Learning to live beyond the Shadows

 

shade-tree

When I was married, one of my favorite poems was the following by Kahlil Gibran:

“You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.

Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

 

 

“Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

wave 3

 

 

“Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

 

I thought about this poem the other day, as I have this growing awareness of my singleness and aloneness in this world.   Not loneliness, for I have friends who truly embrace me and reach me out.

I simply don’t know.  I don’t know how to be a single man.  I was so young when I last fell in love, was married, that I have trouble remembering what singleness means.  And what I remember makes me recoil.

I remember feeling incomplete, thinking that somehow God’s best for me was in a relationship.  That God’s dream was marriage, family, children.

To be honest such thinking at points wreaked havoc the marriage I had, a marriage to a wonderful woman, but a marriage that did not fit the ideal.   Though we loved children and wanted to be parents, this is not the cards life dealt us.  We had one time my wife was pregnant and she lost the child, only to discover pregnancy was not safe for her or any babies we might have.

We experienced parenthood only by metaphor, in the lives she and I touched in our ministries, our service to the hurting, in mentoring the broken.  There are ones who were like children to her and are like children to me.   But it is not the image that was blazened on my mind as a child.

Now I find myself single again, not buying the image I was given.

Lone Tree In Mist And Sunlight; Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland

In fact the one thing that is in this once favorite poem which drips with irony, to which I want to scream and yell in sarcasm and anger is this line:  “You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.”  We did not, as the poem cruelly envisions, stay together until the wings of the morning carried us both to the other world.  The wings carried her.   And I was left, like Elisha standing over the empty clothes.  Like the Marys and John looking at an empty corpse of a tomb, graveclothes scattered and left aside.  Her resurrection morning came, and yet I am here.

Being left here makes me reconsider my days.  How I’ve lived.

I would not trade a moment of the days I had under this sun, breathing this air, my hand in hers.  That love still beats in my heart, though our lives have taken different routes: hers into the lights of glory beyond all knowing, mine continuing the daily tasks of this good earth.

I am alive.  The sunlight falls on my face.  Promise of tomorrow whispers in each wind that blow in my ear.  I have to find how to live.

broken heart 2A part of this poem does speak to me.  It talks of learning a strength of being in relationship and standing on one’s own:

“Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Ahh, cruel poet, whose words drip with irony.  I hear you.

This is my task now.  Not in relationship of marriage, but in life, to learn.  To learn to stand like a tall tree, spreading my leaves and branches.  To learn to stand tall like a temple pillar.

Now I look at me so young, so certain, and realize.  Marriage was a gift.  But not a destiny.  I am more than husband.  I am more than lover.  I am more than spouse.

Part of me hopes some day to love again.  To live again.  God knows, there are gorgeous women in my life.  God knows, I have a lot to give.

tree of lifeBut I also feel a call from this good earth.  A call in every cell of my being.  To learn.  To learn to live in this world, strong and secure, as me.

I said once in my journal that I am finding I am a different man than the boy I knew who fell so hard for this lady of Los Angeles.  I have opinions that shock me, drives that dazzle me, courage that confounds me.   I have a strength borne of years with one who believed in me more than myself.  The greatest gift I find of my marriage is a confidence she taught me.  Believing in myself finally, after so long.

I feel that now I need to learn a holiness of being myself.   Like the tree that spreads its branches, pushing down deep its roots, I do not need to become or be any one’s shadow, though she dazzle me or confound.   I never felt that way in my marriage, but I thought marriage was arrival.  Marriage for me was but one step on a journey, a walk through the winding trees and showering starlight of this dream of God’s fanciful design.

Now I feel a call to discover what many feel our Lord knew.   Though there are some who feel Jesus married either a man or a woman, most scholars and traditions imagine Jesus, the emblem of humanity, the avatar of God who reveals the Christian path in life, God as us with us to dwell Christ our living Immanuel, not as living in the thing I was to dream was ideal: marriage, parenthood, family.

No Jesus was in most traditions and interpretations viewed as the single man, without wife or husband, without children or biological heirs.   He is always pictured in the Gospels, with rare possible exceptions, as friend, not lover.

Even if Jesus did marry, as some say, his husband or wife was not the one whose relationship shaped his days.  They are not remembered in any clear way in the Gospels, even if some allusions and glimpses appear as in a foggy mist.  Rather his friendship.  His service.  His solitary journeys to the land of Spirit in wilderness, water, and word.

I feel that such a discovery is life-changing for me.   I have felt as if the dream that was my reason for existence has shattered.  I lost not only a wife, but my world as well.

I told some friends that for these long years, not just the 12 of our marriage but the 13 in which we were closest companions, I have lived in many places yet home has always been where she was.  I have told them that at times I feel I am adrift now, no longer at home in my world, everywhere a stranger.

This is beginning to change.  I am beginning to find how to have true for me all the pretty words we say in prayer about making God my home, which is to say finding myself at home again in my own life.

black sacred heart of jesus

Jesus knew this in his sacred singleness or , if married, even in his living out of this strength in his own self like Kahlil pictures even while in relationship.  Jesus was always, ever, at home in his world.  When he said foxes have holes, birds of the earth nest, but the Son of Man no place to lay his head, even then while sleeping beneath the stars, Jesus was truly at home.  He was at home for he had befriended not just sinners; not just Peter, James, and John; not just the 12 in their wanderings; but his deepest self.   My call in this moment is to embrace singleness not as a curse thrust on me from the capricious Deity of my childhood whom I have long rejected as a fairy tale monster imagined to frightened our inner children into mindless, lifeless denial of self, but instead as a call to befriend, like Jesus did, my deepest Self.

Richard Rohr tells us in his book What the Mystics Know, that our deepest self is in fact where we find within us the living pure reflection of God as it lives in our own life, heart, and soul.   To me this is why and how Jesus is a man in whom God comes as man with people to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.  It is not for me because of any circumstances of his birth, specialness of his mother’s sex life, but instead that he lives his whole life in perfect tandem with his deepest self.

It is fitting that in some religions the name for God is a form of the name for self or being.   For when we truly find who we are, truly embrace the essence of our being, we become in our own small way like Christ was and is, a living expression of all that is Sacred and holy.  We become the bearers of God in this world, the ones who do as Rumi said in one of his great poems and birth the Christ into the world out of our own lives.

This can happen if I fall in love, whether I marry, date, live with some wonderful woman without marriage, or remain single the rest of my days.   But first I must heed the call of singleness, embracing these days as a gift in which I can rekindle my knowledge of and friendship with my deepest self.

Whatever place you find your life in today, may you hear the call to do the same.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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