The Sex Prayer

Well, if that title doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

A week or more ago I started seeing stories about  new Prayer Book for Spouses, published by the Catholic Truth Society.  When you begin to see a prayer book getting coverage in secular media, you know something is out of the ordinary.  The web site touts the book as beneficial for both “married and engaged couples”.  That might seem strange enough to the uninitiated, though I think it’s a great and sorely needed resource for Christian couples.  But the secular interest stems from the inclusion of a single “prayer before sex”. 

The idea of the prayer is to contextualize the sexual aspect of a marriage relationship as yet another expression of our life-suffusing spirituality.  In other words, sex and God aren’t to be compartmentalized or separated in any fashion.  God created sex, God designed us to function best sexually and otherwise within the parameters of a marriage relationship, and despite what culture would like us to focus on about sex, it isn’t just about our own enjoyment.  Not that the prayer is very explicit in saying these things, but that’s sort of the between-the-lines intent.

Sound awkward?  Even proponents of the book and the prayer admit that it is a voice likely to be lost in the deluge of other voices on the nature of sexuality.  One bishop admits that “I suppose it is a bit idealistic but it is recognizing that God is at the heart of the marriage relationship“.  The full text of the simple prayer is included in this brief article, but I’ll go ahead and reprint it here:

Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts. Place within us love that truly gives, tenderness that truly unites, self-offering that tells the truth and does not deceive, forgiveness that truly receives, loving physical union that welcomes. Open our hearts to you, to each other and the goodness of your will. Cover our poverty in the richness of your mercy and forgiveness. Clothe us in our true dignity and take to yourself our shared aspirations for your glory, forever and ever. Mary, our Mother, intercede for us. Amen.

Of course, not everyone sees the prayer as a positive thing.  This opinion piece by Salon criticizes not only the idea of the prayer, but the actual wording.  The author, Frances Kissling,  would prefer the prayer to be more along the lines of the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament of the Bible.  Song of Solomon has offered a challenge to theologians through the ages with it’s risqué dialog between a pair of “lovers”.  Clearly the poetic and erotic elements of this particular portion of the Bible seem more appropriate to Kissling than the more staid and frumpy words of the before-sex-prayer.  This isn’t particularly surprising for Salon – or for pop culture in general.  The Bible has a great deal more to say about sex, however, and Kissling’s desire to turn the prayer into another aspect of foreplay misses the point – intentionally.

The editorial goes on to highlight the very controversial lines the Catholic church has taken over the centuries in regards to sex, whether by discouraging it even between spouses, to refusing to authorize contraception as part of Catholic marriages.  Kissling panders to the fallacy of majority as evidence for a tenet of church faith being wrong, and then goes on to insist that “Truth is found in nakedness“, and that “love itself is enriching and requires no pardon.”  Perhaps a stab at poetics, but hardly very convincing in terms of truthfulness. 

The content of the prayer has very little to do with the sexual activity of a man and wife.  Rather, it seeks to properly align the entire interaction of a husband and wife.  It recognizes that a gazillion little situations and things seek to interpose themselves between spouses, allowing for seeds of dissatisfaction and distrust to grow and root themselves divisively.  It recognizes that our world insists that marriage – and everything else – is just a means for personal fulfillment, and if you aren’t being fulfilled, it’s time to leave and find fulfillment elsewhere.  This is a lie that ignores the Biblical truth that fulfillment is a process, not a destination, and that it’s a process that won’t ever be completed in this lifetime.  And egocentrism is a lie that permeates the sexual aspects of a marriage as well as every other arena.  Because sex is so prominently utilized, highlighted, promoted, idolized, glamorized, and bastardized in our culture, it’s reasonable to assume that spouses may come to one another in bed with some seriously misguided attitudes, even after years and years of marriage.  Praying before sex is probably a good idea.

That being said, I think the prayer is a great idea for a couple to say together each morning as they begin the day as a means of reminding one another that their life is not simply about themselves.  Nor are they simply ‘in this together’.  Rather, their marriage vows have bonded them into a unique relationship with the Triune God.  It’s helpful to remember this when approaching sex, but may not be necessary to actually occur right before sex.  Then again, my reluctance to leave the timing where the writers suggest it may be indicative of how much I’m affected by cultural assumptions about sex.  Hmmmm.

Ultimately, spouses aren’t guaranteed that life will be easy, pain free, struggle free, misunderstanding free, frustration free – in short, their vow to share a bed never promised it would constantly be a bed of roses.  This is important to remember at every moment of the day.

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