SEX AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

     Some people think of the spiritual life as one component of life, but that is, of course, really wrong. Spiritual life encompasses -- or at least should -- everything in a person's life.
     If that is true, then sex is not some "other" aspect of life, entirely separate from the spiritual life. Sex and the spiritual life have to be united.
     Here are some ways that they are.

God in the Sexual Act
     Should God be present in our marital relations? Of course – we are always in His presence. Why would we want our marital intimacy to be without His presence?
     The question is how to do this, in a natural way. (One can imagine rather bizarre ways of doing it.) Here are four possible ways.
     The first and most obvious way is gratitude. Isn’t this a natural reaction to the intense pleasure of marital relations? Orgasm, in particular, is a moment in which it is possible to be entirely focused on oneself and the overpowering pleasure of the moment. But it is also entirely possible to thank God – and one’s spouse – at that moment, to consciously refer the ecstasy to something outside of ourselves.
     Another way to keep God present in our marital relations is focusing on the idea of “gift” – the gift we receive and the gift we give. As others have argued, men and women have somewhat different roles in the sex act: a wife is naturally receptive (a very active receptivity, in which she welcomes the body of her husband into herself) and a husband is naturally active (a very receptive activity in which he enters into his wife’s body). Each in his or her own way is giving himself or herself to the other.
     Third, there is the suggestion in an old Catholic theology manual, by Frs. Ford and Kelly. They suggest that spouses consciously refer the sexual act in which they are engaged to at least one of its purposes (procreation, mutual help and support, legitimate outlet for sexual desire). This does not mean, of course, that ALL one thinks of during the act is some abstract intellectual idea of the goal of marital relations. One is thinking of many things: most obviously, the delight one is feeling in one’s own body, the delight one takes in his or her beloved’s pleasure. Also the “work” of sexual relations: figuring out what to do at a given moment, this time – given that sex is variable, has its own dynamic that differs from one act to another. But in the midst of these things, it is also possible to recall the whole “point” of sexual relations: the union of the spouses, for bringing about new life and deepening their own personal bonding. (Note that spouses can refer the marital act to its procreative purpose even when beyond childbearing years, or during conjugal sex during infertile periods by natural family planning - the “procreative significance” of the act is always there, even if the actual procreativity is not.)
     And fourth, one can ask for divine assistance in achieving a full and rewarding sexual act. Not every sexual act flows naturally to its delightful end. Sometimes distractions, interruptions, tiredness can be obstacles to an easy accomplishment of sexual delight. In some cases, these can’t be overcome very well, and the thought can occur “why did we bother?” On other occasions, one moves beyond them to the ordinary fulfillment of intense sexual delight. At times of difficulty, one can react supernaturally: during the act, asking for God’s assistance in carrying it out to a loving and happy conclusion, and after it, offering up either the gratitude of the successful achievement, or – with equanimity and even a sense of humor – the failure to achieve the ordinary ecstatic fulfillment of the sexual act (understanding that the act has still been a “success” on the most important level: striving to give oneself to one’s beloved as best one can).

Sex: A Mirror of Our Relationship with God

     One of the wonders of human sexuality is the many ways in which the sexual relationship of a husband and wife mirrors the relationship of a human being with God.
     A man typically (yes, there are always exceptions) wants physical sex much more often than a woman. He frequently acts like a two-year old when he can't have it when he wants it. (And some of us want it very often.) He can accumulate feelings of resentment against his spouse for not being "loving" enough.
     A moment's thought reveals that he acts the same way with God -- actually, much worse (since a wife has no obligation to cater to every demand of her husband). God wants us to love Him so much more than we do (and He knows it's the very best thing for us), but we are so caught up in ourselves and our own concerns or problems that we don't give much attention to Him.