Monday, June 16, 2014

Sexuality and Spirituality, United

Sacchi Green

Which came first, spirituality or religion? It seems to me most likely that religion grew out of humanity’s innate spirituality just as science grows out of our curiosity. Religion and science are both attempts to explain the universe around us and figure out how to survive in it. Science may seem to ignore spirituality in favor of facts derived from replicable research, but the scientific impulse to stretch the mind beyond the known could be considered a form of spirituality too.

Religion isn’t specifically mentioned in our topic here, but it inevitably crops up in our discussions, and really, if it weren’t for the way some of the currently dominant religions class sex as a major sin, we wouldn’t have to be asking whether sexuality meshes or clashes with spirituality at all. Why shouldn’t they mesh? Why shouldn’t spirituality encompass all of human experience, especially its heights of sensory awareness?

Of course it’s all a matter of definition, and I’m not going to claim to either know for a fact or take on faith an exact definition of spirituality, or religion, or even sexuality. I know I should try to define, or at least to explain, what I mean by “innate spirituality,” but the best I can do is to claim to be an agnostic when it comes to the complexities of the human mind. However much we think we’ve discovered, there’s always more we don’t know. For whatever reason, though, humans seem to need spirituality, whether they see it as coming from a supremely powerful source outside themselves or from higher levels of their own consciousness.

Mind, consciousness, whatever we call them, or whether we think of them as a single entity, have dimensions we can’t fully know. Just as a minor example, as storytellers, haven’t we all been surprised at the thoughts that percolate to the surface of our minds when we’re writing? Things that we hadn’t realized we knew, or could imagine? (Don’t tell me I’m the only one!)

And, as writers, don’t we try to produce both mental and physical reactions in our readers? Spirituality and sexuality, or mind/spirit and any of the physical senses, are inextricably bound together. Just as music, something we perceive with the physical senses, can sometimes trigger spirituality, so can sex in its most intense moments. Why should they always be separate? Yes, of course spirituality and sexuality—or, really, any flavor of sensuality—can mesh.

Going a bit off-topic here, when I got to pondering on spirituality I remembered my mother’s funeral last year, and working with the minister of the very progressive church I grew up in to help him know more about her, since she’d been in decline for the several years he’d been with the church. I told him that she didn’t talk about religion much—I think she was in it for the music and the sense of community more than for any dogma—but that one of her favorite poems was “The Soldier” by WWI British poet Rupert Brooke. The “some corner of a foreign field” phrase is the best-known part, but the lines that struck me were in the second verse:

"And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her days;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.”

Well. Setting aside the England part, agnostic as I am, I’d like to think that in some unknowable, inconceivable sense, all of our lives, our memories, our consciousnesses, can be pulses “in the eternal mind”. Even those areas of our experience involving sexuality in its most spiritual manifestations.    




  1. "It seems to me most likely that religion grew out of humanity’s innate spirituality just as science grows out of our curiosity."

    I really like this idea. I've noticed that people tend to create religious experiences even outside of organized religion (for example, concerts can often feel very religious to me).

    Your post points to two divisions that seem common now but unnecessary to me -- first, the religion/science split (why couldn't explaining the universe be a unified pursuit?), and secondly, physicality and spirituality (and that division seems tenuous--as you point out, music is often very linked with spirituality, and its physical effect is certainly part of that).

  2. It was said by some philosopher that If god did not exist, humans would need to invent one. And I do agree that in a perfect world, the spiritual would be naturally integrated with the physical world in all its manifestations, including sex, of course. IMO, sex is the highest form of communication.

  3. Re: Annabeth: "concerts can often feel very religious to me"...Yes! When husband and I were in a local town and Kenny Wayne Shepard was shredding his guitar there, we'd only had a couple of beers each, so weren't in any way in an "altered state". But when he started riffing on "Voodoo Chile", made famous by Jimi Hendrix, we were both transfixed. Afterwards we both agreed we'd had a religious experience...we both "saw god!" Hearing good blues guitar work has always had that effect on me.

    And Daddy X, humans DID invent the gods, including God. Once we had to face our own mortality we were paralyzed with fear. The thought that all we were could be wiped out, never to appear again was too frightening to face. So we invented mythological figures who could teach us how to move to a higher plane, to keep on "existing", once our mortal flesh was gone into the ground. We invented "the soul" to explain what part of us would go on. The shame of it is, all religions promise that the harder your life is here, the better you'll have it in your afterlife. So they all function to keep the worker class under the boot heels of the rich folks. I sometimes wonder why rich folks even bother to pretend they believe in heaven, since they get anything/everything they want here...and all religions teach that their lot will be much worse off in the afterlife. None of them apparently believe that.

