A PLACE ON EARTH, by Craig Gallaway, watercolor, copyright 2007. A small patch of ground in the Birmingham Botanical Gardens illustrates something of the patience and particularity of creation. The artist who draws and paints such a subject learns something about the Creator’s care for the reality of each individual thing, each moment of being as the sunlight changes and the wind blows. We need to engage similar powers of patient, critical observation as we assess the behavior of news media in our time.
The recent decision of the Democratic National Committee to bar Fox News from covering any of the DNC’s primary presidential debates exposes a problem that many people have become acutely aware of over the last couple of years. There is a big difference between news stories that try to be realistic, basing their claims on verified sources and concrete evidence, and opinion pieces masquerading as news, which really only give us the political bias of the journalist, and how his or her sources (often unnamed) want to shape our opinions. The problem for the DNC, of course, is that the “news” sources which they favor (CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and most “main stream” outlets) are just as guilty, often more so, of confusing opinion with news as anyone associated with Fox News.
Deb and I have watched this unfold in daily installments over the last two years or so, since Donald Trump became president. We have never regarded President Trump as a perfect president or person, nor even at times in his life as a very good man (the same could be said of most of us); but we have been astounded to watch the mainstream media stoop to the most obvious tactics of misinformation in order to depose him if at all possible. We used to be avid listeners to NPR, and to watch PBS Newshour every evening on TV; but then we began to see a pattern of one-sided interviews with loaded questions, and only democratic-leaning guests. Since we didn’t even have access to Fox News, we tried turning to other sources such as NBC and CBS; but we found the same kind of thing happening there. A kind of self-satisfied group of journalists who seemed to be parroting each other, and presenting themselves as news room heroes, bravely exposing the alleged sins of others, while they championed clearly partisan opinions among their guests and in their own voices.
As a result of getting Apple TV we finally gained access to Fox News. We were skeptical at first. We had seen Fox programs on my father’s TV during the Obama years, and we expected to find just a lot of trash talk from the right. Of course even that would at least have brought some balance to what we had been getting through the mainstream media. What we actually found was that Fox News seemed much more candid about which of its programs were opinion shows (Hannity, Laura Ingram, Tucker Carlson, for example) and which were in fact making a concerted effort to do something more objective and fact based (Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Chris Wallace, etc.). And we also found that on the News shows, there was a much better effort than we had witnessed in the mainstream media to include interview guests with intelligent opinions from the other side of the aisle (guests such as Juan Williams and Mara Liasson of NPR, Amy Walter of PBS, and Charles Lane of The Washington Post, etc.).
As a result of this personal journey through various offerings of the news media over the last two years, Deb and I have come to believe that it is very important to offset the offerings of the mainstream media with those of Fox News or other reputable non-mainstream sources, at least for anyone who wishes to have even a modest chance of hearing the news rather than simply reinforcing partisan opinion. Therefore, if all you have been hearing comes from the mainstream, we recommend an experiment: try tuning into a program like Bret Baier on Fox News in the evening. See if you don’t discover a few insights, a few authoritative sources, even whole areas of information, that you would never have heard about in the mainstream. And if this seems like just too much to ask, then perhaps you yourself have become a champion of partisan bias in a way that even facts and evidence could never disturb.
BRIDE, by Craig Gallaway, graphite on paper, copyright 1999. A drawing of Deborah, my dearest friend and beloved wife, who joined her journey with mine on December 22, 1976, and who still travels this mysterious road of romance and marriage with me in the light provided by our King. The song below, “Deborah’s Song,” was written in 1994. It echoes the counsel of our trusted friend and mentor, Jim Houston, “Never lose touch with the sense of mystery in each other.”
In a post for Valentine’s Day 2018, one year ago, I looked at the meaning of Christian marriage and romance in the light of Charles Williams’s “theology of romantic love,” and the Apostle Paul’s teaching (Eph. 5:21) that husbands and wives should “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” As I brought that post to a conclusion, I was aware that I hadn’t said much about what such an approach to romance through “mutual submission” might look like in the context of daily married life: living, working, experiencing emotional ups and downs, making decisions, and sexual intimacy.
