Worship Script 3
Worship Script (3 of 5)
Embracing Our Desires
"We Are Called to Gather in Worship" by Kirk D Loadman-Copeland
We are called to gather in worship as a beloved community. We are called to set aside distractions and anxieties, that we might touch deeper springs and be renewed. We are called to seek and to share comfort for the hurts that afflict. We are called to desire more love, more justice, and life more abundant. We are called to truth, to mercy, to humility, and to courage. Let us answer the call with the yes of our lives.
HYMN #347 Gather the Spirit
Excerpt from “The Uses of the Erotic” in Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.
It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society is to encourage excellence. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.
This internal requirement toward excellence which we learn from the erotic must not be misconstrued as demanding the impossible from ourselves nor from others. Such a demand incapacitates everyone in the process. For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness.
The aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a conscious decision a longed-for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.
“Sex and Spirit” by Robin Tanner
Desire and sexuality are not held in high regard by many of the world’s religious traditions today. And sex? Don’t even go there!
As extremism rises, desires are seen as objects of suppression while bodies become things to control. The Greeks first articulated this idea of separation of the spirit and the body. Drawing on Greek philosophy, today’s religious fundamentalism fuses disembodied theologies with purist politics. Let’s be clear: at the core of this body and spirit separation is a deeper distrust of humanity.
It wasn’t always this way. Many of the world’s religions have strong mystical traditions with beautiful imagery, poetry and teachings about the holy erotic. Consider Rumi, a Sufi poet in the Islamic tradition, who writes of the experience of God as lovers enraptured. Or Teresa of Avila who recounted ecstatic experiences in prayer. Or—for goodness sake—the Kama Sutra which is, let us not forget, a Hindu text! For all the few verses that have been picked out and smacked on signs and waved in front of reproductive health clinics, the overwhelming message of the world’s religions is one of embodied love. I mean Jesus—I am not swearing here—in the gospels… Jesus became human in body. Bodies are the vehicles for sacredness. Each neuron firing and forming communicates divinity from the skin tingles of attraction to the electricity of orgasm. Desire, longing and yearning, is a form of prayer or sacred communication.
The word desire comes from the Latin de sidere or “from the stars.” We believe its etymology traces to a common phrase in the early 13th century. If someone was seeking direction in their life or guidance they might be instructed to “await what the stars will bring” or follow their desire. Those offering this advice couldn’t have known that all life, including humans, are at least at the atomic level, stardust. In some sense, then, our desires are not base or less than the spiritual (and certainly not separate!) but rather of the celestial. If we long to develop the depths of our spirituality, then we must also embrace and understand the depths of our sexuality.
HYMN #327 Joy, Thou Goddess
STORY FOR ALL AGES
Our Desire is a Gift From the Stars by Laura Horton-Ludwig
The word desire comes from the Latin desiderare: “to long for,” but the Latin desiderare comes from de sidere: “from the stars.” From the stars.
I find this extraordinary: to think that somehow our desire, our longing, is connected to the very stars in the sky. The stars, which share their light with us across such impossible distances of time and space. The poets might say our desire is a gift from the stars and is ultimately for them and the beauty and mystery and the creative fire and energy of which they are for us a sign.
I'm reminded of the very last line of Dante’s Divine Comedy -- Dante, the great medieval poet guided by his love for a human woman, Beatrice. In his imagination, his love and his longing for her lead him on a great journey all the way to Paradise and to a final vision of the love which moves and connects all things: l’amor che move il sole e le altre stelle... “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
This love that moves the sun and the stars is with you too, body and spirit, and with everything and everyone. If we can live out of that, the rest will take care of itself.
“Out of Our Yearning” by Susan Manker-Seale
We speak to the god, the goddess, the spirit of life, the eternal.
We speak to the mysterious thread that connects us one to the other and to the universe.
We speak to the deep wisdom at the center of our beings.
We embody the yearning of all people
to touch each other more deeply,
to hear each other more keenly,
to see each other’s joys and sorrows as our own
and know that we are not alone,
unless we create solitude for ourselves;
and even then, community awaits us.
Out of our yearning we have come
to this religious community.
May we help each other to proclaim the possibilities we see,
to create the community we desire,
to worship what is worthy in our lives,
to teach the truth as we know it,
and to serve with justice in all the ways that we can,
to the end that our yearning is assuaged
and our lives fulfilled in one another.
Let us go, now, into the silence of the faith that is
unique to each of us, and still the same.
Let us be silent together for a moment.
CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN
Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.
Theology of Desire by Molly Gordon
The theology of desire… Are y’all ready for this? Are you sure?
Well then, I’m going to start with scripture. (Song of Solomon 7:6‐9)
How fair and pleasant you are,
O loved one, delectable maiden! You are stately as a palm tree,
and your breasts are like its clusters.
I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches.
O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples,
and your kisses the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth.
It’s in the bible y’all. Climbing the palm tree. Kisses like wine.
What you’ve just heard is a passage from the Song of Songs, also called the Song of Solomon – in the Hebrew Bible. It’s a glorious love song, beautiful and sensual and earthy, which the ancient Jews read as a love story between humans and God,
which contemporary scholars read as an erotic encounter between two people, and which I’d like to read as both, because how can we separate our experience of the holy from our experience of one another and this world: this world that caresses our skin through wind and water and earth and other skin?
Do you remember your first big crush? That first time of wanting, even though you were not sure what, exactly, it was that you wanted?
