The Mystics' Secret to Bliss
I can’t remember the first time it happened in prayer. But I remember the first conversation I tried to have about it.
“My prayer has been… I mean, it’s been wonderful.” My eyes sparkled, but I struggled to find the words. “It’s like… it’s spousal. It’s like my heart blooms open, to a place deeper than I knew existed—and God pours himself out there. Sometimes it leaves me breathless!”
I shifted slightly in my chair and glanced at the floor. I had never shared anything quite so intimate. My next words came out more softly than the last: “What do I do with that?”
My spiritual director smiled and stared. "Well, you know Saint so-and-so said..." she began to recite. It would have been about the same had she patted me on the arm and said “that’s nice, dear.” After a beat, I realized that’s all she knew to say.
I gave an internal sigh. If I knew anything, my experience was anything but “nice.”
Over the years, I came to learn that this kind of profound experience in prayer was not uncommon. Mystics from nearly every religion speak of the divine as “beloved” or “lover.”
Sexuality and Spirituality are a lot closer than many of us might think.
Don’t believe me? Check out Teresa of Avila’s poetry:
When He touches me I clutch the sky’s sheets, the way other lovers do the earth’s weave of clay. Any real ecstasy is a sign you are moving in the right direction, don’t let any prude tell you otherwise.
Or John of the Cross:
O sweet cautery, O delightful wound! O gentle hand! O delicate touch That tastes of eternal life… How gently and lovingly You wake my heart… And by Your sweet breathing, How tenderly You swell my heart with love!
The wakened lover speaks directly to the beloved, ‘You are the sky my spirit circles in, The love inside love, the resurrection place… Are these words or tears? Is weeping speech? What shall I do, my love?’
So he speaks, and everyone around Begins to cry with him, laughing crazily, Moaning in the spreading union Of lover and beloved.
This is the true religion.
And just check out this statue of John of the Cross in ecstasy:
It was no secret to the mystics! Eros, that creative, life-giving energy that fuels our sexuality is the same energy within the divine. Actually, it’s the reverse: God is the wild and beautiful dance between eros(desire, longing, creative energy) and agape(self-giving, fruitful love). When we make love, we participate in that dance.
And so we do when we pray.
Now, perhaps you’re thinking, I’ve never prayed like that! And desire and sex—what do those have to do with spirituality?
Listen up, young Padawan, for there are a few lessons about divine intimacy that they may not have taught you in Sunday school.
Orgasm is like Prayer
Lovemaking requires vulnerability. At the very least, it requires you to bare a private part of you, physically. At the very best, it asks you to bare your most intimate parts-- emotionally and spiritually.
Prayer is simply another word for "relationship with the divine." It, too, requires vulnerability in order to be intimate. You can have a surface-level relationship with Infinite Love just as you can with your spouse. You can hide, perform your perceived duties, and live separate lives while still calling yourself "spiritual" or "holy" or "Christian" (or "married"!). Or-- you can be in a rich, satisfying, jovial relationship with the divine. It is as real and nuanced as your relationship with your spouse.
Consider the amount of trust it takes to be truly naked with someone. It might be easy to take off your clothes; but how easy is it to bare your heart? To share your fears? To be seen in all your flaws and imperfections—and be loved there? It’s like your husband kissing that flabby spot you’re secretly ashamed of, or your wife revering that hairy mole you find revolting. But she loves it because it is a part of YOU.
That’s the kind of tenderness God shows us. He caresses our pride. He reveres our epic failures that spark shame in us. While we beat ourselves up (“How could I be so stupid and selfish?? How could I hurt the friend who loves me so well?”), the divine pours mercy in that spot. He soothes the shame, washing it out with the waters of tenderness. He doesn’t pour out wrath: we’re the ones who do that.
I once was talking to a friend of mine who was having a hard time in her prayer life. I also knew that it had taken years after getting married for her to experience an orgasm. (Which is not a rare experience for women.) I asked, “What made the difference when you were finally able to come?” She pondered for a moment. “You know,” she replied softly, “it was when I finally allowed myself to surrender. I had to let go of all my fears and rigidity. You really have to relax and let go in order for climax to happen.”
If we come with our rigidity and our misled beliefs (“Sex is bad! I mean, not bad, but NEVER do it unless you’re married. Be AFRAID! STD’s, people! Emotional heartache! Eternal damnation! Monsters and rabies and hurricanes!”)—how difficult it is to be intimate! Why would anyone be willingly naked and vulnerable when surrounded by that kind of fear?