Desire and sexuality are not held in high regard by many of the world’s religious traditions today. And sex? Don’t even go there!
As extremism rises, desires are seen as objects of suppression while bodies become things to control. The Greeks first articulated this idea of separation of the spirit and the body. Drawing on Greek philosophy, today’s religious fundamentalism fuses disembodied theologies with purist politics. Let’s be clear: at the core of this body and spirit separation is a deeper distrust of humanity.
It wasn’t always this way. Many of the world’s religions have strong mystical traditions with beautiful imagery, poetry and teachings about the holy erotic. Consider Rumi, a Sufi poet in the Islamic tradition, who writes of the experience of God as lovers enraptured. Or Teresa of Avila who recounted ecstatic experiences in prayer. Or—for goodness sake—the Kama Sutra which is, let us not forget, a Hindu text! For all the few verses that have been picked out and smacked on signs and waved in front of reproductive health clinics, the overwhelming message of the world’s religions is one of embodied love. I mean Jesus—I am not swearing here—in the gospels… Jesus became human in body. Bodies are the vehicles for sacredness. Each neuron firing and forming communicates divinity from the skin tingles of attraction to the electricity of orgasm. Desire, longing and yearning, is a form of prayer or sacred communication.
The word desire comes from the Latin de sidere or “from the stars.” We believe its etymology traces to a common phrase in the early 13th century. If someone was seeking direction in their life or guidance they might be instructed to “await what the stars will bring” or follow their desire. Those offering this advice couldn’t have known that all life, including humans, are at least at the atomic level, stardust. In some sense, then, our desires are not base or less than the spiritual (and certainly not separate!) but rather of the celestial. If we long to develop the depths of our spirituality, then we must also embrace and understand the depths of our sexuality.