“Love between two persons, if that is possible, has to include a mutual consent to endure the relevant death together, and not at each other’s expense. The temptation, when relation goes wrong, is to steal whatever life may be left for oneself, so as to throw the complementary death onto the other.” — Jonathan Bishop
When we celebrate the Easter mystery of life and love “having the last word” in the drama of the Passion, it is only because we have faced death and loss beforehand. Following the example of the two Marys at the foot of the cross, who didn’t “split” and run for cover, we are called to the feminine genius for containment of contradictions and polarities. Grief-pierced hearts that can also be broken open for joy. Pain endured until it gives way to a new birth. Love that sees through its own disillusionment without being disheartened.
On the personal level, relations always go wrong, as a title to a couple counselling book on my shelf attests: Everybody Marries the Wrong Person (Christine Meinecke). Wrong because wherever there is true personhood, there are conflictual issues built into the dynamic between two persons. Balances of power-surrender, independence-dependence, and closeness-distance all have to be emotionally negotiated in any intimate partnership. And there is always a “relevant death” (the “boy loses girl” part of the movie) when the expected salvation of our so-called better half leaves us facing another half-person who expects to be made whole by us . . . which of course is not forthcoming. It’s why C.S. Lewis said that “Marriage is a crucifixion.”
That’s what happens to passion on the small scale. When it comes to the Passion, our projections of a God relieving us of responsibility for our own divided nature and dark side inevitably led to the cross. Jesus didn’t defeat or transcend the evil in human history there — he transformed it by not throwing it back on us — and “in him” we can do the same in relation to each other.
Easier said than done, when we habitually relate to each other through the filters of past experience, as present frictions trigger more painful associations. In terms of Freud’s discoveries, there are many psychological devices (defense mechanisms) which tend to screen out the present reality of a person, the living mystery of the soul in front of us. When feeling the pain the other provokes by means of their own pain, our first instinct is to transmit it, to project it back outward, in an endless game of tit for tat.
It’s as if the pain we can’t bear must belong to someone else; hence the blaming, shaming, and shunning which is the solution of the small self. We sacrifice the other to feel better about ourselves. Or we sacrifice ourselves, in a misunderstood imitation of Christ, as if love means taking the blame for something that isn’t one’s fault. Yet when pain is simply held like the two Marys contained it, when we face what cannot be fixed as our cross to bear collectively (either everyone’s or no one’s fault), then it can be transmuted through cruciform courage. That is the Pascal Mystery and the alternative to either projecting or introjecting the suffering inherent in the human condition. To consciously bear the pain allows rebirth to take place.
There is a movie illustrating this — What Dreams May Come — with Robin Williams. His character literally goes to hell to rescue his wife, who blamed herself for the death of their children, to the extent of her suicide. The key to free her is recognizing him, yet that only becomes possible when he can join her in the pain, rather than trying to relieve her of it.
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as an author, subject matter expert for e-therapy, clinical consultant and director of InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series entitled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/ Connect with Cedric on https://www.facebook.com/cms94 or via email@example.com