How beautiful you are, my love,
how very beautiful!
Your hair is like goats along the hills;
your teeth are like shorn ewes that have been washed;
your lips are like a crimson thread—so lovely;
your cheeks are like pomegranate halves.
(Song of Songs 4:1-3)

Sure, maybe it’s a poem about God. This poet wouldn’t be the first one to look at creation and imagine how it reflects characteristics of God: the wind as God’s whisper, the sunset as God’s smile, a sparkling stream as the glint in God’s eye.

It’s also possible, despite (or because of!) its location in the middle of the Bible, that it’s a poem of physical adoration, a celebration of human beauty, an unapologetic delight in the joys of sensuality. The poet gazes upon a beloved and cannot cease in adoration:

Oh my gosh, your eyes!
My goodness, your hair!
Be still my heart—your smile!

Then again, maybe it’s not either/or. To pause in delight, to celebrate a love (and to celebrate the Love of all loves), to be full of wonder, to be satisfied by the mutuality of adoration, to give thanks for the senses and sensualities that make life so acute—these too are gifts of the Creator. As the late Mary Oliver wrote about prayer: “Just pay attention … [this is] the doorway into thanks.”

Thank you, O Love, for touch and affection. Thank you, O Life, for the flood of your beauty through all of my senses. Thank you, O Creator, for putting my spirit in flesh.

written for the Stillspeaking Daily Devotional

3 thoughts on “Sensual

  1. Okay. I’m a male UCC minister, and I may get into all kinds of trouble for saying this—to a national staffer, no less—but why are we clergy (especially male clergy, I think) so afraid of talking about sensuality, and…(gulp!) sexuality? Is it because we are afraid of getting fitness-reviewed? We know about sexual predation in the church (and outside the church). And we know about boundary awareness. And we know about the risk of hugging congregants (God knows, I don’t hug anyone—even when congregants need a hug). And we stay out of trouble. we male clergy try real hard to stay out of trouble. Yet I suspect that our ministry is sterile, and hermetically-sealed, and above all, “safe” (and a good kind of safe) because we are not able to integrate our sensuality and our sexuality into our ministry. As a result, we are “dis-integrated.” Am I overstating the issue? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

    • I hear a false dichotomy in your assessment: that boundary awareness & ministerial accountability & caution against causing harm require clergy to be disembodied, disconnected from their own flesh. On the contrary, faithful boundaries require a healthy understanding of one’s own body and of other’s bodies (so that, for example, one can assess whether & when a hug is appropriate instead of avoiding hugs as a blanket policy). Clergy have to integrate self-awareness of their sensuality & sexuality with the self-awareness of their enfleshed pastoral & priestly responsibilities so as not to confuse the two and cause harm. To paint “staying out of trouble” as synonymous with (or inherently producing) sterile ministry is indeed dis-integrated.

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