What is the connection between God’s desire for us, sexuality and spiritual intimacy?
I will never forget the first time I saw praying for others, sexuality and spirituality come together at a Leanne Payne’s Pastoral Care School back sixteen years ago. At that point in time, before a gathering of almost a thousand people, lecturer and pastor Mario Bergner prayed this compassionate, tender, sensitive pastoral prayer about their sexuality in the hearing of all those present.
With gentleness, skill, and candor, he led this entire assembly into the presence of God bringing issues of sexual attraction, addiction, compulsions, and desires before God. They called this healing prayer.
Two worlds—sexuality and spirituality—merged before my eyes and ears—two worlds that had been utterly separate for the first twenty years of my evangelical experience.
That embodied sexual-spiritual experience would eventually lead me beyond healing prayer into an ever-expanding curiosity about the connection between a social or relational sexuality (no genital trajectories) and spiritual intimacy in cross-gender friendship.
It would inspire me several years later into a one-on-one intentional spiritual friendship with female friends where we mutually sought God’s presence in prayer together as the heart of our relationship. Ten plus years later, I’m still happily married, still passionately love my wife, and I have practiced intentional spiritual companionship with close female friends with mutual prayer for those years.
“There are depths and fullness, good things small and great, to be discovered” observes popular author and spiritual director, William Barry.
What would happen if men and women intentionally sought to share the fullness of God’s friendship with one another? What would happen if a man and a woman with no romantic trajectory, shared God’s friendship as the deepest attraction?
Psychiatrist J.S. Mackenzie writes, “it is in that enjoyment of God that we feel not only saved in the Evangelical sense, but safe.”
Sixteen years ago in that auditorium, I could have never imagined that deep prayer for women and with them would take me into the glorious depths of heart of sexuality-spirituality connection. I had no idea during that provocative experience that it would eventually lead me into the fullness of God's friendship with men and women.
What is the adjective you put in front of prayer after one has mutually joined together with trusted female friends to intentionally come before the presence of God with your mutual desires? Anxieties? Hopes? Dreams? Longings? Anger? Frustration? What adjective would you put in front of prayer after one has mutually participated in the practice day in, day out for over seven years? When you mutually practice intimate trust and vulnerability in the practice of prayer?
Of course, there is this thing, that if I write about deep prayer, I might come across, not as Dan Brennan who doesn’t have it all together, but as some holier than thou guy? Or, I might come across, not as Dan Brennan who still hasn’t found what he’s looking for, but as some spiritual saint? Or, I might come across, not as Dan Brennan who still wrestles with shame at times and the spiritual police when it comes to prayer, but as someone who has arrived at prayer?
Have you noticed that when it comes to volumes of self-help books, the practice of prayer bears strong parallels with the practice of sex? In the evangelical community alone, sex advice books and prayer advice books purporting the next formula, the next technique, the next six steps to nirvana?
Within the Christian narrative, if you participate in a regular ongoing practice of either sex or prayer, it’s just a sign you are human like you breathe, eat, and think. As a Christian when I write about deep prayer with members of the opposite sex I am simply writing about our shared humanity before God’s eyes and ears.
Now, close eyes if you don’t want to read about stuff for mature audiences only—you know R rated stuff. I’m going to use that metaphor, naked in connection with deep prayer and other-sex friends.
Joseph Myers in his book, The Search to Belong, writes, “In intimate space, we share “naked” experiences, feelings, and thoughts. Very few relationships are intimate. Intimate relationships are those in which another person knows the “naked truth” about us and yet the two of us are ‘not ashamed.’”
In spiritual friendship between men and women this nakedness is not about physically joining our bodies together in the act of sex. It has nothing to do with sex. It is a nakedness as a redemptive presence in praying together. Watch this, Richard Rohr observes, “Prayer in my later years has become simply letting myself be nakedly known, as I am, in all my ordinariness, face to face, without any masks or religious makeup.”
He goes on, “The soul knows that we are all equally naked underneath our clothes. Can you feel the scariness in that? When you allow the face of the other, the opinion of the other, the worldview of the other, to break through your barriers and boundaries, there is always a bit of fear, as in the first moments of intimacy.”
You see the shame, the spiritual police surging to pounce on me if I used the metaphor of “naked” like this: for the last ten years I’ve been getting “naked” with female friends in deep prayer. But what this metaphor means is that we’ve endeavored to be authentic with each other, taken off our masks, our religious makeup; deep prayer is a place where we can get metaphorically naked in the embodied presence of one another and not feel ashamed before God.
In the context of spiritual friendship, Kenda Creasy Dean says, “Authentic intimacy unwraps us by degrees, exposing us layer by layer to one another. Spiritual friends unbandage us; they reveal us to ourselves. But this is not to be feared, for they also pull us toward Christ.”
This is one thing I have learned about deep praying over the years with my female friends. I have learned the extraordinary blessing of becoming present before God and the mystery of sexuality and friendship.
Check this out: “We long for space where there is nothing to prove and nothing to protect; where I am who I am, in the mind and heart of God, and that is more than enough. Spirituality teaches us how to get naked ahead of time, so God can make love to us as we really are.” Richard Rohr
I'll pause here at this spot.