I remember in 9th grade sitting in front of a Very Cute Boy in my history class, and I had memorized every plane of his face, and the way that he slouched in his desk, so that I could just feel him sitting behind me.
The back of my neck was hyper aware of his presence. The room felt bright, the world exciting, and my blood felt close to my skin. It was that alive, giddy longing, before longing got complicated.
I was crushin’ hard.
Incedentally, he did not feel the same way. But it almost didn’t matter, (almost), because wanting him made me feel so very alive and in love with the world.
Do you remember that feeling? Newly awakened by desire and so totally alive.
It’s a powerful feeling. Though sometimes scary. And often made scarier by our culture’s conflicting messages and hang‐ups.
But no matter who you are and whom or what you’ve wanted and how – I hope you have felt that moment of unadulterated longing, lighting up your soul and your skin.
As I began to prepare last week for a month of worshiping Love, I was reflecting upon how often I have said already this year that what the world needs is simply us, come alive.
And as I read Sufi poems last week and remembered that first unrequited love, I realized something more about what “coming alive” means… that the world needs us crushin’ hard. The world needs us wanting, longing – living with our blood close to our skin.
And further more, the world doesn’t need us only crushing on holy, worthy, sacred things – because the whole world is worthy of our desire. God is worthy of our desire, and so is the Very Cute Boy in history class by virtue of the spark of God that lives in him. The sacrament of really good dark chocolate is worthy of desire, and so are you. Yes, you, who are young or old; gay, straight, bi, trans, clear or confused, happy or hurting.
The holy is hungry for us and through us. And when we embody love in the world it is with our minds and souls and our bodies that hunger.
And when we live love, it is not just by feeding the poor or healing the sick – it is also by wanting and longing, it is by finding pleasure and taking delight in the world.
Our religious lives call us into awareness of our desire.
It has always been so for some – particularly for the mystics – those ecstatic lovers of God of every faith – like the poets we have heard this morning.
But of course, it has often been otherwise, as well. The denial of desire in mainstream Christian theology has also been passed down along the ages and has caused much heartache, injustice, and despair.
The early Christians were heavily influenced by Greek philosophic traditions, which separated the material body from the ideal spirit – labeling matters of the spirit holy and matters of the body debased. Further, the Greek Stoic traditions advocated apatheia, the careful and rational separation from one’s passions.
The Greeks distinguished between three kinds of love: agape – unconditional, selfless love; philia – devoted familial love; and eros – passionate, earthy love. These loves were ranked in exactly that order.
Indeed, communities of faith often point us, as I have many times done myself, to agape love as the highest ideal – that love we give freely, asking nothing in return.
But in truth, if we are to embody love fully, its forms will be intertwined. Our giving freely of ourselves will ring hollow if it is not fuelled by our desire, even as our desire unchecked by true concern for others will be a force of harm.
Postmodern philosopher Paul Ricouer points out that eros love without agape can be a brutal chaotic force, but that agape love without eros can be overly cerebral and moralistic.
And Feminist and Queer theologians have been working for years now to reclaim eros as a core part of our beings and our religious lives.
As Hebrew Bible Scholar David Carr writes in his book The Erotic Word, with the help of these movements in theology, we can now speak of “an eros that encompasses the myriad of ways people live out their deepest selves.”
He points out: “One part of the past repression of sex has been restriction of it to a small part of life – closeted, heterosexual, exclusive.”
“In contrast,” he continues “some thinkers are urging a wider concept of eros that would embrace not only sexual passion, but work, play, deep friendship, art, and many other sorts of profound pleasure.
Such an eros would include the passion of lovers’ desire, and also the sensual joy of a shared meal or an abiding thirst for justice.”
Reclaiming eros in this way is a powerful countercultural message, and a declaration of our faith in human good.
Given the message in popular culture that your desire is a casual commodity to be bought and sold. And given the message in many religious communities that your desire is shameful or wrong.
It feels all the more important for me to say this, here, in this pulpit, just as we teach in our Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education class:
Your body is a very good gift, and made to delight in the world.
Your sexuality, that kernel of desire in your soul, is a very good gift, a gift of connection, creativity, and pleasure.
Anyone, including yourself, who irresponsibly violates that truth, whether physically or spiritually, has wandered far, far away from the divine source of love that hungers in and through us. Anyone who harms that kernel of desire does violence too, against the heart of God, who desires us as we are.
I want you to hear that sexuality is a good great gift and a part of our spiritual being AND that it is not only about attraction or some particular physical act. A healthy sexuality exists in our core as a driving life force of passion.
Womanist thinker Audre Lorde defines “the erotic” as “those physical, emotional, and psychic expressions of what is deepest and strongest and richest within each of us, being shared: the passions of love, in its deepest meanings.”
She writes: “We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way. And when I say living I mean it as that force which moves us toward what will accomplish real positive change.”
Our Unitarian Universalist theology of desire proclaims that we are created Good, and we are created wanting and longing for Good. Our theology of desire calls us to live out that which is deepest, and strongest, and richest within us. It calls us to fall in lust with the world, in love with the holy.
I’d like to close as I began, with scripture, from the Song of Songs Chapter 8, verses 6 and 7.
Set me as a seal upon your heart, As a seal upon your arm;
For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.
May your life be one of love stronger than death, and passion fierce as the grave. And in it may you rejoice and be glad.
HYMN #34 Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire
“Love is Not Concerned” by Alice Walker, #564 in Singing the Living Tradition
Love is not concerned
With whom you pray
Or where you slept
The night you ran away from home
Love if concerned.
That the beating of your heart
Should kill no one.