I would like to think my ongoing reflection and experience of prayer with and for my female friends has matured the last ten years. If nothing else, it certainly has evolved!
As I quoted Ann and Barry Ulanov in my last post, I touched on something hot when I began to pray together with my female friends. “Deep prayer” has been at the heart of my close cross-gender friendships extending over ten years. During a significant stretch of seven plus years, one of my female friends and I prayed (desired) together daily.
When I first read this quote from theologian-psychotherapist James Loder, “spiritual heat is always hotter than sexual heat” in 2006, it was quite provocative, hopeful, and encouraging. With the intense sexualization of hotness in our culture, Loder sounded prophetic as he believed spiritual heat is greater than sexual heat.
We all know that hot sex is utopia. That’s what our culture tells us, right? To experience hot sex is nirvana. It does doesn’t matter these days if it is relational or with a stranger.
For gay scholar Ronald Long, the peak experience of hot sex is with a stranger. “Sex with a stranger,” he says, “is just plain hotter sex.” Relational sex for him is not so hot.
Sexual heat though, cannot stand on its own. Theologian Susannah Cornwall in her book, Theology and Sexuality suggests that Christians need to take a “long view” in their sexual relationships and choices. She calls it, “sexchatology.”
The relational words and phrases she started using were familiar to me because they have been in the ancient-to-contemporary conversation about friendship.
She brought up the need for justice. It was Aristotle who wrote, “Friends have no need of justice.”
She brought up the issue of instrumentalism. Author Seow Hon Tan in her book, Justice as Friendship, wrote:
Human posited laws, sometimes necessary to teach me to act in the right manner and respect another human’s worth, are superfluous in friendship… In friendship, we show ourselves committed to the worth and dignity of the other, which is why we love the other with reverence and for the other’s own sake, as an end in themselves.”
In the ten plus years I have been praying with my female friends I have a deeper understanding of what I think Loder meant about spiritual heat. Without question, I have had a burning desire to know God and my female friends in our regular times of praying together. No question, my thoughts, experiences, desires have moved beyond “platonic” prayer.
Yes, “strictly platonic” communicates something quite clearly about what I am deeply passionate about—friendship between a man and a woman where they do not join their bodies for sex. Platonic love commonly communicates you do not desire to have sex with your friend.
Certainly, one of the on the street meanings among Christians is that it means I care for this person, nonromantically and nonsexually. All well and good.
But what comes to mind when you put “platonic” and “prayer" together?
For many Christians “platonic” means no deep divine desire between two “just friends.” When you think of “platonic” prayer between other-sex friends, there is no divine fire present. The stark contrast between deep prayer and platonic prayer is the presence of spiritual heat. The beautiful presence of Christ’s friendship.
Where is the fullness of God’s desire for friendship that would nourish and cherish a boundless desire for shalom between men and women? Where is fiery, affectionate passion for justice, flourishing, trust, delight, well-being, and trust?
Where is the mutual human desire to share together the heart of God in friendship? Or, where is the feminine boundless desire for friendship in “platonic” prayer?
Deep prayer—shared desire for Christ’s presence and Christ’s desire for us and for flourishing shalom—is a biblical practice that invites openness between men and women to know God’s friendship. It invites spiritual fire.
At the risk of oversimplification, when your triune God is perceived as exclusively masculine, the spiritual peak of humanity will be a robust patriarchal psychology that represses feminine desire for the full spectrum of friendship.
Within patriarchal Christianity, there has been on fiercely entrenched dualism where male leadership privileged the spiritual over the material. In this spirituality, the body, the flesh, the physical, they were all inferior to the spiritual.
Within the psychology of patriarchy, men have spiritualized beauty as divine beauty. Spiritual was the higher order whereas women’s beauty was the lower. More than one feminist theologian has made this connection.
Susan Ross observes, “Traditional (male) ideas of religious beauty are spiritual ideas of beauty, and real physicality detracts from this beauty. Yet, there is no beauty without the body… Real beauty is embodied, involves the senses, facilitates connections, and, in nature, overflows with excess” (For the Beauty of the Earth).
I see spiritual heat when the feminine is personified as wisdom in Proverbs 1-9. There has been significant conversation in recent years about the fiery feminine presence of wisdom in these chapters. It connects spiritual heat with feminine presence and wisdom with relentless passion!
So much so that respected theologian Christine Yoder uses the phrase “erotic desire.” Ponder what she notices about this passage:
The characterization of desire for personified wisdom as erotic signals its partiality and intensity. The parent encourages partiality by celebrating wisdom's intrinsic and incomparable value - she is more precious than jewels, gold, and choice silver (3:14-15; 8:10-11, 19); twice the parent insists, "nothing you desire can compare with her" (3:15b; 8:11; and "with all you possess, get insight," 4:7). The use of particular verbs, often as imperatives, demonstrates that desire for wisdom prompts acts of emotional and physical intensity: seize her (3:18; 4:13), take hold of her (3:18), do not abandon or divorce her (4:6), guard her (4:6), embrace her (4:8; cf. 4:13), watch over her (4:13), and do not let her go (4:13). The parent implores the youth to love wisdom (4:6; cf. 8:17, 21) and cherish her (so 4:8) - the emotions most likely to prompt desire to be with wisdom - and to "acquire" her (so 4:5, 7), a verb that can connote possession and/or marriage (cf. Ruth 4:5, io). The youth should call wisdom his "sister," an expression of romantic endearment (Prov. 7:4; cf. Song 4:9,10, 12),25 and wait expectantly, as lovers do, "day by day" outside wisdom's house (Prov. 8:34). (Saving Desire)
The desire for wisdom in Prov. 1-9 is not a neutered, detached, head minus heart, “platonic” prayer. There is no detached masculinity here. The spiritual heat within the feminine in Prov. 1-9 is divine hotness!
Now what makes this significant of course, for our conversation is that right in the heart of the passage that radiates spiritual heat is another sense of sexual heat that embodies foolishness (Proverbs 6:27-29). There it is, James Loder’s observation, that “spiritual heat is always hotter than sexual heat.”
Jesus says in Luke 12:49, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”