the sexualisation of the sacred?

Recently I wrote a poem called ‘And this is Grace‘.  On Facebook, someone commented that I could just as easily be talking about a ‘beloved partner’ than about God.  I replied that much as I loved my partner, I would not use this sort of language about him.  To me, the language of the poem felt more fatherly than loverly. Re-reading the poem even after the comment did not change my opinion on this.

However, I understood where the comment was coming from.  The sense is that in some of our worship songs we are indulging in a ‘Jesus is my boy/girlfriend’, over-romanticising our relationship with him.  I have some sympathies with this view, and understand why some people find such songs difficult to sing – sometimes I myself am among them, and find myself inwardly cringing or grumbling.

But I confess that there are other times where I feel no less than besotted with God.  In these times language fails us – we borrow from the words we have, and sometimes this means that their limitations can mask the genuine holy feeling behind our intent.  So although I believe lyricists and poets do need to take care in using romance language in regards to religion, I also understand the fact that sometimes we are thrown back on words which may be used for other things – things that mean different things to different people.

I can recall a song which has the lyric “I’m going all the way with you”.  It’s talking about commitment to God, about enduring to the end, of throwing everything in with him.  But every time I hear the phrase ‘going all the way’ I think of sex.  It was a heavily used phrase when I was a teenager – whether it is now I don’t know, but to ‘go all the way’ meant to go the whole hog – to have sex with someone.  So when I hear that song, although I understand the sentiment, I struggle with the baggage attached to the phrase.

However, I believe there is an opposing issue here – the fact in so many romance and sex oriented songs, the lyricist does in fact idolise the romantic partner or even sex itself.  They ascribe a kind of satisfaction (another troublesome word) and fulfilment which is not really ‘human’.  The be-all and end-all is finding the ‘love of your life’, the knight in shining armour, the person who’ll love you as you are, grow old with you, meet your every need.

It’s that last thing where the problem really lies.  How can any human being fully meet the needs of another?  We are only human, after all.  We have weaknesses, bad days, selfish and grumpy moments, weariness etc., etc. We are not strong enough to carry each other continually.  We’re just not strong enough.  We can never be the ‘perfect’ partner.

So although I understand the issues surrounding using romantic language about God and the discomfort this can create, I also see the problem of using God-language about romance.

I’ve certainly heard romantic songs use salvation vocabulary.

And in my opinion, only God can save.

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11 thoughts on “the sexualisation of the sacred?

  1. I agree totally. We are called also to have a higher mind on these things, but we’re creatures of our cultural environment too. In western society this is a particularly sexualised and sex-focussed culture – our understanding of language it shaped by that environment. It seems wise for lyricists to avoid certain phrases, not because they are wrong, but because the use of *that* phrase or conjunction of words means something culturally that is going to distract from the intent behind the lyric.

    About 15 years ago the song ‘We will dance on the streets that are golden’ was just such a song (http://www.lyricstime.com/vineyard-we-will-dance-lyrics.html). Using the imagery of the Church as the Bride of Christ in incorporated an number of lyrics that were to my very new Christian ears overtly sexual and frankly disturbing. In themselves these sorts of lyrics mean something meaningful and true, but set within our own use of language and slang they can mean something else entirely.

    The challenge is not debasing our worship by tittering at every potential innuendo while also thinking hard about the words we choose when writing and choosing worship songs.

    1. I do think there is a sexualisation of worship, but I don’t really see this in the song “We will dance on the streets that are golden” mentioned above. The imagery used in it seems Biblical to me.

      [I am far more concerned about that song because it came from the “toronto blessing”, which was a very dangerous and harmful movement]

      But there are quite a few songs with lyrics that are quite sexual. As I’m almost two years late to this party, I won’t share them unless asked.

  2. Have you checked out the words of the Military Wives song ‘Wherever you are’ – referring to the beloved as ‘the prince of peace’ etc? You’re right that there is often a crossover in the use of words.
    Also I agree with you that language changes down the years [‘going all the way’ etc] I recall my Mum used to get annoyed with a lady soloist back in the 1960’s who persisted in singing a piece [on the evils of Satan] with the line “You got me into trouble, but Jesus got me out” – and then she found herself having to explain to an inquisitive daughter what THAT phrase meant!!

    I love Bernard of Clairveaux’s hymn “Jesu thou joy of loving hearts” which says “from the best bliss that earth imparts, we turn unfilled to Thee again” The greatest, best HUMAN relationships involve love which it is hard to describe adequately- but GOD’S love and grace goes way beyond that.

    Very thought provoking post Lucy.
    Now please address the issue of all those worship songs with ‘girlie’ love-language, which many men hate singing, and end up squirming in the pew!!!

    blessings xx

    1. Had to smile at the ‘you got me into trouble’ anecdote. For me that phrase doesn’t carry the same baggage – although I understand why your Mum felt differently!

      This also shows that a song that was appropriate for one generation may be very awkward for another.

  3. Yes! Although some worship songs do contain cringey lyrics, I think we can be oversensitive about the ‘romanticising’ of worship. I hadn’t thought about it the other way around – that love songs are too worshipful. Thanks for the insight!

    1. I too tend to have thought of this the other way around – maybe says something about my human relationships. When I was younger, I’d often think that the lyrics were too much to apply to another human, and found myself applying them to Jesus. And what about the Song of Solomon? – another take – I shared this with some married ladies at chuch some years ago, sometimes my experience of God/the Holy Spirit is akin to orgasm.

  4. Beautiful poem. Love your writing.
    Rob Bell in the book entitled Sex God elaborates beautifully on the topic of the connectedness of Sex and God.
    “Because this is really about that….Sex. God. They’re connected. And they can’t be separated. Where the one is, you will always find the other. …. It’s always about something else … Something deeper. Something behind it all. You cannot talk about sexuality without talking about how we were made. And that will inevitably lead you to who made us. At some point you have to talk about God. ”
    (http://www.amazon.ca/Sex-God-Rob-Bell/dp/031027415X)

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