THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 33
Some brief musings on intimacy
When you think about it, just a few teachings, a few healings, a few incidents are all we need as Christians in order to know how to follow Christ. I have just read John 13, 1-9 in The Message (a great translation if you don’t know it). What a sublime picture! Jesus, knowing he came from God and was going to God, sets aside his robe, puts on an apron, and washes his disciples feet. Could anything be more sublime? Could we have a better picture of the essence of Christianity?
It is true – the enemy of Christianity is religion. The mental construct that we call religion. The commandments and the rules, the dogma and the inherited attitudes. How do we cut through the dreadful effects of religion? Only by exposing it to love. That is the only answer that can extricate us from religion.
How then can I wash the feet of churchy Christians - disciples who don’t understand, can’t see the wood for the trees and, like me, are tainted with violence, ambition, and greed? Who turn away from the simple to the complex and complicated? Who are deeply afraid in their hearts? Who don’t know where they are going anymore, or what they are to do, because they have lost contact with God?
I can open up to Him that part of me that wants to depersonalise them – these dense disciples – and objectify them and shut them out. Christianity is an inclusive religion. It reaches out to include everyone who ever hears its message.
So we must break open every closed attitude in ourselves. Smash every locked box till it lies open in the sunlight. Shake out every garment, every old coat, until the light and the fresh air can fill them – destroy the secrecy of what is hidden and open our lives out until it is an open book.
Of course, some dust will fly. Of course, some musty old smells will arise. Of course, we will laugh – or blush - at some of the old things that we were. But we will be walking in sunbeams and dancing towards the source of all light.
Do you understand?
That does not mean bothering everyone with everything about you, and about your past. It means living openly in a qualitative way – without a secret. You used to live like that – as a child. It is only age that has brought secrets. You used to be innocent. Then you became knowledgeable. Now you need to shed your burden of secrecy – let your truth be known – live in the open with all.
So what is this ‘shedding’? How can one live ‘innocently’ when one is no longer innocent? The experience which destroys innocence is a necessary part of our walk through life. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs! You can’t become mature without risking and losing your innocence. It is part of the growing up process – part of becoming a mature adult in this world.
So embrace all you have done, all you have been – in that way you absorb the past into your life in the same way that God absorbs our sin at the cross. You become honest about yourself. This is me, you say, warts and all. You stop isolating a part of yourself – your history, your sin, your experiments, your sexuality, your failure. You stop disassociating yourself from parts of yourself. You get real.
Suddenly, instead of hiding, you see what is beneath what it is that you want to reject in yourself. You see in yourself the deeper self, the real self that wants to reach out to other people – to really know them.
I’ve tried all sorts of ways of knowing other people and some have worked better than others! Status and power are two ways. Sex is another. Fellowship with Christians is another. Superiority is another. In all sorts of ways I have tried to go forward in my interaction with other souls.
After all, that is the essence of being human – we are born into relationship with others and continue to develop those relationships all our lives.
At the deepest level I don’t reach out for self-satisfaction – for praise or glory or sex or money. At the deepest level I reach out for fellowship.
The methods I use may be work, sex, money or a hundred other vehicles – but they are not the point and purpose – fellowship and intimacy is really what life is all about.
The story of Silas Marner has a great truth to teach us. The hurt man who retreated into himself and became a miser who counted his gold pieces – then a small child arrives in his life and he learns to treasure her above all things, and sees her golden hair as the true gold. So it is with us. Many a multi- millionaire has discovered that relationships are more precious than all their gold.
Being the silly muddled person I am, the very means I use to reach out to others often (always?) become an actual hindrance. My money makes you envious; my status makes you critical, my demand for sex turns you off. The very avenues I explore to reach out to you prove to be no-go areas for you.
So what am I to do?
The world’s way in such circumstances is either to ask, or maybe beg, or even to force you to do my will. If those are unsuccessful then perhaps the only worldly answer left seems to be to retreat into isolation. But Christ’s way is to take a basin of water and to wash our feet. His message is to lay down your life so that others may see the truth and live. What truth? The truth that pure unadulterated self-giving is the key to all life – the key to the universe.
Ah! Here we have it! The best kept open secret in the world! God in you – touching your heart, teaching you, leading you forward day by day in self-giving. Follow that gleam and you will have all the intimacy you want, all the fellowship you can cope with – fellowship with God himself.
4th January 2003