    Spirituality is very different from organized religion. One acknowledges the feelings of being bigger than your mortal body can encompass, which is a fleeting feeling brought on by various sensory stimulae, like excellent sex or, for me, blues guitars. The other is a tool to keep the proletariats' noses to the grindstone.

    1. Of course humans invented the gods, Fiona. You've been commenting around here long enough you know my feelings re: religion (which has little to do with spirituality). The animist religions preceded otherworldly gods, which in mythology simply replaced the animist forms of the winds, fire, and all the other elements, which DID (and still do) affect people's lives in the real world. When the single-god theory came about, it fucked everything up. It introduced the idea that one entity could make decisions for us all, no matter where in the world we lived under what circumstances. It was a simple leap to say that god was on the side of a single person/government.

      But music? Now there's one pathway to a higher plane. yes, yes, yes. :>)

  4. I think that it wasn't just mortality that triggered religion, but the seemingly random (or even vindictive) threats posed by storms or wild animals or enemies. How do we make the rain start, or stop, or ward off disease? Are we being punished by a higher force, and, if so, how can we placate it/him? Sacrifice? Ritual? If our enemies conquer us, are their gods more powerful than ours, or better pleased by their rituals, or is it just another way for our angry god to punish us?

    You'd kind of think that in an age when we know so much (although not enough) about how weather, for instance, follows certain physical principles, we wouldn't think prayer could determine who gets hit by a tornado and who doesn't.

  5. Have to say that in a general sense, this topic is one of the more lively we've explored. Thanks to whoever suggested it.

  6. Now you're talkin'! If music be the food of love, play on - and all that jazz! I suppose that's as near to spirituality as I ever get - listening to a beautiful symphony or piano piece by Chopin. But if you want to hear pure perfection of voice listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing September Song -
    "And these few precious days I'll spend with you, These golden days I'll spend with you"
    Oh boy, those words and the sweetness of her voice carry me away to orgasmic delight.

    1. I generally fall asleep at the symphony, but Ella? Oh yes. Momma and I belong to SF jazz, and get transported on a regular basis. Just saw trumpet master Arturo Sandoval, who Dizzy Gillespie got out of Cuba. He also wails on keyboards and timbales. There was a movie made of his life "For Love of Country" with Andy Garcia.

  7. Hi Sacchi!

    I think spirituality predates religion almost from the earliest days of our existence. I recently saw on Netflix the Werner herzog documentary "Cave of dreams" where he explore 50,000 year old cave paintings and there are already images of animal spirits and humans merging together. Its somehow a part of us.

    And what you were saying about consciousness. There really are so many layers to us that are completely otu of our reach that influence us, its as though our heads were not so much human as haunted houses.

    That poem is nice. It makes me wonder what my last thoughts on earth will be.


    1. Right on, Garce, but I'm sorry you didn't see 'Cave' in 3-d. it was the most effective use of the 3-d medium I've seen yet. See my post tomorrow on dimensions.

  8. I did see Cave of Dreams, Garce (on a rented DVD, Daddy X, so not in 3-D.) I've long been fascinated by cave art and petroglyphs and that sort of thing. The cave art, especially, is beautiful in and of itself, and clearly had higher meanings of a spiritual nature. Intriguing, and humbling to think of how long ago humans were creating such art. Hmm, if I'd thought of it in time, I might have worked in an excerpt from a story I wrote some thime ago that involved petroglyphs.

    1. In my antiques business, I've handled stone tools from as far back as Homo Erectus. In fact, Erectus may have had a larger brain than we do, so no surprise the people who did the French caves had sophisticated mental and emotional capacities comparable to ours. Of course, they couldn't imagine the distance we've come in technology, but neither could we understand and get by in their world. It's not everyone who can make an efficient stone blade without much trial and effort.

  9. I do believe, Sacchi, that a spiritual sense is innate in us all. Different experiences will call it out from each of us. When I listen to Hildegard von Bingen's work, that's pure spirit poured into music.

    But then I feel the same way when I listen to great blues.

    Unfortunately, much of that which we call religion is more about power and control. Politics.Structure.The organized religions have all too often taken advantage of our innate spirituality and warped it into something ugly.


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