The Holy Romantic
Recently Ken Roberts, my husband, wrote an article for The Kindling entitled “Bringing the Bible into the Bedroom.” If you didn’t read it, you should. As his wife, I found it to be the second most romantic thing he has ever written and I’m not saying that with any amount of sarcasm. Why? It isn’t as though my husband has never tried to romance me with the written word; he has, even penning his own version of the Song of Songs.
The idea of introducing Sacred Scripture into our sex lives may seem strange because most of us only consider sex in Scripture to be at best a list of helpful guidelines. We often forget the fact that the marital embrace was invented by God for us and God has some pretty good ideas—like the cocoa bean (chocolate) and grapes and fermentation, for example; music, and the color blue. The marital embrace is meant to be better than all of these things, yet for a lot of us it’s not. Of course, many people don’t understand the potential of the marital act because they are engaging in it with someone they are not married to (which is beyond the scope of this post). But for those of us who are married, how does bringing the Bible into our bedrooms make a difference?
Let’s start with the part where God invents sex: “Let us create man in our image, after our likeness . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them and God said to them ‘Be fruitful and multiply’” (Genesis 1:26-28) When God speaks of Himself in the plural form, He is not using the Royal We. What has been recorded for us is a Trinitarian conversation; Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all involved in our creation. Immediately after our creation, He tells us to be “fruitful and multiply.” There is really only one way for us to “be fruitful and multiply,” so we can infer from these verses that something about the marital act looks like God. Ken touched on this more thoroughly in his article, but it is essentially the exchange of love between the Father and the Son that bursts forth in the Holy Spirit—a brand new person—that marriage is supposed to mirror. The exchange of love between a husband and wife becomes a new person. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it further: “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.” (CCC, #2363)
Note how the Catechism connects the nature of the marital embrace with a couple’s spiritual life. This is because we are not just creatures of spirit. We humans are body and soul and neither is more important than the other and both are intimately connected. So our personal holiness affects our sex lives and our sex lives affect our personal holiness. Is this an invitation to prudishness and scrupulosity? Certainly not! G.K. Chesterton once said, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” Our marriages also need to be less of a theory and more of a love affair.
This means that we should seek to sanctify our marital intercourse. Holiness is not something foreign to our nature, but the original reason for our nature. In other words, the holy person is the one who lives as the person he is created to be. So to seek holiness in our marital relations is to seek to return them to the state for which they were created. This means preserving the two essential aspects of the act, the unitive and procreative. “By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man's most high calling to parenthood.” (Humanae Vitae, # 12, emphasis added.) There is nothing prudish about preserving the fullness of love in the marital embrace! In fact, is this not the very deepest desire of our hearts for our marriages?
Yet, the world, seeking to “improve” our sex lives, has separated sex from its procreative and unitive dimensions and by doing this has essential robbed it of its romance, leaving only the pursuit of pleasure as its goal. But we cannot ignore that fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God and the desire to give of ourselves fully in the marital act is written on the deepest part of our hearts. We are so often unfulfilled in our marital relations because we are seeking what in reality is only a byproduct of the act, not its true end. Pleasure does not fulfill us, but self-giving does. But to truly give of ourselves, we need virtue.
Virtue between the sheets? What does that possibly mean?! One example is what St. John Paul II says regarding a man’s altruistic pursuit of his wife’s enjoyment: “If we take into account the shorter and more violent curve of arousal in the man, an act of tenderness on his part in the context of marital intercourse acquires the significance of an act of virtue—specifically the virtue of continence, and so indirectly the virtue of love.” (Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (Ignatius Press 1993), at 275.)
But do things like continence (self-control), love, patience, and chastity really improve our love-making? If we are really meant to be imaging God’s love in the act, then yes! Romance and sex are meant for so much more than the pleasure of climax. They are meant to draw us into a communion with our spouse that bursts forth in new life! The theological aspects of the marital embrace draw it out of the realm of fleeting moments of pleasure and moves it into eternity, into God’s own life. This is why it needs to be sanctified. This is why bringing the Bible into the bedroom can light a spark in your marriage like nothing else can. Sex is meant to be a holy fire and when we leave behind our own bedroom agenda and pour ourselves out in a total gift of self to the other, we can experience the depth and beauty of the act like never before.
Even though it may seem like a paradox, if you want to improve your marriage—if you want to improve your martial relations—then first work on your relationship to Christ. Real romance, lasting romance, requires real love. Real love requires real people, real commitment, and a real return to who we are meant to be. Holiness in the bedroom is not an obstacle to a good sex life, but is essential to it.