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Recovering Our Erotic Imagination by Dale Kuehne

"We live in a society that has lost its erotic imagination." Saint Anselm Professor Dale Kuehne addresses why our society has wrongfully equated Eros with sex. Eros, as Kuehne describes is rightly defined as a "passionate love for another." Kuehne reminds us that as we approach Valentine’s Day, it is "an ideal opportunity to reconsider Eros and how we can love others well."

Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime—
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight—
Got to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time

Bruce Cockburn

Valentine’s Day provides an ideal opportunity to consider the true meaning and importance of Eros. We happen to live in a time where Eros is equated with sex. If sexual relations were the standard by which Eros should be measured, then we evidently live in the most erotic society in history. If erotic imagination was merely another way to describe sexual imagination we could lay claim to being part of most fully eroticized society in history.

All of this would be true if sex and Eros were synonymous, but they are not. Eros is defined as passionate love for another. Passionate love can certainly have a sexual component, but the two are not necessarily connected. In a world in which casual sex is commonplace, sex is often disconnected from passion. Likewise, there are many ways to express passionate love that are asexual, but if you were to ask many of my college students to cite an example, you’d, likely be met by a quizzical response or a blank expression. Indeed, the same would be true across virtually every demographic in America, including self-professed Christians.

We live in a society that has lost its erotic imagination. Eros and sex have become conflated. For many, sex is viewed as a non-issue, and therefore there is no reason to question the nature of the erotic. For those committed to sexual purity, including some Christians, Eros is dangerous because of its connection to sex. Accordingly, Eros is dangerous, because the only relationship in which Eros is “safe” is marriage. Indeed, part of the problem with Eros is that it knows no boundaries. People do not choose the subject of their passionate attraction. We find ourselves passionately attracted to people before we are married, and being married does not necessarily stop feelings of passionate attraction to those other than our spouse.

Hence, it’s time for a new kind of Valentine’s Day resolution for us all; to rediscover Eros in all of its glory. The question of our lives is not whether we will have passionate love for others, but how we will choose to express that love. In saying this I would like to reaffirm my conviction that sexual relations should be confined to marriage. The challenge of our day is not merely the challenge of recovering sexual boundaries, but rediscovering the fact that Eros is one aspect of love, and that love in all of its dimensions is Divine. The challenge of our day is to rekindle our erotic imagination. To love others well means loving them in a way that honors them as human. In one relationship, marriage, the erotic imagination and sexual expression of the erotic is honoring of the other. In all other relationships the erotic imagination can be expressed, but in ways that honor that relationship.

Admittedly, even suggesting this is dangerous. But Love is dangerous. It always has been. Love is dangerous even for God. Agape love is dangerous, as is every dimension of love, not just Eros. It’s no different for us. Passion can be dangerous. Finding healthy ways to express it presents a challenge. Prioritizing the good of others instead of manipulating them to satisfy our own desires requires great love and maturity – a true Eros

We don’t choose our attractions, nor to whom we are attracted. Eros doesn’t check to see if we are single or married before it engages us. But if all love is from God then we need to see Eros as something to be celebrated and embraced. The challenge of our day is to find healthy ways to express our love of others. Including those to whom we have passionate attraction.

Is “going there” dangerous? Yes. But evidently ignoring Eros doesn’t work either. We are all lovers in a dangerous time because we are made to feel as if our love is crime. For those of us who proclaim that our God is author of Love, it is incumbent upon us to recover every dimension of Love, including Eros. Valentine’s Day is an ideal opportunity to reconsider Eros and how we can love others well. Fully. In every dimension. We all need to know we are not just loved, but passionately loved, and sex is but a single dimension of passionate love.

We are lovers in a dangerous time.

Same as it ever was.

A Blessing.