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I was in junior high, walking toward a group of buddies, when my best friend came out of the circle and stopped me.
"No," he said. "You don't want this."
"What are you talking about?" I asked, hurt that this guy, of all people, would spurn me.
I learned that my friend was keeping me from a book that was making the rounds. It had something to do with sex--complete with pictures--and the dog-eared corners attested to its being quickly stashed under mattresses in numerous adolescent-occupied homes.
Most of us are introduced to sex in shameful ways. The viewing of "dirty" books or the experience of sexual abuse at the hands of an older person often usher us prematurely into the world of sexual knowledge. The natural result is that most of us have to overcome deep-seated anxieties about sex. Many Christians don't see sex as a gift for which to be thankful, but as a guilt-ridden burden to be borne. And naturally, anything so intimately connected with guilt is difficult to view as a ladder to the holy.
Yet most married Christians know that sexual intimacy can produce moments of sheer transcendence--brief, sunset-like glimpses of eternity. On the underside of ecstasy we catch the shadow of a profound spiritual truth: Sex turns us toward God.
Christian spirituality serves us in at least three ways regarding sex: It teaches us the goodness of sex while reminding us that there are things more important. It allows us to experience pleasure without making pleasure the idol of our existence. It teaches us that sex can certainly season our lives but also reminds us that sex will never fully nourish our souls.
It might sound shocking, but it's true: God doesn't avert his eyes when a married couple goes to bed. It stands to reason, then, that we shouldn't turn our eyes from God when we share intimate moments with our spouse.
Spiritually meaningful sex
To appreciate how sex points us to God, it may help to understand how the ancient Jews viewed sex. The Holy Letter (written by Nahmanides in the thirteenth century) sees sex as a mystical experience of meeting with God: "Through the act [of intercourse] they become partners with God in the act of creation. This is the mystery of what the sages said, 'When a man unites with his wife in holiness, the …