What I want to do in this post is to look at several very practical parts of marriage that, it seems to me, can be grounded clearly in Jesus’ teaching and way of life with his first disciples. I hope to suggest how these practices might be worked out in the daily round and the ongoing journey of Christian marriage, something like a set of goals and exercises, fleshing out part of what it might mean to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. I don’t consider myself an expert in these practices (just ask Deb); but the topic has fascinated me for many years as an on-the-job-learner-in-progress. With that in mind, and speaking therefore as “one without authority,” I want to look at three practices to begin with: 1. shared work, 2. shared inner life, 3. shared decisions, and then I will look again at the dimension of sexual love (eros) as this is woven into and enriched by the other practices. In this way, I think I can see how the wider dimensions of shared life may indeed become ways of submitting to each other out of reverence for Christ and, at the same time, ways of discovering the deeper and richer meanings of romantic love.
Shared Work: One of Jesus’ most surprising actions with his first disciples occurred when he took a towel and a bowl of water and began to wash their feet (John 13). He was their Master and teacher, and yet he stepped into one of the dirtiest jobs in the household. And then he made clear his goal for them as well. “If I your Master and Lord have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” Jesus was clearly challenging the status and pecking order that the disciples were used to. The reversal of roles was so unexpected, in fact, that Peter tried in two different ways to keep the old order in place, first by refusing to let Jesus wash his feet, and then by suggesting a special ritual to make the occasion more dignified for all concerned, especially for Peter. Jesus insisted that his action was not about ego or status at all. It was about performing a basic service that was needed. And he called his disciples to follow him in this kind of servant ministry, this shared work.
How might this principle of shared work be an exercise for husbands and wives in what it means to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ? Like the first disciples, we live in a culture today where different jobs, roles, and professions are accorded very different levels of status. Certain professions are automatically given a lot of respect; others, not so much. This can lead to envy and confusion about who is important and why, even (perhaps especially?) in marriage. And yet, as Christians, our identity is centered in Christ, not in any profession or job. And so we must fight the real spiritual battle to resist the idolatry of job, career, or profession. From Jesus’ point of view, the essential thing in any job or profession is the possibility of serving a real human need. “All good work is service,” said the Bruderhof community. In this light, whether both spouses work, or one stays at home to care for children or manage the household, there can finally be no difference of status for those who are in Christ. Division of labor can be negotiated in many different ways between caring spouses; but when the toilets need scrubbing, or the house needs cleaning, there can never be a question of a role that is beneath “me.” Sharing work in this way, moreover, can be a source of rich and deep bonding as well; and a way to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Of course, working together is not always easy. Deb and I do not always agree about what is the best way to do a job. So arguments arise, and we may find ourselves in conflict. In this case it might seem better just to avoid working together! But Jesus never said that serving would come easily. And the process of working through conflicts is also an important goal for those who want to go deeper and further in romantic love (see below “shared decisions”). So, washing each other’s feet by sharing the work load remains a significant way to open our hearts both to Christ and to each other.
Shared Inner Life: Have you ever wondered how the writers of the gospels knew so much about Jesus’ personal struggles and temptations? Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry took place when he was alone, except for wild animals and the tempter (Mark 1:12; Matt. 4:1). And yet we know very clearly the nature of his three temptations (appetite, ego, power) and how he responded in each case. Can there be any doubt that Jesus confided these details to his disciples because he wanted them to know that he faced the same kinds of trials and temptations that they did? In a similar vein, the author of Hebrews reminds his readers that Jesus “is not unable to sympathize with our weakness, because he has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). And likewise the Apostle Paul calls us to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). All of this is grounded again in Jesus’ own practice when, just before his arrest, at a time of deepest struggle, he asked Peter and the other disciples to “stay here and watch with me,” though they failed to stay awake (Matt. 26:38). Our life together in the community of faith is to be one of shared inner life, not one of Stoic repression or hidden emotional struggle. “Weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15), says Paul.
