Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jesus, Christians, intimacy, and you - 2.

Last post we began to reflect on intimacy and what hinders or helps it, and that God wants us to enter into a deeply intimate, meaningful, joyful, and fulfilling life. We may still be carrying heavy baggage given us by others that cause us to be afraid of letting anyone see who we really are or see into what we are like on the inside, what we are thinking, feeling, desiring or what we find meaningful, beautiful, interesting. If when I was young a parent said "You have no will!" or a teacher said "You'll never amount to any good!" or a friend said "You're really dumb!" or the herd treated me like I had fleas, and I believed these untruths and actually became these labels; then it's as if I myself closed the door on any possibility of life, success, accomplishment, joy, love, or happiness.

It may be out of weakness, misery, sinfulness, or even wickedness that people say such terrible things to children or youth or young adults or young parents or anyone. The only way we can turn the page, get unstuck from the past, and move on into the present and into our future is by acknowledging the malice and destructiveness of the evil words or actions done to us, understand the shadows from which they came, forgive the poor, miserable souls for being in such darkness as to say or do such things to us, ask God's help to be glad to be alive right now, and take a step into our own future. God sent his Son into the world in Jesus to reveal our own goodness to ourselves; that we might take responsibility to live our life as the gift it is.

It is a very satisfying, womanly, or manly thing to do this for ourselves, and out of simple gratitude for God's gift of life to us from our conception until this very moment now accept to be delighted by our very heartbeat, breath, sight, hearing, touch, thought, and movement of soul. What a wonder my life is, what an intricate complex organism, operating with such harmony and order! What a gift I am from God to me and to the world. Why surrender all the responsibility for our present condition to others who won't perhaps care enough to change or apologize for what they did to us? Why leave our present potential and future happiness in the hands of those incompetent to build us up, when there are others who already love us or will when we meet them, and when we can be the first ones after God to love the gift of life we are being given?

So this is good news: to realize that we are created in the image and likeness of God our Father, that He intends us to take an active part in creating the person we are even at this very moment becoming, just through the decisions we allow ourselves to make. Jesus was the Son of God come to the Earth in a human life like ours, not only to reveal to us the Father's love but also to show us what that divine life can look like in a human form. In other words, we can be just like Jesus, not through our own efforts alone, but by following the path opened up for us by Jesus. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." He openly admitted owing everything to his Father, relying on his Father for all things, ever seeking to know the Father's will, and ever longing to do it.

This is the path He invites us to walk. Of course, as He lived in the world, so do we, and today, we live in a culture that hardly understands the first thing about intimacy. When one asks young people what they understand as intimacy, all too often the answer is sex. There is a general impression or misunderstanding that runs deep and wide throughout contemporary society that sex is the way to find intimacy. Why is this a misconception? Lots of factors are at work. God had a plan for human life and happiness, but we gave in to curiosity and temptation and allowed ourselves to go away from God's plan, prefering to try out and experiment with other plans, opinions, or impressions. Another reason is that sex is so very powerful that nothing can stop us from getting intoxicated and addicted to it except true intimacy.

As in other areas of life, such as furniture or artwork or clothing, the quality of authentic materials, artistry, and craftsmanship shows up the fraudulent imitation or forgery. God designed our character structure, inner dynamics, and sexuality in such a way, and invested our human sexuality with such power for tenderness, that it can be kept from becoming violent and destructive only through a lifelong commitment of marriage between one man and one woman, with at least the possibility of children. This formula allows for a delicate balance between freedom and vulnerability and saves the husband and wife from the tyranny of control or domination that tends to result from sex on demand.

