Saturday, April 11, 2015

Twin Hungers of the Heart: Spirituality and Sexuality

What are two components of our existence that never lack instant attention from the market and media, always receive high viewer ratings, always generate great business revenues, and above all, always determine the destiny of our lives? If I may say so, it is these two: spirituality and sexuality.

It takes a lot of skill in sales and marketing to arrest people’s attention when it comes to food or technology. But talk about spirituality or sexuality and you have arrested everyone’s attention. Talk about God, or talk about sex, and ears perk up and eyes are locked, whether you are for or against what’s being said. Look at how Deepak Chopra, for example, is wowing audiences all across America and the world with his popular and new forms of spirituality, and you’ll know what I mean by the power of spirituality to attract.[1] Have you fallen prey to the spiritual “secrets” of Chopra or other charlatans of his ilk? Or notice all the buzz around the 50 Shades of Grey novel and movie, and you will understand what I mean by sexuality generating so much hype.[2] Have you been drawn into the “grey” zone of sexuality?
I want to weave in some of the whats, whys, and hows of spirituality and sexuality in very briefly attempting to address this twin topic.

First, what is it about things spiritual and things sexual that instantly attract us?
At the Center of Our Being

When we consider that we are created as beings who have whole personalities, yet with various components that make up that personhood, we will quickly realize that at the core of our personhood is the spiritual component. All of us have the spiritual component, expressing our spirituality in some form or the other. If you are an atheist you have a spiritual component as much as people who believe in God. Your atheism (or agnosticism) is a form of spirituality (whether the right kind or wrong kind is not my point here) by which you express your so called non-spirituality. Let me briefly explain.

Spirituality is so central to who we are as human beings, that we are always expressing it at any given moment. What’s at the center must flow out, and flow out it does, expressing itself. When our spiritual nature expresses itself, it does so in worship. We are constantly ascribing worth to something or someone. That is a not a physical or a mere mental act, but a spiritual act—to put something or someone up on a pedestal and ascribe worth to them. That is worship. However, we should not always think of every valuing act as an act of worship, because we are constantly valuing things: candy, cars, and computers. Even these could easily, and for some do, turn into acts of worship that go beyond valuing.

But in a typical sense, what makes worship different from simply valuing a commodity? Consider this with me. When I ascribe such worth to something that in the process I value the thing far higher than I would value myself or anything else in this physical and temporal world, I have just reached out for the spiritual and eternal world, and this is worship. In worship we value ourselves far below the thing or person being valued, because there’s some quality in them that makes them intrinsically far superior. In essence, we lose all dignity and fall down before the thing or person, and so exalt them. Everyone does this. Everyone in the physical and temporal world, by design reaches for the spiritual and eternal world by worshipping something or someone. And so everyone is spiritual, and everyone is in some spiritual state. Whether that state is spiritually dead or spiritually alive is the question.

Why are we attracted to spiritual things? We are attracted to spiritual things in a bid to fill the spiritual void that exists at the center of our being—things that appear like they could feed and fill that center—especially when a person is spiritually dead. Whether those things that attract us are wholesome or harmful—whether they will make alive or worsen the already dead state is what must be asked. It makes no sense to gorge on input that will kill you spiritually simply because it looks and sounds attractive, but in reality proves to be devoid of life giving power.

All of this to say, spiritual reality is inescapable and it is evidenced in the worshipping acts of everyone who has a spirit.

How about sexual things though, why are we so easily attracted? While spirituality is at the core of our personhood, one of the outflows of spirituality is the component of sexuality. Just as in spirituality our worship reveals a spiritual incompleteness that seeks completion, so too sexuality reveals a physical incompleteness that seeks completion. Simply put, we are easily attracted to sexual things because of the inherent need to complete and complement that which is incomplete and “un-complemented” within us. While that may be simple enough, it is at the same time not that simple. Consider a couple who are within the boundaries of marriage and have legitimately completed each other sexually and in other ways. They could still be attracted to sexual things outside the boundaries of their marriage. A case in point is the number of married women who read the 50 Shades of Grey novel. Others cases in point are extra-marital affairs that you and I know of in our own circles. In all these instances, why do married men and women, who are assumably complete in their sexuality, reach for something sexual outside the boundaries of marriage? It is here that we need to understand the connection between spirituality and sexuality.

The Twin Hungers of the Heart: Worship and Intimacy

It is a myth that the spiritual and the sexual are two separate categories of existence. The result of believing this myth is a pretentiously pious attitude inside a house of worship, but unrestrained sexual indulgence outside. But we carry our sexuality into places of worship and carry our spirituality into the realm of sexuality. How then can they be separate? Your spirituality and sexuality are interconnected, and interdependent. We are attracted to both spiritual and sexual things because we seek completeness and fulfillment in both. But the spiritual must precede the sexual if the fulfillment gotten out of either is to be legitimate and life-long.