And how might this shared inner life work out as an exercise in “submitting to each other out of reverence for Christ”? As with sharing work, there are no doubt many different ways that different couples can work out what seems right or best for them. Some of us may need more of this kind of sharing, perhaps, some less. I do not presume to know a one-size-fits-all prescription. But Deborah and I can witness out of our own experience to the immense importance of learning to share our grief and our hope in significant detail on an almost daily basis when we lost our twenty-year-old son in an accident. I wonder if our marriage could have survived that time if we had not felt free in Christ to let the Spirit “groan within us with groans too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26), and yet also to affirm in the teeth of our pain that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ,” not even death (8:39). Some people may try to bottle up such strong emotions; but one of our mentors at the time reminded us that “pain brought before God with his people is redemptive and healing; while trying to hold it inside is deadly” (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10). And this principle surely applies as well to the whole range of emotional life, including joy, frustration, humor, fun, fear and courage. To share our inner emotional lives with each other sends the bonds of relationship and romance ever deeper, and it is clearly a way of submitting to each other out of reverence for Christ.
Does this mean, then, that we always share everything that pops into our heads, or that there is no shut-off valve between mind and tongue? I don’t think so. As Jesus went about the villages and countryside with his disciples, he regularly went off alone to an “empty place” to pray. Deb and I spend a good deal of time every day regrouping in our own inner lives by means of prayer and study. And I know for myself, I sometimes have to think really hard about how to share some thoughts and feelings with her, especially after a time of conflict or disagreement. I’m sure Deb does this as well. And yet, it remains very important that we have access to each other’s inner life, including a sense of each other’s deepest joys, sorrows, humor, doubts, and struggle. To ignore or avoid this would leave our reverence for Christ and our submission to each other on rather flat and uninspiring ground. Bad, both for faith and for romance.
Shared Decisions: When Jesus was preparing to leave this world, he talked with his disciples about what it would mean for them that he would no longer be present with them in the flesh. He promised them that it was a good thing that he was leaving, because he would send his Spirit to be their guide and friend, and by this means he would still be with them wherever they went and whatever they encountered (John 14-17). In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul assumes this kind of Spirit-led way of life when he describes our life “in Christ,” and calls us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who is at work within us” (Phil. 2:12). This way of life together in the Spirit leads finally to the kind of decision-making process that we find reflected in Acts 15:28, where the apostles and elders, and the whole church, made an important decision about basic doctrines and ethics, and then explained their process with the phrase, “It seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything more.” Clearly Jesus intended his followers to make important decisions together under the guidance of his Spirit, to reach consensus with each other, and to be confident in doing so.
But what does this have to do with decision-making in marriage? When Deb and I were first engaged, we sought marriage counseling from a respected mentor. Based on his interviews with us, he told us that one thing we clearly needed was to learn how to argue well. We explained to him that we didn’t really have that problem. We just didn’t argue. He said that we had better start learning, and soon. So we left and had our first argument about how to argue. To be honest, this has been one of the most difficult challenges for Deb and me throughout our marriage. How can we argue, or “fight the good fight,” without one of us, or both, trying to dominate or control the other, while the other merely shrinks back and hides their thoughts and feelings with a growing sense of hurt and disrespect? And how can we do this, whether the decision is a small one, like how to trim the roses, or a large one, like how to respond to a teenager’s rebellion? How can we address such issues out of reverence for Christ, and with submission to each other?
We have come to believe that Jesus’ model for the early church (shared decision- making in the Spirit) has significant parallels with what is known as “shared decision- making” in the literature of contemporary marriage counseling (see for example, Susan Heitler, The Power of Two). Shared decision-making is essentially a matter of both partners stating clearly for each other (thus, “submitting”) what each one really wants (with regard to the issue at hand), and then crafting a solution together that refuses to cancel or ignore any reasonable priority of either person. It is amazing how arguments can become planning sessions when partners keep the focus on the task at hand and possible solutions, rather than blowing things up with charges of bad motives, hurt feelings, and past history; only to end up with anger and more hurt feelings. The rules of good communication can help a lot at this point. For example, state what you want, and how the conflict is making you feel, rather than trying to state what is wrong with your spouse or where they have gone wrong. Such strategies place the focus on goals, empathy, and solutions; rather than blame and defenses.
