Unprecedented togetherness is one of the phrases that has become one of my favorites in this season as I write a second book exploring the complex relationship between deep friendship and sexuality.
Maybe it doesn’t do this for you, but it’s staying with me because it points us to God birthing something strikingly new, something special, something unheard-of, something quite provocative in contrast with the same old, same old between men and women.
If you are a regular reader of this blog or have been in conversation with me in recent years, you know how much I have kept a close eye on the therapeutic culture throughout the years. For our purposes in this post, the therapeutic culture means the practice of psychotherapy, psychological theories, and the social impact beyond the private walls of therapist-client relationship—hence, therapeutic culture.
Ever since I began to consider deep friendship between men and women as a healthy relationship, I have paid close attention to psychotherapy as a practice and to the vast number of psychological theories.
Can you just imagine what it would be like, if somehow we could transport past saints like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, or Dwight Moody into the present so that they could observe several sessions between a female therapist and her male client, or male therapist and female client?
What if they could observe what was happening in these sessions without the therapist or the client knowing so that their privacy and intimacy would not be disturbed? You know, like these saints could eyeball and hear the entire therapist-client experience through the means of secret videos that captured the entire ongoing relationship.
Think about this, almost “hidden in plain sight” as it were, therapeutic intimacy as an embodied practice is helping us anxiety-driven Christians about male-female relationships get oriented to an unprecedented togetherness between men and women in the twenty-first century.
Think about it. The sheer number of times a man and a woman are going to be intentionally meeting alone, with no one else present, in small rooms all across the cities of America today. This idea alone would have been scandalous to Moody and all the saints before him.
Think about how this practice (therapeutic intimacy between a man and a woman) in a vast number of large cities today will be happening in offices that are a few doors down or a block away from church offices where pastors still think a man and a woman choosing to meet alone is unwise and too susceptible to sexual temptations. Or just blocks away from male pastors who have never had intimate non-romantic friendships with women.
I googled some therapists in big cities and then nearby churches in the same vicinity. The sheer number of offices in the same neighborhoods as some churches is mind boggling!
Maybe you could imagine that Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, Moody, and others from the past would have different responses but I can’t help but think their worlds would be rocked if they discovered that therapeutic intimacy (between a man and a woman—doesn’t matter which one is the therapist) happens as a result of mutually chosen, free, internal meanings between the man and the woman.
In other words, the frequency of meetings between a man and a woman with no one else present happens not out of government coercion, male possession or ownership of women, or enforced communal demands, but they meet freely, both the man and the woman have chosen to meet out of freely chosen internal meaning.
I could be wrong, but it sure looks like God is birthing unprecedented togetherness in the therapeutic culture. The shared solitude where a man and a woman freely and regularly meet to process and dialogue about information that is not shared with the rest of the world would have been considered scandalous by so many saints in the past.
The intimate therapeutic practice furthermore, with deep irony, invites sexuality into the practice but is transgenital (don’t you love that term? Thank you Debra Hirsch). No matter where you turn, it is well documented that within therapeutic intimacy sexual attraction happens. Whether it is the client, therapist, or mutual, the experience of sexual attraction can and does happen.
You know what happens besides sexual attraction? Well, before I go on, let’s be clear that sexual attraction doesn’t happen in every therapist-client relationship. But you know what else happens besides sexual attraction? Spiritual-emotional intensity, relational depth, chemistry, deep connection, a deep knowing—all this can happen between a man and a woman behind closed doors where sex is not goal of the relationship. And, and, these are all dynamics that people with black-and-white Christian views about fidelity would view as grounds for justifiable jealousy and intense suspicion for spouses married to the man or woman experiencing these dynamics.
The therapist (male or female, Christian or not) is responsible for steering therapeutic intimacy into deep social trust with no genital-to-genital contact.
This is unprecedented togetherness with so many layers of meaning. It also paves the way for us to know spiritual friendships between men and women in the twenty-first century.