Amber Lee's comment on the previous post really has me thinking. Amber asks, "What is whole?" That's my question, too, Amber. (Isn't it marvelous to hear the words buzzing in your head spilling from the lips of a friend? "You, too? I thought I was the only one.") What does it mean to be whole? How do we recognize it when we see it? Is 'wholeness' really what the Christian life is all about?
When I look at the life of Jesus, I think that if Jesus embodies full, authentic human life, it has very little to do with the kind of wholeness our contemporary world thinks is important. No home. No money. No prestige. If this is wholeness, it turns our notion of fulfillment on its head! And if Jesus is fully (not half!) human and fully divine, then maybe we should rethink some of our attitudes toward Christian singleness and celibacy.
Here's an area where we could really learn something from our Catholic brothers and sisters. (Did I just hear C of C gasps?) They maintain that both marriage and consecrated singleness ("holy orders") are sacramental - that is, they are visible signs of God's inward grace. Both are venues for authentic participation in the mystery of God's gracious presence. Our tendency has been to downplay one in favor of the other, but we need not do that; it's detrimental to our communities. It is not a matter of one being good and the other being better - both are equally valid expressions of discipleship. Could it be that we, single and married, need one another in order to be a community that experiences God in a full, "whole" way?
This topic is volatile. We get up in arms because it is so personal, and there's no middle ground - you're either one or the other! It is not my intention to disregard the beauty of Christian marriage. I think it is to be highly valued and celebrated. I'm glad that married people feel that they've found something so special in their relationship with one another that they want to "proselytize" the rest of us! With the now happy, formerly bitter bachelor, Benedict in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, they say, "Why art thou sad? Get thee a wife [/husband]!" I think that's hopeful! There's a reason why the biblical writers use marriage as an metaphor for God's relationship to God's people! This is Good News!
But I'd like to balance the conversation by recognizing the value of unselfish singleness in which a person has dedicated a period (or all) of her or his life to undivided service for the Lord. Paradoxically, there is "wholeness" in renunciation, and that wholeness, while it may be different, is certainly not less than what two lovers experience in their lifelong intimacy with one another. This too is something beautiful to be celebrated! Is this not Good News as well?! In fact, I think this lifestyle especially embodies the radical, upside-down-ness of the Gospel in a unique way. Why would we want to do without it?
I think that the reason it is so tempting to describe a healthy marriage as ultimate human wholeness is because there is an element of truth here. We are beings especially created for relationship and community! I've been reading a book lately that describes Christian salvation in terms of relation: relation to the triune God, to one another, and to all creation. That resonates with me. Perhaps that longing for relationship is why we speak so highly of marriage, the most intimate of human relationships. But the marriage relationship is at best penultimate, not ultimate. The wholeness in relationship that we seek cannot be found even in marriage, and we'll be disappointed if we expect to find it there. To suggest otherwise might just be idolatry. Our ultimate relation can be found no where else but in communion with the triune God, which is available fully to us all, single and married.