The lure of addiction remains ever present in the very power of our human sexuality, and it is kept at bay only through the disciplines of awe and wonder at the power and gift of our fertility on the one hand, and of the constant effort to allow the other to see into me on the other hand. It is not intimacy when I pry into my spouse with 20 questions as soon as they open the door or open their eyes in the morning. Prying not only does not invite intimacy, but even tends to close the door on it. No, I can only wait with trust and anticipation - as I accept to bear the burden of my own self and solitude - for the moment when you will take me into your confidence and allow me that precious glimpse into you. Then I must be as Moses before God in the burning bush, take my shoes off, and know that I am standing on holy ground.

The marriage commitment can - in the light of this - be seen as a true covenant, a commitment of one's whole life to be there for the other, as husband and wife, for the rest of our lives; so that we can be there for one another and allow for these intimate moments of disclosure. Only then can the coming together in a sexual and loving embrace express something that is true, namely, that we have already uncovered each of us our self to the other this day, and recognizing each other's self as good and holy, embrace each other's self in a tenderness that focuses on the beauty of the other. In this holy moment, where God reveals his vitality and love through both of them, the husband and wife lose all awareness of their own self as they gaze into the eyes of the beloved and delight in the depths of human personhood and love concealed yet revealed in those eyes.

Their touching is not at all a grasping, but rather a reverent contact with the other in all the mystery and beauty concealed within. The encounter they have just had on this day or in recent days, added onto all their previous encounters, sharing, and living together, draws them into the depths of the other's person. Their communion elicits the desire to give oneself to the other, allowing the other to gaze into one's eyes, to enjoy one's voice, to delight in one's fragrance, to embrace one's self. Sexual union is then simply allowed to happen by the married couple as a revelling in physical union with the other that alone fully expresses each spouse's desire to be fully for the other.

This embrace is only fully true and honest when it also respects and does not interfere with the other's fertility, which is an essential part of the person, and not a disease to be treated with drugs but a gift from God to be held in awe and wonder. This holy embrace designed by God is not about sexual prowess, or about 1001 positions, or about obsession with the intensity or duration of the sexual flutter. In fact, it is not about the self at all, but rather about joining with the other in a way that honors the other and is wholly attentive to and absorbed in the other. I must tell you that all these thoughts were not at all from our retreat preacher, but from what I have learned over the years. I include them here as a necessary reality check in reference to our preacher's observation that there is much confusion today of sex as intimacy, while in fact they are two separate realities designed to be one. We are however today in grave danger of separating them to our own peril.

We can see then that true intimacy can only happen in a relationship between one person and another. If we see another only as a desirable object that can fulfill my needs or desires, then that person doesn't really exist in my eyes as a person; not yet. For a time, we may simply by coincidence happen to simultaneously consent to fulfill each other's wants, desires, or needs, but that's simply a good business transaction, juicy contract, or beneficial partnership. It is not yet a meeting of persons. As soon as one does or says something that is not agreeable to the other or declines to fulfill the other's wishes exactly when and how they want it, then it breaks down, and the "honeymoon" is over. Reality hits.

Then what? Well that's actually the first real opportunity for such a starry-eyed couple or enthusiastic friends to discover the other as a real person, different from me, and not just a reflection of my own self as in a mirror. It's my first chance to leave behind my love affair with my own self and its wants and needs, and to discover the other, and further discover within me a capacity and willingness to put the other person first, to take interest in the other even in areas that are not my preference, and to invest the energy required to discover all that I do not yet know about the other, all that the other has not yet chosen to reveal.

It's a messy thing a human being, with the result that open, honest, authentic human relationships are also messy. The beauty of it though is that the more I let you see into me, both the beautiful and the ugly, and the more I discover that you still love and accept me; then the more intimacy I experience with you - I feel you closer to me because you don't run away. As I sense your sincere interest and genuine acceptance of me, I find myself becoming willing to trust you more. The more I open myself up and allow you to see into me, the more I accept the risk that you may hurt me. The people who hurt us the most are those to whom we have revealed ourselves the most, those we have trusted the most. Such hurt is simply another test and opportunity of friendship, bringing forth the possibility of regret and repentance in the offender, and understanding and forgiveness in the offended.

