Men, women, you, me, everyone: In relationships, all of our genuine relationships, whether with God or with one another or with our pet dog, we all both require and offer loyalty. Loyalty means being there for one another, in the good times and the bad. It means a degree of MUTUAL commitment. This is deep and abiding friendship. And this is the real underpinning of love.
There are relationships not underpinned by loyalty, and these are not the mere dross of life, they are the weft and the warp of life. They too matter. But they are moments in the tapestry. They are not the threads that last.
We also have, all of us in some degree but moreso in some of us, an animal nature. Now there are the saints, the celibate and the indifferent. And we may go through phases in life, times when survival becomes more important than that other great driver, our sexuality, which is of course the engine that keeps the universe turning. Without the drive for procreation that affects and infects all that is, there would be stagnant nothingness.
For many of us, there is a need for a dimension in life in which there is raw intimacy, or at least the potential for intimacy, of the kind associated with procreation. This does not have to be with someone with whom we share a bond of mutual loyalty. But it is more satisfying in a deep and abiding way, if the two strands, the sensual animal nature, and the friendship, loyalty and affection, can be drawn together into one strand in a relationship with one other person.
Sometimes we build relationships with another that are founded on physical intimacy, or potential intimacy (which is the same thing really) in which one or other or both of us pretend loyalty, perhaps pretend even to ourselves. Those are relationships built on a deceit. And they are relationships all the same and can, in a very real sense, fulfill a need. Especially if both parties are exploiting each other. But often one party is abusing the other, making use of them to a greater degree. Which is difficult but is human nature.
These needs for intimacy, friendship, love and loyalty, may ebb and flow but are with us through eternity. They will always in some degree be unresolved because they are EVOLVING needs. They are a dimension of the potential to choose what we do or do not do which is substantially what makes us truly alive.
“Weep all of your tears and laugh all of your laughter,” once wrote the great Lebanese mystic Kahlil Gibran. And we do. And William Shakespeare once wrote, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” And we don’t. But we should perhaps.
Some of us have a need to fill cups of varying sizes with wine to drink. The vessel labelled friendship is pretty big, as are those labelled love and loyalty if we are lucky. But the one labelled intimacy is far smaller. Sometimes it even stands empty. Which is fine too if we are fine with that. There is a purity in the empty cup, in celibacy. Though not all of us are strong enough to keep an empty cup before us of our own volition.
Which leaves us with what? Well for one thing it leaves us with a reminder to be forgiving. There but for the grace of God go I . . .
So we should forgive. These are, after all, issues we all have to deal with. And the fact that some of us deal less well with these issues than others does not remove our obligation to feel compassion for each other.
However: It also leaves us with an obligation to make choices. We should choose our lives – not drift storm-tossed by the next current. If we fail to make choices we are just part of the dross of the universe, the flotsam and jetsam washed in on the next tide. With each deliberate choice we make we shape the future in ways both small and great. And make more of a difference than we shall ever know.
But there is something more. The true intimate relationship, that between a lover and the beloved, is the archetype, the model, for so much more. It is representative of the relationship between God and creation, between a ruler and the ruled, and in the best of organisations, between the bosses and the employees, or even between the head of the tribe or family and those in his or her care. The relationship between the ruler and the ruled must at its best be like the relationship between lovers. Only then does it truly work. Only in so much as a ruler loves his or her people, is that ruler worthy. So too the relationship between mankind and creation. We should be lovers. We have much to learn. And the longer we live the more we have yet to learn. When we are young we know everything. As we grow older we learn how little we know.
Which begs the question, should not the relationship between the ruler and the ruled be that of the parent and the child? So too the relationship between God and his children? Well yes – and no. A paternalistic worldview is fine enough in a feudal world. But we should be moving beyond that. Is the created equal with the creator? In some senses no, of course. But they are worthy of equal respect. Which is what we are taught when the “Old Testament” concept of God in dominion is set aside for the “New Testament” concept of the church as the bride of Christ. We are equal in many ways. We have an equal capacity for love because perfect love is just that, perfect. And we are equally worthy of respect. We are precious to one another. Christ is our brother, sister, lover. So too with the ruler and the ruled, and yes, so too in a perfect world, with the employer and the employee. We do not dominate one another, we serve each other.