Luther on sex

The younger generation, as has been said, always thinks that it has invented sex.  And those who “don’t know much about history” seem to think that sex and sexual issues are contemporary phenomena.  So the editors at Salon are giddy to learn what Martin Luther wrote about sex.

Reading from a new book about Luther that discusses the reformer’s critique of mandatory celibacy for those in religious orders, his criticism of canon laws restricting and regulating marriage, and his defense of marriage as a vocation–which has to include a defense of its defining action–Salon reprints an excerpt  under the headline “Martin Luther’s pro-sex shocker” and the deck “Centuries ago, Martin Luther’s ideas were way ahead of their time.”

Well, Luther was advocating marriage and criticizing the sex outside of marriage that was rampant in his time, particularly among those forced into celibacy who lacked that gift.  (Some priests rationalized their use of prostitutes by thinking “at least I’m not married,” so I am merely fornicating and not forsaking my vow.)

True, Luther believed that regulating marriage was the business of the state, not the church, which would put him against those who think we should just leave marriage to the church and keep the state out of it.  And he was rethinking what the parameters about divorce, etc., should be in the absence of canon law.  But his frank talk about sex is not “ahead of his time,” as anyone who reads old books can attest.  People weren’t squeamish about talking about the subject until the Victorian era of the 19th century.

Anyway, his views are interesting, so I link to and quote from Salon’s sampling from James Reston’s new book.

[Read more...]

Between first sleep and second sleep

About two years ago, we posted First Sleep, Second Sleep, which became the 12th most-read post on this blog, with people to this day clicking on it.  It had to do with what historians have discovered about sleep patterns in the days before artificial lighting, from ancient and Biblical days through the 17th century.  People would go to bed shortly after it turned dark, sleep for four hours, wake up for two or three hours, then go back to sleep for another four hours.  During the period of wakefulness between “first sleep” and “second sleep,” people would talk, read, and pray.  This seems to have been the main time when married couples would make love.  Artificial lighting–not just candles but oil lamps and especially electric lighting–changed people’s sleeping patterns, letting us stay up late, though patterns of insomnia suggest that first sleep and second sleep is deep wired into our nature.

Anyway, researchers have been studying this phenomenon.  Test subjects made to go to sleep when it gets dark, after a period of adjustment, fall back into the pattern.  But then scientists discovered something else.  That time between first sleep and second sleep is characterized by a unique state of consciousness.  Although the person is fully awake, he or she is in a state of deep rest, relaxation, and peace.

Clark Strand, who has written a book on the subject, relates it to the “mindfulness” of Eastern meditation.  I don’t think we have to go all mystical about it, like he does (though the connection might suggest why “the night watches” were such a good time for Bible reading and prayer), but I’m curious what this would have meant for marriages.  Marital intimacy–sex, yes, but also conversation–may well have been heightened during this nightly state of mind.  “Sleeping together” may have been more than a euphemism, perhaps a description of an deep intimacy that may be difficult to attain today. [Read more...]

Laura Ingalls Wilder rediscovered

Some weeks ago, I blogged about the publication of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoir, entitled Pioneer Girl.  This was the manuscript she wrote about her life on the frontier that she could not get published, whereupon she switched gears to write a slightly fictionalized version in a series of  books for children.  These became the nine titles in the Little House books, which, in turn, have become classics of  American literature.  The publication of that original autobiography by the South Dakota Historical Society–complete with photographs, historical annotations, and scholarly notes that give the real-life context for the later novels–has proven to be a literary sensation.  The small press was having trouble keeping up with the demand, and Amazon was overwhelmed with lengthy backorders.  (Something that seems to have been rectified.  Last I checked, the book is available now, without the earlier delay, from Amazon.)

The day my post went up, in which I said how anxious I was to read Pioneer Girl and lamented how hard it was to get ahold of, the intrepid librarian where I teach, Sarah Pensgard, told me that she had found a copy for the library.  So I checked it out and was soon immersed in the real world of Laura Ingalls Wilder. [Read more...]

Luther’s notes to “Freedom of a Christian” discovered

A first edition of Luther’s classic treatise “The Freedom of a Christian,” dated 1520, has been discovered in a library in France.  It contains annotations in red ink in Luther’s hand, indicating the changes he wanted to make in future editions.  As far as I can tell, those annotations have not yet been published, but we should watch for them.

Thanks to Anthony Sacramone for drawing this to my attention.  Read his discussion of this find and of the book itself.   If you only read one book by Luther, read this one.  It is Luther at his very best, unpacking the Gospel, the freedom we have in Christ, his neighbor-centered ethic, and vocation. [Read more...]

The original Memorial Day order

MEMORIAL DAY ORDER*

Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic,

Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868.

GENERAL ORDERS

No. 11

I. The 30th day of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? [Read more...]

How many Americans have died in combat?

At least 1, 340,000 Americans have died in our nation’s wars, from the Revolution through Afghanistan.  Michael Avramovich breaks down that number in a touching Memorial Day tribute. [Read more...]


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