Sacred InterSextions was a rich opportunity to explore “bodies, culture, sexuality and spirit.” A dozen of us gathered for a retreat in a beautiful spot near Minneapolis for conversation, connection, stories, exploration, laughter and truth-telling. Leaders were the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel and Phil Porter.
In this day and age, why is it still a challenge to claim the inseparability of our sexualities and spirits? In our experience, it is still a relatively uncommon conversation to have. Throw in the interesting challenge of embodiment and the layers of culture and context that shape and/or control us and the territory becomes rich and perhaps even scary.
Phil writes: “As a gay man who has continued to find ‘home’ in the progressive Christian church, I have been compelled to claim and articulate the deep connection I experience between sex and spirit. Others might have maintained that those two realities were mutually exclusive but I knew otherwise.
“Although I left the church for awhile after I came out in the late 70s, I noticed that as I became more clear about my sexual orientation, my spirituality expanded. Although I had left the church for awhile after divorcing and coming out, I realized my need for a faith community and returned. I have been there since.
“I was also lucky early on find a community of folks who also shared that path with the denomination—what was then the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Concerns and is now the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ. In my experience, supportive community is a crucial part of the process of claiming one’s identity, especially when the culture is oppressive. We need to have people around us who are saying “yes” to us, who share our experience or will affirm it even if it is different from theirs.”
Rebecca writes: “My own experience is one of paradox around sex and the spirit. On the one hand, I grew up playing all kinds of sports—baseball, basketball, soccer, football, volleyball, softball, bowling. I loved moving my body—feeling its power and experiencing that connection when you move in concert with other bodies. I was also very active in church and singing in choir was one of my favorite spiritual practices. It, too, was an act of collectively using our voices to produce sound that glorified God.
“And coming out was a very embodied experience for me. It was about a hunger, a longing, a being called toward—authenticity, honesty and deep connection. It was both a sexual thing and a spiritual thing. But there weren’t very many places where the weaving of sexuality and spirituality were practiced. I, too, was fortunate to find the UCC Coalition for Lesbian/Gay Concerns (now the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ). But out in the rest of my life, sexuality and spirituality have often seemed strangers to one another. Much of my ministry has been about trying to create spaces for weaving them back together.”
We share some of this history because it informed our intentions around this weekend. We felt that there was a need for the “sex/spirit” conversation, that being together in community for a period of time would allow us to go deeper with other, that we would honor each individual’s stories and wisdom, and that we would look at some of the larger forces that seek to shape or even deny our truth.
What resulted from our time together was both wonderfully surprising and predictable. We did find an openness and intimacy that allowed us to tell our stories, to let those stories find air and light so that they could be transformed and to celebrate and support each other wherever we were on the journey. And we named and acknowledged the challenges that face us and others in this journey. We made our own large or small commitments to cultural change. We recognized that even our gathering itself was a cultural shift.
Claiming the sex/spirit intersection is partly about our own experience—intimacy, ecstasy, tenderness, vulnerability—and being able to see that as a divine gift. It is also relational—connection, communion, giving and receiving, mutuality—also great gifts. And this connection also invites in, even demands the inclusion of justice. Not only should justice shape the way we live into our own relationships, but it calls us to a care for the wellbeing of all bodies/spirits. All of the “isms,” whether they are directly related to sexuality or not are violations of both body and spirit.
Early on the weekend, we each created a timeline of our sexual and spiritual experience on a large sheet of paper. With lots of different media to play with, they became works of act as well as histories. We found ourselves returning to them again and again, to add more detail, to explore elements in more depth, to embellish and elaborate. They became a witness to both challenge and celebration.
We also told stories in pairs throughout the weekend, giving each of us an opportunity to see where we had been, where we were now and where we might hope to go.
The reactions we received suggested to us that the model worked:
I came in with an open mind, open spirit and open body. I am leaving with an expansiveness beyond my wildest imaginings. The balance between serious and playfulness was valuable to our expanding. I did not expect to learn a new language of justice and now I have a purpose to move forward from this weekend to learn more.
A great “experiment”!! Location—exquisite! Food—abundant! Participants—rich in spirit & wisdom Great balance of embodying & thinking, laughter & tears, stillness & activity. Love the interplay of Body and Soul…
Thank You! This was a very freeing experience. To identify and affirm my own movement toward and with my spiritual/sexuality. I know that while I continue on my journey seeking greater, complete wholeness I am loved, I am good.I share the journey with other seekers, other lovers. Thank you for building the context for my exploring and your acceptance, your caring. It is good.
For Phil, who describes his starting point as, more often than not, the individual body which leads to the relational body and Rebecca, who describes her starting point as, more often than not, the Earth-body and the Collective-Movement-Body which leads to the relational and individual body, the collaboration was exciting.
We also recognize that as the whole ONA Coalition of the UCC considers “ONA Next,” that the wisdoms of Sacred Intersextions are important: we are often at our most faithful when the sex/spirit weaving is happening; engaging our real-lived bodies and stories (with all their particularities, powers and vulnerabilities) helps the work stay honest; our individual bodies are connected to our relational bodies are connected to our communal bodies are woven together to make our Movement-bodies.