Saturday, July 26, 2008


Paul, my loyal reader with a taste for ties, responded to my copying Anna's post about her parents with this:

She touches on an interesting concept: life choices. Do people ever really consider that (anymore). Are they binding? I'm not trying to argue one way or the other, and my personal beliefs have definitely shifted over the years. But I know that I've made some.

One of the most fascinating things about our point in history is the way things that used to be simply accepted as life-long commitments are now clearly seen as long commitments, but without the actual "death do us part" part.

A friend of mine who had long before taken final vows as a Benedictine nun was forced to leave her community for reasons I have never clearly understood; she suffered for years from having been forced to renege on her vows, which she took profoundly seriously--just not more seriously than her conscience. She has never told me what actually happened, but I can only imagine what sort of ghastly spiritual "cleft stick" could have forced her to choose between her conscience and a very consciously made vow of obedience. It's not a nice thought.

I used to say that I didn't believe in divorce. At least, not for me. And yes, I know, it does sound odd coming from me--I get the dissonance. The dissonance that interests me, though, is the fact that almost everything I value in life came from the divorce of my parents, and my subsequent adoption by my mother's second husband. So I was able to recognize divorce as necessary, even life-giving, and still think it was not for me. My adoption makes me deeply grateful to Paul [Saint Paul, that is] who declared that we are all sons by adoption. I completely understand what he means when he says:
And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.'
You may remember those words, in the King James Version, from Handel's Messiah. God does indeed beget us anew; that is my own experience.

Now you may find that hard to take; certainly my birth father did. But the great German satirist Wilhelm Busch once pointed out the vast gap between paternity and fatherhood, in an acid couplet:
Vater werden ist nicht schwer--
Vatersein dagegen sehr.
In English, that goes something like this:
It's easy to become a father;
But being one is lots of bother.
The English translation does not have the bite of the original, but it's the best I can do at the moment. All I am trying to get at is that physical paternity is as completely uninteresting to God as it is [ahem, cough, blush] to me. What interests Him is who you make into your father by accepting authority, offering obedience, and receiving an inheritance. Did He not promise Abraham that he would raise a posterity as great in number as the stars or grains of sand on the beach from his seed? (Mind you, that was as he was asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son...) And has not the wisdom of a tiny, persecuted tribe become the foundation of the religious life of billions of people?

It is worth noting that all the great powers of the ancient world who bore down upon that stubborn little people have vanished into dust. Even Nazi Germany, which set out to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth, and did manage to kill something like a third of the world's Jewish population, failed utterly: there are almost as many Jews in the world today [some 13 million souls] as there were in 1933. [Almost a third of them live in the US and Canada; aside from Israel, the only place in the world with a higher concentration of Jews than the US is Gibraltar. Go figure...] The Nazi state, for all its murderous strength, is as much a thing of dust as the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the unlamented late, great, state of ancient Rome.

But back to life-long commitments. My friend who lost her community after some twenty to thirty years of service suffered terribly, but at the time she left I wrote her that our time was marked by the way things that had once been seen as "permanent" were becoming recognized in their true nature as creatures, as much rooted in time and timeliness as the human race.

Half of all marriages in the US end in divorce, yet statistically [maybe someone with a nose for footnotes can find my source, which I have lost] marriages have never lasted as long--women used to die, men used to die, and many people were married often in the course of their lives. Not as many times as Elizabeth Taylor, perhaps, but often.

This looks like one of the gifts of the Christian era, in which--over time--indentured servitude [contracted service for a set term] replaced slavery. Time-shares have replaced the wholly-owned vacation house for people who still have such things at all; servants are hired by the day or the hour, and shared within communities rather than being life-long employees of one family. [Most people who have what my mother called "cleaning ladies" get them for half a day once a week if they are lucky.]

I have cousins who were brought up by the same governess who had raised their mothers; she rotated through the households of her former charges as she was needed, and was quite a presence in the lives in three generations of her "employers." [Try renting Jyll Johnston's "Martha and Ethel" [click here], a documentary film about one New York family's relationship with two such "employees."] I think I can say that you would look in vain for that kind of "employment" anywhere in the developed world today--or anywhere in the world, if the relationship is to be voluntary.

Now, I am a reactionary by nature, and I had every intention of living out my life in voluntary abstinence from the thing that had made my life the marvel it has been: divorce. I even saw the contradiction myself [not something I can claim for all my cherished beliefs, I can tell you]. "Man proposes, and God disposes." I fought it tooth and nail, but eventually I got the clear message that my "cross," the thing I was expected to pick up and carry in order to follow The Naz [click here], was going to cost me the one thing I valued most. I had dedicated my life to the woman I loved, and now I saw that to be the creature God had made I had to give up denying any part of myself. My refusal to deny my former life has made me as unwelcome on this side of the street as my departure has made me on the other.

