Mysticism and sexuality

I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. I also want to clarify and dig deeper into part of the huge area I addressed in it. What I was really wondering when I asked “why is it so often the renunciates who are the one who elucidate sacred sexuality,” I didn’t mean simply sexuality in general, which comes with strong conditions attached to it in virtually ALL cultures, but the tantric, spiritual aspect of sexuality; sexuality as a reflection of the union of the soul with the divine. Why is it celibate Buddhist monks who are the ones who present the yab-yum with the Buddha and his consort? Why is it St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa who present us with the erotic images of the soul in passionate union with God?

There certainly are exceptions: the Sufi poets, married Indian gurus, etc. But I’ve never heard a Christian layperson say anything like, “what you are doing is expressing the passionate giving of God pouring his love into the world. You are being God for each other, the soul for each other.” However, the mystical meaning of sexuality is quite often, in East and West, presented most strongly by renunciates.

A couple of comments suggested that it was double-speak or sexual frustration on the part of the celibates. I think there’s something deeper at work. As I said before, desire is tricky… I think that some degree of spiritual growth is necessary for sex to be even be able to be seen as something essentially giving. The desire to “get” permeates sex: Get some, get laid, get off. I think it takes some degree of taming the “getting” engine of the ego, before sexuality can be seen as spiritual activity… one certainly doesn’t have to be a celibate to do so, but the monastic traditions, East and West, were created largely for that purpose. Now, things are beginning to change a bit… millions of laypeople are discovering mysticism within their faith, and sacred sexuality is beginning to be addressed. You might hear of Christian tantra sooner than you’d think.

30 thoughts on “Mysticism and sexuality

  1. Let’s first make the distinction between sex and procreation, between desire and the genetic drive to reproduce and in doing so evolve the species over the generations. It is so much a part of our lives and make-up that we often take it for granted in the “that’s the way it is and has always been” frame of mind.

    But procreation is species driven, while sex nowadays, with the advent of birth control and regardless of STDs, can be recreational. It is such a complicated part of our daily thought and being that to form a Christian or Jewish or Muslim tantra is very unlikely. The Sufis, though many were married, attempted to eliminate anything, including all desires, from distracting them from God. When the self and all its desires is emptied from the heart, God shines forth. The self includes all forms of the ego, both primitive and subtle. Empty your self and be filled with God. Marriage and the nurturing of children are an important part of the lessons of the path, the giving of your self to others.

    It is a complicated issue 🙂 Few have tamed the getting and concentrated on the giving. God willing, this will someday change when the race has become sexually mature. We are still in our infancy for the most part.

    Peace and Blessings!

  2. oh? I thought it to be rather natural for us to want to please others sexually. Sure it maybe tainted by the desire to impress or to gain the affection of others, but natural and widespread nonetheless.

  3. I agree with you, Z. The desire to give pleasure, I definitely consider a very different force than the “getting” drive.

  4. Z is of course right about most women naturally wanting to please others as the nurtures and childbearers, they are indeed the giving life force. It is a famous tradition in Islam that “Paradise is at the feet of the mothers.” As far as men go, certainly some do want to please the woman during sex. I was making a general statement about the nature of the species. Like I said, its complicated by many many variables of personality and ego and intention. And denying the body a natural release is certainly a source of frustration that acts out in a variety of ways besides short temper and loneliness and depression at times. Sex feels good, it releases endorphins that activate the blood flow as well as the pleasure centers. And with the emotional addition of attraction and love, it is doubly rewarding. And also possessive and jealous and territorial, all the primitive brain instincts of the species.
    LOL, it is REALLY complicated.

  5. Jon,

    I appreciate your exploration of this, though I’m not sure I have anything material to add to the discussion.

    The so-frequent-it’s-a-cliche situation of spiritual leaders tumbling head-long into sexually damaging their devotees provides a contrast to the St. Theresa de Avila descriptions.

