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God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity'
God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity'
Sarah Coakley
Cambridge University Press, 2013
384 pp., $30.99

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Alan G. Padgett

Theology as Prayer

Sarah Coakley on sex, desire, and the Trinity.

We Christians have a love-hate affair with bodies and with desire, or at least that has been true for most of us for most of our history. To be sure, the Bible embraces our embodied existence, but Christian theology and spirituality have been ambiguous, at best, about the flesh and its desires. It is high time to think again about sex, gender and our human bodies theologically.

One of the most brilliant theologians writing in English today is Sarah Coakley. She would change our reticence about these topics.[1] In this new odyssey, begun with her first of five volumes, Coakley grounds her systematic theology in prayer and spiritual experience. Among various types of prayer, she focuses especially on contemplative prayer: prayer without words, images or thoughts. Contemplative prayer is a deep listening to God, a focused attention on the Lord which is found at the center of a whole way of life. This way of life in turn is centered on our spiritual desire for God. Because we seek to know God in a deep and personal way, this gives us a re-orientation of desires and loves that includes God, the neighbor, and ourselves, body and soul. In making this move to fund knowing God theologically through prayer and spiritual disciplines (including our mind, flesh and heart), she re-casts the very idea of a systematic theology.

Hence this is an "unsystematic systematic theology," not a purely academic exercise in organizing propositions derived from Scripture. Systematic theology for Coakley is not a science, either in the contemporary or Scholastic sense. Yet she does not ignore contemporary sciences; in fact, she argues theologians must engage them. She rightly sees Christian theology as something different, a rational and spiritual discipline that is holistic, forming a part of transformed lives and communities, not excluding academia but not narrowly focusing on that either.

In keeping with her focus on contemplative prayer, Coakley argues that theology is never ...

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