Well, I have said before that I break down into a myriad contradictions once you remove the central unifying force of heart and soul; last month I wrote this:
Now, it may just be that I am split 50/50 on every issue: good boy/bad boy, gay/straight, male/female, top/bottom, dom/sub, leather/drag, in/out, up/down, wine/water, devout/profane. I strongly suspect I am. [My complete inability to decide when faced with a restaurant menu might be an omen--I always want one of whatever there is.]
Well, I make no claim to more wisdom than anyone else, but I do feel that certain truths have been engraved in my flesh. And one of them is that since our expulsion from Paradise, there is no entry into the freedom of God's children without leaving everything you know and value and setting out into the desert. I have even said that you probably have to count on wandering in the desert for forty years [click here for my disquisition on leaving Egypt from last year]. And here another curious thing strikes me:

I wandered in the desert, feeling abandoned and alone, for all of forty weeks. Here, the same principle is at work as in the question of the length of "life-long commitments." What any reasonable person might have expected to last years, took weeks; we are not chained to the Great Wheel of Time, but are given grace to experience the Great Things of Time within the little wheel of our own experience.

The Jews proclaimed their little seven-day week from Sabbath to Sabbath as sufficient metaphor for the entire year, an entire lifetime, the entire life of creation, and gathered to prefigure the feast at the end of time after every service, feasting, as the rabbis claimed we would, on Leviathan. [OK, that was before we almost wiped out Leviathan by rendering his body down to light our evenings at home...].

I entered my marriage with every expectation that it would last a lifetime, and it cost me a great deal to give up that faith. But I see that while we do in fact not live in a world where such things happen anymore, the only proper way to enter any real relationship is in the faith and hope that love will allow it to be "such a thing" about to happen. Only if we make a lifetime commitment are we free to see that it has come to an end; there is a reason that our time has come up with awful phrases like "serial dating."

Love is always a total commitmen, if it is "love" at all, and that truth has been borne out in the events of my life. I have always lived as though my commitment were as total for all time as it was in its moment of birth, and have on occasion paid a bitter price for my faith--but no bitterer than the price I have made others pay for their not adhering to my faith. I no longer feel free to hold anyone else to any of my beliefs: the Goat is either with me, or he isn't. I can't claim him, and unless he is mine in freedom, he was never really mine to begin with. As so often before, I feel I have finally crossed the threshold from childhood or youth into true adulthood. But if I know the creator of time, He probably still has one or two surprises up his sleeve that will rock my certainty as much as the last two years have done.

That is because he is "He Who Will Be Who He Will Be," and I, like you, my brothers and sisters, am a thing of spit and dust and wind...

As the great shape-note recasting of Job 4: 17–21 puts it:
Shall that vile race of flesh and blood
Contend with their Creator God?

Shall mortal worms presume to be

More holy, wise or just than he?

Behold, he puts his trust in none

Of all the spirits round his throne;
Their natures, when compared with his,

Are neither holy, just, nor wise.

But how much meaner things are they

Who spring from dust and dwell in clay!

Touched by the finger of thy wrath,

We faint, we vanish, like the moth.

From night to day, from day to night,

We die by thousands in thy sight;

Buried in dust whole nations lie,

Like a forgotten vanity.

Almighty Power! to thee we bow

How frail are we! how glorious thou!

No more the sons of earth shall dare

With an eternal God compare.



  1. Hi Troll,

    I was under the impression that your marriage ended because Isis did not want it to continue if it meant acknowledging the existence of that part of yourself - which meant you were not hers "in freedom."

    A healthy relationship is its own living entity kept alive by the nourishment of both (or all) individuals involved. I thought Isis effectively "pulled the plug."

    Please correct me where I am undoubtedly wrong.



  2. Flipper:

    it depends on when you date the beginning of the end. The final end came because I could no longer remain silent, but silence was something I had taken on myself after seeing how the truth affected her.

    I'm not sure what a "healthy" relationship is--or what authority gets to decide, but it seems to me that love, like the tango, takes two.

    I am not in any way trying to shun the blame for the end of my marriage; if I had been able to "suck it up" for another ten years, we would still be together. In the end, the cost became too great and the return too small.

    But who backed away first? That is a true chicken-and-egg question. Isis could say that I started on my way out the door when I laid all my cards [including the leather one] on the table ten years before I left.

    Who knows?

    In the final analysis, things happen, and it is not always possible to determine what or who caused what. What you can do is take responsibility for your share, and how you react to the events.

    And there I think I have been dealt a better hand than Isis all 'round.

    Glad to hear from you.