Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why humans mate

Orthodox theologian Frederica Mathewes-Green has a beautiful essay up on human sexuality and marriage. Long, but definitely worth it! It's an excerpt from her 1997 book "Real Choices."
"It is not good for man to be alone," but it is also positively good to be together. The light you loved in your lover's eyes at the beginning grows more compellingly beautiful through the years. You meet those eyes in worship, in passion, in anger, in tears, over the baby's bassinet, over your father's casket. There is no substitute for the years, the life-time work, of looking into those eyes. Gradually, you see yourself there; gradually, you become one.

Contrary to popular belief, the Church is not anti-sex. In speaking of the union of the Church with Christ, St. John Chrysostom draws a frank parallel to marital union; the sexual bonding of husband and wife, he says, is like the uniting of fragrance and ointment in the making of perfume. He rebukes those who were shocked at his words: "You call my words immodest, because I speak of the nature of marriage, which is honorable…By calling my words immodest you condemn God, who is the author of marriage." Chrysostom affirms St. Paul's image of the Church as the Bride of Christ: "Shall I also tell you how marriage is a mystery of the Church?," he writes. "The Church was made from the side of Christ, and He united Himself to her in a spiritual intercourse."

The secular world likes to think that religion is just a way of sublimating feelings about sex. But I think that the truth is something like the opposite: sex is given to teach us something about religion, about faith and union with God. How could human beings understand what it's like to become one with God. If two became one, wouldn't their individuality annihilated? God designed it so humans could have an experience that would be universal, common, and enjoyable. He said, in essence, "Here. This is what it's like. This is where you're going." That's not the only earthly experience that helps us understand theological principles, of course. Eating ordinary food helps us to understand how we become one with Christ in the Eucharist. Parenting teaches us what God the Father's love for us is like. Sex, eating, parenting, are all good things in themselves, given and blessed by God. But they are also handy as object lessons, able to give us ready, simple, intimate analogies for what heavenly reality will be like. In light of this, I think heaven is going to be not so bad.

But this is not the way the secular world views sex. Advertisements and entertainment are always telling us that what we want most is to wake up next to someone sexy tomorrow morning. But in the quiet of our hearts we know: we want to wake up next to someone kind, fifty years from tomorrow morning.


spazzybear said...

But in the quiet of our hearts we know: we want to wake up next to someone kind, fifty years from tomorrow morning.

Coming up on 6 months and already I know I've got that kind of man and how much better it is to have followed God's will, than to have gone with my initial thought of "undateable". Thanks again for the role you played in our getting together! Thanks, too, for the post.

-Mrs. Sean

pritcher said...

Do you know how explicitly John Paul drew on St. John Chrysostom as he articulated his theology of the body? I haven't read enough first-hand stuff to know, but it certainly seems that sex is an area in which the Church is healthiest and most attractive when She breathes with both lungs.

Gashwin said...

@pritcher: I have no idea. I've never read the full catecheses of JPII on this matter, believe it or not! :)

@ Mrs. Sean: you're welcome. Actually, as I was reading that essay, I was moved to pray for all the wonderful people I know who witness to God's love through the Sacrament of Matrimony. :)