That Essential Dimension

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 I heard about yet another marriage falling apart. My immediate thought was: ‘I don’t know how any marriage survives without a strong sense of a shared search for and participation in a larger lifea greater sphere, a transcendent dimension of meaning. For it cannot simply be about 'you and me, baby!'

 That's because love has its best chance of enduring if it’s not merely about us, but about 'us in relation to the Ultimate, to That, or God, which is, 'us in relation to the realm of the sublime.' 

 Think of the base of a triangle. At one end is the husband, at the other, the wife. If the relationship is dynamic, there is a natural movement of both towards the triangle’s peak.

 The quality of the relationship depends on the determination of each to raise the other towards the apex of the triangle. Moving together towards that high point of the triangle is heaven. Failing that, a triangle will form in the opposite direction. Which is when a husband and wife send each other to hell.   

 I am writing here about the ideal of a certain lived and felt quality of relationship that is being continually educated and inspired by a sustaining frame of reference beyond itself. That frame of reference I call that essential dimension, the absence of which spells out an outcome of dullness and doom.

 For we cannot live in a vital way without a felt sense of this transcendent dimension. Why? Because it is our innate nature to yearn for transcendence and to live in its enchantment.

 A life lived without reference to that essential spiritual dimension tends all to be about a restless demand for thrill seeking and merry making. Superficial relationships that ignore or deny this fact tend always to be about looking for 'good times,' to compensate for the emptiness felt.

 There is little or no evidence of wonder or deep joy in such people. Instead are the looks of stupification on the faces of people who are yet again recovering from partying hard the night before. 

 One of my sons is a student of Shakespeare and tells me that in the play, Love's Labor's Lost, four men idealistically committed themselves to three years of a monastic life devoted to study. The young men determined that they would fast and study for three years and abstain from all contact with women. 

 Now, well, of course, it’s one thing to make such vows of austerity, and quite another matter, to stay true.

 For indeed the young men's resolve was tested immediately when a group of beautiful women arrived at court. In response, the young men, without wincing, broke their vows and began to woo the women. They did so by writing love poetry - comparing the ladies to goddesses, and the like.

 Yeah, yeah. You get it! There was nothing sincere going on here, just lust. And the women knew it.

 For these were intelligent women who saw through the hustlers. They understood that the men were untrustworthy and incapable of commitment.

 These discerning women then took great delight in mocking the men, calling their poetry, among other things, a "huge translation of hypocrisy, vilely compiled." 

 So the young men got nowhere with these women of integrity. Instead the women took charge and assigned the men various forms of penance to redeem themselves. One of the men was told to use his wit to help uplift the sick and dying in a hospital. Another was told to go with all speed to some forlorn and naked hermitage, remote from all the pleasures of the world to live an austere insociable life.

 The women were in essence challenging the men to stop focusing just on them, and to prove their marital worthiness by devoting themselves to something else entirely. They were challenged to enter deeper dimensions of experience.

 These sharp women had not been taken in by all the phoney professions of undying love.  

 In like manner, a perceptive woman today might ask: ‘What does this young man who is so earnestly wooing me bring to the relationship? Is he, who is so full of promises, already spiritually mature, or rather, someone I will be working on and worrying about for a lifetime? 

 It’s a wise woman who will say: ‘To be worthy of me there must be more to you than your lustiness and pledges. You must now be consciously and deliberately living in greater dimensions than yourself. You must already be established and grounded, in particular, in a certain essential dimension as your primary allegiance. 

 An open-eyed woman will realize that a relationship cannot simply be about 'you and me, baby.' As a poet says:'Two united is only a semblance of love.'   'You and me baby' is not enough. Such a love is but a 'worldly love that burns and then burns out.'

 I always inwardly groan, really, I could gag when I hear the naive statement: "Well, we have each other!" as if that’s all there is to it. The assertion "we have each other" is a suicide pact. 

 If a relationship has any chance of enduring, it must enter another dimension and live primarily in relation to that realm, or kingdom. 

 Seek that essential dimension first and the rest will follow. Put something less than that in its place, and, well, in time there will be either chaos and ruin or, a gradual disintegration into mutual self-oblivion. 

 And by the way, how is it working out for the many whose lifestyle has been to ignore that essential dimension? Not very impressive, I’d say. As the poet, Rilke, warned: "Young people (typically) fling themselves at each other in the impatience and haste of their passion."

 Which is to say that the young ones are involved in a "disordered giving of themselves." They "fling themselves at each other, scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their untidiness, disorder, confusion." 

 And then what do you have? Well, what can you expect if you began your relationship in such a shaky way? In time it will be seen, as happens over and over again, the remains of yet another failed relationship, the scattered debris all around.

 Now, I’ve been asking a certain question for a long time to any star-struck lover I’ve come across. The question I’d like to ask a young lady about the new young man in her life is: 'Does your new catch understand what C.S. Lewis meant by his statement: "Lifelong friendship is born when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling of that something which you were born desiring, that you have been looking for, watching for, listening for, all your life?"

 The desire, says Lewis, is a certain "incommunicable want." It is "the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work." 

 “While we are, said Lewis, "this is." If we lose this, we lose all.” (C.S. Lewis, quoted by Gilbert Meilander in, The Taste for the Other, the Social and Ethical Thought of C.S. Lewis, p.14) 

 My question for the young woman 'in love' is: What would happen if you were to read these lines of Lewis to your new heartthrob? Would the lad’s eyes glaze over, or light up? 

 In reading the Lewis quote you are trying to find out what your new fellow is made of. Does a certain dull look appear on his face in response to the quote, or a particular radiance? This guy, who has your heart fluttering and your stomach churning, does he fully understand the C.S. Lewis quote? Does he get it, as in really, really get it?

 The upcoming story of your life together is there in his eyes of either understanding or of miscomprehension! Is he aware or mystified?

 Observe closely! How it will be ten or twenty years from now is related to the look on the young man’s face. Again, if there’s a blank look combined with a certain twitchiness, you know what to do! Run, I say, flee with all your might, and do not look back!!!

 My point is to say that the foundation, the essence of a possible enduring love, consists in a shared search for something which by its nature is intangible and perhaps incommunicable to some, but matters more than any other consideration

 The philosopher, Jacob Needleman, makes reference to this essential dimension as an inner faculty. He calls it "an immense, untapped, source of knowing, understanding and vision."

 Professor Needleman warns that “if we fail to come in touch with that element within ourselves we can never know real happiness or meaning in our life.” That’s a strong statement! Is he right, or on to something that doesn’t matter much? 

 I would recommend trusting Jacob Needleman. I’ve met Jacob and his wife, Gail. They’ve 'got it' as a couple! In evidence is a shared and enduring love. 

 For love to endure, for love to go on, there needs to be a shared participation in that essential dimension within us. It’s worth everything to set that holy longing on fire.