Working together in this way, under the Spirit’s guidance, is not easy. It requires submitting our thoughts and desires to each other, rather than trying to dominate, conceal, or manipulate. And it’s not easy for some of us simply to say what “I” want, or for others simply to listen and look for a shared plan. Yet this model resonates with the kind of process that we find reflected in Jesus’ promise of how his Spirit would guide the early church into the truth. And it is clearly a way to build a sense of closeness and trust, rather than the barriers and fissures that would otherwise arise.
Romance and the Sharing of Eros: Perhaps it is obvious how these ways of sharing work, inner-life, and decisions, can serve to keep the channels of communication, as well as our hearts and imaginations, open, both to Christ and to each other. Such openness is good in most relationships, including those that are not romantic or sexual; and the purpose of sharing in these ways in marriage is not simply to pave the way for sexual intimacy. At the same time, does it really need to be said, that the sense of closeness and support that comes from sharing work and inner life and successful decisions can be a very real and powerful inspiration for a deeper sense of closeness, romance, and sexual intimacy in marriage? Or, to put it the other way around, the desire of husband and wife to be close to each other sexually can only be enhanced by sharing and submitting to each other in these other ways as well. All of this suggests, for those who submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, that the best and truest kind of romance is a larger reality than sex per se. Sexual intimacy may be part of romance, but romance has a broader and richer framework. Perhaps there is a clue here as to why Paul urges us to pattern our marriages on the greater and higher reality of Christ and his church.
It is easy to miss what Paul was really saying at this point. God’s love for the whole world, focused in Christ’s sacrificial love for his church, is the greater reality that creates the full and highest meaning of our human marriages and sexuality. Our marriages are not the greater reality; they are a way for us to grow up into the greater reality. In Ephesians 5, Paul points to Christ’s sacrificial love for his people, the church, and then he says, “For this reason, a man shall leave his mother and father, and a woman shall leave her home, and the two shall become one flesh.” For this reason: that is, the Creator has given us marriage as a reflection of his own love for the world, so that we might discover over time, and live into, what is really going on in God’s care and purpose for the world. We are part of a mystery that is illuminated by the metaphorical comparison with Christ’s joyful, sacrificial love; God and His people in the new creation are the reality that illumines us, bringing new joy and discovery.
If Christ’s love is truly the compass bearing, the north star for the best and highest experience of romance, marriage, and, yes, sexual intimacy, is it any wonder then that our experience of these things is deeply fractured and distorted today by our culture’s constant focus on eros as an end in itself? Movies, TV shows, books, advertising, pop psychology, and other media continually focus on sex and sex appeal as an end in itself, an “idol” around which we are invited to organize our lives, our identities, and our imaginations, often without even being aware of the powers at work. And yet, one of the ironies of the modern and postmodern (just like the ancient) obsession with eros is the awful emptiness of sex when the other dimensions of friendship, family, and sacrificial service are absent. What if, like many other good things in life, eros makes an excellent servant, but a terrible master? What if, as with job and career, we really aren’t meant to find our personal identity in our sexual desires, drives, and inclinations? In this light, the ancient biblical ethic for marriage and sexuality, far from interfering with the best and highest values of romance and sexuality, is actually the path to sanity, health, deep commitment, and romantic love. Happy Valentine’s Day, in the name of Christ!
SHADOWLANDS, by Craig Gallaway. Original watercolor, 27″ x 33″. The shadow of a cross lies hidden within the tumbled beauty of fallen leaves. “For when he was crucified he did that in the wild weather of his outlying provinces which he had done in glory and gladness.”
The current political situation in the United States is a turbulent mess, full of name-calling, threats of violence, partisan/tribal animosity, refusal of civil discourse, and claims of righteous indignation. This atmosphere is not, however, particularly new. When Jesus came to Jerusalem to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, he was faced with an atmosphere of tribal politics very much like our own. And yet—unlooked for wonder!—he did become King, on a Roman cross; and even now his Kingdom is growing like seeds planted in a field overnight.
