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Christian Sexual Ethics


emilylauren
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(This post is rather long, so I will go through a bold the more important parts for those who just wish to skim. As an english major I get assinged a lot of essays, and I've also become quite good at taking what should be two sentences and making it into an entire paragraph or two. :lol:)

 

My first question is this: does anyone have any books, websites or other resources that work at establishing a Christian sexual ethic? This is a topic that has started to interest me lately and I am looking into all the various perspectives. Any recommendations would be lovely. And as a note, I am cautiously open-minded to all opinions. What I mean by that is that, while I am cautious about throwing out the traditional understanding of sexual ethics, I am open to hearing the arguments and opinions of those who disagree. (This is actually how I have been dealing with everything I’ve been looking into about Christianity. I don’t want to be too hasty about adopting a non-traditional view, but also don’t want to discredit the non-traditional view outright) So this isn’t just asking for books that write about why sex outside of marriage is okay for Christians-- I am asking for something that addresses sexual ethics with a more comprehensive answer than just “sex is only for marriage, just because” but gives reasons for the arguments it makes. Both the more liberal and more conservative view is welcome (and desired, I do want to see all sides of this issue).

 

My second part is to hopefully get something of a discussion going. Quoted below is one of the few things that first got me started thinking about a different view of sexual ethics than the one I was taught in my high school youth group and by my parents at home. (The other was this articlefrom Patrol)

 

Please feel free to read both and let me know what you think. What do you agree and disagree with, and why. This is something that I have been thinking about for about a month now, reading various opinions and thinking about the potential implications of certain arguments for and against premarital sex. I’ve also been praying that God leads me in the right direction on this topic. I know that this is a loaded topic for me-- and I do question myself many times. Do I agree with someone because I think they have made a valid point, or only because I want them to have made a valid point because I’m looking for an excuse to have sex? (And on the flip side, do I want to just accept the traditional view of no sex until marriage because it is safe and secure and familiar?) So hearing other people's opinions, and hearing why they believe what they believe, is likely to help me sort through everything.

 

From a blog called "One for the Road" that I unfortunately can't currently find a link for. <_<

 

 

Have you ever wondered where we get our sexual ethics from - what is and is not healthy? I'm sure a lot of people have and in the christian world there is always a tension running between what people think of as sexually permissible from the bible [2 people of the opposite sex in married union, lights on optional ;)] and what might currently be permissible in society [everything else you can imagine and a lot you can't - maybe ;)]. I use crude stereotypes with a wink to highlight that a lot of our own sexual morality is our own judgment, or as a result of our history/culture/exposure/values/experiences etc which is where a lot of sexual tension/problems can arise when different value systems collide and what is disgusting to one person is a permissible pleasure to another.

 

Of course that is not to say that within christian world shaped as it is by the culture of the bible there is not a sexual ethic present - but then again within the text there is also that sexual ethics/world view of their time being reflected as well - so when are we today reflecting God's ideal and when are we just trying to apply ancient cultural practices/sexual world view into are time when the ancient may be no better or perhaps even worse from our own ethical standing. What are we left with - that everything that happens between two consenting adults in private is ok? That everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial? Some return to OT law and Ancient Near East Hebraic practices?

 

Sexual mores not sexual commands:

 

Walter Wink highlights this discussion very well - looking at sexuality in the bible and highlights 14 cultural areas of Hebrew sexual practises in detail where we might differ culturally today. In his conclusion on them he raises this dilemma of what is cultural based vs what is ethically based:

 

"....virtually all modern readers would agree with the Bible in rejecting: incest, rape, adultery, and intercourse with animals. But we disagree with the Bible on most other sexual mores. The Bible condemned the following behaviours which we generally allow: intercourse during menstruation, celibacy, exogamy (marriage with non-Jews), naming sexual organs, nudity (under certain conditions), masturbation (some Christians still condemn this), birth control (some Christians still forbid this).

