‘Meteors on a Moonless Night’ or ‘Singles’ Awareness Day’

Today is Valentine’s Day. You know this already. If you didn’t know it when you woke up, you were surely reminded by the waterfall of love-themed Facebook posts flooding your news feed. Poring over your friends’ comments and statuses, you might have noticed that while many people take Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate romantic love, others are more sarcastic. Some people jokingly refer to it as ‘Singles’ Awareness Day’. Valentine’s Day is when the romantically involved celebrate their relationships, but it’s also the day where everyone else is awkwardly compelled to reflect on their own singleness. That reflection is often uncomfortable, because of the surprising way our culture usually talks about romantic love. It struck me recently that even though our modern culture is usually wary and stand-offish when it comes to religion, there is one thing which many secular people still talk about using very religious language: romantic love.

Obviously, we moderns don’t build literal temples to Cupid and burn roses drenched in virgin’s blood on his altars; that’s not what I mean when I say that we treat romance ‘religiously’. I only mean that the way we moderns talk about romantic love is the same way religious people talk about God or the gods or the cosmos. Take for example, this exchange from the romantic comedy called ‘Fools Rush In’ (1997), starring Matthew Perry  (Alex) and Salma Hayek (Isabel):

Alex: This morning I couldn’t decide between a hamburger and a tuna melt. But my life made perfect sense. Now I know exactly want I want, but my life makes no sense. Somewhere between tuna melt and your aunt’s tamales, life lost meaning and gained a purpose.
Isabel: What are you saying?
Alex: I am saying … This is morning I was worried I’d met the girl of my dreams at the drycleaners and not recognised her. But you – you are what I never knew I always wanted. I’m not even sure what that means, but I think it has something to do with the rest of my life!(emphasis added) Continue reading

Trinity and True Love – An Orthodox Valentine’s Day

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:27)

Unfortunately, it’s become increasingly common to think of the ‘image of God’ in man as referring nothing more than immaterial properties like consciousness, free will and rationality. An unfortunate side effect of this emphasis on the immaterial aspects of the image of God in man has been that other, more physical and tangible aspects of what it means to be human have been dismissed as meaningless, ‘fallen’ properties of sinful humanity. Tragically, gender and sexuality are sometimes dismissed as just that: fallen, sinful aspects of a broken world, that will disappear the moment we are freed from our fleshy prisons and released into an entirely ‘spiritual’ heaven. Well, it shouldn’t be so. And since today is Valentine’s day, I thought it would be as good a time as any to share some thoughts on why I (and many others) think our being male and female, and even our sexuality itself, are beautiful, powerful expressions of the very divine image.

One aspect of the image of God that people rarely connect with being human is God’s nature as a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When thinking of the Trinity, we should avoid simplistic images of three men sitting in some heavenly throne room together – the three divine Persons are far more than mere co-existent rulers. The Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father – they do not simply ‘co-exist’. In fact, God’s being a Trinity reveals the deepest truth of reality, the very fabric of all existence, is love. Why? C.S. Lewis puts it rather well:

“In Christianity, God is not a static thing – not even a person – but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.(Mere Christianity, pg. 148, my emphasis)

There’s a very concrete sense in which, when we say ‘God is love’, we really mean it. God doesn’t just practice love, or communicate it or appreciate it; He IS love. At the core of His being, He is a beautiful, eternal, timeless ‘dance’ of mutual, three-way giving. All three live in eternal, loving communion. And from that communion, all existence comes.

So what does this mean for human beings made in God’s image? Well, Met. Kallistos Ware says in ‘The Orthodox Way’:

“Since the image of God is a Trinitarian image, it follows that man, like God, realises his true nature through mutual life. The image signifies his relationship not only with God, but with other men. Just as the three divine persons live in and for each other, so man – being made in the Trinitarian image – becomes a real person by seeing the world through others’ eyes, by making others’ joys and sorrows his own.” (pg. 53, my emphasis)

A human who lives entirely for himself is not entirely human. If we are to become real persons, glowing with the glory and love of God Himself, we must learn that real power, real authority and real divinity lie not in manipulation and domineering, but in co-operation and the outpouring of the self. Just as the three Persons of the Trinity pour themselves out in love, synergy and giving, we must do amongst one another. Now, it must be admitted that this business of submitting, co-operating and self-giving which Christians claim will turn us into radiant, God-like beings, appears decidedly weak. In general, people who submit and sacrifice  their own interests tend to be beaten and bullied by the strong and self-willed. They rarely attain any of the sort of success that people in this world usually admire. But that is only because this world is fallen. Submission and self-sacrifice are in fact among the most powerful acts it is possible for us to perform.

A useful illustration might be Christ’s own self-outpouring on the Cross. Continue reading