From one side, in first century Jerusalem, Jesus was confronted by the “zealots,” groups of violent revolutionaries who were determined to throw off the existing government. The zealots championed the cause of ethnic Israel, and looked for God to restore their political fortunes. In first century Jerusalem and Galilee, there were a variety of rebel leaders and strict religious groups (Pharisees) who hoped to lead this revolution, and they were prepared to use violence to do it. Judas was acting as a zealot when he tried to provoke a violent confrontation between Jesus and the Temple guard. Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul,the apostle) was a zealous Pharisee when he persecuted Christians, and stood by at the stoning of Steven. Likewise, the disciple Peter was often tempted to use violence, so little did he at first really understand Jesus’ goals for the Kingdom. Sound familiar?
From the other side, Jesus was confronted with the power of Rome, and with the claims of the State to achieve a new progressive order under the pax Romana. Of course this “order” included the self-indulgent claims and practices of ancient pagan culture, such as the cult of Caesar (the State), polytheism, sexual decadence, and the exposure of unwanted children. And yet it also included, where possible, an uneasy alliance with religious leaders, even in Israel. Such, for example, was Herod Antipas, who executed John the Baptist for exposing Herod’s own moral decadence, and also the chief priests of the Jewish Temple who shouted, “We have no king but Caesar,” when given opportunity to drop the false charge that Jesus himself was a zealot. And then Pilate, the governor, though he knew better, was willing to go along with the sham in order to protect his own position, thus shirking his God-appointed role to restrain evil. Sound like something from the evening news?
Into this turbulent political atmosphere Jesus came proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and himself as the long promised “Messiah” (in Greek “Christos,” the anointed king). But the Kingdom he proclaimed would not come by violence as the zealots supposed. “Put away your sword, Peter.” “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Nor would it come to promote the power of the State as an end in itself. “Pilate, you would have no authority unless it were given to you by God.” Rather, it would come in freedom to those who with Jesus pray, “Not my will, but thine be done.” To those who, as the Apostle Paul sang, “Have this mind in you which was also in King Jesus, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but humbled himself and became obedient, even unto death on a cross. . . . Therefore, God has highly exalted him, and given him the name that is above every name whether in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Now that’s something to remember and think about as we go to the poles on election day, no matter which tribe may seem to be winning for the short term.
Two robins, under their Maker’s care, find their way within the bleak yet beautiful conditions of mid-winter.
The painting above (Two Robins, 2010, Craig Gallaway) and the song below (Love Is Like, 1994,Craig and Deborah Gallaway) are a poetic introduction to the themes explored in the longer essay below. Both song and painting evoke reflection on our human experience of romantic love. Love, as something deeper and more difficult than we often acknowledge; something that is grounded, moreover, in the Mind of our Maker and in the order of creation itself. We hope you enjoy the song and the painting, and then, if you choose, spend some time with us thinking about the way of true romance.
Love Is Like, 1994, Craig and Deborah Gallaway
Deb and I first met in the fall of 1975 at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. A little over a year later, with a strong sense of adventure and romance, we began our journey into the mystery of Christian marriage. From the beginning, we were buoyed up by many things. We were studying together at a great school, surrounded by brilliant teachers and stimulating friends. We took long walks along the shores of English Bay, and watched one night as a family of geese swam through the channel of light reflected from the moon over the top of Hollyburn Mountain. We snowshoed up that mountain, strolled the seawall at Stanley Park, and shared wonderful meals, music, and church services with friends and colleagues. And then we completed our degrees, left Canada, and moved to Texas.
We moved to Dallas to work with some of my old friends in a rundown, inner-city neighborhood. Our first child, Ben, was born in 1979, and we began the long pilgrimage of making a household, keeping jobs, and building our family. Our second son, Chris, came to us in 1983 while I was completing doctoral work at Emory in Atlanta. And then we moved to Nashville to take a job in publishing where our third son, Zach, was born in 1992. Of course, not all of these times were as “romantic” as those early days in Vancouver. We had to face hard times financially, to rediscover our own woundedness while learning to face differences and work through conflicts with each other; and then, later, to wrestle with rearing our sons through adolescence, and even to lose dear Zach in a motorcycle accident in Birmingham in 2013, just when he had nearly made it through those stormy years.
