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A golfer is in a competitive match with another man, who is ahead by a couple of strokes. The golfer says to himself, “I’d give anything to sink this next putt.”
A stranger walks up to him and whispers, “Would you give up a third of your sex life?”
The golfer thinks the man is crazy, but perhaps this is a good omen and will put him in the right frame of mind to make the difficult putt. “OK,” he says, and sinks the putt.
Two holes later he mumbles to himself, “Boy, if I could only get an eagle on this hole.”
The same stranger moves to his side and says, “Would it be worth another third of your sex life?”
The golfer shrugs and says, "Sure." And he makes an eagle.
Down to the final hole. The golfer needs yet another eagle to win. The stranger moves to his side and says, “Would you be willing to give up the rest of your sex life to win this match?”
The golfer says, “Certainly,” and makes the eagle.
As they walk to the clubhouse, the stranger says, “You know, I’ve really not been fair with you because you don’t know who I am. I’m the devil, and your bargain is no joke. From now on you will have no sex life.”
“Nice to meet you,” says the golfer. “My name’s Father O’Malley.”
For generations, the West has tended to dissociate sex and spirituality. The trouble is, when you live in a society that breaks up sex and spirituality, the yearning for sex is still there, and this yearning is going to come out some way or other.
The formula is as old as the Garden of Eden story, with its theme of forbidden fruit. The more we try to hide our sexuality, the more obsessed we are likely to become. Consequently, the sex tends to become base—an inferior using of each other that lacks real connection, real intimacy.
When I came across the following words by author and lecturer Sam Keen, I couldn’t help thinking about Bourbon Street in New Orleans on Mardi Gras day: “In one sense, literal orgies are a symbolic-sexual acting-out of the instinct for transcendence and communion. The privates are demonstrating in public their need for a communion that is both fleshy and meta-physical.”
It was such self-transcendence that Jesus invited people to experience when he critiqued lust. He wasn’t condemning sexual attraction, as St. Augustine, who in the fourth century shaped so much of Christendom’s thinking, imagined.
We’re meant to notice individuals who attract us––that’s why we’re shaped to catch the eye. We’re intended to be attractive so that we’ll desire each other and be drawn into relationships.
Attraction that arouses desire for the other is healthy. But “lust,” as Jesus used the word, isn’t the same as desire. It refers to those misdirected sexual urges that spring from neediness. There is a drivenness to it that results in misusing another person.
Lust, or craving, isn’t desire; it’s neediness. Desire isn’t needy. Desire is feeling great and wanting to share how good we feel. Overflowing with good feeling, we choose someone with whom to celebrate. Our partner is a means of experiencing how fantastic we feel.
The key is that we want the person, not just sexual relief. Sexual craving without wanting the person is what Jesus meant by “lust.” Lust arises in the absence of desire for a person. It’s an attempt to meet our needs without wanting the individual—without caring about the person. It emerges from the reptile-like part of the brain as a purely physical response to stimuli, bypassing our soul, which alone can give sex meaning.
Much of the religious world has got the whole desire thing backwards, which has produced a society swooning with lust. Deepening our desire, based on feeling wonderful about ourselves, is the antidote to this lust. This is when sex becomes an expression of spirituality.
A person who has an overflowing sense of their own goodness, who is in touch with the fullness at their center––the Presence that is the source of our being––doesn’t have to have another person in order to feel good. Feeling complete in ourselves, we can want without craving. We don’t feel empty, so we are not grasping.