PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Friday, August 04, 2006

 

You can’t go it alone


When English poet John Donne said “No man is an island, entire of itself” he must have meant it as a take-off from the Book of Genesis where it is written, “It’s not good for man to be alone.”

I often meet people who think the opposite, along an individualistic mindset that spills over into their spirituality. To them, a “personal” spirituality or religiosity means having your own way in practicing what you choose to have. And this often means having a personal relationship with God in your own very private terms. Which essentially means Frank Sinatra’s “doing it my way.”

While it’s true that each man is unique, his uniqueness finds its glorious expression only when it is expressed in terms of how it can be of relevance, significance, or service to a greater community of men and women.

While it is true that someone’s relationship with God is essentially a personal decision, a matter strictly between man and his God, it is also true that man is prone to moments of weakness and temptation where he needs at least a tangible someone to lean on to.

The truth is, while faith is profoundly a personal matter, the practice of faith is not a matter of doing it alone or doing it one’s way. It’s oxymoronic - following God on one’s own terms.

It’s in our nature to want company, to pine for human intimacy, to yearn for community. When God noticed that Adam was lonely of being alone, He decided to give him Eve. There is something in us that longs to belong to a community of one mind and one heart even as we struggle in earnest with our equally strong desire to be unique, to stand out, to be who we are and what we are meant to be.

Doing it alone, I hazard to say, is another kind of masturbation - narcissistic, individualistic, selfish. It is a fear of loving, a fear of opening up oneself, a fear of serving others. It can even be a form of arrogance, the loathing to lower oneself for the sake of understanding others. But an even more probable reason is that, it is particularly a fear of getting hurt. One does not open oneself up without getting hurt or inconvenienced; anyone opening himself up for love is opening himself up to pain and persecution as well, to encroachment on one’s personal or private time and space, the possibility of getting hurt.

You are unique, yes, but a greater community would benefit from your uniqueness. You are strong, yes, but not all the time. You need time to be alone, yes, but a point comes in life when you need someone to turn to, who is not divine and invisible like God, but someone whom you can easily relate to, someone you can see, hear, smell, touch and feel, someone readily available and willing to serve you, someone sent by God.

In the end, to echo Mother Teresa’s words, it would always be between you and God, not between you and them. But in the meantime, you would be needing them as much as they would be needing you. I've read somewhere that various philosophers through the ages - Plato, Aristotle, Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber, Levinas - are known to suggest that we are “necessarily and essentially social beings”, that we are “social by nature.”

More so for people who see themselves as children of God. They are all the more meant to commune, a prelude, one can say, to the final communion with God and all the saints in heaven. On our level as human beings, though, a community may not always be a consoling presence; there are times that it may mean members sandpapering one another's rough edges. Still, it serves as a venue to be with people of basically the same mindset.

Love is other-oriented; it needs others for it to be expressed at all. Maybe this is the very reason why God - Who is a God of Love - is a Trinity, a Community. We cannot be like lonely islands in a vast sea of apathy and individualism. We are meant to be like God to each other. A loving community is the closest thing we can get to seeing and understanding the nature of God.

7.2001


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