Monday, June 9, 2008

Seeking the Unrepeatable in Another

What would the world be like if “misunderstandings” ceased to exist? What if every person you met understood you completely upon meeting you? Taking this a radical step further, what if everyone loved you in that understanding? Do we not feel at the core of our being a deep-seated desire to be understood as we are? Unfortunately, perceptions of others do not unmistakably mirror the desires of our heart. The “noise” of the world and the distortions of life that we have experienced collide with our desires and wreaks havoc with them, often times leaving a fundamental part of who we are unrecognizable to the other.

While this portrait may appear somewhat grim, it does not need to be. There is good news! Behind the desire to be understood is the profound longing to be loved “unrepeatedly.” Each one of us is a unique person created from the infinite loving wisdom of God. We are unique and unrepeatable. This unrepeatable dimension to each human being is literally chiseled into our bodies down to the seemingly irrelevant thumb print. Our bodies bear witness to the unrepeatable person, extending an invitation to be loved in a similarly unique and unrepeatable way. Unfortunately, Original Sin has darkened the body’s ability to proclaim the unrepeatable person by proposing to us that there is a disconnect between our spiritual and sensual self. Herein lay the origin of the conflict between the world and the desires of human nature.

However, in the beginning it was not so! Adam saw Eve and immediately proclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2. 23-24). In 21st century language Adam is saying, “From the moment you created me Lord I have felt some kind of void, a desire to be understood. You blessed me with all the animals in the world, but even after naming them the void remained; they were different than me for they could not understand me. The very physicality of my body visually proclaims the deepest desires of my heart; the desire for complete personal communion. Alas, this desire is fulfilled in this woman who stands before me. I see immediately stamped upon her body the unrepeatable person which differs from all creation. It is this unique woman whom I love and desire to serve!”

Adam could look at Eve with perfect integrity! This is what is meant in Genesis 2.25 when Scripture speaks of Adam and Eve being naked without shame. Our first two parents were able to unhesitatingly and always see the unique, unrepeatable person in the body of the other.

We also know that such perfect integrity did not last long. Seven verses later we hear after The Fall, “. . .and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Gen. 3.7). After taking action to serve themselves rather than serve their God, something fundamentally changed within Adam and Eve’s relationship. They could remember the prior integrity of the body revealing the person, but now they felt something very different; enough to the point of clothing themselves due to the new experience of shame. Adam no longer viewed Eve as an unrepeatable subject to prize, but rather a repeatable object to be utilized for his own satisfaction! This is what we have inherited from our first parents. As St. Paul bone-chillingly cries, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Rom. 7.24).

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7.25)! Notice how St. Paul places these dramatic verses back-to-back. Yes, we are wretched indeed. I want to love perfectly but I fall short. Thinking exclusively in terms of our fallen nature, we are left with only two options: First, we can simply succumb to our distorted desires believing that this will be the best we can ever be. Second, we could just repress the desire. Unfortunately such repression becomes a sleeping giant waiting to be released in terrible ways. But to the Christian there is a third way, and it is a beautiful way! God took on a human body so that the human body may be lifted into and participate in the eternal exchange of divine love which is perfect eros (passion) and agape (will). God has extended us a gift! He has lovingly offered us a way to love the other freely and without distortion; to see the unrepeatable person in the body of another!

An important question remains. How do we tap into this divine gift? The gift is preeminently offered to each and every one of us through the sacramental life of the Church. In the sacrament of baptism we are placed into the perfect body of Christ. Through the Holy Eucharist we receive the body of Christ which strengthens and heals our own bodies. Through frequent confession we rely on the fact that the redemption of our own bodies is not by our own accord! The battle has been fought and won; we need only to receive the gift of redemption. I pray that each of us will be able to find time each day to stand still before the Lord. To open our hearts to Him who is the exclusive healer of our distorted desires. If we can muster the strength to remove that fig leaf from ourselves before God, by the Grace of God we may one day be able to see the unrepeatable of the other with our own eyes as Adam beheld Eve! How beautiful that day will be!

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