See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity
By Amy Frykholm
(Beacon Press: 2011), 184p.
Something is amiss at the intersection of body and soul for American Christians. It seems that church folks at large have not yet learned how integrate their sexuality into their spirituality. We are told that God made this good earth but we should forward to the day when we will “fly away” to our heavenly home. We are taught that sex is God’s gift that we should be terrified of and avoid until marriage, at which point we should expect to be magically transformed into experts of passion.
Amy Frykholm offers See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity as a deep, attentive look into the stories of nine people for whom the oxymoronic relationship between sex and spirit has become unsustainable or even deadly. By hearing these folks tell their stories, a way begins to emerge for embracing our given wholeness as created beings.
Frykholm divides the book into three thematic sections: Wilderness, Incarnation, and Resurrection. In the Wilderness section, we hear from people who, for numerous reasons, could not find themselves at home within the paradox of conventional Christian sexual ethics. In the second section, Incarnation, the interview subjects discover what it means to be embodied beings. The final section, Resurrection, the reader hears stories of those whose sexual experience has been one of death-dealing abuse or addiction where the journey toward wholeness necessarily involves some kind of rebirth to a new way of living and being in the world.
The author tenaciously avoids the temptation to slip into moralizing or casting judgment. She simply lets the stories stand as they are. In the concluding chapter, she presents “wonder” and “pleasure” as a bare-bones point of departure toward an authentic, affirming, and embodied sexual ethic that takes body and soul seriously as one tries to live in honesty and fidelity toward self, neighbor, and the divine.
The most remarkable thing about this book is the way that the author finds unity in diversity. The individual subjects and their experiences are as different as could be. Nevertheless, I was able to personally identify something in each person’s story that touched my own. This fact by itself is healing. Sexuality is, in part, about intimacy: It is the act of being close to and open with another human being. The first great truth I gleaned from this book is that I am not alone in my own struggle to integrate sex and spirit. Even those whose stories are so different from mine are engaged in a similar process.
I also appreciate how Frykholm resists the temptation to apply a normative theological or moral template to these experiences. There is not one “right” way to be simultaneously sexual and spiritual. However, she does not dismiss the ethical dimension entirely. She simply acknowledges that there is work we must do to embrace our own “is-ness” before we seek out the “ought-ness” of our nature. Gracious acceptance is the foundation of an authentic sexual ethic, as it should be for any theological or moral statement that claims to be Christian.