    And yet…

    While I am skeptical that I will ever be free of the attachment-based delusions of self-ness, I can attest that both my wife of 22 years and I desire each other’s well-being more than we desire our attachments to the other. Within that context, perhaps, your comment seems to resonate with me. Seeing and setting aside the desire for self-ness may enable one to find in sexuality some of the same values that we find in all the varieties of other interpersonal interactions.

  6. Sorry, ignore that. (I’m new to blogs). I identify with many of the comments posted on this site, & I will visit again. (writing from Tasmania, Australia).

  7. …Didn’t Augustine frame sex and the sacred…while emphasising the ‘giveness’ of sex…when he reportedly compared the marriage bed to the cross of Christ?

    I’m not sure what St. Augustine had in mind except perhaps that ….on the cross, Christ gave Himself unconditionally to the world, on the marriage bed, a man and a woman give themselves unconditionally to each other…

    …and in that context, it seems, what we might call traditional Christen teaching on human sexuality, i.e. sacred, sacramental, unitive, procreative…, is, well, sort of, U know, right on.?

  8. Here’s a great sermon on The Song of Songs which is totally about its literal meaning (whilst acknowledging its metaphorical meaning):

    Most religions are framed and organised by men. For men, sex is usually about penetration, whereas receptiveness to the Divine is about being penetrated. The Greek sexual code said that ‘real’ men should always penetrate and never be penetrated: hence Christian homophobia. Therefore according to most religions you have to give up the desire to penetrate others in order to be penetrated by the Divine; if you’re not gay, this implies celibacy. A Christian mystic went to the East to try Goddess religion, but found that was all about being penetrated, too. Also Heathen men who get into seidr (a shamanic practice of receiving communication from the Divine realms) find themselves becoming more receptive/queer. St Theresa of Avila was pierced by an angel’s spear…

    None of this applies to female sexuality (as we can’t penetrate except with artificial assistance, and are usually the ones being penetrated, which is maybe why you see more women in churches), but no-one asked women what they thought (well, Jesus did and Odin did, but they were rare in that).

    I recommend the wonderful book “God’s Beauty Parlour, and other queer spaces in and around the Bible” by Stephen Moore, which explains all this very well.

  9. Thanks for such well-though comments, Dano and Yvonne.

    Dano, I quite agree that for the most part, Christian sexual teaching right on. Far more is right with it than wrong with it… the welcoming of God into joining, the sacredness of the bond, the value of waiting and self-discipline, the value of self-giving. Yet, gays are told that no matter how great their love and spirituality may be, they can never have such a union, that the biology really is the basis of it all. And for the most part, after the romantic words of a wedding ceremony, talk of God in sexuality is usually absent from churches.

    Yvonne, thanks for your thoughts. I agree, the yin position seems to be a universal in meeting with God… my teacher and his teacher before him also say than in mediation, prayer,preparation, their goal is to be as receptive, yin, and yielding as possible. But in the spiritual warrior context that my teacher embodies, the yin and yang flow together.. In being so yielded, the presence of no-mind takes over, and he can move/be moved in ways that defy explanation, and has never been defeated. Spirtiual yielding –> physical actiion.

    I’m also thinking of the “muscular spirituality” waves in Protestantism to nourish masculine spirituality, with the YMCA movement in the early 1900s, PromiseKeepers, and the excellent book Wild at Heart… There IS that desire to wed the yieldiing and being penetrated by God with action and strength, but it would be nice to hear someone just come out and SAY it, wouldn’t it?

  10. But I?ve never heard a Christian layperson say anything like, ?what you are doing is expressing the passionate giving of God pouring his love into the world. You are being God for each other, the soul for each other.?

    Only because you haven’t talked to me yet.

    I’ve been thinking that for at least a decade now. I just didn’t dare say anything about it. I thought I’d get lynched.

  11. The practice of sex has changed considerably since the ancient authors advocated celibacy. When I think about it, sex itself may not have been the real root of distraction. Perhaps the children produced by sex were, nearly 2000 years ago, way too much distraction for anyone, man or woman, to be able to devote very much time to personal spiritual development.

