I was made aware of a podcast episode that tackled the question: “Do we practice the Presence of God while having sex with our spouse?”
The podcast is called ReKnew and it is hosted by Greg Boyd, a teaching pastor for Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Boyd is a brilliant theologian and is also no stranger to provocative questions or responses.
I have been a fan of his for some time. He captivated me with his bestselling book Myth of a Christian Nation. In it, he attempts to divorce the marriage that has been consummated by the forcible penetration of the state in religion. Boyd’s work and preaching style certainly inspired me pull the wool from over my eyes.
Boyd doesn’t portend to know all the answers. He admits often that he wrestles with many questions. This podcast highlighted one such match. And while I don’t assume to know the answer either; what I do think Boyd and co-host Daniel Kent demonstrated is the common discomfort we all feel when the topic of sex and God comes up.
It’s a rather difficult question to sit with, if you think about it. In another bestselling book, Present Perfect, Boyd guides readers to “finding God in the Now”. But what happens when you try to fit both presence with God and your desire to have sex in the same Now?
Daniel Kent reads the caller’s dilemma:
“He really wants to practice this idea of the presence of Christ- to have Christ right there with you, no matter what you’re doing.”
Greg Boyd interjects, adding “Presence—staying aware of the presence of Christ at all times… Getting your imagination to line up with the truth…when your narrative includes an imagination of God being ever with you, you’re more accurate than if your imagination lacks that.”
Kent continues, “Yeah, however, this makes it a little awkward when you have sex with your spouse— to think of Jesus right there, with you…So…what do you do with that?”
Boyd then admits that it’s “a practical question that I have actually wrestled with…”
This is where the sound of discomfort becomes obvious— not so much in the voice of the hosts, although perhaps just a bit. But more so, the sound of discomfort from the tone of society, especially churches, when such a topic comes into discussion. I know this tone all too well. As someone who is constantly intertwining God with the erotic; I have heard such a tone. The tone suggests an absolute: “I don’t know” response is about to be presented.
It’s not that I expected Boyd or Kent to offer an absolute answer, I just would have enjoyed more engagement on the topic. Boyd is no stranger to discussions on sex. There are plenty of sermons dedicated to the ever-elusive, hard-to-understand topic of sex and sexuality. Boyd has even shared some vulnerable stories about the battles he has faced within the erotic realm.
Nonetheless, I can’t help but want to add more to the discussion.
It’s certainly a hard image to come to terms with. The idea of Jesus laying next to you while you and your partner are getting hot and heavy, the foreplay is feverish, and suddenly in your awareness of the present moment, there’s Buddy Christ, leaning over your partner, gazing into your eyes with the sparkle of the divine, giving you a thumbs up.
It’s hard not to mock the idea, either. How many of us have ever really thought about it? (I am raising my hand here, for the people in the back.)
Prior to my invitation to try out a new lens of Christ, as offered by Myth of Christian Nation; I struggled with the idea of being both a “Proverbs 31 woman” and a sex kitten in the sheets. So, I did what most people do, I pretended there was a very thick, red velvet curtain separating the eyes and ears of Christ from the moans of ecstasy that echoed from my bedroom. God couldn’t see whether we were using accessories or not. Right? Wrong.
At first, it seems as if Boyd wants to consider the possibility that we are granted space for privacy; he suggests that Bonhoeffer had alluded to a similar idea: “God wants us to have a certain amount of autonomy and a certain amount of space…we don’t have to have God on our mind all the time.”When I was trying to juggle two different personas, I surmised the same idea. That God allowed me space—no way was God watching me do my husband.
But the truth for me contradicted the false belief I tried to swallow down. The more I came to terms with the understanding of a present God, here with me, in the Now; the harder it was for me to surrender to my sexual side in between the sheets with my partner. I knew God was watching. I knew God was right there, with me, in me, and with and in my husband. And as sensual as that sounds (especially for those who dig threesomes) it was hard to reconcile for a long time. It caused my sex life to suffer significantly. It created a lot of fights with my husband and I accused him of a lot of awful things.
Not many people talk about what happens when your mind brings Christ every where with you. If you aren’t taught how to balance what that means with what you do, and of course, if you believe that God is constantly keeping record of every curse word you use and whether or not your thoughts went to “the dark side”; it can really mess with a person.
And while I appreciate the sentiments offered by not only Greg Boyd, and other theologians and teachers of the Good Book; it’s dismaying that we wrestle with such questions but don’t push as hard to answer them. I am not content with the idea that we should just continue match after match of wrestling without ever coming to terms with a position that puts a person at ease.
Again, I don’t have the expectation that theologians are going to adequately conclude on the topic either. And because I often tell others that if they want change, they must be that change first, individually (well, Gandhi said it first), I must step in and practice what I preach. And what I practice is presence with God—not Buddy Christ, not even the image of Jesus the Christ as depicted across cultures— while making love to my husband. The way I do so is the focal premise of the book I have been working on; Enfleshed: Making Monogamous Relationships Real.
The term enfleshed means: to give bodily form to, to make real or concrete, to ingrain, to give flesh to. It is often a term attributed to understanding the divine nature of Jesus. When Jesus became fully human, he became fully God. The way I look at it, only when we become fully human—enfleshed—do we reveal the image of God in full form. I don’t think we quite understand what it means to be “fully human.” I do, however, think that by better understanding our animalistic urges and desires, and by reexamining the limited commentary on sexuality and the erotic from not only a historic, but theological standpoint; we can learn to be.
I chose this term to describe my idea of what a committed erotic relationship can look like if we are willing to always keep God at the center of our awareness so that we can find safety in our surrender to our fleshy form. To make our relationship real, we accept that God accepts our flesh so that we can enjoy all the ways in which our flesh brings us pleasure. Most of this will be covered in the apotheosis— sometimes referred to as climax—chapter. Otherwise known as the sex chapter.
From my perspective, an enfleshed relationship cannot be brought into its fullness without the incorporation of Christ explicitly in the bedroom. To do so, integration of our sexuality and spirituality, along with our emotionality, is essential. Philosophical and psychological works of the past and present have presented volumes on a similar idea: that we must integrate ourselves—body, heart, and mind— to fully actualize ourselves.
Current culture has not come fully to terms with such an idea. Hollywood would rather showcase the extremes of sex for ratings—depicting so many fallacious ideas about sex; media conglomerates only want to focus in on the perverse and exploited works of sex—rape, molestation, abuse, and slavery. Headlines matter and the clicks are counted.
The church has, in present times, blatantly demonstrated that division is inevitable if thou dare tip the sacred cow. (See: the church and same-sex marriage, for instance). While there are religious trailblazers setting the stage for a more thorough and detailed discussion (debate) to take place on the topics of sexuality and eroticism; the church cannot do all the work, but the Church (we, the people) can.
I applaud Boyd and Kent for their willingness to even give airtime to such a question. And although I don’t think Ryan’s question was answered, it did give him, the listeners, and me, much to think about. Boyd humbly submits: “It raises the question: Do we have any privacy? I think it is no.”
We may not have privacy from God, but what we do in the privacy of our own homes isn’t up for deliberation or judgment, so long as whatever transpires while you perspire is taking place between consenting adults. And while many church leaders found plenty of egregious faults in Alfred Kinsey’s work and data decades ago; I can’t help but wonder if the great sexologist and psychoanalyst was on to something that church leaders of today may find more agreeable: “If it feels good, then do it.” That’s a simple enough answer that doesn’t require too much pontificating.