unity in diversity
(fr. Cyprian, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)
If there is any scripture text in this day and age that makes a preacher feel like a fool going where angels fear to tread, it is this one we hear today, Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Mk 10:2-16), which is contained in all three synoptic Gospels! But it’s also particularly poignant right now, with the culture wars going on in our own country, and with the Holy Father making such efforts for us to find a new vocabulary and new ways of dealing with the family in our present day and age, not to mention that the Synod of Bishops on the Family that reconvenes today.
It is only the Roman Catholic Church that has such tough strictures around reception of Communion for people who are divorced and remarried without annulments. I say that without saying that we are wrong in our tough strictures; I think that––not unlike our teachings around sexuality in general, which can seem so antiquated to people outside the Church, so with the protections that we build around marriage––the point is to preserve and protect something that we hold sacred. Those tough strictures are not there because the Church wants to punish sinners, nor because there is anything intrinsically wrong with sexuality and certainly not with conjugal love. We’re just trying to preserve and protect something that we hold sacred. At the same time, the Holy Father is rightly urging us to lead with mercy. First of all he has made it clear that we Catholics acknowledge that, sadly, there are times when there really has been no valid sacrament due to the lack of freedom on the part of one or the other participant. But also… my Mom worked for years in the marriage tribunal in the Diocese of Phoenix, and I heard first hand from her what a painful process annulments are, costly and sometimes arbitrarily dragged out. And so the effort to streamline that process is nothing but an act of mercy too. So we both uphold the teachings of the Church and we lead with mercy––who are we to judge indeed? But that is only the first level of the meaning of this text, maybe the first two levels––the historical and the moral meaning behind it.
To dig a little deeper into the symbolic and mystical meaning of this teaching, and into the symbolic and mystical meaning of marriage in general, we need to look at the reading from Genesis, and play around with the language a little bit. Even if I didn’t believe in inclusive language (which I do), I am going to avoid using the word “man” here as a collective term to mean “human being” in order to make my point. I’m at first not even going to translate “adam” as “man” nor refer to adam as a “he,” because in Genesis the word adam is first of all a collective term, meaning the “Human Being.” There are all these nuances in the Book of Genesis that we don’t catch in translation. In the first story of creation in Genesis,[i] it literally says, ‘Let us make ha adam–the human being––in the singular, and let them have dominion’––in the plural. And so God created ha adam–God created this human being, again in the singular; male and female God created them–plural! So the word and the person adam not only transcends the single and the plural; ha adam also transcends male and female. The creation of adam was the creation of the total human being, the archetype of all human beings that contains everything it means to be human.
Actually the same thing is going on in the naming of God. By the time of the rise of monotheism almost all feminine characteristics of the Divine were unspoken. But there is a hint in the word “Elohim,” the name of the One who is doing the creating in this particular passage. It’s a plural word formed by the feminine singular Eloh with the suffix –IM added to it, which is usually what is attached to a masculine noun! In other words, the name of God is both masculine and feminine here, too––and both plural and singular![ii] God contains all of what we think of as opposites; God is the union of what we see as diversities––and so ha adam really is in God’s image!
So at this point in the story all these aspects of being human––female and male, communal and singular––are inseparable in the mind of God. And so of course the whole notion of the female (woman) somehow being a pale copy of the male (man) is a very poor reading of Genesis that buys into the patriarchal Hebrew culture that continued all the way from Aristotle to Freud, as well as playing into the not-too-thinly veiled shocking misogyny of the patristic era of Christianity. Remember how in the first story of creation in Genesis, God kept pronouncing everything that has been created as “good” (or “beautiful” as it is rendered in Greek). Then the work of creation culminates in the woman and the man being created together––male and female God created them. But according to the second story of creation,[iii] which we heard today, only one creature has been drawn out of the clay––ha adam (a play on the word “adamah” which means “mud” or “clay”). But the creation of this adam leaves God less than satisfied. Not only does God not say it is good; in that account it’s not enough! ‘It is not good for ha adam to be alone.’ So God causes a deep sleep to fall upon ha adam, the mud creature. Here again the English is a little weak. The Hebrew word is tardemah which is translated in the Septuagint into the Greek as extasis––ecstasy.[iv] In this ecstatic sleep a rib is drawn out of ha adam.
So you see, in this version of the story, ha adam somehow contains both the male and the female at first, and the female is now drawn out of ha adam and built up into a separate person, and at that point ha adam is left to be only male because God has taken the female out of him. And Adam, who’s now the male, pronounces the first words that we hear a human being say in the Bible: ‘This one at last is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.’[v] The feminine was present within adam, but adam was unconscious of the diversity and impotent, in a way. The dynamism comes when these two energies are in relationship to one another.[vi] And so the male/female couple is first of all a symbol of this original unity of the masculine and the feminine, but it also points to diversity and complementarity, dynamism and creativity.