There have been times in this pilgrimage when, as both Deb and I could tell you, we weren’t sure there was much left of the two young romantic people who met in Vancouver. And yet, by a providence not our own, the dark and trying times did not destroy us, or ruin our journey into the mystery of Christian romance and marriage. That mystery, as we see it now, might be summed up in a single phrase from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians (5:21). “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
To be sure, this idea of “submission” will raise red flags for some in our era of sexual “liberation” and romantic adventurism (which Deb’s and my 60’s generation sadly helped to launch). The mantra now, as we all know, is that everyone is “free” to explore, or to invent, one’s own sexual identity or romantic style, and then to honor these experiments, so long as they are consensual, with the title of “marriage.” Likewise, the commonplace of “Hollywood” romance (both in the movies and among the stars) is that one “falls in love” under the thrill and ecstasy of romance; but then one is free again, when difficulties arise, or the shine wears off, to fall out of love, and to seek a new partner who will take one’s breath away. The idea of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” sounds archaic and stilted over against these contemporary themes. Is Christian marriage then simply out of touch with what is really romantic?
In 1976, when Deb and I first began to think about marriage, we started discussing a book with a somewhat daunting title, The Theology of Romantic Love. This book, by Mary McDermott Schideler, explores the ideas of Charles Williams concerning how our experiences of human romance, at their best, are grounded in the reality of God’s love for the world in Christ. Williams (a friend of C. S. Lewis) also followed the logic of Ephesians 5, where Paul urges “husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” And “wives to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ.” Paul’s conclusion anticipates Williams’s main theme. The gift of marriage is given to us as a sign of an even greater and deeper mystery: God’s sacrificial love for the whole world in his Son, the Bridegroom, Jesus the King. From our first conversations, Deb and I felt that we were touching here on something deep and rich, a key to the full reality and potential of our own romance and marriage. But, of course, we were just starting out, and there was as yet a long way to go.
Charles Williams’s reflections on romantic love are also illuminated with Dante’s poetry about his beautiful and beloved Beatrice. Williams saw in Dante and Beatrice three stages In the romantic journey of lovers, which parallel three stages in the love of Christ for the world. First is the stage of the appearance, or the revelation, of the image of love.For Dante this occurred when he first met Beatrice. She was the very image of love incarnate. Her beauty and grace stunned him. To be addressed by her on the street was to have his whole world set right all at once, to see the color of the sky anew, to hear the sounds of nature as if for the first time. This is what we call “falling in love.” It is echoed, at least dimly, in the scripts of Hollywood. It is what Deb and I experienced along the shores of English Bay, when the whole world seemed to have been remade just for us. And in the life of Christ, it is the period of his first appearance, his birth, and his early, vibrant ministry. He was the image of God’s love made visible. And the response of the people, at least at first, was like that of Dante, or me, or any lover: They were flocking to be near him, to see him, to touch his garment, to be healed and fed, and to hear his words of authority and power. Once they opened their hearts to him, they couldn’t get enough of this wonderful, magical person.
But just as Jesus’ popularity with the people came under strain as he and they met with resistance from various sources–trials, testings, temptations, difficulties, and direct opposition–so the first glories of romance do not last forever, as lovers go on to face the challenges and responsibilities of life together. This leads to the second stage of romantic love, the stage at which the image of love fades and dies.According to Williams, this happens to all lovers. For one reason or another, sooner or later the beloved no longer embodies all of those superlatives that once seemed to set the whole world humming. For Dante, this occurred when Beatrice literally died. For Deb and me, and for many married couples, it comes with the daily grind of living, the trials of being different, with conflicts about important decisions, or poor communication, and eventually with the trials of growing older. It can also come, of course, with abuse, or unfaithfulness. In Jesus’ case, it came with his growing conflict with the religious authorities, and then emphatically with his crucifixion by the state. At this point, lovers (even spouses and disciples) often lose faith and turn away. The really important question, then, is whether lovers will make it through this death to what lies beyond.
