In the last post, I argued that teaching our children charity was facilitated by the love parents share in the face of differences. In being one body (one flesh), as Paul taught, we must embrace our differences – otherwise, where were the hearing?
In this post, I want to address a particular difference (or set of differences) which many married couples experience on a regular basis. I’m talking in particular about “knowing” one another in the biblical sense (e.g., “Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived…“). I am not trying to be coy about using the word “sex.” For my purposes, I feel that knowing is the most appropriate word.
Let me begin by claiming that men and women are different in many ways. This notion of difference may seems somewhat regressive, but no matter how you slice it, it is true. Men and women are certainly different physiologically (and for Latter-day Saints, that should be enough, as we believe the “soul” is both spirit and body together – which must mean what affects the body affects the spirit), as all sexually active people are aware.
Now, before you accuse me of sexism and misogyny, it should be clear that I agree we are similar in many ways, even physiologically. Indeed, if we take the Genesis account of Eve’s creation literally, we must confess there are bound to be similarities: after all, we (man and woman) are made of the same whole. But we are also two different and distinct parts of the same whole, thus differences – fundamental differences – must exist. Now, I won’t assume here to know precisely what those differences are, but they must be there.
When we come together to know one another, we engage in a ritual of difference. I and my spouse are naked. By naked, I do mean literally; but I also mean figuratively – as in, we are emotionally and spiritually (soul-fully) exposed, vulnerable before one another. And in our nakedness our differences are revealed. That is, in knowing one another, we are confronted with the alterity of the other who is our spouse. This confrontation begins physically, and the physical then represents the other differences that are part of our relationship and of our knowing one another.
As we engage repeatedly in this ritual, it should become clear to us (if we are humble enough to see the truth) how deep our relationship is. We can learn reverence before our spouse – because only our spouse could reveal the depth through revealing his or her difference. In other words, in this our ritual of difference, we confront eternity – the eternity that is our spouse; the eternity that is our marriage.
Couples have other rituals of difference – for example, the “conflict” which I alluded to in the previous post – and if they pay close enough attention and are humble enough, they will realize that it will take years (even an eternity) to fully know one another – to fully be one flesh. And through our faithfulness to the one, the truly humble will learn from marriage that infinity characterizes us all, that reverence is due to us all, and feel compelled to treat all others with the same reverence.
This is the beginning of charity: facing the infinity in the one and learning to love it completely; then realizing that that infinity characterizes all. Learning this charity begins – or at least finds full expression – in the ritual of difference wherein we as spouses know each other.
In the next post, I will explore charity, difference, and the sin of Sodom.