 

And the Bible regarded semen and menstrual blood as unclean, which most of us do not. Likewise, the Bible permitted behaviours that we today condemn: prostitution, polygamy, levirate marriage, sex with slaves, concubinage, treatment of women as property, and very early marriage (for the girl, age 11-13).

 

And while the Old Testament accepted divorce, Jesus forbade it. In short, of the sexual mores mentioned here, we only agree with the Bible on four of them, and disagree with it on sixteen!

 

Surely no one today would recommend reviving the levirate marriage. So why do we appeal to proof texts in Scripture in the case of homosexuality alone, when we feel perfectly free to disagree with Scripture regarding most other sexual practises? Obviously many of our choices in these matters are arbitrary. Mormon polygamy was outlawed in this country [uSA], despite the constitutional protection of freedom of religion, because it violated the sensibilities of the dominant Christian culture. Yet no explicit biblical prohibition against polygamy exists.

 

If we insist on placing ourselves under the old law, as Paul reminds us, we are obligated to keep every commandment of the law (Gal. 5:3). But if Christ is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), if we have been discharged from the law to serve, not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6), then all of these biblical sexual mores come under the authority of the Spirit. We cannot then take even what Paul himself says as a new Law. Christians reserve the right to pick and choose which sexual mores they will observe, though they seldom admit to doing just that. And this is as true of evangelicals and fundamentalists as it is of liberals and mainliners."

 

A free love ethic...

 

Once we begin untangling ourselves from a law based system of sexual dominated thought where we control what practise is or is not acceptable - what are we left with. Some people may suddenly love the freedom that comes with the liberation from sexual rule keeping, imposed sexual ideas, shame, guilt, fear etc that comes with them. Other people may be panicking and seeing the thin end of the wedge for a panoply of perversions to break out into our culture - if christians aren't gonna be the chastity belt on society anymore who is?

 

Does focusing on a practise that we might see as a perversion really help - is it me trying to exercise control over you based on my understanding of "right" sexual mores, maybe using the divine to back me up? Does it open me up to charges of hypocrisy [why highlight that aspect of OT sexual practise and not another?]? Does it actually end up with me lessoning your humanity whilst trying to make mine look bigger? Does it make me feel arrogant, prideful, self-righteous and at the same time you more ashamed, angry, afraid, agitated etc?

 

What if the ethic we need is not so much of "right" behaviour and managing that but an ethic of love that gives humanity and dignity back to people rather than seeks to oppress it or hide it? What if the love ethic starts with me and my sexual weaknesses, hang ups, screw ups? So when I see an attractive woman and my humanity kicks in, instead of taking her for a lust object in my mind, cheapening her humanity by making her an object of sexual gratification for me to consume, i find ways to give her back her humanity? Instead of exploiting, using or manipulating people for my own sexual release i find ways to live in commitment, where i learn about giving rather than just taking. As Walter goes on in his article to say:

 

"I agree that rules and norms are necessary; that is what sexual mores are. But rules and norms also tend to be impressed into the service of the Domination System, and to serve as a form of crowd control rather than to enhance the fullness of human potential. So we must critique the sexual mores of any given time and clime by the love ethic exemplified by Jesus. Defining such a love ethic is not complicated. It is non-exploitative (hence no sexual exploitation of children, no using of another to their loss), it does not dominate (hence no patriarchal treatment of women as chattel), it is responsible, mutual, caring, and loving. Augustine already dealt with this in his inspired phrase, "Love God, and do as you please."

 

Our moral task, then, is to apply Jesus' love ethic to whatever sexual mores are prevalent in a given culture. This doesn't mean everything goes. It means that everything is to be critiqued by Jesus' love commandment. We might address younger teens, not with laws and commandments whose violation is a sin, but rather with the sad experiences of so many of our own children who find too much early sexual intimacy overwhelming, and who react by voluntary celibacy and even the refusal to date. We can offer reasons, not empty and unenforceable orders. We can challenge both gays and straights to question their behaviours in the light of love and the requirements of fidelity, honesty, responsibility, and genuine concern for the best interests of the other and of society as a whole.

