I think Valentine’s Day is odd and I have conflicted feelings about it, but it does give me an excuse to talk about my favorite subject – nurturing healthy relationships! – so I’m going with it.
As if needing an excuse has ever stopped me before.
Also, I’m on a Sarah Bessey kick right now because a friend loaned me Jesus Feminist and this book keeps speaking to my soul. So, instead of me talking about relationships, I’m going to share some words from Sarah, taken from chapter 5, ‘Dancing Warriors.’ It’s a long passage, but it’s good. Sit with it – it will be worth your time:
“If a woman is held back, minimized, pushed down, or downplayed, she is not walking in the fullness God intended for her as his image bearer, as his ezer warrior. If we minimize our gifts, hush our voice, and stay small in a misguided attempt to fit a weak and culturally conditioned standard of femininity, we cannot give our brothers the partner they require in God’s mission for the world.
The kind of help a man needs demands full deployment of all we are as women – no holding back. Men are most truly ‘helped’ when women give our best. As Carolyn Custis James points out, ‘His life will change for the better because of what she contributes to his life. Together they will daily prove in countless and surprising ways that two is always better than one.’
And men, what a gift for you! What a revelation! […] Let’s praise God together for his truth. Sons, brothers, husbands, friends, can you imagine? God knew that it was not good for you to be alone, and he gave you your best ally. You were never intended to do the work of God – in your home, in church, in a lost and dying world – alone. You were given allies, partners, warriors, and lovers in the form of women. Throughout Scripture and world history, we see the richness of partnership between men and women as God intended when he created them together: man and woman he created them.
Jesus ushered in a crazy upside-down Kingdom of voluntary submission and love, a Kingdom where the least is the most honored and the one who gives everything is the one who gains it all. This is the Kingdom of love, a Kingdom without a score-sheet tally or grabs for power. This is a Kingdom without envy and bitterness, and in our relationships with one another, we strive to have ‘the same mindset as Christ Jesus…’
[….] And if our marriages can give some small and imperfect glimpse of the Kingdom of God in action, warriors fighting in distinct unity, then we need to dance, in and around and with each other in intimacy and mutual submission. Theologians throughout church history have used the term perichoresis, a Greek word meaning ‘an indwelling,’ to describe the relationship of and between the Trinity. Perichoresis is far past fellowship; it’s the center of intimacy, a cleaving together born of friendship and love. Mystical and divine, it’s an imperfect metaphor, yet there is no hierarchy, only more love; there is a breathing after one another and a making room for the other. The Trinity ‘works’ by never-ending giving to each other and the receiving of the other out of each other. It’s a procession of togetherness in a blur of oneness.
When Paul likened marriage to the relationship between Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5:23-28, it was not an exhortation to hierarchy and power structures. Christ’s relationship with us as the Church is characterized by his crazy love and sacrificial giving, not power grabbing. Paul’s words remind us that Christ gave himself up for the Church, cleansed her, and loved her.
[…] If wives submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ, and if husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, and if both husbands and wives submit to one another as commanded, we enter a never-ending, life-giving circle of mutual submission and love.
We are able to offer our ‘You first, darling,’ as an overflow of the completeness we enjoy in Jesus. The submission of Christ is gospel centered, aligned with God’s purpose, a pouring out of himself to rescue a lost humanity. Submission in a healthy marriage between two people walking together in the Way follows that same trajectory: it requires tenacity, strength, and courage of the bravest sort.
[…] Marriage within the Kingdom of God isn’t an exercise in authority and headship – let alone a laundry list of roles and rules and responsibilities and chore divisions or the profanity of abuse and subjection. Marriage is a beautiful example of oneness and cooperation, an image of the dance of the Trinity in perfect unity.
So even though we are terrible dancers, Brian and I decided in the early days to learn to hold on and dance our way through our marriage.
He leads, and I lead. We are both following the music of the Ancient One; there is no hierarchy between us. We move together, one body, all for intimacy and beauty. We are in the vast middle of our love story still; we know every curve of each other, but we are leaning into the unknown parts with full trust.
[…] So Brian follows me when I step out into a new place. And I know just when to slide into my turn as the shadow; but we’ve stomped on each other’s toes a time or two, been horribly out of step – oh yes. Sometimes he leads; sometimes I lead. It changes because our relationship is alive and organic, still developing – but it’s always us, trusting each other’s heart, trusting we hear the same music from that old piano. We’re still learning to move seamlessly together. If we can’t move together, then we wait, holding on, in the pause between steps.
[…] If marriage truly is a glimpse of grace drawing near, then may it be a glimpse of mutuality, giving, love, and intimacy. And if all we ever accomplish with our marriage is the loving of each other down through the years, that’s enough, and it’s a real marriage.”
Before I got to that chapter, I was originally intending to share the following poem on Valentine’s Day instead. It’s simple, and sweet, and quirky, and a little strange. Then I read that chapter, and I knew that I had to share those words, those images of dancing warriors. And I wondered if it would seem out of place to include the poem. But as I was typing out the paragraph above that talks about perichoresis, I got chills along my arms. Because the poem below, in its own simple and offbeat way, a little bit speaks to this idea of perichoresis – this “imperfect metaphor” of “breathing after one another” and “never-ending giving to each other and the receiving of the other out of each other”; this “procession of togetherness.”
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
E. E. Cummings
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
Bessey, Sarah. Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women. New York: Howard Books, 2013. 51-52.
“[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]” Copyright 1952, © 1980, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust, from Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.
Source: Poetry (June 1952).