Williams expands on this: In the first stage of love, the image of the beloved comes to us and shocks us, almost as if we were a passive observer. As we open our hearts to the other person, despite the dangers and risks involved, we are overwhelmed with life and joy. Likewise, in the second stage, we may feel anxious and helpless as the exhilarations of romance begin to fade. Even Hollywood seems to get these two stages more or less right. In the third stage, however, the stage of Ephesians 5, of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” we enter a new dynamic. There is to be no more passivity, no more waiting for everything to be given to us. We are called, instead, to make a very conscious and active choice in faith, to become the image of love for our beloved, to lay down our lives in love for our wife or our husband, as Christ laid down his life for the world. And the promise in this is that those who lay down their lives will find them. “The happy old couples,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “have come through a difficult death and re-birth. But far more have missed the re-birth.”
The third stage of romantic love, then, according to Williams, is the stage of resurrection.Had the cross been the end of Jesus, we probably would never have heard anything more about him. He would have been at best another brave revolutionary whose vision and foresight betrayed him. But as the Scriptures attest, and as his presence by the power of his Spirit with his people, the church, has proven to countless believers throughout history, his life did not end with his death on the cross. As Paul says elsewhere, “He humbled himself, even unto death on a cross . . . therefore God has highly exalted him.” And for those of us who face the loss of romance, when it seems that love itself has died, this is our calling in Christ as well. He submitted his life to his Father, and so broke through the fearful power of death that binds the world; just so, “out of reverence for Christ,” and by faith in Him, we are called to serve and to love one another, even when it looks like love has died.
In this way, Deb and I are still seeking to live into the mystery of Christian marriage and romance. We see how the prototype for our love is the deeper reality of God’s love for the world in Christ. We bear witness that Christ’s presence and guidance in our lives has made our love and romance grow richer, finer, fuller–not thinner or duller. And yet we also see that our marriage, on this foundation, is not in itself the goal of everything, even for us. There is, after all, to be no marriage or giving in marriage in the world to come. When Dante encounters Beatrice again, in his vision of Paradise, she is his guide for a while; but then she turns back to the eternal fountain. The kind of love we are learning in marriage, then–including eros, friendship, family, shared decision-making, and sacrificial serving–is not just about us. It pulls us forward and outward, beyond ourselves, to anticipate with justice, beauty, and kindness toward others in this life, the wedding feast of the Lamb of God, when all things shall be made new and we shall “grow up into Christ in all things.” And this also means, even now, the best and richest and most down-to-earth romance as well.
I last posted on this page in 2012. In August of 2013 Deb and I lost our twenty-year-old son, Zachary Colin Gallaway, in a motorcycle accident. Since that time, to be honest, I have hardly had the heart to make art, or to write songs, much less to comment on the process. Now after almost four years, Deb and I find that we are able once again to consider trying to express in some way what has until recently seemed just too tender to touch.
The images above are of Zach. The first, a painting I made of him and his dog, Abbie, in 2007. Then there is a photo from 2010 of Zach with Deb at Devil’s Courthouse along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Next is a portrait that Zach made of himself as part of his art studies at University just a few months before his death. And finally, a photo of Zach with our whole family at Christmas in 2011.
Deb and I have only been able to bear Zach’s loss, it has seemed, by following closely the wisdom of the Christian scriptures as reflected in the title (above). That phrase is drawn from the apostle Paul’s description in the epistle to the Romans of how the whole world groans, and we also groan, as we await the goal of the new creation, the redemption of all things including our bodies (Romans 8:18-39). In the early days of our loss, some well-meaning friends tried to counsel us that, in view of the promises of faith, we really didn’t have to grieve. But then we listened to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where he says “We grieve, but not as those who have no hope.” And in Romans 8, as above, where he shows so clearly that we also hope, but not as those who have no grief. And we remembered Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb, where it says so simply, “He wept.” Thanks be to God for these sign posts that have helped us on our way.
