Wednesday, February 29, 2012


The older I become, the more clear it is, that all of human life is about relationship. A life well lived is one in which the circle of relationship grows. The perfect life expands to encompass the entire of humanity. A poor life is one which is isolated and where the primary relationship one has is with himself.

Our life is a series of relationships. Some are more equal than others, but each is a giving and a receiving of our very selves.

This begins at the moment of conception. Even before our consciousness is awakened, we are in a beautiful and symbiotic relationship with our mother. On her part, the mother provides all the physical needs of her tiny infant. On his part, the child gives the gift of complete dependency. Lest you think this too inequitable to be termed relationship, think of the unborn Christ Child. Yes, He would go on to give the gift of Life to the whole world, the balance of giving and receiving so shifted as to become the most inequitable in all of human history, but His first gift was His complete dependency on His mother. Love requires of us dependency. One can not be in loving relationship without being both needed and dependent. This does not denigrate relationship, it defines it.

As we grow, our initial relationships are with our parents, siblings, extended family, close friends and neighbors. It is in the family that we learn what love is. We learn there is a time for obedience and a time for moral courage. All relationship is a balance between action and inaction: When do we speak, when do we listen; when do we lead and when do we follow.

Sometimes the nature of the relationship determines our responsibility: A child obeys his parents while a parent leads his child. This does not mean a child does not teach his parent, any who have children know of this certainty. But the child does not lead, to expect him to is negligence. It is most often through his following that we, the parent, learn our greatest lessons: both of our imperfect leading and how we fall short in those relationships in which we are required to follow.

The most equitable relationship of man is the spousal relationship. This does not mean "best" or "purest" or "most desirable." It simply means that it is the most equal in both the giving and the receiving. It is the only relationship which requires a total giving of self by BOTH parties. In no other human relationship do we give completely of ourselves with the just expectation that we receive another self in return. It is a foolish parent who expects that kind of return from a child. It is a foolish maiden that expects that kind of return from a string of beaus. It is a foolish employee that expects that kind of return from an employer.

But it is a foolish bride who does not expect it from her groom.

And a justly disappointed groom who does not receive it from his bride.

There is no leader or follower in this relationship. It is a union so profound as to be more horizontal than vertical. To be sure, in practice, we take turns pulling each other up the cliff toward heaven, but a better image of the relationship is two bodies, hand in hand, walking up the incline at a slow and steady pace.

Each spouse is completely dependent on the other while living the opposite. We work as if his happiness is in our hands, knowing that our own is his for the giving. It is a moving circle like a tornado. And like the tornado, it is both small and large, always centered, created by cold and warm, touching heaven and earth and changing everything it touches, pulling all it passes into its embrace.

(And for the cynical who only see in my analogy the destruction left in its wake, ask yourself if you want the passion of a tornado or a gentle rain shower to describe the mark your marriage left on the world? There is a time for rain, but there is a time for tornados as well. Rain may pass unnoticed; tornadoes rarely do.)

It is for this reason that the relationship between Christ and His church is compared to that of man and wife. The Church needs Christ, this I do not have to explain. But Christ also needs the church in order to complete the plan of His Father. We can not do it alone, but God has required of Himself that He can not do it without us.

Take a minute to let that sink in. Take a minute to dwell in the presence of that kind of love. A tiny human is by nature dependent, it is in his nature to give the gift of dependency, just as it is in the nature of woman to nurish her child. Almighty God is by nature completely independent. He needs nothing. His Trinitarian Nature is Perfect and Eternal relationship. Yet, He condescends to need us in order to allow us to be in relationship with Him.

All of life is aimed at learning this one lesson. All of life is aimed at learning how to be in relationship. Whether it is with our mother, a friend, a dog or a tree, relationship requires we learn how to give and receive. Both aspects require that we learn to shed our selfishness. Yes, even learning how to receive requires self denial. For in each of our relationships, we are giving and receiving something. And for everything we receive, we must give something up. But more importantly, we must do something. In marriage, to be loved, we must love. In parenting, to learn we must teach. In friendship, to be heard we must listen.

So when you think of relationship, of love, do you focus on what you give or what you get?

Do you see all relationship as inherently selfish, for you can only see what you get?

Do you see it as inherently selfless for you can only see what you give?

Or do you see a tornado where the lines are so blurred all you can see is the moving circle that changes everything? Destruction of all the man made structures? Uprooted trees? Perhaps.

Or in its wake, can we see more clearly where earth and heaven meet?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Going Deep

I am reading a book called Last Child in the Woods. The author's premise is that recent generations' distance from nature is having detrimental effects on everything from attention to creativity. He terms the problem Nature Deficit Disorder. With our technological and smaller world, many have access to untold information about nature and have travelled across the globe, but, he argues, our grandparents who never left their small towns, while having no idea about the rain forest, knew their own woods and prairies intimately. Today's children may know much about Global ecology and endangered animals, but they do not know nature. Parent's fears and modern day distractions deprive children of just getting out in nature in unstructured ways. Whether it was a patch of park in New York City or a tree in the suburbs or a creek in a small town, past generations had opportunities to unite with nature in free, unstructured ways.

I feel his premise is just another aspect of the idea that has been forming in my head for awhile. Our children have too many distractions. There are things which are objectively better than others, and given the opportunity, children recognize these things. They know that visiting a nursing home is better than going to the swimming pool. Playing a game of capture the flag is better than Special Ops X box. Making up an imaginary world for one's action figures beats watching a movie. They will not choose the better portion, at least not most kids, but after the fact, if asked, they recognize it.

Being out doors is certainly the perfect setting for eliminating distractions. There is so much to contemplate out doors that is worthy of our time. However, I think there is also much to contemplate indoors. We simply do not allow our children the time to just go deep.

Whether it is sitting with a book that is not so simple that it requires no thought, in order to think about what the heck the author is trying to say... Or looking at a beautiful painting and imagining what the artist was thinking while he painted it... Or listening to beautiful music and being in awe of the genius of, say, a Mozart... Or climbing a tree and imaging one's self in a pagoda in China...Or looking for a secret door in the honey suckle...Or listening to the repetitive chirp of a bird and trying to figure out the code.

And to hear that chirp and realize that the bird sees the cat and is sending out the warning signal to his fellow birds is better than any High Score. Recognizing a song and knowing it is Mozart is better than any rerun of Phinias and Ferb. Knowing you are right that the artist was listening to a thunder storm as he painted or imaging that you found the secret door or that you are in China is the stuff that childhood should be made of.

Every generation looks at the current one and longs for the "good old days." I don't think there is such a thing. Every generation had problems and every generation had gifts. I have no desire to go back to an age of card catalogues and paying for long distance. I think my parents had to make the same choices I have to make: How to provide the opportunity for our children to experience the pure joy of childhood. They had different obstacles to overcome than we. But it comes down to deciding if that is what you want.

Like Last Child in the Woods, there are numerous books out there telling us what the problem is. I think the solution is simply to remove the distractions. Give your kids the opportunity to go deep in to something, anything, rather than skate along the surface.

*So far, Last Child in the Woods is a great book worth reading.