Letting you see into me is really a kind of nakedness that is actually more difficult than the physical kind. Authentic human openness is a true nakedness, without which the nakedness expressed appropriately in marriage is actually a fraud or even a mockery. Openness and trust are essential to true friendship, but physical nakedness is not. In fact, overt sexual expression is inappropriate outside of the marriage relationship. This divinely revealed truth flies in the face of commonly accepted practice in our "Hollywood culture". The confusion of intimacy with sexuality leads so many to consider sexual expression as a right or necessity, but it isn't at all. What we cannot do without in order to become fully human is intimacy, but we can live this fully without genital expression.

The truth is that trust and openness expose us more than nakedness to injury. Such vulnerability deserves confidence, that is, it deserves to be kept in confidence by the friend who has been privileged to glimpse this revelation of self by the other. To betray such confidence outside of the friendship is a kind of prostitution, a kind of bartering in the fruits of intimacy in order to gain ephemeral and empty pleasures: showing off, boasting, out of pride, competitiveness, or other shallow motivation. It isn't long before such trafficking in the fruits of trust and intimacy isolates the sinner and others come to realize that the fool is not worthy of trust and deserves to find themselves alone so that they can reflect on their sin and perhaps repent and change. Otherwise, they lock themselves in their own prison of isolation, loneliness, and the misery of hell.

On the other side, it's not catastrophic if we are betrayed, or people don't like us, or someone is angry with me, or I don't meet everyone's expectations immediately all the time. Life is tough, and it's their turn to get over it. Meanwhile, I need to carry on with the adventure of living and trying to remain open at every moment to the intimacy that is possible, with God's help and love. When others hurt me, they provide me an opportunity to forgive. When I hurt others, they give me a chance to regret it, apologize, seek their forgiveness, and change.

Jesus was the freest human being ever to walk the Earth. Even his enemies admitted that He wasn't afraid of anyone, was not influenced by a person's status or wealth, was not afraid of creating a stir or scandal, or even of losing his life. It was more important for Jesus to be an honest, genuine human being that to be a model Jew who observed all the rules and practices. It's not that He deliberately ignored or threw out all the rules and practices, but rather that He prioritized attentiveness to people, to the person. He came to reveal the Father's love for people, and He called everyone to buy into this same priority.

Jesus was filled with the joy of being loved by his Father, and proclaimed that the really good news was that the Father loved everyone with the same love. In fact, He loves us so much that He is willing and eager to go so far as to feel our suffering and make it his own. God is above all things compassion for his human children. This is not the kind of message people were used to hearing. Jesus accused religious leaders of piling up on the people's backs rules that they could not observe and that in effect threw them out of the Temple, out of God's favor and presence. Meanwhile, they who were rich and resourceful could find ways to observe all these rules, with an army of servants to assist them, and they had such little compassion for people that they didn't even lift a finger to help them in their misery. That was the point of the parable of the rich man and the poor beggar who died at his door, starving.

In summary, the real question of intimacy - whether we enjoy intimacy or not - has to do with our willingness to let chosen others see into us, with the attendant risk that we will get hurt. Left to ourselves, the fear of hurt is probably too great for us to be willing to venture it, except perhaps in the exuberance of youth. Jesus has come to show us that the love of our Father revealed in Him, his Son, a love without limits, is what can fill us with the love and strength we need to venture into intimacy, to live life more fully, to give the same love we receive in Him. We may not yet be able to allow the whole world see into us and have intimacy with us as Jesus did. He fully opened Himself to the pouring out of his very life blood, and deliberately gave his life and blood as food and drink, bread and wine.

However, we are to begin today, accept to be loved by God today, and accept to love another today, and give another a glimpse into our inner person. May you be so bold and so trusting in Jesus, who is so worthy of our trust, as to engage ever more fully and deeply into this great adventure of life, and in the Spirit of God yourself become ever more fully human and divine.

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