Jesus, in an encounter that reveals the longings of a certain Samaritan woman’s heart, shows us all the way forward with these twin hungers of our hearts, spirituality and sexuality.

The Gospel of John, chapter 4, records the account when Jesus meets a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water from a well to take home to drink. Yet more than satisfying her physical thirst, she needed to satisfy her very thirsty heart. Her heart was dry and barren. She was married once, and it did not last. She left her first husband, and went to the second. The second marriage was miserable, and it led to the third. The third husband was no better. The fourth marriage ended. And so did the fifth. Presently, the woman, wearied from marrying men who disappointed her, abandoned the notion of marriage, and began living with a man who was not her husband. Here is a woman who desired to be complete emotionally and sexually. It is to this woman at the well that Jesus says, in effect, that the satisfying of spiritual hunger and thirst must precede the satisfying of sexual hunger.

It’s not that Jesus is telling the woman to extinguish her desire to be married. Jesus knows that the woman desires intimacy. Isn’t it interesting, immediately after Jesus perceives the woman’s sexual infidelity, that she herself changes the subject to the spiritual? I do not believe that the woman randomly speaks about spiritual things right after her sexual life has been shown to be immoral by Jesus. What this seeming evasion to another subject really turns out to be is a revelation of her spiritual hunger and thirst. I believe that the woman begins to speak of worship in spite of Jesus highlighting her sexual immorality because only Jesus can be trusted to understand the twin hungers of spirituality and sexuality and satisfy them according to His purpose in giving us these hungers. So in this one encounter, Jesus draws out the connection between the woman’s sexuality and her spirituality. He says to her,

“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life . . . . . . But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:13-14 and 23-24

The woman wanted emotional and sexual intimacy, but Jesus points to her need for spiritual fulfillment first, which is expressed in worshipping God. After she drank of the water that Jesus promised her and was satisfied spiritually, her view of sex and sexuality would be put in the right perspective, and would be satisfied out of the overflow of her satisfied spiritual life.

What our generation desperately and urgently needs to wake up to is the danger of being sexually alive, without being spiritually alive first. Before being complete sexually, we must be complete spiritually, or the sexual will have no meaning. Without being spiritually satiated with the living water that Jesus promises, sex becomes a meaningless physical act of momentary pleasure which people assume they can engage in with impunity. The meaninglessness of sex for people who have no satisfying relationship with God through Jesus His Son, is evidenced in the multiple partners they have in a bid to satisfy the hunger and thirst of an empty heart. How we end up expressing ourselves sexually ultimately depends on what is spiritually being impressed on us, that is, who or what we are worshipping.

When we are worshipping God in spirit and truth—as Jesus invites the Samaritan woman to do—we can be sure He will respond to satisfy all other hungers of the heart, including the need for emotional and sexual intimacy. Above I attempted to describe worship: When I ascribe such worth to something that in the process I value the thing far higher than I would value myself or anything else in this physical and temporal world, I have just reached for the spiritual and eternal world, and this is worship. The question is, when we reach, does a hand reach back in response? Jesus promises here in John 4:23 that God Himself seeks people to worship Him. Because He is already seeking even before we come to Him in worship, when we reach out, His hand reaches back in response and satisfies every hunger of the human heart. He satisfies us spiritually and takes care of the sexual too, as He leads men and women who worship Him into the sacred and satisfying relationship of marriage.

Mind Your Satisfaction

The next time you are attracted to something spiritual or sexual, pause before you respond. Know that both these hungers were put into our hearts by the Creator, whose design is that we come to Him to be satisfied. He created us as beings who have spirits to be satisfied, and bodies to be satisfied. But He also gave us minds to think about how we go about satisfying both of these. He gave us this great regulator of the spirit and body, the mind. He made the totality of our being, and it is no wonder we end up dissatisfied and empty when we do not think and act in accordance with His blueprint for satisfaction. In the face of any spiritual or sexual attraction, first go in worship to the only One who can satisfy these twin hungers of the heart. There are no shades of change, nor any grey with Him in His blueprint for sexual satisfaction. Neither are there any “secrets” He keeps from those seeking spiritual satisfaction. Perhaps you have never drunk of the waters Jesus offers. His invitation is open to you, just as it was to the Samaritan woman. She believed on Him and could not resist telling the people of her town, so overflowing was her satisfaction.

© Kenny Damara, 2015

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