Spring… and a young woman’s fancy lightly turns to *ahem* thoughts of love.
It is unfortunate that while our culture is steeped in images of sex and continual allusions to sexuality, our idea of sex, whether Christian or not, tends to be inextricably linked to things which are taboo and sinful – very rarely can we talk about sex without sniggering, or without embarrassment. There is something profoundly sad about this – Christians, who are supposed to be Christ’s body on earth and bring about His kingdom in the world – feel this uncomfortable about sex, which is after all one of the prominent things bodies do. It is the origin of new bodies (at least in this world), it is one of our strongest, most important drives, and it is vital, necessary, and beautiful. The Christian authors and speakers whom I have read or heard have a tendency to talk about the beauty of sex, and then, perhaps too embarrassed to dwell upon this beauty for too long, move quickly on to its sacredness to marriage. This leaves the single, sexual being wholly unsatisfied, and, I think, sadly unacknowledged – as though we believe we are sexual beings if and only if we get married, and that our sexual awakenings all coincide with our wedding nights. Perhaps in cultures in which marriage coincided roughly with puberty this was actually so (remember, Mary was a teen-aged mother…) but this is not realistic or helpful in our culture, in which marriage is being delayed later and later, and in all likelihood for my particular demographic, well into our thirties.
So I will attempt the rather daunting task of trying to illustrate the beauty of sexuality – not just married sexuality, but human sexuality in general, and also that murky, often-danced-around territory of chaste sexuality (NOT an oxymoron, if you think about it for a bit) – through a simple analogy, which will make the Tennyson misquote above less gratuitous and hopefully somewhat address this unfortunate ellipsis.
I had watched this video years ago, and although I think it says many profound things about time, perspective and human relations with the environment, the most powerful message to me was the frank, fresh sexuality of flowers it depicts. Yes, you read that right: the sexuality of flowers. The use of time-lapse photography taps directly into something of God’s perspective, lets us peek briefly at the true meaning of that profound insight – that “one day [is] with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 KJV) – to watch flowers bloom and fade on their own time, rather than through our woefully short human attention span, reveals a mysterious, alluring side to them. Suddenly, all the springtime allusions of the love poets make a more literal and vivid sense – these creatures are sexual, just as all nature is sexual: their delicate cups unfurling, their petals growing turgid and flaccid, their stems rising and falling with the floods and droughts of Spring. They are beautiful and rigid, beautiful and open. They are dark, and powerful, and beautiful, existing in the earth, blooming into the sky; creatures of the day and of the night – damp and dark and sacred. I think if we could just imagine, in the Garden of Eden, what it must have been like to be as frankly sexual and unashamed of beauty and nakedness as one of these, we may finally have a glimpse into what it means to be sexual and whole. The flowers are beautifully purposeful, yes – biology would reveal the immense, intricate purpose of every one of those cells towards reproduction, but quite apart from that, whether or not a bee or butterfly alights on one of these, whether it successfully generates offspring or not, there remains its startling, singular, magnificent beauty that is utterly undeniable for its brief life.
It’s hard to think of human genitalia as beautiful – simply because we have been constantly conditioned that it is not, or that it is funny. And I am a great proponent of the idea that our sexuality is funny, and indeed, our sexual organs have a comic side to them – CS Lewis himself observed this, that there seem to be equal parts solemnity and comedy about the act itself – but whoever said the funny and the beautiful are mutually exclusive? So many examples I can raise without even thinking very hard of this delightful combination – the giraffe, the chicken, the cow, and my favourite, the elephant – that most sagacious of beasts, humble enough to be funny and princely enough to be beautiful. Why should the naked human not belong in this very noble company?
Harvard has a tradition of doffing its clothes for a madcap run around the Yard at midnight before finals period every semester – the infamous “Primal Scream”. I have, of course, attended. I remember my freshman roommates anticipating a sexy eyeful of the flower of Harvard College, but then being pleasantly surprised by the innocence, the exuberance of it all. There was something wonderfully free, something liberating in the combination of nakedness, madcap yelling and furious, cold-defying running: self-consciousness dropping away, feet icily hitting the uneven tar, lungs giving out in that primal yowl – nakedness, de-contextualized and demystified – somehow, the people who ran were wholly, unashamedly them – poetry in motion. A glimpse of heaven, perhaps, in a most unlikely place…