I understand that what I wrote in the previous reflection can be quite surprising to many. I wrote about the beauty and importance of a deliberate “lifting up” of the experience of sexual intimacy into the sphere of tenderness. I said that in the sexual embrace, because of original sin, there is a particular tendency towards brutality, towards animality, towards giving in to the forcefulness of instinct, but that this can be deliberately restrained, precisely to allow the personal dimension itself to emerge and the bodily experience to be re-integrated into the freedom of the spirit and the true affirming and cherishing love between two persons. Concretely, I said that the sexual embrace should occur with a profound restfulness, in a simple “holding” of two persons together, in which the urge to give in to any kind of forcefulness is deliberately restrained.
This way of living the sexual embrace seems to me to be particularly transparent to the form in which sexuality will be lived in the virginal consummation of eternity, as well as to the deep tenderness of the Gospel and of the intimacy of the Trinity itself. Concretely speaking, it also seems that it would have a number of beautiful consequences for the very experience of sexual intimacy between two persons: 1) There will be a greater continuity, in experience, between the “virginal,” chaste expressions of tenderness in the relationship between husband and wife, and the particularly intense expression of sexual union. In other words, it will not be experienced as an entirely “other” kind of intimacy, but as a simple intense expression of the same personal embrace shared in the whole of their life. Here the sexual embrace, rather than operating by radically different laws than the rest of life, is at last drawn into the space—where it was always meant to be—where it is allowed to unfold wholly according to the same laws, according the same mystery of loving attunement and tender surrender, that permeates the whole of human life and indeed the entire universe itself, as all things are an expression of the inner life of the loving and creative Trinity. 2) This gentleness of the sexual embrace allows the union between the two, indeed, to last longer, to be more prolonged, and thus to manifest the abiding nature of their love and mutual cherishing. Of course, length should in no way be sought as a goal, but rather simply the joy of togetherness in love, the deep and heartfelt attunement of each person to the other in authentic tenderness, in a receptive listening to the slightest spiritual tremors of the other person, not fundamentally on the level of the body, but rather in the whole being of the other person, and primarily the spiritual person, in which the body, too, alone has its place. 3) The deliberate restraint of the intensity of the physiological processes of sex thus allows a deeper intensity of mutual presence to emerge, a deeper listening, not just to the body of the other person, but above all to their subjectivity, to their inner experience of love and affirmation, of security and self-donation (which is also revealed in and through the body but also beyond it).
4) This also reveals the particularly “cruciform” nature of all love in this fallen world, renewed and liberated as it is through the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. The deliberate attitude of restraint, of self-control, of attentiveness to the other—we could say of sacrifice—in the very sexual embrace, brings to the fore the subjective resonance of both persons and the interpenetration of their conscious experience, and not only the interpenetration of their bodies. There is, in other words, a kind of “restrained intensity” which is indeed a particular characteristic of all deep and authentic love, and a trait of God’s activity itself within his creation. It is, after all, proper to the human person as a spiritual being that surrender is not a sheer “letting go” and being carried along—particularly by the processes of the body—but rather a “gathering together” and interior unification in the very living response to the beauty and value that touch me from the outside.
5) This restrained intensity I spoke about, also, allows a very tangible attunement to the experience of sexual climax in its physiological expression, which, ideally, occurs in harmony with the conscious, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of the person—and indeed for both persons in proximity to one another in the mutual attunement of each with one another on every level of their being. This is because the uncontrollable physiological movements of the orgasm, when held tenderly and gently within the utterly chaste embrace of two persons as I have described, will be particularly tangible and particularly transparent to both persons. This will allow them, indeed, to “feel” one another more deeply in the interior resonance of their hearts communicated through the body.
In greater detail, I would say that this restrained intensity and gentleness of mutual holding allows the persons to attune to one another in a much more personal way, to listen to the throbbing of the other’s heart (both physically and spiritually!). It allows them to communicate in word and gaze during the sexual embrace, and in particular to let the movement towards sexual climax occur, together between the two persons, as the fruit of a deep personal attunement on the level of the heart, and not as the result of a kind of apex of pleasure or sexual excitement. The body itself corresponds with the attunement of the heart in precisely this way. For indeed, in the way that God designed the sexual embrace, the body of the woman, in her own spontaneous, receptive pulsation in the orgasmic movement, directly mirrors and evokes the donating pulsation of the man. Thus each person will unleash the orgasm in the other, such that both will climax together since the climax in one “initiates” the other into the same experience. But whenever what happens quite spontaneously and organically in the simple throbbing of the body is “stimulated” by giving into a forceful rubbing or vigorous movement, then the attunement of bodies is inevitably lost, and one is only aware of one’s own activity in rubbing and not the actual pulsation of the other person’s body, which is meant, after all, both to manifest the throbbing of the heart and also to draw the movement towards the climax of surrender in both persons together, such that they converge in shared surrender.
This is how the lifting up of the sexual embrace into the sphere of tenderness allows the very listening to the “slightest spiritual tremors” in the other person, which John Paul II defines as the very essence of tenderness, also to be manifest in the very attunement to the slightest physical tremors in the other person’s body, which cannot, after all, be felt unless one enters into a state of stillness, gentleness, and deep, listening receptivity. Of course, the goal of this, the focus, cannot become the body itself, as I have said a number of times that explicit focus on the sexual sphere, making it a “theme,” inherently obscures the person. Rather, the movement here is the opposite. Whenever the sexual sphere is deliberately lifted up into the loving and cherishing embrace of two persons in deep tenderness, then even the body begins to spontaneously speak the word of attunement, of harmonious surrender, which occurs fundamentally in the spirit and in the heart to heart attunement of two persons to one another.
All of this beautifully reveals, incarnate in the very living of the sexual embrace, one of the most fundamental premises of this book: that the primary attitude of love, both for the man and the woman, is not activity, not giving, but an abiding receptivity to be touched and moved by the other. It is precisely the presence of the other person, and not my own initiative or activity or “doing,” which truly unseals in me the authentic reciprocal gift, which in fact can only spring forth from within me as a response to the gratuitous gift that touches me from the outside. As I have said, true surrender of self, in its highest expression, is not something that I myself can fashion by the force of my own will, nor is it a dragging down by giving in to the lower impulses of the body, but rather a deep unsealing by being touched by value and beauty outside of myself. It is quite touching therefore that even in the sexual embrace, even in the orgasm, despite the inclination towards obscuring that inheres in it because of sin, it is actually possible to in some way, even if imperfectly, “recapture” the authentic nature of surrender even in the spontaneous movements of the body, when the body itself is gently drawn back entirely into the personal and spiritual sphere by the restrained, tender, and deliberate resting of two persons together in an affirming and loving embrace.