We are preparing to move, and sorting through family memorabilia can make me feel a bit melancholy. I have so many decisions about what to keep and what to throw away. I find myself frequently wondering if there is anyone besides me who would find sentimental value in an item.
So yesterday, in an effort to reconnect with one item that I know for sure I’ll be keeping, I went to a closet and pulled out a book that is nearly 150 years old.
I am the steward of an old family bible. Given to my great-great-great aunt and her husband (they married in 1867), it is now wrapped in linen. The binding is falling into crumbs, and the pages are fragile.
Inside the bible is much treasure. God’s word is there, illustrated. Tucked away in various pages through the bible, I find even more treasure: newspaper obituaries of long-gone family and friends, my great-grandmother’s temperance pledge card, advertisements, a list of the items needed to bury a woman (6 ½ yards of fabric and silk gloves, if you were wondering), bible verses written out by hand, church newsletters, leaves, floral sachets, and hair curls.
The bible usually stays wrapped up, tucked away on a shelf away from the light. Most of the time I don’t even think about it. It comes out only on rare occasions, when I’m feeling especially sentimental and when the timing is just right. I find that even though I haven’t thought about the bible in months, it is a wonderful treat to enjoy.
Just like I have done so many other times, yesterday afternoon I took the bible out of its wrapping. I admired the pages and the sheer size of the book. I read a brief passage of scripture, and then I handled all the other treasures. I wondered, again, whose blond hair has been pressed between the pages for over a century. I read the obituaries and said to myself the same thing I have for years, It’s too bad they don’t write obituaries like they used to. I looked at the advertisements and realized that I still have only a vague idea what some of the products were for.
I smiled at the temperance pledge card and wondered how old my great-grandmother was when she signed it. It occurred to me that I don’t know if she held to that pledge throughout her life or if it was just a temporary thing. I thought about the connections I have to my family as well as all the ways we are disconnected. I reminisced, greatly enjoying the family bible.
As I looked at everything, I turned the pages ever so carefully, treating it like the fragile old item it is. I thought about how this old book had been published as a true family bible, with illustrations, a dictionary, and marginal references and readings. It was made to be a living book—not a book that gets wrapped up and hidden away from sight.
But this bible is old. It is already falling apart, and I am afraid that using it more will make it lose its specialness—so I tucked the lovely treasures back into the various pages, wrapped it back up in the antique linen pillowcase, packed it back in its airtight tub, and set it back on the shelf in my bedroom closet where no daylight will shine on it.
It struck me that I used to treat sex in pretty much the same way as the old family bible.
Sex used to belong in a box in my bedroom.
Sex was extra, to be experienced only on rare occasions and when I was in a particular mood.
Kept in its box, sex was a neat and tidy little package. Even when we did take it out of its box, sex involved only a couple positions, a very limited number of activities, and only certain conditions.
When I was fully engaged in sex, I enjoyed it. I appreciated the treasures I found and wondered at the ways I was connected to my husband, even as I was aware of all the ways we were disconnected. It felt special at times, but only on rare occasions, which I thought was necessary to keep it feeling special.
When we were done, sex would be folded back up, carefully put back in its box, and placed in the deep recesses of the closet, far away from our everyday life—and far, far away from light. And I wouldn’t think about it again until some day when the mood hit me just right.
As I put away the old family bible that requires both of my hands to lift, I thought about the contrast with the bible my husband had bought me for a birthday many years ago. It is the first bible I ever allowed myself to write in, and I can easily lift it with one hand.
That bible sits on my desk, next to where I write. Every day, I pull it out, read, occasionally mark things up and sometimes make a mess of the margins, and add sticky notes to things I want to come back to later. It is a living book, one that is part of my daily life. It would never occur to me to wrap it up and tuck it away from daylight and everyday life. It isn’t less special just because it is part of my daily life. It is special because it permeates every area of my life every day.
I treat sex in my marriage now much more like my regular, living bible. I let it be messy, I keep it close by, and I access it frequently. It is a living part of my regular life, not something that gets taken out and used only on special occasions. It permeates every aspect of my life rather than being something kept in a compartment, to be brought out only on rare occasions.
Does it seem strange that I’m comparing my attitude toward sex to my attitude toward a bible? At one point, I would have thought this was incredibly wrong. The bible is godly, I would have thought. Sex is earthly and has no business being compared to a bible. I would have thought it was blasphemous to be talking about the bible and sex in the same sentence.
Then again, maybe that attitude was part of my problem all along. I looked at sex as something completely separate from God and my spiritual growth. I should have recognized the fact that God designed sex.
Embracing my sexuality was part of embracing the wholeness of myself as the woman God made me to be.
Sex is a treasure–one to be enjoyed frequently and not kept tucked away only for rare occasions.
Maybe if I make it to 100, sex will become something I only reminisce about, just as I do when I look at the old family bible. Until then, I prefer to keep it easily accessible, close at hand and special because it is so present in my life.
And when we move, it is the new attitude about sex that will be coming along with us. The old attitude will be left behind, tucked into the back corner of the closet I am leaving behind, with not a bit of melancholy.
Images by Chris Taylor