And then we were troubled, after watching the recent film “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams as a fictional mom (Professor Louise Banks). The film begins with Prof. Banks, Louise, struggling to come to terms with the loss of her twenty-year-old daughter to cancer. We felt that we could understand the portrayal of this mother’s bewilderment, and her painful dreams of loss and death. As the story develops, however, and Professor Banks (a linguist) is drawn into the main plot–a crisis with extraterrestrial beings where she must find a way to translate their purpose–she discovers from them that time is cyclical, as the ancient Stoics believed; and this enables her also to accept with Stoic equanimity the loss of her daughter. At a crucial moment of insight, she realizes not only that she can “do it all again,” but that she will be glad to do so. Indeed, in the fictive timeframe of the movie, and in contrast to the much longer and larger arc of history conceived by the Stoics, Professor Banks meets the man who will be her daughter’s father while she is starting her new job with the alien project, and while she is still grieving her daughter’s loss.
By the end of the film, I was analyzing the philosophical constructs of the Stoic world view in contrast to the Christian point of view. Deb, on the other hand, was just mad. She was angry, she said, because the film’s resolution “just wasn’t true.” Granting that the plot of the film and it’s time frame is not true, even to the Stoic conception, much less to the way most of us experience time most of the time, we have wondered what else needs to be said about the different ways involved (in our life and in the film) of seeing the significance of suffering in the world. We conclude this post with two reflections:
1. Unless we are prepared to ignore the huge differences of world view and the related attitudes to suffering (with a kind of post-modern acceptance of radical subjectivity) we must conclude that the Stoic and the Christian world views cannot both be true to reality. If we accept post-modern subjectivity, on the other hand, we may also find ourselves unable to question another man’s claim that he is Napoléon, or Hitler, or a poached egg. One of these world views could be true. Or both could be false. But both cannot be true.
2. The Stoic approach tries to handle suffering by minimizing it, side-stepping it, or explaining it away. (If things really do repeat, then nothing is ever really lost.) The Christian point of view, by contrast, does not regard suffering as the ultimate goal of reality, but it does regard our temporal losses as real in the linear flow of history. Deb and I will not be again with Zach and Abbie in this world. We will not stand again at Devil’s Courthouse with a nineteen-year-old Zach as he reaches out his arms to embrace the beauty and wonder of that place and time. He will not again draw his self-portrait at twenty years old. And our family will never again pose all together in the sunroom for Christmas. Yet our Christian hope remains, that all of these real losses are yet not the final goal of creation. Nor do they cancel the many good and cheerful moments that we share along the way. Nor will they, in Paul’s phrase, be able to “separate us from the love of God in Christ” (Romans 8:39). One day the whole creation will be released from it’s current groaning. Loss is real. But hope is real as well.
A quiet walk in an old growth forest offers a place of refuge and retreat from the bustle and pace of modern urban life. We need time in such places–set aside, left alone, undeveloped–to restore our physical and emotional life.
The same can be said for the promise of spiritual disciplines (such as fasting, solitude, and scripture meditation) as practiced during the season of Lent (or at any other time). They serve as places to listen quietly for the Word and the Spirit of God, to restore our souls, and to recalibrate the connections between our emotional, our intellectual, and our physical lives.
Trying to find those connections without the space offered by the disciplines is like trying to listen to a long lost friend on the phone while sitting in a noisy nightclub, or standing on the floor of the stock exchange, or doing the wave in a crowded stadium. Under such conditions we may not hear the message at all. In the midst of our busy lives, apart from places of refuge and discipline, we can become like the impoverished child of which C. S. Lewis spoke: content to sit in the gutter with our mud pies yet unable to grasp what is being offered with an invitation to the beach.
For the early church fathers and mothers, this was at least in part the logic of (as it may seem to us) their strange practices of curtailing food and sleep. They were aiming at something better: to cleanse the palate, to clear the mind, to recover God’s image given originally in creation, revealed again in the life of Jesus. Leaving off all of the extra things allowed them to rediscover the taste of spring water.
The painting featured in this post is entitled Generations. For more information on this painting, and other paintings in the series, go to the Landscape gallery of my art work at Fine Art America.