October 7, 2012
Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 2:18-24; Mark 10:2-16
I’ve been thinking lately of Adam’s loneliness. His enormous loneliness.
Of the beauty of the garden. Of the rivers and the trees.
But Adam is alone. There is no one like him, and so the Lord makes animals for the man, to keep him company, all the animals of the earth, and Adam names them and he lives with them and he has this wonderful intimacy with them and with all of nature. But he is still lonely. He is still alone.
And so the Lord makes Adam fall asleep, and He makes for Adam someone like him, a person, bone of his bone, rib of his rib, he makes the woman, and when Adam wakes and he sees the woman, when he lays his eyes on her for the first time, he says the first words anyone says in the Bible, any human being, and those words are poetry. They are words of thanksgiving and praise: at last! At last!
But I think Adam is still alone. I think he still feels a deep loneliness, because we all do, and not just because he and his wife eat of the tree they shouldn’t eat and then are exiled from the garden and must labor and suffer. I think even at the best of moments, even when he and Eve are at peace with each other, when Eve has done all a woman can do for a man and Adam has done all a man can do for a woman, even then they are lonely. Because what they most long for no other person can satisfy. What they most long for nothing on earth can satisfy.
And that’s what I think the relationship between two people is really about. I think it’s about both presence and absence.
The problem with the people who challenge Jesus in the Gospel today is that they’re thinking of marriage just in human terms, in terms of contracts. What Jesus wants them to see is that human relationship is more than that, too, or implies more than that. It has a spiritual dimension, or should, and so it shouldn’t be subject to these petty little loopholes and academic arguments. Marriage is a big deal, Jesus is saying, because in the eyes of the person we love we see not just our own reflection but a hint of God himself, like Dante in the Earthly Paradise when the nymphs lead him to the eyes of his beloved, to Beatrice, and in them he sees the image of the Griffon, the symbol of Christ.
But also not. Also not. There’s always something missing. Something not there.
I’ve been feeling this loneliness myself lately, this long loneliness, even though I’m very blessed in my marriage and feel more and more blessed as I get older. So many people struggle with their spouses and are hurt by them and I feel for these people and don’t know what to say. I certainly don’t think I can take credit for anything here, except maybe for my persistence. Ever since I first saw Barb in the band room, in her yellow miniskirt, I have known a thousand years are but a day.
But lately I’ve been feeling lonely. I’ve felt alone. Maybe it’s because all our kids have moved far away. Maybe it’s because our house is empty. Maybe it’s because we’re all getting older. But I walk in the woods, and the sun is shining and the leaves are falling, and still I feel this loneliness now and then, the loneliness of Adam, the loneliness of Eve, and I think that maybe this is good and right.
Barb herself said it to me the other day. She said: you’re lonely for God.
Yes. That’s it. I am lonely for God.
One thing marriage has taught me, C. S. Lewis says, in A Grief Observed, thinking back on his sexual relationship with his late wife:
"I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few years we feasted on love, every mode of it. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love we ought to have lost all interest in him. Who’d bother about substitutes when he has thing itself? But that isn’t what happens. We both knew we wanted something besides one another—quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want."
Isn’t that a fascinating paragraph? Isn’t that true? I don’t complete Barb and she doesn’t complete me but together we help each other seek completion in God. I’ve been reading Ruth Burrows lately, too, an English Carmelite, and she puts it this way: “Whereas even the richest human friendship, even that which has truly made one flesh of two, is only part of an existence and life, our relationship with God is our very meaning as human beings.”
We can run away from our loneliness and our need or we can try to cover it up or we can try to distract ourselves from it. We can find a new partner or buy a new house or buy lots of other things that make us happy for a while. But that emptiness can never be filled up really and shouldn’t be because that emptiness is the emptiness that only God can fill.
“We have to trust it utterly to God,” Burrows says. “We must be ready to believe that ‘nothingness’ is the presence of divine Reality; emptiness is a holy void that Divine Love is filling.”
Last week I served at the 5 o’clock Saturday mass, and as I was coming into the parking lot I saw a big party going on at the townhouses across the street. There was really loud music and dozens of college kids with very few clothes on playing beer pong and shouting.
I’m all for kids being kids and I’m all for a good party now and then, and these are good kids, I know—one of them is a student of mine, a good guy--but I also know that the partying at OSU is way out of hand. It’s become desperate. And I don’t see it making people really happy and really complete. I don’t see a conspicuous amount of happiness as I walk around campus in the mornings. I see loneliness. I see despair.
God wants us to be happy. The way to do the will of God is to follow our bliss, our joy. And beer pong doesn’t do it, it just doesn’t work, and neither do our own versions of beer pong, all our own ways of hiding.
But what happens in the mass is that a silence is created, an emptiness, and in that silence we can hear our own breathing. A loneliness is created, and inside it we can hear the beating of our hearts. And in that silence, and in that loneliness, we are all Adam and we are all Eve, waiting for the Lord to come walking, in the cool of the day. And He does. He does.
There are no substitutes. There are no alternatives. There are only hints. There are only things that point and suggest and reflect. And then, finally, He is here. He has come, as He is here now. Our Dearest Friend. Our Lover. Our Home. He is with us.
At last! At last!