 

Christian morality, after all, is not a iron chastity belt for repressing urges, but a way of expressing the integrity of our relationship with God. It is the attempt to discover a manner of living that is consistent with who God created us to be. For those of same-sex orientation, as for heterosexuals, being moral means rejecting sexual mores that violate their own integrity and that of others, and attempting to discover what it would mean to live by the love ethic of Jesus."

 

What do you think?

 

I'd be interested to hear what you think/feel wherever you are on the liberated/terrified scale. Do you agree with Walter? Is it about ethics rather than sexual mores? If so, how do you feel with Walter's proposition that the question is not:

 

"What is permitted?" but rather "What does it mean to love my different practicing sexual neighbor [whether that is homosexual or some other practice]?"

"What constitutes a breach of divine law in the sexual realm?" and becomes instead "What constitutes integrity before the God revealed in the cosmic lover, Jesus Christ?"

"What does Scripture command?" and becomes "What is the Word that the Spirit speaks to the churches now, in the light of Scripture, tradition, theology, and, yes, psychology, genetics, anthropology, and biology?

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Christian Sexual Ethics. Wow. That is indeed quite a topic. To me it is society as a group that determines ethical sexual behavior. Of course that is influenced heavily by the dominant religion of that group at the time which may purport to be commandments of God but I find them commandments of the ruling class at the time masked in religion. There is, to me, a wisdom in all actions that goes beyond commandments or rules and yet many of those actions can be expressed as rules or commandments for the deemed common good of society. This is often done IMO for those who at this time cannot grasp the wisdom in wise actions without rules or commandments to direct their own actions.

 

So where does that leave me in response to Christian Sexual Ethics as a progressive? It leaves me personally without a defined set of views or position as relates to what is proper Christian sexual behavior between two consenting adults and what is not. Each action has consequences and possibilities that can be discerned with contemplation. Decisions can then be made without the guilt that accompanies trying to live by laws and commandments but rather in a freedom and knowledge that makes all things lawful but not necessarily expedient. That makes all things lawful but not necessarily that edify.

 

All of the above is just one mans consideration, to take with what ever weight one might decide to apply.

 

Love in Christ,

 

Joseph

 

 

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My first question is this: does anyone have any books, websites or other resources that work at establishing a Christian sexual ethic? This is a topic that has started to interest me lately and I am looking into all the various perspectives.

 

I think I would have two comments in relation to this question.

 

The first is general. In general, our society is obsessed with sex. That goes for the Judeo Christian part of it, and far more for the Islamic part of it. Sex is pretty well an obsession for all of us.

 

The second is specific to our faith. Given that we inhabit a sex obsessed culture, I personally think the best thing we can do is to step away from allowing that obsession to also impinge on our faith. If we follow the words of Paul, and focus on what is good, lovely and true, and also seek the fruit of love, joy, peace etc in our lives, and stop the rather prurient focus on who does what to whom behind closed doors, and on imposing arbitrary taboos thereon, I think we are all likely to be much happier. In other words, there is no separate sexual ethic; it is identical to the ethic for Christian living.

 

What we do is not the issue. Why we do it, and whether we can do it with more of Christ's sacrificial love is the issue.

Edited by Anglocatholic
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I think I would have two comments in relation to this question.

 

The first is general. In general, our society is obsessed with sex. That goes for the Judeo Christian part of it, and far more for the Islamic part of it. Sex is pretty well an obsession for all of us.

 

The second is specific to our faith. Given that we inhabit a sex obsessed culture, I personally think the best thing we can do is to step away from allowing that obsession to also impinge on our faith. If we follow the words of Paul, and focus on what is good, lovely and true, and also seek the fruit of love, joy, peace etc in our lives, and stop the rather prurient focus on who does what to whom behind closed doors, and on imposing arbitrary taboos thereon (by which I mean any taboos over and above the cultural universals of child, incest and proximity taboos), I think we are all likely to be much happier. In other words, there is no separate sexual ethic; it is identical to the ethic for Christian living.

