Bodies and sex in the age of the profane

profane bodiesI just this morning opened a new book, Sacred Economics: Money, gift & society in the age of transition by Charles Eisenstein. (You can read the entire thing online, as well as watch a video that I haven’t watched yet, on that website.)

Opening a new book like this – one that is outside of my professional purview – one that has come highly recommended (this time by Sam Killermann) – is always thrilling to me. There is a certain kind of intellectual dialogue that is rare to come across, in either book or person form. It feeds my soul, it reminds me that I am human, it engages me on a soul level.

I am often a little afraid when I start a new book with a little whisper of a hope that it will fit into this place in me. And so I delay. I carry the book around, unopened, for the weight of it in my hands and in my hopes. I wait for a breathless moment alone when I can start from the beginning. I am one who finds the introductions to books to be critical. They set the stage, provide a mindset. When done right, I relish them. This time I was not disappointed. From introduction, I am entirely compelled to share and discuss this quote:

For several thousand years, the concepts of sacred, holy, and divine have referred increasingly to something separate from nature, the world, and the flesh. Three or four thousand years ago the gods began a migration from the lakes, forests, rivers, and mountains into the sky, becoming the imperial overlords of nature rather than its essence. As divinity separated from nature, so also it became unholy to involve oneself too deeply in the affairs of the world. The human being changed from a living embodied soul into its profane envelope, a mere receptacle of spirit, culminating in the Cartesian mote of consciousness observing the world but not participating in it, and the Newtonian watchmaker-God doing the same. To be divine was to be supernatural, nonmaterial. If God participated in the world at all, it was through miracles-divine intercessions violating or superseding nature’s laws.

The connections to the body and sexuality are ones I have been talking about for some time in my work life. Why is it that sexuality is held as base, material, separate from the holy and divine? It used to be sacred, and I still consider it to be. My work, while incorporating humor and illness, physical pleasure and deep emotional pain, the depths and the heights of the human experience and everything in between, is ultimately a sacred professional path that I have been called to walk.

I marvel, confused, at the people who try to hide sexuality, to shame their children in it. It is one of the most sacred and important parts of being human – this capacity for such connection with the self and with others. Why would we be here on this earth if not, at least in part, for the very human connections that we can and should take part in? Sexual connection is a holy and sacred thing. But sexual connection is not just with another person – it is also with the self, with nature, with the divine. It has the potential for so much more, and we must respect it as such.

And so to Eisenstein’s point: While he was talking about money and finances, his point stands regarding sexuality and the body. The shift from describing the body as “a living embodied soul” into the “profane envelope” has left a deep rift in our capacity to see the holy – in the bodies we have now. The physical being is not about the degree of thinness, tallness, breastiness, etc., that we can achieve. It is about the elemental honoring of nature and spirit that is at all time within us and surrounding us.

In the same way that the ocean, mountains, moon, stars,
whatever part of nature it is that you find to be most elementally inspiring…
even the skyscrapers, the cell phones, the manmade fountains,
all things, are real, elemental, and maintain a whisper of truth and inspiration to them.
So, too, sexuality.

And this is what I hope my students walk away from my class having internalized. Not an overt description of sexuality as holy or sacred, because that is merely an internal respect externalized into somewhat faulty language. No, instead, I want them to find a respect of the sexual as beautiful, healing, life-giving. I want them to be able to look into themselves, first, and acknowledge that baseline of truth, and then eventually to look into others and see it there too. Imagine if that respectful, honoring, old English word thou were brought back as a way to refer to someone else’s sexuality. Suddenly it becomes truly theirs, to own and to love and to experience. It is something that must not be harmed because it commands the deepest respect. It is something that can be shared communally – it cannot be given or taken.

We cannot walk through life without grappling with sexuality, but we absolutely have the choice for the level on which we choose to grapple. And this is my choice: I will bow and honor each person’s sexuality and identity, because they deserve my respect and love.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.