Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 26, 2000
Life's quest for biblical nakedness
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
The task of life is ultimately to surrender, as the Gospels define this. If you were to take all of Jesus' teachings, all that's said about belief, morality, and piety in the Gospel, and boil it down to a single precept, you could put it into one word: surrender. The Gospel asks us to surrender.
But to surrender what exactly? Our individualism, our fears, our security, and our need to stand out and be special. It asks us to surrender our agendas, ambition, anger and all those things that keep us standing alone, apart.
In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were naked, vulnerable, surrendered. To get back to that garden we need again to be in that state - the importance of creed, morality and piety notwithstanding.
Nothing in human life is as ideally structured to bring this about as is sexual intimacy. In its ideal, sexual intercourse effects this kind of surrender. Its structure is geared to bring about a state where people are again naked and unashamed, free of fear, anger and separateness. This is what Scripture means when it says that it's not good for us to be alone.
So what about us when we are alone? What about the single life and celibacy? Where does that leave those of us who don't have sex? Clearly in some danger of living too-non-surrendered a life.
The real danger in the single life and celibacy is not that someone might sometime break a vow or a commandment, though that is a danger. The bigger danger, that potentially inflicts a greater damage, is that a single person can too easily become self-absorbed, individualistic, non-surrendered and be far from naked in anything, especially intimacy. Of course, married people and many others have sex and that doesn't always and easily translate into Gospel-surrender.
So what's to be learned from this? That married or single, the inner dynamics of sexuality are meant to bring about Gospel surrender. In marriage we are meant to surrender to the many through the one, just as in a healthy single state we are meant to surrender to the one through the many. Both married people and singles need to look at their lives and see if this is happening.
I see it happening in married couples where, in effect, they have become what lovers really are, namely, empathic confessors to each other. There is a point in intimacy - I saw this in my own mother and father - where people hide nothing from each other, where there is biblical nakedness. When this happens, a certain Gospel-surrender has taken place.
Sadly this isn't often seen in marriage nor in the lives of those of us who are single and celibate. Too often we have no confessor, in that sense, and no real intimacy either. We stand unsurrendered, resistant to the nakedness of intimacy in most anything.
Obviously this begs some hard questions: Obviously too it begs for more surrender. But where and to whom exactly? Whom do we trust enough to surrender ourselves to? Perhaps no one. But then we need to keep looking because our health and salvation are largely contingent upon actuating that kind of trust. As we age, the dynamics of sexual intimacy mature too and the function of sex changes.
From puberty until our mid-30s, the need for sex, genital intimacy, dominates much of our sexuality. Then, without that imperative diminishing all that much, another need begins to take over, the need to have children. By nature and by God we are hard-wired to be parents, to get ourselves into the gene pool. Not to have children is dangerous, anthropologically and spiritually.
The need for intimacy remains, blunted sometimes by tiredness and routine, but sex now has a different purpose. In a young person the big danger is being marginalized with nobody to love. Sex is meant to get us beyond this.
As we age though, the danger reverses. We begin to claim more and more private space for ourselves. The opposite concern then becomes important: Are we becoming too comfortable being alone? Is it healthy to want your own bed for yourself at night, your own space for yourself during the day, and especially your own privacy in ambition, agenda, projects, and dreams? Is it healthy to want so unshared a life?
It's a human tragedy when an adolescent is so lonely and desperate for someone to love and surrender to that he or she turns to self-destructive behaviour or even to suicide. It's a biblical tragedy when those of us in middle-life and beyond are so comfortable being alone that we want intimacy only as a satellite addendum to a carefully guarded private world.
Socrates warned that the unexamined life is not worth living. The Gospel warns that the unsurrendered life is not biblical.