the world around us. For two people who had never met before, it was quite an intimate exchange held over a public forum.

Prior to this happening, I had made plans to attend a BDSM party in Philadelphia on Saturday, and I noticed that the gentleman on the other end of the computer was local to the area. At some point, we realized we would be at the same event, and decided that an in-person meetup and handshake was in order. So our back-and-forth discussion built up into a climactic finale that lasted through Saturday, the last post going up just hours fetlife-logobefore we were planning to connect in person.

That experience colored most of my week in some way or another. I had a pretty full weekend planned, and the backdrop of writing so openly, vulnerably, and expansively impacted the interactions and connections I was having in real life, away from a computer screen. On Thursday, I spent time with someone with whom there has been mutual attraction slowly building. I went to her house and we hung out, got food, talked, smoked too much (at least, on my end), curled up and watched TV, and learned to be around one another outside of the pressurized space of conventions (which is where we usually end up connecting). It was a wonderful, connective time that didn’t include sex- and that was absolutely perfect.

Friday evening, a friend (and mutually acknowledged crush) was in town to work an event happening in Baltimore, and stayed over at my house- again, someone who I only see at conventions, normally. My partner was out of town visiting some sweethearts, so we had the house to ourselves and got to spend time together talking- again, outside of the pressurized space of a convention. We didn’t feel any pressure to have sex (although we interacted in sexual ways, certainly). I was excited to have them in my home and have the opportunity to let them see me in a new way- people in my home feels like a certain level of intimacy and vulnerability, and people sleeping in my bed feels even more so.

Saturday morning, after my friend had left, I collected my things and drove up to visit a dear friend with whom there has been some growing sexual tension. On the way, I was able to talk to my partner, who told me that he was comfortable if anything sexual happened between myself and this person. We talked about it for a little while, and I felt comfortable in the boundaries we established. When I arrived, I was greeted by my friend and his partner, as well as a person I had never met in person before, but had talked to for several weeks leading up to this weekend. We immediately connected and the four of us had a wonderful time cooking dinner together and sharing space.

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I then got some one-on-one time with this new acquaintance, and felt immediately at ease, comfortable talking openly with her about a plethora of things, from mental illness to sexual dynamics to poly boundaries to our shared overindulgence of caffeine. She and I made our way to the party together after checking into a hotel that she, myself, and our mutual friend had planned on sharing together (my friend’s partner was not planning to attend).

This felt culminating and climactic in many ways. I got to meet the person with whom I had been sharing so much writing intimacy and, while we didn’t get a chance to talk long, it was a wonderful introduction and, and I hope, the beginning of a continued friendship. I got to watch some wonderful interactions and bask in the sense of feeling connected and loved and cared for by people I know very well as well as people I am just beginning to know.

I gave my friend a blowjob in the car. It was the beginning of us exploring a sexual dynamic, and it felt fulfilling and satisfying and wonderful- particularly because I have shared so much non-sexual space with this person in the past, I feel like he and I have built up a level of intimacy that I don’t usually have with people prior to having a sexual relationship with them. We went into the hotel room, and then the three of us cuddled into bed together with no strange, hard, or weird feelings between us.

In the morning, I got up and drove a little further north- my partner was going to leave New York City that afternoon, and conveniently, a person that I have begun sleeping with lives within walking distance of a commuter line. So I planned to spend the day with them while my partner finished his trip, and then we would meet up and drive home together.

This particular person is someone I have been on a date with previously, and we are still in the stage of being a little awkward and clumsy around each other- but it’s also endearing and tender and sweet. And so when we spent Sunday afternoon in their bed, learning and exploring one another in new ways, when I saw them drop their guards and become tender and vulnerable and open, those moments felt like a blessing, and made me feel giddy and excited and so full of joy. I found that I have just as much pleasure in sleeping with them as I do watching them cooking. Both feel intimate in different ways, and both help me feel connected to this person in different ways, and I like the ability to share both kinds of space with them.

I think of all the work my partner and I do to make things like this possible. I think of thepolyamory-symbol-happy-parties-com fights and the long hours talking and processing. I think of the contracts we have written with one another for finite periods of time that are records of who we are in those moments and a safety net to fall back on when we disagree about the terms of our relationship. I think about the frustrations, but also the joys, of living poly. Of unexpected, spontaneous connections and hours talking about someone we’ve recently met that makes us feel smitten.

