What Is Sacred?
Sacredness and Sexuality, Side by Side
What is sacred?
This is a question that I have asked since I was a little boy. Growing up Catholic, the answer usually came from nuns, priests, parents, and other folks who I thought would have the "answer."
The dictionary defines sacred as dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity, or devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose). It is also defined as worthy of religious veneration or highly valued and important.
However sacred was defined, by whoever defined it for me, it was clear that it was something important to acknowledge, recognize, and respect. Although used most often in religious contexts, I found myself with a hunger for the "sacred" in my own life -- a sense of connection with something bigger than myself, such as the beauty of nature, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, or a connection to a partner/beloved.
Coming out as a gay man in my early 20's, and being very new to the whole "gay thing," I was awestruck by how gay people connected with each other. Conversations and dialogue from my earliest experiences with gay men were purely sexual in nature.
"What do you get into?"
"Are you a top or a bottom?"
And, one of my all time favorites, "What tricks do you do in bed?"
Naïvely, I replied that I knew magicians who could do things like pull a bunny out of a hat, but I didn't know of any "tricks" I could do in the bedroom.
My "initiation" into the tribe focused on my sexual resume and nothing else. I found this to be a very empty, disappointing, and somewhat limiting way to connect with someone, although it was commonly accepted (so it appeared) by many other gay men at bars, parties, social functions, etc.
Fast forward some time, and I have been a clinical social worker for the past 17 years. I have had the privilege of working with clients of every age (from 2 to 98) and continue to be in "awe" of those who I provide service to.
Working with the gay community has been a gift to me, including my work with HIV impacted youth, couples, and adults. When I meet a new client, the first thing I do is to ask them to tell me their story. This goes deeper than doing an "assessment."
I listen to the images they share with me, the memories of how they came to be here and what matters to them the most. When discussing sexuality and sexual relationships, I also hear a similar yearning and longing for meaning and connection that is familiar to me. When I ask folks how they decide who they share their bodies with, or what is "sacred" in their relationships with their partners, I usually get a curious expression and one of two questions: "What do you mean?" or "No one has ever asked me that before."
It's healthy to be selective about who we share our bodies with. One of the most powerful experiences we have as human beings is our ability to connect with each other sexually. It amazes me how little time we spend in our lives learning about the wonders of the human body and the gift of our sexuality, before we are ready to share them.
Our bodies are temples and we can share them with whomever we wish. When we allow ourselves to go deeper than having "sex" with someone, we can explore the "sacred" within a sexual union.
Recently I attended a Sunday morning service at Trinity United Church of Christ with a close friend of mine. During one point in the service, we were asked to share our intentions and prayers with each other. A gentleman sitting next to me engaged me in conversation and asked me, "What's in your heart?"
I found myself smiling, since I can't remember any other gay man asking me that question in a very long time.
My response was, "A hunger for the sacred and for love."
Where is the "sacred" in your life? Imagine sacred sexuality where you can connect with your mind, body, and spirit. What would this look like for you? If you can think even for a moment about this possibility, you can make it happen!
Tony Hollenbach is the Manager of Clinical Social Work/Behavioral Health for Access Community Health Network. He created the Healing Center of Chicago to integrate faith and hope into clinical work. He is available for consultation, workshops, retreats, and "healing" work with children, teens, and adults, and is also experienced in grief/loss and working with the GLBT community. E-mail Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org.