Sunday, March 25, 2007

Your presence is requested

Unchaste people turn up at least two or three times in the Gospels: the woman "caught in the very act" of adultery, the Samaritan woman, and, arguably, Mary Magdalene (though there is some dispute as to whether she was the same woman who was called "a sinner"). What they have in common is more than that they are all women: They are all forgiven.

Well, we know that Jesus forgave them, at any rate. Whether anyone else did is another matter.

One would imagine that, after being forgiven by Jesus, the women ceased to care what the rest of the world thought. I wish I could say that for myself.

Once a radio host said to me, "You're one of those people I hate."

He wasn't opposed to chastity — just the opposite. Married for about 20 years, he said he had never had sex with anyone other than his wife.

He hated me, he said, because I'd had sex with different men and then decided to be chaste. In his eyes, I was simply trying to win brownie points for chastity after having indulged in the fun that he and other married people had missed.

It's not an unusual attitude; Jesus described it in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, and also the parable of the prodigal son (with the other son who resents the welcome his brother receives).

I think that such a resentful attitude, when directed at one who has been unchaste, not only denies the possibility that the person has repented (as I have), it also assumes that unchastity is a desirable state. The radio host must have thought that I "had fun," otherwise he wouldn't have begrudged me my experiences.

I had fun in those days, but I never had joy. I had the fun of someone who eats chocolate compulsively even though it aggravates her heartburn. Yes, it tastes delightful, but it will never give me peace or assuage the pain inside. Sex is no substitute for love, and sex with a loving partner is no substitute for sex with a loving spouse.

Being jealous of people for their sexual escapades is like being jealous of a beautiful model whose anorexia is eating her alive. Some people do resent such women, but the proper response is pity.

When the unchaste women of the Gospel encountered Jesus, each one of them encountered true love, true intimacy, for the first time.

My own experience of love and intimacy used to be based on needs. I needed my parents, needed my friends, needed my boyfriend.

Then I experienced faith and began to discover a love that was based not on taking, but on giving — and not on giving for the sake of receiving, but for its own sake. I began — and I say "began," because I have a terribly long way to go — to learn to give love as Jesus gives it, not through words or deeds, but through presence.

The fruits of presence include attention, devotion, appreciation, and determination to bear a love that won't change even as circumstances do. Yet, unlike actions or words of love, presence refuses to be quantified. Just as there is no less Jesus in a sliver of a Communion wafer than there is in the whole thing, so, where love is a presence, its strength transcends outward signs.

I don't know if it's my lot to meet my future husband, though I hope it is. What I do believe is that, if it's meant to be, then, regardless of all our past affairs, when we begin to love one another, it will be a true first-time experience. Because, for the first time in my life, I will be truly present with the one I love, and he with me — and us with God.

Buy The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On at