 

What we do is not the issue. Why we do it, and whether we can do it with more of Christ's sacrificial love is the issue.

Edited by Anglocatholic
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I think Christianity's central ethic in general is love, and this universal encompasses the particular subject of sex also. The biblical idea of marriage is a good idea, I believe, for many reasons. But I do not mean this in a black-and-white or absolutist sense, as if to transfer and impose an ancient culture's way of life onto our own without qualification. You have to look for the intent, what it was trying to accomplish, the spirit of notion, and just why it is relevant and how you can apply it to your own life and society.

 

Anglocatholic has a real point though; I would say on the whole we are as a culture very much obsessed with sex, as is the Judeo-Christian tradition historically. Sex is such a powerful factor in our lives that we feel we can't just let it be what it is, we have to do something about it. That's good and that's bad. It's good in that we learn that sex is a subject requiring wisdom in love. It's bad in that we might grow up thinking it's dirty or profane, and religious cultures can (and do) wind up doing rather strange things, like both male and female genital mutilation, or requiring celibacy of the clergy, or, requiring women to clothe themselves from head to toe as in Islam.

 

When it comes to sex I think the Christian ethic talks about responsibility and love. All else is relative to the situation. A member started a thread about non-marital sex a while back. You can see it here. I'll quote myself to conclude my current thoughts on the matter...

 

...I am of the mindset that if a relationship is consensual (obviously), responsible and maintainable, motivated by love and not more fickle desires, not causing harm to either person, then I don't see what could be 'sinful' about it. I think the bible has generally brought to us in the West this view of romantic love as contractual, committed, non-abusive to either party (despite the lesser social status of women - I would not consider the bible 'perfect'). But the general idea is there, and I think it happens to be a good idea...

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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I think Christianity's central ethic in general is love, and this universal encompasses the particular subject of sex also. The biblical idea of marriage is a good idea, I believe, for many reasons. But I do not mean this in a black-and-white or absolutist sense, as if to transfer and impose an ancient culture's way of life onto our own without qualification. You have to look for the intent, what it was trying to accomplish, the spirit of notion, and just why it is relevant and how you can apply it to your own life and society.

 

Anglocatholic has a real point though; I would say on the whole we are as a culture very much obsessed with sex, as is the Judeo-Christian tradition historically. Sex is such a powerful factor in our lives that we feel we can't just let it be what it is, we have to do something about it. That's good and that's bad. It's good in that we learn that sex is a subject requiring wisdom in love. It's bad in that we might grow up thinking it's dirty or profane, and religious cultures can (and do) wind up doing rather strange things, like both male and female genital mutilation, or requiring celibacy of the clergy, or, requiring women to clothe themselves from head to toe as in Islam.

 

When it comes to sex I think the Christian ethic talks about responsibility and love. All else is relative to the situation. A member started a thread about non-marital sex a while back. You can see it here. I'll quote myself to conclude my current thoughts on the matter...

 

 

Peace to you,

Mike

 

Mike, I like what you wrote and I like the question because it is difficult and usually avoided, but needs to be answered. I don't think of the Bible as a book or manual on sexual relations or techniques. There are different Christian communities that have different understandings of sexual relationships so there is no line drawn in the sand as to what is appropriate. I do think the Bible speaks of divine love, brotherly love and romantic love.