    Lifespans were far shorter than today, so raising healthy children would have been (and still is) a top priority. There was no reliable birth control, so experimenting/exploring sex was more than difficult.

    Celibacy was a logical option, at the time. Now, with birth control or sterilization, sex can be freely enjoyed/explored on a widespread spiritual basis like never before.

    This is the first time in 10,000 years that spiritual sex can be practiced. Granted, the practitioners of tantra have been doing it for a long time, but I don’t think it was ever extremely widespread.

    Spiritual sex with my partner has deeply enriched my overall spiritual life and introduced mysticism.

    I think now is the time to explore this overlooked aspect of spiritual experience.

  12. Whether we accept life completly or not, Sex “IS” Spiritual. All is God, first seek that understanding and the natures of sexuality will be revealed – no need for waffling or speculation 🙂

  13. Although I greatly enjoy the sexual union, when I gave my life to Christ He led me to Himself by way of a celibate road…for 16 years now I have abstained from sexual union with a man…my desire has not dwindelled, rather my sense of the sacredness of sex has greatly increased. Being discipled in a protestant church, neither I, nor they knew what to think of my celibacy…nevertheless, the strong call to total donation of myself to Christ was there for all to see…..then I found it…the missing peice…I came across the Theology of the Body by John Paul II…all of my questions were anwered and I now knew why all the self denial…I began to see what the mystics have seen…sex is a foretaste of the blissfull union Christ will have with His bride in heaven…sex is a “sign” of the mystical union and mystics see the cross as the marriage bed where Christ gave his naked body for His bride. I still desire sex on a human scale but also feel that I have begun to see that sexual desire is often a deeper longing for union with God. And although that relationship is not physically sexual, it does carry a most heavy weith of romance and desire and is fulfilling in a deeply spiritual way. I encourage anyone interested in this topic to read Christoper West’s writings on the pope’s Theology of the Body teachings…it is hard to understand someone who is mystical until you have walked some of the pathways they have taken…then things tend to become clearer and we are less likely to judge them as merely “repressed” ect. I look forward to earthly sexual union again…however, I now know that it means much more than I once thought it did:)

  14. Thanks, for sharing, Kay. I fully agree, and you make some great points. Too much analysis of the mystics comes from the modern mind instead of knowing mystical experience itself. I cringe whenever I hear someone’s supposed “insight” that St. Teresa’s angelic experience as something to do with repressed sexuality, etc.

    There is much to be said for abstinence, continence, discipline, faithfulness… taming and controlling the passions. It does go both ways though. After decades of abstinence, at this point of my life, I feel I’m being drawn to a more “tantric” path of savoring the pleasures and challenges of initimacy. As the Preacher said in Ecclesiastes, “to everything, there is a season.”

  15. Prior to becoming celebate, I saw sex as something shared, giving, AND getting. My husband, for the most part, did not want to receive – only give. This ultimately became exrtemely unsatisfying to me, so our sex life ceased. Widowhood has led me to a celebate life. I have had a burning curiosity about the what the “true” purpose of sexual ecstacy might be. After 5 years, the meaning is starting to gently dawn on me. For startes, I believe this energy can be used to greatly enhance our connection to ourselves, others, and nature. It also enhances our perceptions and enables us to see how nature, and others communicate with us. I believe transmuted sexual energy is just the beginning of telepathy, and who know what other wonders can be worked with it – especially if numbers of people were doing it together.

    Also, I believe I had a very fleeting sexual experience with another individual who was hundreds of miles away – telepathically. Neither of us could pursue that for ethical reasons. It never happened again. But I’ve been curious about that too.

    Maybe we can have telephathic sex with God, or nature, or our own deeply beloved. I don’t know. After five years, I feel like I’m just starting to find out.

  16. The idea of transmutation of the energy is interesting. Taoists talk about transmuting Jing (physical and sexual energy) Chi (the life force energy) to Yi (spirit).

    I once had a strong sexual (though non-physical) experience while in a long meditation session, so I definitely agree with what you wrote.

