Saturday, July 23, 2011

Human Relationships, Love, Not Fully Embraceable Without Jesus' Grace

One of the tragic things about the life and death of Amy Winehouse is that in some ways she was probably closer to the deepest meaning of human life than many people who appear less troubled on the surface.

How so? By way of contrast, there are some (hopefully a small number) whose self-absorption permits them to be so occupied with themselves and so impressed with themselves that they are not attentive to, even seem to become unaware of, the fact that the real space within which human life becomes fully alive is in the midst of relationships with other people. And when I say relationships, I mean those that involve love, friendship, and self-sacrifice.

It seems to me, for all her self-destructiveness and troubles, Amy Winehouse and other artists like her, did not have this sort of ignorance. In part, I think her sufferings and harmful behavior were possible because she knew--very powerfully--that relationships of love and friendship are the arena in which human persons can really experience and live life to its greatest and most beautiful potential.

But, this awareness--remaining in touch with this passion in one's soul for the irreplaceability of meaningful relationships--inevitably must produce great suffering in this fallen world. Why? Sin--the fallenness and prideful selfishness--that has damaged (though not destroyed) every human soul makes the arena of love and friendship a place in which our hearts are guaranteed to be hurt. So, suffer we do, if we don't turn our backs on relationships altogether as a place of irreplaceable meaning in life.

But, the more we sense keenly the importance of love and friendship to life, the more we will suffer as a result of the sin in ourselves and in others. The broken heart, the disappointed expectation, is more painful to one who wants to love most deeply. To the Amy Winehouses of the world, this pain can become unbearable. And yet, the option of giving up altogether on love and friendship to try to reduce this suffering is an option more awful than death itself. What does one do in such a situation? (Please note that I am speculating here in regard to Amy Winehouse since I only know what the general public knows and did not have the opportunity to know her personally.)

The only way--truly--to fully and most humanly embrace the dangerous seas of love and friendship without sentencing oneself to hopelessness and despair because of the hurt one will suffer is to know and love Jesus Christ. He makes everything possible in love and friendship--everything good--healing, forgiveness, friendship and love even in the midst of sin and imperfection become realities when transformed by the precious grace of Jesus. He strengthens and heals and renews our hearts to live human lives of profoundly meaningful relationships of friendship and love, even though this also means pain. First of all, He heals and makes whole what before was broken in our relationships. Love and friendship are much better under the loving guidance of Christ. But these things, though better, nonetheless are still fallen and are sources of pain even with Christ's grace. But even the pain that we still must endure because of love and friendship becomes bearable because it can be woven into the astonishing meaning and power of Jesus' self-sacrificial suffering and death on the cross, in love, for the salvation and sanctification of the world.

If we turn to Jesus on the cross, draw near to the wound in His side, we have no need to turn away from love and friendship out of fear and to protect our hearts. And when we do experience the suffering that inevitably comes our way because we choose to embrace our humanity with gusto and thus to pursue love and friendship, we need not be wholly crushed. Jesus is here to bear our hurts with us and to transform even these most interior, close-to-ourselves sufferings into something spiritually powerful for ourselves and those we love.

But if all the above be true, this indeed has a great consequence: Relationships of love and friendship are not possible for us to embrace and live at their most powerful, most meaningful human depths without the grace of Jesus Christ in our souls. Only with Him can we be confidently and most vibrantly alive and passionate in love and friendship without going off the rails into despair or self-destruction.

Amy Winehouse's Sad, Untimely Passing: A Parallel to Western society?

I am very saddened by the death of the very talented and troubled British singer Amy Winehouse. I am praying for her soul. May she rest in peace.

While she was obviously haunted by self-destructive patterns of behavior, I don't assume she was trying to destroy her life. Like so many, she needed help, and never seemed to have the right people in her life who could give her the help she needed most. Perhaps she rejected the help she most needed. I don't know.

Something about Amy's very sad end makes me think that she was a sort of symbolic microcosm in one person of some segments of Europe's young--desiring to live a passionate life, wanting to contribute something notable, meaningful and beautiful to society, wanting to lift other souls to the potentially rapturous heights of human artistry that can become a reality in music, taking the pains and sorrows of human relationships in a fallen world and somehow redeeming them a little bit by letting the scars seep into the music and become something soulful. And yet, at the same time, experiencing a state of hopelessness, watching one's own life spiral out of control and not knowing how to stop it or what to do about it, perhaps even being somewhat indifferent about trying to arrest the descent. This, it seems to me from a distance, is what some of the youth of Europe are living. It's a very dangerous place to be. And it can be lethal.

In saying this, I do not mean to treat Amy's life only as having value to me as a mere parallel to the troubled young of Europe. She was her own, unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable, beautiful person. As is true of every human being, there is no one else like her--she was her own particular universe of value and meaning within herself and ought not be reduced by the shallow pundits of society to simply an occasion to try to say something that gets a few seconds of attention.

So, please say a prayer for Amy Winehouse, for the repose of her soul. And say a prayer as well, for the many troubled youth of today who struggle between the tension of wanting to live in the throes of passion, meaning, and love, and can't catch hold of how to do this, becoming trapped instead in an increasingly harmful life which they know on some level is pointed toward death, yet they stay there for lack of hope of finding a path which could take them toward that deeper passion, meaning and love which their hearts yearn to possess. And since they have lost hope for finding this path, they prefer the passions of a destructive life pointed toward death--at least it seems to be a life that is human in the sense of not being banal, even if hope of something fully worthy of the dignity of the human person has been lost.

In some way, this earlier post of mine seems relevant. When we try to encourage someone we love to alter a destructive pattern in his life, can we also truly be a wellspring of real compassion, can we truly suffer with him (or her) as he calls upon the grace he needs, without which he will be unable to shift the course of his life from aiming at death to aiming at life?