A Sacrament of sex

huffpost.com

[originally posted in 2016]

Sexual union, lovingly experienced and sanctified by the sacrament, is in turn a path of growth in the life of grace for the couple. It is the “nuptial mystery”. The meaning and value of their physical union is expressed in the words of consent, in which they accepted and offered themselves each to the other, in order to share their lives completely. Those words give meaning to the sexual relationship and free it from ambiguity. Sexuality is not a means of gratification or entertainment; it is an interpersonal language wherein the other is taken seriously, in his or her sacred and inviolable dignity. – Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia

I’d like to share today a song by the group, Penny and Sparrow. The song, Duet, is sung by lead singer Andy Baxter and a guest artist named Hannah Huston. Our friend, Austin Ashcraft, introduced it to Patti and me last winter and we both loved it.

The song brings into close proximity sexual intimacy and the daily “labor of love” in marital and family. The song brilliantly reveals how these two seemingly contrasting aspects of marriage actually intensify one another. I’ll share below what I wrote later that night in my journal after he shared the song with us.

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I believe the most creative tension in marriage is found between erotic-possessive love (I want you) and self-sacrificing love (I am for you). Marriage is a dance between desire and choice, possessing and giving, taking in and pouring out, eros and agape. I burn with passion for my wife and I am beckoned by love to daily die for her.

Two flames, one love.

Erotic sex was created by God to be the servant of marital fidelity, the welding fire that solidifies our lifelong bond. Every sexual act is a marital act, a consummating sign and seal of everything, all-for-you, forever. Which is why every sexual act apart from marriage is a lie, an act of theft, as you give to and take from another the totality you have not yet pledged.

When I married Patti, after God there is no love in all of creation that lays claim on me as does my covenant promise to love her — “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). She is the treasure buried by God in the field of Tallahassee, for which I sold all my possessions to obtain. Beginning with the divine command to “abandon mother and father” and cling to Patti (Gen. 2:24), all other loves in this life, including love for our children, are to be ordered in service to our marital bond.

As more years pass, I can see the deepening significance of sexual intimacy as a sacrament of our God-entwined “everything, all-for-you, forever.” In the context of an enduring covenant, sex is meant to be a graced sign of mutual trust, vulnerability, surrender, gift, unity, an exchange of hearts. “The two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:8). “Will become” is key, as it’s a progressive journey of one-ing, one had through battles and struggles, embraces and reconciliations, labor and rest, joys and sorrows.

Inscribed by our now 30-year history of friendship, each sexual act entails a love story, enfleshes a mutual knowledge that can never be adequately captured by words. Only by words-made-flesh, as we come to finish each other’s sentences, anticipate each other’s needs, read each other’s faces, forgive each other’s sins before they are committed. My wife knows me more than any other human being — a terror and thrill all at once!

“Adam knew Eve, and she conceived” (Gen. 4:1). How much more that means now.

Lastly, if this inextricable link between sex and the real day-to-day struggles of covenant love is true, it also means any fantasy that marital sex will be consistently amazing, easy and ecstatic all the time, on demand, must be abandoned. The real sex, grounded in real life and love, is the sex that not only satisfies, but also sanctifies. Is the sex that is sacramental, to the very end.

Duet:

I bet your shoulders can hold more than
Just the straps of that tiny dress
That I’ll help you slide aside
When we get home

I’ve seen ’em carry family
And the steel drum weight of me
Effortless, just like that dress
That I’ll take off

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

I bet your back can carry more than
Just the weight of your button-down
One by one, they’ll come undone
When we get home

I’ve seen you carry family
And all my insecurities
One by one, they’ll come undone
When we get home

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you

One comment on “A Sacrament of sex

  1. Janet says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. So many people do not understand at all what sex is all about. That it is designed perfectly for after the marriage of man and woman and anything done outside of that with it is not even sex as God designed it anymore. Well written Tom!

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