So there is the original unity, and then there is creative union in diversity. But there is one more movement too––the striving for a new unity. Mircea Eliade says that since the human race descends from this first creature ha adam, the male-female exists virtually in every human person, and part of spiritual perfection would be to rediscover the dynamism of both within ourselves.[vii] Maybe that’s why this teaching about the children comes right on the heels of this teaching. Is every one of us whole at first? Containing all within ourselves in potential, and only later learn to hide parts of ourselves in the darkness of our rib cages ‘til we forget it’s even there? Waiting for someone to bring it out of us?
Here is the formula I use in the few weddings that I have done: “The two become one so that the two can become two.” Meaning, I think we are drawn to an-other, to others, in our lives who really are––I don’t want to say just “our other half” but––the rest of us. We’re drawn to others who in some way manifest aspects of ourselves that have not been brought out of us and realized. It’s most obvious in the coupling of a man and woman, but these energies are not so clear-cut, the complementarity of creativity and receptivity, of strength and nurturing, of nesting and roaming, of tenderness and discipline. And the beloved other and others in our lives are supposed to lead us to realize all that is within us. Modern psychology has certainly shown us that there is a moment when a woman can and should healthily access the animus, and the male the anima. This is the process of individuation. But we are all such unique idiosyncratic combinations of what the Chinese call yin and yang, anima and animus energy, that I don’t think this just comes about in erotic and conjugal relationships, but is at play in all our relationships. Or maybe it’s better to say that all of our relationships are in some way erotic and conjugal. We’re always looking for wholeness. But the ideal is that each really becomes themselves through the relationship with the other and with others––that’s what I mean that “the two become two.” That’s when each can finally enter into that particular relationship or any relationship as a whole person, not a partial one, since some day Jesus tells us there will be no more marriage or giving in marriage. What does Paul say in his great hymn to love? The partial vanishes when wholeness comes.[viii] We are all looking for that wholeness.
And then, comes the great mystical discovery: we discover that we were never two anyway at the deepest level, at the level of Being itself, in God, because every relationship has God as a third, as a ground. Remember God too is relationship (so we learn in the Trinity), one in Being and yet three in persons. This is the great mystery of both unity and diversity. And we are all one in Being, who is God, and yet multiple in ever-abiding unique whole persons. I am the vine and you are the branches! And that is the whole Body of Christ, and that is the church, the fullness of the one who fills everything.[ix]
And this describes the relationship of our individual self with God, too. There is a famous image used in the Hindu tradition that our self, or our “I”, disappears into the Great Self of God like a drop of water disappears into the ocean. Bede Griffiths taught that that was not quite adequate for the Christian (nor for the Jew or the Muslim, I might add). He said that the mystery of communion in God and with God is that the Father and the Son become a total unity and are still distinct, and that’s true of human beings and God too: “We are one, and yet we are distinct. There is never a total loss of self.” As Paul Evdokimov wrote, there is a unity of two persons in one being, even a union in one body and one soul as happens in a marriage, but there are still two persons, a great unity in diversity. “The nuptial ‘I’ does not abolish the person but instead is the very image of the Trinity.”[x] Even if in consciousness there could be, or could seem to be, pure identity, Bede says, “in love there’s never pure identity because love involves two, and yet the two become one. That’s the great mystery.”[xi] That’s why the metaphor of the ocean and the drop isn’t adequate: “You can say the drop merges in the ocean, but you can also say the ocean is present in the drop … In the ultimate state the individual is totally there, totally realized, but also in total communion with all the rest,”[xii] in the ground of Being.
This is why this sacrament of marriage is so important, not only because it is the building block of society (that too!), but because it is an icon of our original unity, and an exhortation to complementarity, the complementarity that calls us to the realization of the union of all things in ourselves and ultimately in Christ, who is not so much the new Adam, but the new adam who sums up everything in his person; and because the sacrament of marriage is the very image of how the universe and its Creator operates––in relationship, striving for that perfect unity in Christ, I in the Father and the Father in me, ‘til God be all in all in us as in Christ.
(Image. “The Creation of Eve,” 12th century from Monreale, Sicily. According to this reading uit might have been better named “The Extraction of Eve”…)
[i] Gen 1:26ff.
[ii] Granted this is an unusual esoteric reading of this, coming from the Kabbalah tradition, but coming from a Christian who studied the Kaballah, Knorr von Rosenroth in The Kabbalah Unveiled (quoted in Singer, 94).
[iii] Gen 2:7, 18ff.
[iv] … the same ecstatic sleep that Abraham is in when the covenant is revealed to him, or that Daniel is in when he has his visions, and the apostles were in when they see the glory of Jesus at the Transfiguration.
[v] Then there’s another play on words in the Hebrew: ‘This one shall be called ishsha, for this one has been taken out of ish.’
[vi] Singer, Androney, 99
[vii] Singer, 98, quoting Mircea Eliade
[viii] 1 Cor 13:12.
[ix] Eph 1:23.
[x] Evdokimov, The Sacrament of Life, 117.
[xi] Bede Griffiths quoted in Rene Weber, Dialogues With Saints and Sages (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), 171.
[xii] Weber, Interviews with Saints and Mystics, 172.