Life Matters – 2

            We sometimes hear it said that “Everything is relative.” Philosophers and theologians can debate about whether this is true or not, but I think that everyone will agree that everything we know exists in relationship. Everything has some kind of relationship with something else. Each person had a father and a mother, a rock rests on the ground, animals eat some kind of food, planets attract one another, clouds move through the sky. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Even God has been revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Everything and even more, every person exists in a relationship.
            Not only do we exist in a relationship, but we are made for relationship. The Bible says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; …’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” We human beings were created as a relationship, and this relationship is in the image of God. Relationship is built into our very being.

            This is why loneliness is such a terrible thing. To be lonely goes against our very being. Solitary confinement is the worst form of punishment. Isolation is recognized as a psychological disorder. Someone who can’t relate to others is a deeply damaged person.
            We can’t even conceive of a being who does not exist in a relationship. In “The Lord of the Rings,” Frodo, the central figure in the story, asks who another person is. He is looking for the conventual kind of description, but his interlocutor knows that such an answer is superficial. In return Frodo himself is asked, “Who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?” Outside of our relationships, we really do not exist.
            Relationships are essential, and yet we so easily take them for granted. How often will an adult regret that they never got to know of their parents better while they were growing up. As children, the relationships we grow up in are simply part of the world around us. Until something happens, it never occurs to us to go deeper, to discover what it is that really unites us to another person. It is too easy to go through life with only superficial relationships.
            Our relationships define us. They also challenge us to grow. I cannot come to know another person deeply without growing in my knowledge of myself. As I react and respond to the other person and they react and respond to me, I am given the opportunity to discover depths within myself which I never suspected to exist. I discover in myself depths which delight me and others which distress me, but even the distressing discoveries are still a growth in the truth of who I am, and I would never have discovered them were it not for my relationship with another person. In the same way, I enable the other to discover themself in their relationship with me.
            This personal discovery of who I am and who the other is, is the essential challenge of religion, and those who enter Carmel accept this challenge, for in a poem, St. Teresa of Avila, puts these words in Jesus’ mouth:

Such is the power of love, O soul,

To paint thee in My heart.

No craftsman with such art,

Whate’er his skill might be, could there

Thine image thus impart!

‘Twas love that gave thee life :

Then, Fairest, if thou be

Lost to thyself, thou’lt see

Thy portrait in My bosom stamped :

Soul, seek thyself in Me !

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