Cattle Drive, Fort Worth Stockyards, April 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Soul Mates

I was told about a Carolina Governor who was carrying on with another woman and when it became public justified himself because she was his "soul mate." The term is used constantly now and it is unfortunately assumed that we should be constantly looking for this person whom we identify thusly. Utter rubbish of course. There's no such thing, well not in the sense we use the term now.

My dad taught me a great number of wise things before his untimely death, and one of them was that we don't fall in love with the "one person" who was created for us, what usually happens is that we reach a point in life that we want to have a family and the person who most closely resembles what our vision of a spouse is when we reach that point is the one we zero in on. There is a lot of truth in that. I've seen it over and over as a parish priest.

At one time that wasn't too bad a thing either. We generally kept around folks that had been raised with the same basic values and class that we had. Our families often had known each other for some time. Expectations were shared. Now, we only have four years of college (or a night in a bar) in common and our overwhelming lust. What a foundation. But we say we've met our soul mate.

Real love, the kind that really works and is good for us, requires love. Real love is sacrificial. It is not about self-actualization and self-discovery—that's therapy not love. Real love requires the Cross of Christ because God is love. That last bit is the tough part. We don't want sacrifice, we want romanticism instead. A person who is set on romantic love will never find love. The romantic is ultimately the sad, melancholic figure at the side of a cliff watching the crashing of the sea at his feet.

Love is self offering, and self oblation. Could it be any different? Christ himself, said that a greater love hath no man than to lay down his life. That is the ultimate definition of love. Most people immediately turn to Corinthians, but the Gospel comes first. Yes, love is patient and kind, etc. because that is the way we sacrifice ourselves for the other person on a daily basis. Love is the Cross embraced personally for some one other than myself. That is not an easy task. It is a struggle to do it, but it is actually the true Christian struggle.

Notice the assumption behind having a soul mate is that it is really oriented towards me. It is concerned with my happiness, my fulfillment, my completion. But as fallen human beings we are so fickle that what makes us happy this week will be bland next week. As long as I am the measure of love (my emotions and passions) then I will never find love. That is only found when we move outside of ourself and willfully, deliberately offer ourself to some one else.

The notion of soul mates makes crystal clear why marriage and love seem to be failing left and right. We are celebrating romanticism and narcism. Thank God we don't allow people to write their own marriage vows in the Orthodox Church because the ones I have heard are ghastly things that proclaim the opposite of love. "You are my fulfillment, my joy, my hope..." Yuck. Why not be really honest and talk about the act of the will to commit oneself to one's spouse. "I'm going to die for you everyday in little ways and big ones until God takes away my breath." That wouldn't wow them at Hallmark. How much better the old vows really are because they are about giving and not receiving (seems to me that our Lord might have said something like that).

Sentimentality goes hand in hand with this distorted notion of love and romanticism, because it is simply the syrupy side of self-love. It makes me feel good. To wit if we were honestly Christian we would have to reply, "I'm sure Christ didn't feel to good on the Cross, but he called that love. What do your feelings have to do with it?"

I hinted that there is perhaps a good use of the term soul mate. And I believe that there is. In a perfectly true sense, a soul mate is a person that joins us in the spirituality of sacrifice and oblation. This is done sacramentally and mystically in the Church. These two become true soul mates for their souls are directed together in the Cross which leads to suffering, death and resurrection.

The Governor lost what could have been his soul mate because he opted for romanticism and self fulfillment. He lost the possibility of real love. He traded happiness (something fleeting and undependable) for joy. "Joy cometh in the morning," that is after the dark night of oblation and sacrifice.

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