06 October 2006

More seriously this time...

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.

8 comments:

Jared Cramer said...

Good reflections.

I tend to agree with those who argue that humans are incomplete on their own. This is why those who choose consecrated singleness usually do so in the context of a community where they consecrate themselves to one another in mutual love and service.

And, I believe, that you may have found that for this time in your life through Amber Joy and Tera.

So, maybe the real problem isn't a devaluing of singless, but rather a devaluing of the spiritual friendship?

Donald Philip Simpson said...

Amen,... and amen...

Kelli said...

Excellent point, Jared! I read your comment and thought to myself, "How could I have forgotten about that?" Thanks for nuancing the discussion in that direction.

Tera said...

Preach it, sister.

Amber Lee said...

Kelli,

Thanks for acknowledging my concern. I am glad you brought up "relationship" because it is crucially needed by everyone. I also might add that singleness should not define lack of sexuality. This is often overlooked in the church. The married are sexual, the unmarried are not; rarely are we all celebrated for being sexual beings. Lastly, I question your use of the phrase "unselfishly single". Does this mean people who choose marriage are selfish? Please clarify.

Kelli said...

Amber - thanks for the comment. Let me clarify about the "unselfishly single" thing. I think that phrase is inserting itself from another context. Amber Joy regularly sends me links to this web-magazine put out by Focus on the Family called "Boundless." (She does it to make me mad.) There have been several articles in the magazine that accuse Christians who choose to stay single of being "selfish." I wasn't trying to imply that married people are selfish; just the inverse really - that people who choose to remain single for the purpose of serving the Lord are not selfish. Thanks for mentioning it - I can see how that little turn of phrase could be taken entirely in the opposite direction.

Amber Joy said...

Kelli, You mean you don't LIKE those articles?!

Drunken Tune said...

kelli,

You expressed an interest in talking further since our conversation over at Harvest Boston. I've been buisy these past few months, but would love to continue. Whenever is a good time, I'd love to talk. Just send an email if you want to, and we'll figure it out.

Thanks!