When I read today’s daily prompt, the first thing that popped in my mind was magnetic attraction. This led to a cascade of thoughts associated with magnetism and it’s association with sensual love. Eventually, all the thoughts and delightful images it triggered settled into one interesting question; is God sensual?
It might seem odd or even bizarre that the word magnetic would lead to something far removed from it’s definition. However, for me it’s not so far removed and I can lead you on the journey–or life struggle–that led me there. You might want to get some coffee and a nice scone because its origins go way back in my life. I’m a big believer in starting at the beginning whenever something is disquieting life. I’ll get there but allow me a few sidebars first.
I once heard someone describe heaven as the eternal orgasm. It’s a beautiful image which I so dearly hope is true. However, I’m not totally convinced. I would bet that whoever came up with that description has Italian blood coursing through his veins. Being half Italian, I’m well aware of the sensuality of the culture. Also, being a man, I also understand a preoccupation with sex. So yeah, an Italian man.
The problem with the image of eternal life as an orgasm is due to the limits of climaxing. An orgasm lasts a minute of two and then it takes much longer to get back there. I’m perpetually confused as to whether the Italian man who came up with the idea meant that eteranal life is the orgasm itself or it’s the time it takes to get back to having an orgasm which can feel like an eternity.
As limited as this notion is along with my own limited ability to fully accept it, it does lead to something that gets lost in our catechisms, theologies, philosophies, and other teachings of God. How are the carnal, sensual, and lustful components of love associated with the love esteemed in the Bible along with the two greatest commandments based on it. In other words, is God’s experience of love truncated so as to be void of the sensualities that give so much meaning to human love? Or have humans truncated God’s love because it threatens them somehow?
I know this is getting deep and it starts to get stuck in some of the problems that have long maligned the field of Philosophy. Philosophers over the centuries have been mired in assumptions that can never be proven or disproven. They have lost themselves in what a friend of mine once called mental masturbation. Still, there must be some point of consideration–pondering such questions as the nature of God’s love–without going overboard. Thus, I’ll cut to the chase and get to the root of the problem.
My pastor growing often preached something from the pulpit that became his mantra. “Why risk an eternity in hell for 10 minutes of pleasure?” Obviously, he was not Italian. He came from a culture that heavily repressed sensuality and anything associated with sexual love. I know this because his last name left no doubt that he was Irish. Moreover, it’s the other half of my own ethnic root and the other source of the blood that courses through my veins that is constantly at odds with my Italian blood. Some might think ‘poor soul’ and there are some days I wonder the same for myself. It hints at the basic struggle I talked about earlier but there’s more to this story.
My dad was a philosopher. Now you understand my propensity to mentally sooth myself. Soon after I scarred him permanently by pursuing studies in Psychology, he handed me four large volumes of The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Never forget that Psychology has its roots in Philosophy,” he said as he handed them over to me.
Here’s the thing; we have lost sight of the importance of Philosophy and the long history of what some of the greatest minds in the world have had to say about the basic struggles that surround our pursuits of love and God. We think we have to choose between our sensualities or God, but never the two shall meet. Perhaps if we hadn’t thrown the baby out with the bath water–that is divorce ourselves from the underpinnings of Philosophy in the pursuit of all sciences–we wouldn’t have lost sight of the common ground between sensuality and God.
One of the early church scholars whose works form some of the first works that converge spirituality, theology, philosophy, and psychology was St. Bernard of Clairvaux. St. Bernard lived in the twelth century. He likened God’s love and our experience of it to the intimacy of a kiss. Mind you, it was not some peck on the side of the cheek that the Irish are prone to exhibit. Rather, it was a sensual and all-out passionate kiss that would make any red-blooded Italian proud.
The biblical text where he gleaned this understanding was the Psalm of Psalms. It’s a passionate account of a lover’s sensual delights in their loved one. It is a carnal account of love relations that St. Bernard pointed to as a spiritual treatise on love. Now, we can get caught up in figurative or literal translations as Philosophers have been prone to do over the centuries. Yet, that wouldn’t absolve us of the personal responsibility we all must accept in plotting a course between the physical and spiritual dimensions of this life.
There isn’t a problem with the sensual side of human love. Rather, the problems is in the faulty thinking–on both sides of the fence–which professes that we can either have our sensualities or God but not both. Often time, people divorce God from the struggle because it’s just a lot easier, and more pleasurable, that way. It might take tension out of the struggle that comes from God and our sensual nature but it too only leads to more tension and struggles in other areas.
Ironically, the church I grew up in when I was a young boy into young adulthood was named St. Bernard’s Church. Sometimes, the answers to our questions and the solutions to our struggles are right in front of us all the while. There are no limits placed on our sensual experiences of love and intimacy in a healthy, monogamous relationship. In the end, perhaps even an eternal orgasm awaits us.