 

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (NIV)

1 John 4:18

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 13:1-8a and 13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails....And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (NIV)

Proverbs 17:9

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. (NLT)

Song of Solomon 2:16

My lover is mine, and I am his. (NLT)

 

I feel spiritual people are a passionate people so we can be intense in our sexual desire, pleasure, passion and fulfillment. I don't think God wants us to feel guilty, but to enjoy His sexual gift to us. To enjoy the sexual play He gave us, I feel we need to awaken from our childishness and be responsible for our love, energy and relationships. We must persist in the spiritual practice of love rather than the drama of fear and rejection. I feel if we go boldly we can transcend our self and our lover to become one with or commune with the Divine. Sexual communion can transform us by maturing, mastering and expanding our love into a transcendental spiritual occasion. I feel if we adapt and grow from sexual intimacy it can purify our tendencies, our attention, and prepare us for communion with the radiance of the Divine. This ecstasy releases our feelings and attention so the soul can be realized. God's absolute intensity and Reality is always present and can be realized without the profound intensity of sex. Sexual communion is just one of the ways to go beyond the confines of the mind bound to its self. I feel guidelines are important because obsessive sex acquires an illusion of ecstasy that only last for seconds. If one makes love to feel pleasure then the sexuality is not about love. It is the hope for love, but if one is already happy, prior to the sexual event and stimulations then sex is not an obsession and one passes beyond the ritual of orgasm. Our bliss in Communion with God is not just in the genitals, but pervades the whole body and the physical world. The spiritual is not separate from the physical; it is the physical that is also spiritual at this point. The problem of sex is not in the pleasure, it is the obsessively use of sex to acquire a substitute for ecstasy. True ecstasy is a whole life experience of love and Divine communion, unity, wholeness and fullness. It is the totality of our existence and being.

 

We don’t really need sexual relationships. I feel sex is a gift because some have already found ways to make all the natural things and experiences in their life a love communion with God. These individuals have awakened God and are in a position of ecstasy. Every moment these individuals attention is on the radiant force and bliss of God’s pure consciousness. Their ascetic renunciation of worldly pleasure is a passionate act in itself that reflects the ecstasy already present in the awareness of Our Lord’s for all time present pure consciousness.

 

I am only an individual Christian who lived as a celibate monk and who now lives as a married man with two children. I feel both paths are a legitimate path to the Bliss and the heaven our Lord has to offer. I know there are as many paths as individuals and that all are guided in their own unique way. May we continue to inspirer each other on our exclusive journeys with love and bring as many of our Christian brothers and sisters to the universal love, joy and mind of Christ.

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Mike, I like what you wrote and I like the question because it is difficult and usually avoided, but needs to be answered. I don't think of the Bible as a book or manual on sexual relations or techniques. There are different Christian communities that have different understandings of sexual relationships so there is no line drawn in the sand as to what is appropriate. I do think the Bible speaks of divine love, brotherly love and romantic love.

 

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (NIV)

1 John 4:18

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 13:1-8a and 13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails....And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (NIV)

Proverbs 17:9

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. (NLT)

Song of Solomon 2:16

My lover is mine, and I am his. (NLT)

 

I feel spiritual people are a passionate people so we can be intense in our sexual desire, pleasure, passion and fulfillment. I don't think God wants us to feel guilty, but to enjoy His sexual gift to us. To enjoy the sexual play He gave us, I feel we need to awaken from our childishness and be responsible for our love, energy and relationships. We must persist in the spiritual practice of love rather than the drama of fear and rejection. I feel if we go boldly we can transcend our self and our lover to become one with or commune with the Divine. Sexual communion can transform us by maturing, mastering and expanding our love into a transcendental spiritual occasion. I feel if we adapt and grow from sexual intimacy it can purify our tendencies, our attention, and prepare us for communion with the radiance of the Divine. This ecstasy releases our feelings and attention so the soul can be realized. God's absolute intensity and Reality is always present and can be realized without the profound intensity of sex. Sexual communion is just one of the ways to go beyond the confines of the mind bound to its self. I feel guidelines are important because obsessive sex acquires an illusion of ecstasy that only last for seconds. If one makes love to feel pleasure then the sexuality is not about love. It is the hope for love, but if one is already happy, prior to the sexual event and stimulations then sex is not an obsession and one passes beyond the ritual of orgasm. Our bliss in Communion with God is not just in the genitals, but pervades the whole body and the physical world. The spiritual is not separate from the physical; it is the physical that is also spiritual at this point. The problem of sex is not in the pleasure, it is the obsessively use of sex to acquire a substitute for ecstasy. True ecstasy is a whole life experience of love and Divine communion, unity, wholeness and fullness. It is the totality of our existence and being.