If I had written this Sunday night or even Monday morning, this whole post would be bursting with exuberant glee, with no negative feelings in sight. But I’m not. I’m writing this on Tuesday evening, and the reality is, I’ve actually had a harder day and a half than I thought I would.

There is something called “con drop,” which is an experience that people have after going to a convention and feeling so full, so present, so seen- and then returning to their day-to-day lives and noticing the ways in which that kind of intentionality and integration is not present. It affects people in different ways, but when I’ve felt con drop in the past, it usually makes me feel a little cranky, but mostly, I feel needy and insecure and frustrated.

So Monday, when I returned to work and found myself getting irritated over the smallest things, when I found myself checking my phone too often and feeling sadder than usual to have no texts, when I began to question and doubt these connections that I had felt over the past week, I was somewhat baffled until I realized that I was “dropping” from a weekend so full of connection and feeling seen and making intimate connections and being present with people, and I didn’t know how to make the transition from that back to my life, particularly my life at work. My newfound friend put it quite well when we were talking about this earlier (as she mentioned she was dealing with some of the same emotions). She said, “masking emotion feels so wrong post radical connection.”

And that’s the crux of it, I think. I’m feeling some intimacy whiplash but mostly, I’m

self care
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feeling like I need to mask my emotions (particularly working in customer service, and that feels disingenuous, particularly when juxtaposed against a weekend full of radical integration of self. And please don’t get me wrong: I think that that kind of radical vulnerability and intimacy is incredibly important, and I want to strive for more of that in my life, not less. But it’s also important to make space for self-care in all of this. It’s important that we hold these lessons- that we are valuable, that we are loved, that we are seen, that we are beautiful, that we are important, that we matter, that we are worthy of love and affection, in whatever forms that takes. But it’s also difficult when, for whatever reason, something in our life butts up against that in a way that we are not able to shift or change. And dealing with that self-doubt and confliction is an important part of growth in learning how to be whole, integrated people.

I have so much gratitude in my life right now- gratitude, first and foremost, for a partner that is able and willing and excited to navigate these spaces with me. For each of these people, who allowed me to be present with them in different ways throughout the week and met me wholeheartedly in those spaces. And for the hard feelings the past day or so, that remind me that we can appreciate great joy, expansive happiness, unexpected miracles, but we are able to appreciate them partially because they don’t exist all the time, and disconnecting from that is difficult, but it reminds us why it is so poignant in the first place.

I encourage radical vulnerability and intimacy, in whatever ways feel authentic to you: perhaps through creation of art, music, or writing, perhaps through conversations over coffee with an old friend, perhaps through sex (with someone else, or perhaps with multiple people), perhaps through worship. I think it is a powerful way to grow and allow ourselves to see and be seen. I also believe it’s important to take time after that to recognize that radical vulnerability can be difficult and scary, and that’s ok. When we open ourselves up in new ways, sometimes we have to take a little time to reassure ourselves that we are still safe, loved, and cared for.

That piece is an important part of my weekend I’m glad I haven’t missed, because it’s giving me a chance to learn to trust myself.Because part of radical openness, intimacy, and vulnerability isn’t just learning to be open with others. Part of it is learning love, trust, and care for yourself, too. We cannot allow others to see what we are not willing to see ourselves. And that, I think, is the greatest blessing of all- when we can see ourselves, made in the glory and image of God, then that is what we are able to show others. And in its many different names, faces, and manifestations, the image of God in each of us is a glorious sight to behold. May we all learn to see the God in ourselves and in others. May we all learn to share the God in ourselves and be open to receiving the image of God in others.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What would radical intimacy and vulnerability look like in your life? How can you find ways that allow you to connect both with the image of God in others as well as the image of God in yourself? 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.

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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us on 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.

Workshop description: “Creating Space,” particularly in worship is our focus: creating space for different ideas, beliefs, communities, and perspectives. Creating space can be a difficult process that requires us each to examine our own internal biases, prejudices, and desires about what we want from our churches  and communities. And yet, it is important that we start somewhere- and, for us, that “somewhere” is based in a firm belief in sexual and bodily liberation. So mark your calendar to be with us for this important conversation on March 16!