Thursday, February 22, 2018

strange inertia of love

We must be cautious who we let into our beds and into our prayers.

We share our sofas with many friends, we open our table to acquaintances, yet there are so many spaces where we live alone. We are used to living in the private of our hearts. When we let someone into those private recesses, we learn that we can. The invitation to enter is acknowledgement that there is indeed space to enter, and it can truly be shared. We learn that someone can fit into the space beside us as we pray before the tabernacle. We learn that as we stand before the throne of God, we can stand with someone else. The powerful intimacy of that inclusion bring us to life in a new way—we didn’t know that these moments, these spaces could be shared.

Letting someone into your living room or your dinner table is a sacred act of hospitality where the host often unwittingly entertains angels (Hebrews 13:2). These hospitable encounters, however, pass quickly, layered under the dust of many meetings which accrue in the public spaces of our homes. We take fewer people, however, into our hearts, our arms, and our beds. Their bodies remain in our memories far longer than the stray dinner guest, their presence lingers markedly even through their absence. Thus, who we go about inviting in, who we fall in love with, who we make the organizing principle of our lives matters. It matters because they do not go away. 

I used to be so befuddled by couples who persisted in their relationship when neither of them were happy. Objectively, from the outside, I have long operated thinking: if this isn’t right, just leave. From my happy perspective as a rational human being, I couldn't possibly understand what inertia was keeping these two lost souls together. I think I can now sympathize with couples caught in relationships they cannot seem to end. Because the inclusion of another in our lives is fundamentally sacred. They may be a stupid, misogynistic omphaloskeptic and the exhibit A of every Roxane Gay think piece. But they are a human being, imago Dei nonetheless, and the objective act of welcoming them into the sacred, intimate, private moments where we are generally alone has the objective sacredness of heaven which requires caution. Perhaps the only correct response to their ritual of leave-taking is good riddance and amen, but their passing from our lives demands a mourning useless to resist.

There is something devastatingly unnatural about allowing a person to fit next to us inside our heart, to make room for them as we sit before the throne of God together, and then removing them from the inner court of our interior castle. To open your life to a person, to make room for them in all the places we do not regularly make room for people, and then to find yourself alone there again is jarring. Even if they never quite followed us there emotionally, even if they never matched our heights of spirit or plumbed the depths of our hearts, they were with us physically in the quiet moments of prayer and sleep, and that counts for something. It counts for quite a bit. It, in its own way, is a painful apologia for the hylomorphic human. We are our bodies, too, not just our quiet souls. To grant another access our body is to grant them access to our elusive souls. From this new access rises an abscess. There is a gaping hole that demands to be filled—if not with the missing person, then someone else.

Bringing an other into the deep and private spaces of our hearts is a sacred act of intimate and abiding beauty. Bringing someone into the deep inner rooms open up spaces of intimacy we previous did not know existed. When they leave us, we are left with an impotent revelation. I never used to understand the drive to find a new relationship once the old relationship had fizzled. It indicated a pathetic lack of independence and self-reliance, I thought. Now, I think it is simply to be at the radical mercy of our half-empty hearts, seeking an irreplaceable space to be filled.

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