 

We don’t really need sexual relationships. I feel sex is a gift because some have already found ways to make all the natural things and experiences in their life a love communion with God. These individuals have awakened God and are in a position of ecstasy. Every moment these individuals attention is on the radiant force and bliss of God’s pure consciousness. Their ascetic renunciation of worldly pleasure is a passionate act in itself that reflects the ecstasy already present in the awareness of Our Lord’s for all time present pure consciousness.

 

I am only an individual Christian who lived as a celibate monk and who now lives as a married man with two children. I feel both paths are a legitimate path to the Bliss and the heaven our Lord has to offer. I know there are as many paths as individuals and that all are guided in their own unique way. May we continue to inspirer each other on our exclusive journeys with love and bring as many of our Christian brothers and sisters to the universal love, joy and mind of Christ.

 

I enjoyed your thoughts Soma as they reflected what I perceive to be a real wisdom. And I agree that we don't actually need sex. I would say, although I have no proof, that our sexuality reflects a greater desire for union with the Divine nature. Or perhaps to state it differently, there is more to sexuality than the physical act of intercourse. A monastic renunciation of sex is profound, as the monk is freed to pour all his energies into a relationship with and reliance on God. I am reminded of the Sufi mystics whose relationship with God is that of a lover and her Beloved.

 

On another note, the monastic path is one that continually provokes my interest and admiration. But ultimately the circumstances of our lives must determine our path, and monasticism is simply not a viable option for me at this point for health reasons. For me the important thing is not to be attached to this life, which means to let go of a false self and discover one's self as it truly exists before God.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Love comes sailing through and I scream. Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.

Love puts away the instruments

and takes off the silk robes. Our nakedness

together changes me completely.

Rumi

 

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou

...Beside me singing in the Wilderness--

Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!

Omar Khayyam

 

Unending Love

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times...

In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Rabindranath Tagore

 

 

When I Go Alone at Night

When I go alone at night to my love-tryst

birds do not sing, the wind does not stir, the houses on both sides of the street stand silent.

Rabindranath Tagore

 

Keep Me Fully Glad

Keep me fully glad with nothing. Only take my hand in your hand.

In the gloom of the deepening night take up my heart and play with it as you wish.

Rabindranath Tagore

 

 

this secret union takes place in the deepest centre of the soul, which must be where God Himself dwells, and I do not think there is any need of a door by which to enter it. I say there is no need of a door because all that has so far been described seems to have come through the medium of the senses and faculties… But what passes in the union of the Spiritual Marriage is very different. The Lord appears in the centre of the soul, not through an imaginary, but through an intellectual vision (although this is a subtler one that that already mentioned), just as He appeared to the Apostles, without entering through the door, when He said to them: "Pax vobis" {cf. John 20:19,21}. This instantaneous communication of God to the soul is so great a secret and so sublime a favour, and such delight is felt by the soul, that I do not know with what to compare it, beyond saying that the Lord is pleased to manifest to the soul at that moment the glory that is in Heaven, in a sublimer manner than is possible through any vision or spiritual consolation. It is impossible to say more than that, as far as one can understand, the soul (I mean the spirit of this soul) is made one with God, Who, being likewise a Spirit, has been pleased to reveal the love that He has for us by showing to certain persons the extent of that love, so that we may praise His greatness. For He has been pleased to unite Himself with His creature in such a way that they have become like two who cannot be separated from one another: even so He will not separate Himself from her.

Saint Teresa of Avila

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