Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Daniel Maguire on Sex as Liturgy

Here’s the third in a special series of posts leading up to theologian, ethicist and author Daniel Maguire’s talk this Thursday evening in Minneapolis. (For more details, click here).

Like the previous posts in this series, today's post is an excerpt from Maguire’s 2008 book,
Whose Church? – A Concise Guide to Progressive Catholicism.


For humans, sex (as with everything else for humans) is more than it appears to be. At a purely physical level, it releases unconscious springs of playfulness and relaxes tensions and frictions born of the struggling, deliberative part of our lives. Sex is fun. But sex is serious fun. It is fun with an agenda. In fertile heterosexuals it can make babies. Its biological intimacy makes it a conduit for disease. And sex is serious because it is packed with psychological and liturgical power. In frivolous encounters, this force may not ignite, but it is ever there, “winking at the brim.”

I define sex as a natural liturgy. A liturgy consists of symbols, and we use symbols all the time. From handshakes to bows and waves, to nose rubbing, kisses, hugs, and smiles, we speak not just in words, but also in symbols. The word “symbol” comes from the Greek syn, meaning with or together, and ballein, to throw. A symbol throws together more meaning than we can say in mere words . . . unless those words are poetized, and thus symbolized. A liturgy is a coordinated group of symbols. Some liturgies are conventional and contrived. They are “made up” and they vary from culture to culture. Irish weddings and Nigerian weddings are different.

Natural liturgies do not vary. They are inborn. Some of the externals will vary, but in substance, they are intrinsic to our humanity. For humans, a meal is a natural liturgy.

. . . Like a meal, sex involves both physical realities and powerful symbolism. Though one encounter or another may not show it, sex is powerful. Sexually charged love is especially bonding, and, when frustrated, leads to the breaking of hearts or worse. Sex really does “make love” and you do get “involved.” There is bonding power in the sexual meeting.

Interestingly, the physical facts of sex aptly symbolize what sex tends to do psychologically. There is not just physical nakedness; there is emotional nakedness. We trust our partner with full exposure of our passions and needs. We shed our emotional clothes and cosmetics and present ourselves as we are. Sex is a huge act of trust, a hopeful abandonment f our normal defenses. It takes many delightful forms and may involve various kinds of penetration and envelopment; this symbolizes the emotional interweaving that occurs in sexually charged friendship. The lover may remain only an experience, but more often she or he tends to become a way of life. Sex bonds, and bonds powerfully. The immature may not be ready to deal with its force.

For the final installment in this series, click here.

For more of Daniel Maguire’s thoughts, see the previous Wild Reed posts:
Daniel Maguire on the Progressive Core of Catholicism
Daniel Maguire on Catholicism's "Long History of Demeaning Sexuality"
Honoring (and Learning from) the Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Just Now and Then
Making Love, Giving Life
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Human Sex: Weird and Silly, Messy and Sublime
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 1)
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 2)
Getting It Right

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