There is a divide that must be crossed here and from a cultural and psychological point of view it is as large as the Grand Canyon. It is not just that nudity in a lot of western culture is not accepted but that even among nudists there is a difference of opinion as to whether or not communal spiritual nakedness is genuinely possible. There is a genuine concern here that must be explored if we are to go further and explore the concepts of nudity in the church as part of spiritual life. First we must deal with communal nudity they we may have or already be practicing and then second we must deal with the obstacles to genuine communal spiritual practice and how they might be overcome. I must stress at this point, this is beyond my actual life experience other than a few moments I will make mention of in this post.
I think we must understand that in the western world of privacy in our own homes, there has probably been some spirituality in group taking place. The fact is we have found ourselves at times naked or near naked with family members and even friends and we would have to say, if we were honest with ourselves, that the experience was both spiritual and positive.
1) Spouses – I think this is an obvious place to start because it is probably the one place that most Christians even in the fundamentalist camp actually might acknowledge that spirituality does indeed take place. Being naked with a spouse is acceptable in most church ideologies. The fact is that this can and often does transcend sex. Sex may be a part of it, but it is those getaways where you are naked for more than sex and that often translates to a spiritual bonding that is quite intimate. This of course also opens up the possibility of naked spirituality with a spouse. Praying, Meditating, Worshiping and Reading Scripture together is often a cornerstone of stronger Christian marriages. Paul in 1st Corinthians talks of breaking from sexual relationships to pray and fast together. Is it possible that all these activities could be enhanced if nudity is added as part of the discipline? The naked and unashamed aspect that should be present in a married couple is more than about comfort and sexual activity, it is about spiritual vulnerability and openness with each other as well as God.
2) Family – Perhaps the most common time of family nakedness is when children are young. I think every one of my children received their first bath with either me or my wife with them in the tub. My wife would try to save time by bathing my two boys together at times. Growing up myself, my father was always accused by my mother as being a nudist. Dad had a tendency to shed clothes after he got out of work and I know he slept naked most of the time and he very rarely bothered to put on clothes when he got up in the middle of his sleep to use the bathroom. As a family we would go up to the cabin in the Upper Peninsula and there was a sauna that my whole family enjoyed naked (mom included). Skinny dipping was a necessary cool off after those times. Those things started to end when I hit puberty as my mom felt a little uncomfortable about them. Dad and I however continued on with my male cousins and uncles for some time.
My point is we all have some sort of story like these and often it is growing up and having these moments that shape our understanding of family. Whether this is truly spiritual or not, I suppose could be questioned, but if you have a broader context of spirituality then perhaps you consider the connections formed to be both familial and spiritual, then you might have the right idea.
3) Athletics / Gym Class – Yeah, the locker room might be considered a naked communal moment. In most contexts this is about the same-sex being together. It is these moments that often cement the relationships of a team after a hard game or practice and taking the proverbial shower is part of that. It is the dusting off the grime of an athletic contest and looking forward to the next fresh that could be considered at least communal nudity. Not sexual at all at least for me it wasn’t. It is my being an athlete over the years that generally allows me to accept naked men without too much thought about it. Naked women are of course a different story. My guess is that female athletes would look at it in the opposite direction or they may look at it completely differently all together. It is interesting though that female teams seem to have more naked group pictures then men do. If somebody could explain that one to me who is a female athlete, I would greatly appreciate it.
What I want to point out here is we have all had even in very limited senses naked communal experiences. The nudist has simply recognized that this does not necessarily mean either embarrassment or sexuality. Communal nudity can simply be a simple pleasure and a positive experience as well. True, there are negative communal nudity experiences as well, but if we are completely honest with ourselves not all of them are.
There are obstacles however to spiritual communal nudity that are real and must be addressed if any possibility of seeing the truth on this issue is to prevail. Like personal naked practice in the spiritual disciplines, community naked disciplines are not necessarily for everyone. Like it or not , these disciplines can be dangerous if the wrong people practice them.
Some obstacles to community spiritual nudity:
1) Nudity Could Be Distracting – Because we are not used to nudity as part of spiritual practice, it could be the focus instead of a means to achieving spiritual awareness with others. I think this is where people who grow up in the nudist lifestyle or in a family that practices nudism might have the advantage in this area. It takes a while for nudity to start to seem normal, especially if your new to it. It may actually be far more helpful to engage in community in general for a while until nudity in others becomes more common to a person’s mind before attempting corporate spiritual disciplines. I know for myself not being a nudist, I would have great difficulty at first just accepting nudity as a regular part of my surroundings although I suspect that Robert Heinlein is right in saying that the easiest nudity to accept in community is our own personal nudity. In any case, branching out to being spiritual with people is not just a question of acceptance of their nakedness but of them as people. It is far more productive to worship, etc. with people that we know well regardless of clothing status.
2) Exhibitionism – This is the other side of distraction where the distraction is intentional. In the prayer closet, there is no way to show off but in the context of community prayer, the whole focus could be – ‘see how wonderful we are, we can pray naked and you can’t’. The real problem might simply be that those that are worshiping naked want it to be about nakedness instead of about God. This is the chief objection of non-nudists to naked worship is that being nude would be about drawing attention to self instead of God. This would be particularly true if everyone is clothed and a single person or couple comes into service nude. Sorry, even if everyone were a nudist, there would still be some sense in everyone that the couple would be saying – ‘look at me’. Nudity is the most effective when it is done in humility, just like any other spiritual discipline.
3) Religious and Cultural Non-Acceptance – The simple fact remains that western and religious culture is going to have a real hard time with a naked church. Most Christians would view such a church as justifying sin or attempting to combine paganism and Christianity. I recall my advice to my friend who wanted to know what to say to his girl about being topless on the beach. Better make sure no one back her in the USA finds out or you will never be able to attend church where you attend again. Nudity and corporate spiritual disciplines are probably always going to be practiced by the few and minority not the majority of Christians. That minority can also expect to be misrepresented, maligned and rejected. If this is something you cannot accept, then you better practice this in absolute secrecy (which in today’s age is tremendously difficult) or don’t bother at all.
4) Lack of Spiritual Maturity – Honestly, there are some people who simply do not have the spiritual maturity for prayer in community let alone practice nudity in community. There needs to be some deep soul-searching before engaging in nudity with others. Are you mature enough to view nudity as a means of approaching God and not view nudity as the focus of your worship? If you say ‘no’, it does not necessarily mean you cannot practice it, just be aware at that point you are not engaging in nudity because your are mature enough to handle it but that you are using it to become mature enough to handle it.
This is of course true with all spiritual disciplines, but nudity is not a common practiced spiritual discipline and many people simple do not view it that way. This leaves the person who would like to practice corporate nudity in a spiritual context only a few of options: 1) Secrecy, 2) being part of a community full-time where there is a place of worship or 3) gaining the means in life so that no matter what, the repercussions will not affect them or their family even into the future. All of these are not easy to gain and in some cases might be impossible.
At this point in this series I am beyond the realm of my personal experience, so anyone who has such experiences is more than welcome to comment to help my ignorance.
Next: Naked Worship with Others