Later this year, when fall rolls around and the air turns crisp in the mornings, I’ll be heading to a monastery. Starting in September, the Sisters of Benet Hill Monastery, a Benedictine community in Colorado, welcome a new class of hopefuls into their two-year spiritual formation program. The group of men and women come from every denomination and life stage, and all are training through this program to become spiritual directors. I head into the black pine forest in which the monastery is lovingly nestled to teach two classes: “My Sexual Self” and “Sexuality AND Spiritual Direction.”
Last year, there was palpable resistance as I walked into the classroom to teach the Year One course. Set in a small room amidst bookshelves overstuffed with hardbacks lazily ordered, the class was meant to be intimate, approachable and warm. The giggles and blushes of a fifth-grade sex ed. class would have been preferable to the stiff silence that met me as I began to talk about the importance of our sexuality, and what it tells us about God. Instead of the openness I had (somewhat naïvely) hoped for, the attitudes of my students were typified in the bemused question that one woman interjected midlecture: “How will telling the story of my sexuality help me know God better? I just don’t see it.”
And that’s the thing. For the most part, we just don’t see it. If you’ve come from almost any Protestant spiritual tradition, the connection between our sexuality and God is less than clear. If you’ve come from a conservative tradition, not only is the connection difficult to see; it’s almost antithetical to what you might perceive as a biblical understanding of spirituality. Unfortunately, whether it’s tradition or a simple neglect of the subject, the impulses of our bodies (be they toward food, drink or physical intimacy) rarely make their way into the pulpit on a Sunday morning. Or better said, they’re there, in the body of the pastor or the priest, but he or she does as much as practically possible to make sure they don’t interfere.
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Tara M. Owens is the senior editor of Conversations Journal. A certified spiritual director with Anam Cara Ministries (www.anamcara.com), she practices in Colorado and around the world. She is profoundly grateful to do ministry and life with her husband and best friend, Bryan. She is working on an upcoming book from InterVarsity Press on spirituality and the body. If you’d like to continue the conversation with Tara, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follower her on Twitter at t_owens.