  17. Hi Jon, I’m glad you stopped by, otherwise I may never have stopped by your blog – and I’m glad I did.

    I wondered what the Christian monks knew, if anything, about transcendental sex?

    We in western society associate celibacy with sexual non validity, or latency stages throughout life. Notice how sexually latent groups, namely children and seniors have very little political, socio economic clout compared to the sexually active part of the population?

    Even celibates, the respectable kind, live outside of social parameters.

    As for being frustrated, why not?? It can be very frustrating learning how to be effective while living in this way, with these values, but that’s part of the “growth opportunity”. Ha ha.

    Loved this blog, and look forward to more.

  18. I am very much interested in Christian Mysticism, Iam rather tired just believing, I want to know GOD in spirit and in truth.
    Please give me more information about this Organisation and how I can be part of it.

  19. Actually, a Catholic understanding of sex stresses just this aspect of it. Sex not only images the divine self-giving love within the Trinity and God’s union with humanity but also actually participates in it–every time you have sex the Spirit is present drawing you into union with God and with your partner. Speaking of sexual love, John Paul II says, “In this entire world there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, Unity and Community. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery.”

  20. Sorry, all. Really behind on following up on the comments here. 🙁

    @elysiafields Interesting question. I believe that some of the more mystical ones would’ve known about it experientially, although they certainly wouldn’t have been calling it “transcendental sex.”

    @Paul: So glad to hear of your interest! But this isn’t an organization. It’s simply going on the journey to know God that your heart is leading you. You will meet helpers and friends along the way.

    @Jarrett: Thanks for sharing that quote from JPII!

  21. am just tired of theories and i believe in having a practical approach to God. i feel so lonely here in my country because everyone around believes in going to church and believing the unseen but there is a hidden hunger in me that refuses to be satisfied with modern christianity. here i am on the path of mysticism which is lonely here. it will be my pleasure to get acquainted with other mystic Christians for encouragement, though all we need is within but iron sharpens iron.

    as for sex, i feel there is more to sex and i agree to the posts.

    thanks friends

  22. There is one thing missing in America today,and that is a sense of community. Noone is our neighbor. Relationship with God is supposed to be a shared experience. How does one relate to sexual mysticism in a congregational context?

  23. @Benjamin Excellent question. I completely agree that relationship with God should be a shared experience, but the fact is, even in communities, we have individual lives as well, and many of us have a significant other we share more intimately with. Jesus himself taught broadly to the masses, more directly to the disciples, and more intimately still to his closest friends, Peter, James and John.

    On the congregational scale, though, I think that workshops could be given “The spiritual meaning of sex,” sermons could address it in age-appropriate venues (men and women’s groups, campus fellowships, etc.). However, the congregation as whole would have to be comfortable first with thinking about things mystically, and that is exceedingly rare.

  24. Hello, Jon,

    I just stumbled on your blog while doing research for a possible article. There’s so much insight to mine here, both in this post and in the comments. What struck me particularly was astromuffy’s comment that “For starters, I believe this energy can be used to greatly enhance our connection to ourselves, others, and nature.” If sex enhances the connection we seek in mysticism–if it is an expression of the healthy desire for union, not just with God, but also with others and even with ourselves–would it be good for the Church to greatly relax its historical restrictions on sex? For instance, is there something spiritually healthy about sleeping with a friend as an expression of your intimacy with them? Or even about masturbation as an expression of wholeness within oneself? This sounds libertine even as I type it, but I do not mean it that way. I simply wonder if, in honoring those Church-imposed restrictions, we have cut ourselves off from an avenue of wholeness and community that could enhance us as human beings. What do you think?

  25. I love all your statements and comments! I drink deeply of you all and hope to drink more! there has always been an issue of sex in this American mindset, some fear it as a distraction or because of overindulgence. others fear it because of the threat of STD’s. I find this issue to be resolved when people change their idea of who God is to them, and practice self control. unfortunately I don’t have much time left but if you wish to know more email me

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