In many, many Christian circles enjoyment is suspect and “pleasure” is a dirty word. This quandary even more problematic when you’re a woman (let alone any other gender-oppressed group), as society is often perpetually finding ways to force itself upon everything in your life – let alone your sense of pleasure. In response to this, Rev. Lura Groen provides a rather eloquent and affirmation that bodily pleasures are part of what it means to be created by God – and by extension are holy. It makes a wonderful addition to this months entries and we hope you enjoy it. Read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
Like an apple tree among the wild trees,
so is my lover among the young men.
In his shade I take pleasure in sitting,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
He has brought me to the house of wine;
his banner raised over me is love.
Sustain me with raisin cakes,
strengthen me with apples,
for I’m weak with love!
His left arm is beneath my head,
his right embraces me.
(Song of Solomon 2: 3-6)
God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,[b]
male and female God created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food.30 To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.
(Genesis 1: 27-30)
Pleasure is good and holy and given to us by God. Bodily pleasure, sexual and non sexual, food pleasure, touch pleasure, laughter and singing pleasure, they’re given to us.
And women, it’s given to US too. Anyone who experiences gender oppression, (femme men, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people, transgender men, etc) it’s given to us too. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we affirm, theoretically, that pleasure is good, but forget to give it to our own bodies, feel guilty when we do, or judge the ways in which we do or don’t receive pleasure.
This isn’t surprising, because it’s how the world teaches us to think. The world teaches us that men get to joke about how much they love to eat bacon, but we don’t. The world teaches us that sex is about the pleasure of the (presumed heterosexual, cisgender) man. The world teaches us that comfortable clothing isn’t for us, that looking professional means having an uncomfortable body. We walk through the world bombarded by messages telling us that our bodies deserve to be starved, pinched, and hated.
But those messages are wrong, those messages are ungodly, those messages are demonic. They are wrong when they come from the outside world, and then they are wrong when they make their homes inside our own heads, telling us we don’t deserve pleasure.
Other times the world commands us to have pleasure in ways we don’t want: the cool woman eats like a man, the desirable woman wants sex whenever her partner wants it, and the woman to emulate is always living life extravagantly. This is a twisted way of telling us that even our own pleasure is for other people, not for us. And it is another lie. (Because the Song of Solomon also says “Don’t rouse, don’t arouse love, until it desires.”) Your pleasure is for you, and you feel it when and how and only when and how you want to.
And yes, of course there are caveats. We don’t get to have pleasure in ways that harm someone else, or use pleasure for power over someone else, or break promises we’ve made, or live only for pleasure.
But let’s be honest.
Most of us aren’t doing that.
We’re so busy caring for others that we feel guilty when we get enough sleep, think it’s luxurious to eat a healthy, delicious meal, and experience it as a radical position that our sexual pleasure is as important as our partners’. Those caveats about enjoying pleasure have been used against us in ways they haven’t been used against gender conforming men, as a way to prevent us from having pleasure that is seen as theirs to have. We have been held to higher standards based on gender oppression, and therefore these standards have become weapons. We have been taught to deny ourselves in gendered ways, and therefore in unjust and ungodly ways.
God gave us good food to eat. Maybe for you that’s bacon, but maybe its apples and raisin cakes. God loves it when food tastes good to us, gave us bodies that crave and taste buds that celebrate. Yes, we have choices about the healthiest things to eat, and sometimes that choice means limiting certain pleasure, but that doesn’t make the pleasure bad. The pleasure we get from eating good food is holy, and given to us by God.
God gave us bodies, and called them supremely good. God created our bodies such that touching people we love gives us pleasure: snuggling babies, hugging a good friend, or kissing our lovers. Yes, we need to take care to touch in ways that respect consent and the boundaries of all involved, and that honor the differences in how people like to be touched or not, but that doesn’t make the pleasure bad. The pleasure we get from touching each other (or our own bodies!) is holy, and given to us by God.
Pleasure from food is good and holy, pleasure from our bodies is good and holy, but also, if you don’t get pleasure from these things, for whatever reason, and get bodily pleasure from something else, that is good and holy too.
It is a holy thing, a spiritual thing, to enjoy the gifts given to us by God, and give thanks to God for them. And so, I make a modest proposal for Women’s History Month: explore pleasure for your body as a spiritual discipline. If that makes us a little uncomfortable to think about, it might be exactly because we have been taught that pleasure isn’t for us. But you still get to pick: the pleasures, and only the pleasures, that your body likes, that you want to enjoy, that you consent to.
I know Women’s History Month falls in Lent this year, as it often does. And that we aren’t encouraged to embrace pleasure during Lent. Perhaps you might decide you’ve been living Lent too many seasons of the year, and might skip it this time. Or perhaps you might decide right now that we are encouraged to feast for the 50 days of Easter, (longer than the 40 days of Lent!) and that celebrating God-given bodily pleasures is your way of celebrating God’s love, God’s triumph over sin and death and judgment.
Dear sisters, dear siblings, God gave us our bodies, and created them to feel pleasure. You’re allowed to feel it when and how and in which ways you desire.
Thanks be to God.
(Thanks to Dr. Irina Greenman for editing assistance)
Rev. Lura N. Groen attended St. John’s College in Annapolis MD, studying the Great Books Program. Prior to seminary, Pastor Lura was a two-year member of Lutheran Volunteer Corps, serving as a case manager to homeless people in Baltimore, MD and Washington D.C. Lura continued her social service work as an employment coach before attending seminary at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and was admitted to the clergy roster of the ELCA in 2010. Currently based in Cumberland, MD with her husband Jess and pit-bull – Clara – she is also blogs at luragroen.blogspot.comand is a chaplain for #decolonizeLutheranism.